The Finish only the beginning

This is our 26th Week in Romans – that means it only took us 6 ½ months to get through this powerful book.

It was written in 57 AD…or 1959 years ago and still going strong.

You can learn a lot about people by what they tell you about their job. When I am first getting to know someone, I like to ask them about their work. This helps me measure their levels of stress, satisfaction, and overall health. This can be particularly enlightening when I’m talking with a small business owner. When I ask small business owners questions about their business, it can be nearly impossible to shut them up. Even the introverted small business owner can ramble on for hours on the state of their business. Why is this so? Small business owners have great quantities of time, money, and energy invested in their work. This results in them caring a great deal about their business. So when I talk with such people, I will often ask the question, “How’s business?”

I’d like to ask you that same question, “How’s business?” This question is posed with a twist though. I’m not referring to how you make a living; I’m asking about how you make a life. Whether you know it or not, you’re responsible to conduct business. In fact, you are called to be a businessman or a businesswoman. But your business may not be what you think it is. You’ve heard it said, “It’s none of your business!” Well, in Rom 16, we see: God’s work IS your business. Paul states that you are to be about the people business, the protection business, and the praise business.

Let me start off our discussion sharing a story with you. Why do bad things happen to good people? Do you remember when we were in Romans 8, we addressed Free Will and True Love – that God desires that all men be saved (1 Tim. 2:4) – well let me share another perspective on this from one of my mentors, Dr. Ravi Zacharias (share story with congregation).

1. We Are In The People Business (16:1-16, 21-23)

Effective ministry begins and ends with people. This section rattles off a list of twenty-eight individuals that have directly or indirectly impacted Paul. The apostle begins with a commendation in 16:1-2: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant [or “deacon”] 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.” Paul commends Phoebe who is most likely a deaconess. He requests that the church receive her with hospitality (and potential financial support) for she has been a “helper” (prostatis). This term likely means that Phoebe was a patron who gave generously to God’s work. According to tradition, she also carried Paul’s letter to Rome. Paul, therefore, wants Phoebe esteemed and treated well.

In 16:3-16 Paul moves from a commendation to a formal series of greetings: “Greet Prisca [Priscilla] and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles;

Priscilla and Aquila were tentmakers as was Paul. They had been among the Jews expelled from Rome by the Roman Emperor Claudius in the year 49 as written by Suetonius. They ended up in Corinth and Paul lived with Priscilla and Aquila for approximately 18 months. Then the couple started out to accompany Paul when he proceeded to Syria, but stopped at Ephesus in the Roman province of Asia, now part of modern Turkey.

They are mentioned seven times in four different books of the New Testament (Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Timothy). They are always named as a couple and never individually. Of those seven references, Priscilla's name is mentioned first on five occasions, which is conspicuously unusual for such a male-dominant society.

Many theologians suspect they were part of the original 72 disciples who Jesus sent out in Luke 10:1-24 approx. 25-27 years before Romans was written.

…also greet the church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junias [Junia], my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. Greet Apelles, the approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them. Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.”

Let me introduce you to the rest of the names in 16:21-23. (We’ll skip a paragraph for a moment.) These are some of Paul’s best friends who are in Corinth sending their greetings with Paul’s letter: “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.”

We have come to the end of what is the most important document ever written—the book of Romans. Yet, Paul concludes his magnificent letter by rattling off a laundry list of twenty-eight individuals, many who have names that are impossible to pronounce. Frankly, this seems like an odd way to end an epistle as high and lofty as Romans.

Did you catch what we just read? “I, Tertius, who write this letter…” You have to remember that Paul was often in prison and his health was deteriorating so he would dictate his letters to scribes or what the Romans called, an amanu-ensis. Paul is an instrument for the Holy Spirit, but often someone else was the pen. It is possible that Paul only penned 7-8 of the 14 books credited to him. Many have challenged whether Paul wrote Hebrews but this was most likely one of the last books he dictated in Rome in 64-65 AD along with 2 Timothy. He would be executed by Nero less than 2 years later.

Paul would often clarify when he wrote the letter versus dictating them. For example, in 1 Corinthians, Colossians, Philemon and II Thessalonians, he stats this fact:

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand (1 Corinthians 16:21).

At the end of Colossians it reads

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you (Colossians 4:18).

In his personal letter to Philemon Paul wrote.

I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back--not to mention that you owe me your very self. (Philemon 19).

Paul’s Sign Of Authenticity

The second letter to the Thessalonians closes with this remark from Paul.

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write (2 Thessalonians 3:17).

There is evidence that Paul had some problem with his eyes. He wrote to the church at Galatia the following.

See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! (Galatians 6:11).

Why does God bother to use precious space in His written revelation for greetings? There are at least four reasons:

1. To show us that God cares about individuals and knows them by name. God loves people deeply. As Tommy Walker sings, “He Knows My Name!” Jesus Himself is the Good Shepherd of His sheep, whose “sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). If Jesus cares so much about people, we should as well. This week why not memorize the names of ten people in your church family?

2. To demonstrate that God keeps records on His people, noting the areas in which they have given faithful service. Many of us have visited either the Pearl Harbor memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, WWII memorial, or the memorial for the 9/11 victims. We often honor people for their sacrifices by including them in earthly memorials. Well, God honors faithful people by including them in His Word, which will never pass away (Matt 5:18).

This past January (2016), ESPN television ran a compelling feature about Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who has been named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player not once, twice or even three times – but a record five times. But the feature was not about football. Instead, it explained that for several years, when certain competitors Manning admired were retiring from the NFL, he took time to handwrite a note to them, congratulating them on their careers and their character. Each recipient who was interviewed expressed deep appreciation that one of the greatest players of all time would do that. It was a great reminder of the power of the written word. While a written note from Peyton Manning has much value, no human words can compare with God’s written Word.

3. To show us that people of all backgrounds, race, social status, and education are of equal importance to God and to His church. In this list of people Paul includes singles, married couples, widows, and widowers. He greets men and women, slaves and social elites, new Christians and mature believers, Greeks, Romans, and Jews. He has met some in prisons, many and synagogues, several in marketplaces, and a few in churches. This list depicts God’s diverse heart for His church. It depicts a taste of heaven!

4. To highlight the importance of family affection. Paul urges the believers to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (16:16). This command is mentioned four times in his letters. However, it was not the cultural custom of the Greeks or Romans to be physically affectionate. Instead, a Roman greeting would be to clasp forearms with a stranger or friend. This is a modification of the ancient custom of handshaking, which began when a person would extend the hand to show that he was not holding a dagger. Basically, then, the handshake was a sign to declare, “I’m not going to slit your throat!” Paul’s implied expectation seems to be that believers should be more affection with one another than with those outside God’s family. Hence, most of us need to go beyond a mere handshake. I suggest a warm handclasp or an appropriate hug. By appropriate, I mean non-pressing and non-lingering hugs. In other words, get in and get out! We don’t want people walking into church and requesting the non-hugging or non-kissing section. When in doubt of what is appropriate, ask the other person’s permission (e.g., “Would it be okay if I gave you a hug?”). Most people appreciate warm expressions of affection because God’s people need love. Moreover, we must always remember that on any given Sunday there are people in our midst who are devastated by life’s trials. We need to show them Christ’s love.

There are several other interesting tidbits that are worthy of consideration:

1. Women are mentioned prominently. More than one-third of those who are mentioned are women. It’s especially interesting that the four people (Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis) described as “working hard” (kopiao, “laboring to the point of weariness”) are women. That should come as no surprise to those of us who serve in the church. Women are typically the most faithful servants; yet, in many conservative churches we often relegate them to baking cookies and working in the nursery. Yet, women are incredibly important. Women were the last to remain at the cross and the first to greet Christ at the tomb. It was a woman to whom Christ first revealed that He was the Messiah (John 4:26 – the Samaritan woman at the well. It was also Mary and Anna who would be two of the first to be told by God that Jesus would be the Messiah. Thus, on the issue of women in ministry, if I have to err, I would rather error on the side of grace and liberty. When I stand before Jesus Christ, I would rather have Him say, “John, you misunderstood my Word and gave women more freedom to serve and lead than I intended” versus, “John, I blessed you with many gifted women, but you squelched their ability to serve Me.” I’ll take the former rebuke over the latter. Regardless of your understanding of women in ministry, please honor and appreciate the women in your local church. It is likely that without them, this church would not be in existence.

2. There are several single-minded singles with a passion for Christ. In 16:14 Paul mentions Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them. These men all had Greek names and were probably businessmen living in Rome and sharing the same residence. Their living quarters were evidently also used as a house church, or at least for the purposes of a fellowship group. This reminds us that singles were a part of the early church and they were highly valued. Paul was a single and was convinced that being single was a good thing (1 Cor 7). A single can fully invest his or her life in the things of God. If you are single, I urge you to invest the years that you have in the things of God. Please strive to love God and serve Him with your whole heart.

3. There are courageous couples. Priscilla and Aquila (16:3-4) were willing to risk their necks for Paul. Andronicus and Junias served in prison with Paul (16:7). Both of these couples ministered together as dynamic duos (notice the emphasis on the word “fellow”). Their marriages were for the purpose of ministry. If you are married, is your marriage a ministry? What will you do to ensure that you and your spouse are focused on Christ and serving Him together? If you’re single, I urge you not to get married unless your future spouse will be a complement to you spiritually. If he or she doesn’t share your passion for Christ and your desire to serve Him, don’t marry that person. Continue to wait on God.

4. There is one adoptive mother. Rufus’ mother (16:13) served as a mother to the apostle Paul. You may be a widow or a woman who is unable to have children of your own, yet that doesn’t mean that you can’t be a mother. There are many children and even adults that need a mother’s care. Please consider pouring your time, energy, and wisdom into the next generation of believers.

5. House churches are mentioned. These churches are mentioned at least once (16:5), probably three times (16:14-15), and possibly even five times (16:10-11). The early church was made up of many communities that loved one another. We must also develop this kind of community today. We must focus energy on raising up small groups that can be led and hosted in various homes throughout our community. If you want to get involved in Home Fellowships – see that couple right there (point to Perry and Jen). We must exercise hospitality and invite other people into our homes for times of fellowship. This is what it means to prioritize people. God’s work IS your business.

[We are to be in the people business and . . .]

2. We Are In The Protection Business (16:17-20)

Paul moves from the “holy kiss” to what seems to be the “kiss of death.” What in the world would cause Paul to shift gears like this? Some scholars conclude that these words must be a later addition written by someone other than Paul. However, since Paul has just talked about greeting one another with a holy kiss, and since the kiss was certainly a token of love, unity, and harmony, it is not surprising that Paul would want to warn us to watch out for those who would disrupt that love, unity and harmony. The bottom line is this: We shouldn’t be kissing everyone because not everyone deserves a holy kiss. When we practice true biblical discernment, there will be peace in our churches because the troublemakers will not rule the day.

In 16:17-20 Paul shares three duties that we can perform to help protect the church.

1. Observation: In 16:17 Paul writes, “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned.” We are urged, challenged, and encouraged to watch and be on the alert for those who pollute the body of Christ. The verb translated “keep your eye” is the term skopeo from which we get our English words microscope or telescope. Paul is exhorting every member of the congregation to continually scope out “dissensions and hindrances.” Our eyes must be peeled at all times so that we can identify a dangerous false teacher. This does not mean we are to go around on heresy hunts. Certain Christians tend to be self-appointed, theological watchdogs who sniff at all the saints and bark in disappointment whenever they find one who doesn’t dot his i’s and cross his t’s as he should. This is not God’s desire. Nevertheless, we must keep our eyes peeled.

2. Confrontation: This second duty is assumed by Paul and clearly expressed elsewhere (e.g., Titus 3:10). After observing those who cause dissensions and hindrances, it is critical to confront the offender. If the person repents you have won your brother or sister. But often erring members can be hardhearted. Nonetheless, you must not shrink back from your responsibility to confront.

3. Separation: In 16:17b-18 Paul writes that we are to “turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.” We too must keep away from these types of false teachers. We must be especially aware of their deceptive speech and not assume that we are incapable of being duped. We can all fall prey to false teaching. We must also be sensitive not to deemphasize doctrine. Doctrine divides, some say, so we ought not to give much concern to it, but instead focus on loving, peaceful relationships. These people forget that we do not know what a loving relationship looks like apart from how it is described by the truth of biblical doctrine. Paul does not say to avoid doctrine here; he says to avoid heretics.

This will not be the last time when Paul will address this issue. In fact in his last book, 2 Timothy, he will write this:

“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” 2 Timothy 4:3

Paul continues in 16:19-20: “For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” God doesn’t want us to be naive about doctrine, but He does want us to be innocent about evil. Discord in the church is almost always the work of Satan, but if believers keep troublemakers and their teaching at a distance, God will give them the victory over Satan and all his works. We must always remember the war is over. At the cross, Christ defeated Satan and the hordes of hell and then sealed the deal with His resurrection! The victory is complete, but Satan is working like he still has a fighting chance. We must battle him by being obedient to the Lord and waiting upon Him.God’s work IS your business.

[Not only are we to be in the people business and the protection business, but also . . .]

3. We Are In The Praise Business (16:25-27)

In this triumphant conclusion, there are two broad categories of praise:

1)    Praise for God’s work (16:25-26) and 2) praise for God’s wisdom (16:27).

Furthermore, in these three verses we find three of the major themes in the book of Romans.

1. Praise God for His work (16:25-26). In 16:25 Paul writes: “Now to Him who is able [“powerful”] to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past.” The verb “to establish” (sterizo) refers to a settled, stable spiritual condition—both doctrinally and experientially. It includes not only a knowledge of the truth, but also a commitment to obey the truth. Our English word steroid comes from that word “establish.” It means to give you the maximum amount of strength available. God is saying: I am the source of emotional and spiritual steroids, and there are no side effects, and it’s perfectly legal. I want to give you strength and stability. If you are in the midst of a crisis or if you are feeling particularly weak, God wants to strengthen you. When your emotions, hormones, worries, fears, circumstances, and misunderstandings lead to instability, God will give you strength through His gospel.
Paul finishes his thought in 16:26: “. . . but now [this gospel] is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith.” This universal offer of the gospel was not understood as it should have been in Old Testament times. God put plenty of hints in the writings of the prophets about the fact that the gospel is for everyone who believes, but the Jews overlooked those hints and claimed salvation as their own personal possession. Now, Paul says the truth has been fully uncovered. This truth is for you! Though you are a sinner and have fallen short of God’s glory, He sent His one and only Son to die for you, to pay the eternal penalty for your sin. He only asks that you quit relying on any other means to establish a relationship with Him, trusting only Jesus’ sacrifice.

2. Praise God for His wisdom (16:27). Paul closes out his book with these words: “to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.” Our God is the “only wise God.” There is none but Him. He is incomprehensible. Hence, He alone deserves glory forever.

You have just finished the greatest theological letter ever penned, and it is only fitting that Paul concludes with praise. He does so throughout Romans. Paul is not some armchair theologian. He is a passionate worshiper of God who frequently burst into spontaneous praise. Theology should always lead to doxology (praise). Theology, the “study of God,” is not an intellectual pastime. Nor is it only for the good of the church. Its ultimate purpose is to enable God’s people to glorify Him more effectively and more passionately because they have learned more about Him. The most important truth that you can take home from the book of Romans is this: God desires, deserves, and demands your worship. He wants you to give Him the glory that He’s due and that you would reflect His glory to others. God’s work IS your business.

Next week – Judges 1

Scripture References

Romans 16:1-27

Romans 1:5, 16-17

Proverbs 6:16-19

1 Thessalonians 1:7-10

Matthew 7:15-20

1 Timothy 6:3-5

Galatians 5:13-26

Study Questions

1. Do I know individuals by name at church (Rom 16:1-16, 21-23)? Why or why not? What excuses or justifications have I made for my failure to know and recall peoples’ names? Why is it important to use a person’s name? How can I grow in this skill?

2. How can I commend those believers who serve with me or on my behalf such as pastors, elders, deacons, Sunday School teachers? Do I honor and appreciate “hard working” churchwomen (Rom 16:6-12)? Is it hard for me to express affection to other believers (16:16)? What can I do to grow in this area?

3. If I am single, how am I investing my time, energy, and gifts in the church (Rom 16:14)? If I am married, how are my spouse and I serving the Lord together? How many dear friends do I have in the Lord? Am I committed to a small group in my church (16:5, 10-11, 14-15)? Why or why not?

4. Do I know God’s Word well enough to recognize false teachers (Rom 16:17)? Have I ever been deceived by a false teaching (16:18)? How was I turned back to the truth? What can I do to protect my church from doctrinal, philosophical, and ethical errors?

5. How has God strengthened me through the gospel (Rom 16:25)? Am I proclaiming and living the “obedience of faith” (16:26)? Does my life reflect God’s glory (16:27)? How has God changed my life through this study of the book of Romans?


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