“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.” … “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.” (Romans 16:1-2, 16, NASB95)
Question: For those who have read through Paul’s letter to the Romans, how many of you kind of rush through the greetings at the end? There is a great doxology to close chapter 16. But just how much is there in those greetings that I should spend some time reading them? I know there have been times with Romans and some of the other New Testament letters where I have skimmed through the final greetings in order to look for the real nuggets. But this time, maybe because I am writing my way through Romans and teaching it in a class, I spent more time in what amounts to 19 of the last 27 verses of this incredible letter. And it was well worth the time.
As I looked at these greetings I focused on the three natures of them. The first of them is the greeting to be given to the bearer of the letter. Paul identifies this woman as Phoebe who was his sister in Christ and a proven servant in her home church in Cenchrea, which is a neighboring city to Corinth where Paul wrote this letter. Paul was requesting that Phoebe be well-received for taking on this task on Paul’s behalf. He is asking that she be received and honored in a manner worthy of any emissary of God and that they take care to help her with any needs that she might have upon her arrival. This woman was indeed a special person in her church and special to Paul as one given to helping others. This is the only place she is mentioned, but what Paul says of her here speaks volumes about her sacrificial servant heart. Phoebe took on the special task which Paul could not do for himself, and knowing that the letter was received we can also reasonably assume that she did it with great faithfulness—seeing the task to completion. And as a result, many were blessed both then and throughout time.
Because she completed her task the Romans received this valuable letter of instruction and encouragement. Because she completed her task the Romans were able to join in prayer for Paul and even to see that prayer answered years later. I am so thankful for those women (and men) whom I have had the pleasure of knowing over the years who had servant hearts such as hers. Today Robin and I were able to visit with one of those senior couples who after long years of service have moved to a season of life where their health has waned, but whose assurance remains that they will remain as long as God intends them to be used for His purposes. What an incredible encouragement it is to know these specials saints, of whom Phoebe was surely one.
In verses 3 through 15 twenty-seven others are mentioned by name, two specific individuals by relationship, and several groups including a church in the home, families, brothers in Christ, and other unnamed saints. The reasonable expectation is that these are people who Paul knew personally or had come to know of, and who were likely to be known personally by the recipients of his letter. We read of them that they had worked hard on behalf of the Italian believers, that some were fellow prisoners, others were well known to the apostles, all beloved and approved in Christ. All of them shared in the common faith which Paul shared with the believers in Rome. Some of them had special significance such as one even being the first believer in Asia (now Turkey). Others were believers before Paul. Some were Jewish and others weren’t. One’s mother had even been like a mother to Paul. There was a oneness that Paul shared with these believers most of whom he had never met, because of their unity in Christ and their shared unity with those in common in the body of Christ—the church. As I thought of this I was reminded of how easy it is at times to walk into a Bible teaching church in other areas and know that we share so much in common and that because of this we have a relationship that preceded our meeting. I was even reminded of this thinking of visiting a church in northern Oregon and meeting someone whose parents I know here.
Paul knew it important to mention those that he knew, and in so doing even strengthening the common bond they shared in the ministry of the gospel of Christ. At the top of the list were some dear friends, Prisca and Aquila. This couple is first mentioned in Acts chapter 18 where it says that they had left Rome for Corinth and met Paul.
“After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 18:1–4, NASB95)
While Paul continued in ministry in Corinth he benefited from his time with Priscilla (Prisca) and Aquila, and I’m sure they grew in their knowledge of the faith by spending time with him. We read that Paul continued for a year and a half in Corinth with many being saved. But then the leadership in the region changed and Paul was told by God to move on. In verses 18 and 19 we read that Paul set sail for Ephesus and that he took this special couple with him. Later we read that Paul was moved again by God, and according to verses 24 through 26 of Acts 18 Priscilla and Aquila remained in Ephesus and continued in ministry, even being used to correct and complete the instruction of a traveling Jewish teacher. From Paul’s letter to the Romans we are led to believe that this couple had returned for a season to Rome, but by the end of Paul’s ministry when he sensed that he was nearing death in a Roman prison, Paul asked Timothy to greet them in Ephesus where they had evidently returned. It is quite evident that the relationship Paul had with them was special, and they more than most understood both the work done in Asia and the work done in Rome. If anyone in Rome was lacking information of Paul upon the receipt of this letter, Prisca and Aquila could definitely fill in the pieces.
Before returning to verse 16 to wrap up for today, I am jumping down to verses 21-23 where Paul encourages the believers in Rome by uniting them with believers elsewhere. “Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen. I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, the brother.” (Romans 16:21–23, NASB95)
Paul knew this work of God was not one for a single person, but many united in all regions being used for His glory. And in concluding this letter Paul made sure to mention just some of those who were a part of this great work. It included Timothy who became his son in the Lord and one that Paul relied so heavily upon as the ministry passed from his hands to those who followed. It was Timothy to whom Paul wrote in his last letter, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:1–3, NASB95)
Backing up a bit, Paul wrote in verse 16, “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.” (Romans 16:16, NASB95)
Paul’s greetings in this letter to the Romans were the best he could do at that time. Greetings in the Lord are so huge and so welcome. I was really reminded of this when the couple we visited had to regrettably (on my behalf) struggle to remember when we had last been to see them. It was such a blessing to spend time with them, to share in the Lord and what He has been doing even in difficult times, to remember and share parts of a few hymns, and to spend time upholding them in prayer. Greeting each other with a warm hug and leaving in the same way was, as some commercials might say, “priceless.”
If you think of it, in particular remember our senior saints whose health may have caused them to drop off the church attendance radar and remember those who for one reason of another God has put some distance between you and them. Remember the power of a greeting in the Lord, and do something about it.