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We have seen before that Paul has a deep heart for this church in Rome. Even though he hasn’t visited Rome he knows some of its members. Chapter 16 details for us these people and their names tell us more about them. Long lists of names aren’t simply in the Bible to fill space; they communicate important details of how God works through his people to build his church.

The church in Rome was a diverse church made up of Jews, Greeks and Romans. It had nobility and slaves and it was a place where both men and women worshiped and served. This has bearing for us as a church today.

Every church should strive to welcome and greet all who enter its fellowship. This includes those who are visitors and those who come week by week. The church should also express its affection and acceptance of one another in deeds as well as words. When we work together in the church we get to know each other and so our bond of fellowship grows. And when we do all of this then we should expect growth in the church as we live as the people of God.

The picture Paul paints for us in Romans 16: 1-16 is a beautiful one of what the church should be and how God’s people should be one in the Holy Spirit, under one gospel.

Romans – The heart of the Gospel is a teaching series from Annalong Presbyterian Church. Find out more at


As I was reading through Romans 16, um, really it began a week and a half ago. I thought to myself, boy am I glad that these biblical names aren't being reintroduced into society. It would leave baptisms quite a fun thing, wouldn't it? Um, interesting names and maybe you're thinking you're glad you didn't have to read that passage this evening. But there's something beautiful about these names that we read that we'll see because as we read this long list of names they're important because they tell us something about Paul. But they also tell us something about the church that we don't see on first reading because we can read these names and they can sound like strange things and wonder what on earth are we going to do with this passage this evening. Well, this morning as we concluded Genesis, we were thinking of heaven and hell. We were thinking that when our time on this earth comes to an end, we will be confronted with one or two destinations. Those destinations being that heaven and hell. The challenge, of course, is always to seek heaven, to know assurance that heaven is our promised land. Just as Hebrews wrote about those who came after Joseph, that they knew the promised land. Yes, it was a physical place that God had given them, but they were looking beyond that land to a heavenly land. And so must we. And so as we look towards that heavenly land, we have to ask ourselves, well, what do we do as we wait? What do we do as we wait for that heavenly land to come? Well, the simple answer Paul has for us this evening, how do we live out a life of faith, is to live as the church. What we get in this passage is a snapshot of the church. And as we've gone through Romans, we may not have naturally seen the pastoral heart that Paul has for the church at Rome. Now, we could perceive his first 11 chapters as deep theology, that deep theology putting them in their place and making sure they stay in their place. And then chapters 12 to 15 as telling them what to do and how to live. But at the heart of this message has been Paul's great desire to see the church grow and mature. That's why we said that Romans truly is the heart of the gospel, because it not only is at the heart of what we must know about the gospel, but it's the very heart of how we live out the gospel, how the church lives as God's people in the world. And by his own admittance, Paul tells us in verse 15 of chapter 15 that he has been bold at times in what he has said to them. And they may not have liked it because of the strength of his argument that he's needed to use to convince them of what is the heart of the gospel. Well, let's go back to chapter one and remember how Paul addresses this church and how he loves them because he says in verses seven and eight To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you because your faith is proclaimed. in all the world. Paul recognizes their position before God. What do these verses tell us? First of all, they are loved by God. And so Paul then emulates that love to these people who are his brothers and his sisters. And notice the thanksgiving that he gives for them. He gives thanks for their testimony of faith, that that testimony of faith is not only known amongst the church there, but it's reached other churches around the known world. These are people who are quite literally living in a tough spot. The imperial capital is no friend of Christians, and yet they maintain their profession and their witness of Jesus Christ. And Paul is in awe of this. There's people in this church who were saved before him, and he's in awe, but he also supports them. That's why he has worked hard in teaching them and giving them practical instruction of how to live. And so as this letter closes, he turns his attention to the members of the church. Now we all like to be noticed and thought of. Much of our correspondence these days is done in less than a hundred words. We do it through social media and instant messaging. We can't wait These days to send nor for a reply, but when someone takes the time to sit down and write a letter or card, we consider what it has taken them to write it and post it. I love getting letters. I particularly loved getting letters in our five years in Malawi. Post didn't come to our door. You had a little key in a little black box that you opened up and in there you'd get whatever had been delivered. You learned not to go every day because the post only came every 10 days, but what a joy it was whenever you got an envelope with a letter or a card in it. I've told you before, what was even better was you'd get a wee slip of paper. Which meant you had to go to the parcel office then because it was too big to go into the little box. There would be cards and pictures and chocolate and Percy Pigs. And at one point, Marks and Spencer's, um, truffles as well. They'd all melted into one big bunch, but that was okay. Someone had taken the time and then it had taken time, 10, 14, 21 days to get from the Malawi. We love getting correspondence. We love someone taking the time to send us something through the post. We value it. We feel thought of as the postal worker places the correspondence through our letterbox. We hear it drop with that lovely thud on the mat. And within that letter or card we see the salutation of dear, not hi or straight into whatever it is someone's looking, it always bugs me, this is my bugbear. Whenever you're sending a text message, please say hello, please say hi, it's only nice. Because in our letters we say dear such and such, because we mean it. The person we're writing to is cherished. The closing of a letter is always sincerely or faithfully. or with love. It's not an abrupt ending with multiple question marks, but a recognition of the affection with which this relationship is held. Paul has not only written this letter, but in these first 16 verses of chapter 16 we see his relationship with the members of the church. Now we don't know everything about all of them that are here, but what we do see is a real church. With those who are a blessing to Paul and to other believers in what we would call their fellowship together. And so Paul begins with a commendation of Phoebe, who is described as a servant of the church at St. Croix. Now it seems that Phoebe has been a key servant in the church. It might even be that she is the bearer of this letter to the church in Rome. She comes from this place called St. Croix, which is modern day Quetres, a port city five miles east of Corinth. Paul encourages the church to welcome her and to support her in whatever she needs, as she has been a support to so many. including Paul himself, and most likely she has contributed financially to the mission work of the spread of the gospel in that eastern part of the Roman Empire. And so having introduced Phoebe and commended her to the church for her service, Paul goes on to give 16 greetings to those in the church. These greetings are given to 12 people directly and scores of others more indirectly. And the first two to be greeted are Prisca and Aquila. Prisca and Aquila were a married team that labored with Paul from time to time for many years. We read of them in Acts chapter 18 in verses two to 19. They hosted house churches in both Rome and Corinth, and when they heard Apollos preach, they discerned both his par and his deficiencies and. As Acts 18 verse 26 tells us, they explained to him the way of God more accurately. They recognized his giftings, but they wanted to support the spread of the gospel, and so they took him aside and directed him in how he could serve the Lord. And because of their profession as tent makers, this allowed them to travel widely. And so Prisca and Aquila assisted Paul in Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus. At an unknown point, they risked their lives for Paul, possibly during the riot in Ephesus in the latter part of Acts 19. So Paul honors Prisca and Aquila as a team for which the entire Gentile church should give thanks. We don't know exactly what they did, but they have been a blessing to the church. It might be that they have blessed Paul and thereby that blessing has been extended to the church. But Paul recognizes their work for the sake of the gospel. Well, the greetings continue from the end of verse 5 through to verse 15, where Paul names an array of people in the Roman church. And you know, we can sit back and we can wonder, well, how does Paul know so many people in Rome? He's never visited the city because he plans to go, but was never there. But we have to remember that travel was common in the empire, and that old saying that all roads lead to Rome was a true one. All good roads led to the imperial city. On top of this, when the Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome in AD 49, he scattered Rome's Jewish Christians throughout the region. They often landed then in cities, cities that Paul had visited in his journeys. And when Claudius rescinded his decree in AD 54, many returned to Rome. So Paul is greeting people whom he met during his journeys because of their persecution. And like the city itself, Rome's church was a diverse one. And we see a couple of things about this church. First of all, we see its ethnic diversity. There's Greeks. Romans. Jewish names on this list that we see. We also know that Prisca and Aquila were Jews, and that since Paul calls Adronikus, Junia, and Herodian his kinsmen, presumably they were Jews also. By contrast, the houses of Aristobulus and Narcissus were well known Roman families. And most names in Romans 16 are Greek or Roman. So this is a church that's diverse, ethnically. But there's also diversity in its socio economic makeup. That's the class of people that they come from, how much money they have, what kind of jobs they have. Were they born in the city or did they come from the rural areas? There's historical evidence in inscription and household records that Ampilatus, Urbanus, Phlegon and Hermes were common slave names. Among the women, Trifinia, Trifosa and Persis could also be slave names. So when Paul wrote, any of these people could be free, since slaves often gained their freedom, but their social status in Rome would probably remain quite low. On the other hand, then, you have Junia and Julia, both names common to Roman citizens. Also, the family of Narcissus probably refers to Narcissus, recently deceased, who was one of the empire's most powerful men under Claudius. And again, we find that out in works of antiquity. And the family of Aristobulus might refer to the grandson of Herod the Great. He spent long years in Rome. And so clearly the early church in Rome had members and distinguished helpers from all classes. So not only was it ethnically diverse, it was socio economically diverse. And thirdly, we noticed that Paul greeted and commended both women and men. Of chapter 16's 26 names, perhaps 10 of them are women. There's a few that we don't know if they are men or women. And Paul singles out most of the women for praise. Phoebe is a sister, a servant, and a patron. Prisca, with Aquila, is a co worker who risked her life for Paul. Paul commends several women. Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis for their hard work. And he blesses the mother of Rufus for acting like a mother to himself. Paul also singles out several men for comment or praise. Among them, Paul then commends Urbanus as a fellow worker. And Pilatus and Statius are simply my beloved, he refers to them. And Rufus is chosen in the Lord. Of the people Paul names without comment, most are men. And it might be that he did not know them well enough to comment. Three different ways that the church in Rome is diverse. And isn't it wonderful to see a church described like this? Paul speaks well and lovingly of those who meet week by week because of their one heart for the gospel. Yes, they may look different. They may dress differently, their names might tell where they're from, but all of that is put aside for the sake of the gospel. See, Paul does know this church well, even though he's never been, because he's already described what this church looks like in chapter 15 and verse 29. He says, I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness. of the blessing of Christ. This is how he describes this church. A church as having the fullness of the blessing of Christ. This is a church that knows and demonstrates Christ's personal presence and guidance and protection in what is a tough station to live and minister. This is a church that puts aside its human disagreements and opinions for the sake of the gospel. where it desires to be a blessing to everyone who attends. And whenever we pick up on verse 17 next week, we'll see that Paul warns against those who will try to dis, uh, disturb and disrupt this unity that they have, that they shouldn't become complacent. You see, what the people are doing is they are living what Paul has taught. But they still needed to hear it because of course they could do better. But we see evidence in this list of people who are loving Christ daily. in their walk of faith. And this is a challenge to us as the church in this place today. Are we as we should be? We can often think that simply showing up on a Sunday is all that there needs to be, but it isn't. The church needs to be active in its every day as the church. We are to be the people of Christ who live out our faith in this community Through acts of kindness and in the sharing of the gospel as Peter writes in first Peter 3 verses 14 to 16 But even if you should suffer for righteousness sake you will be blessed have no fear of them nor be troubled But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy and holy Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience so that when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. Peter says we're to give a defense for what we believe to anyone who asks why we have hope. This of course means that we need to know that we do have a hope that is different from the world. This hope will make us want to share the good news. To be a listening ear and to demonstrate acts of kindness in Jesus name so that we live together as the church, not simply a building used twice on a Sunday, but as we go out. I attended a Baptist church in West Yorkshire when at university and it always had stuck at the back of its door as your way out. You're now leaving church and entering the mission field. I believe that Baptist Church is now long closed because its numbers were dwindling, but it had the right perspective. Church was where we worship, but the mission field was out there for the other hours of the week where we spend our time. You see, we are to live as the church, not just for two hours on a Sunday. We are to live as the church every day that we are given. And did you notice how Paul finishes this passage? In verse 16 he says, All the churches of Christ greet you. Now this is where we all get a little bit uncomfortable and start shifting in our pews. Is he going to make us now start kissing each other? Well a kiss of greeting which is still common in some parts of the world today and always catches me off guard when it comes. It was customary among early Christians because it demonstrates the family tie. Remember the brothers and sisters that Paul referred to at the start of this chapter? That family tie shared by all as a result of having God as father. It was a holy kiss, precisely because the affection it expressed was God generated by the work of his Holy Spirit, uniting a people through faith in Jesus Christ. And Ian Duguid says regardless of social class, gender, ethnicity, or other usual separating and often subordinating distinctives, persons in Christ are of equal worth before their God and each other. A holy kiss demonstrates that there is no difference. A holy kiss means we recognize each other in Christ as he sees us. That's how we are to live as the church. We are to live as one people under one gospel. We may be different in how we dress. We may be different in where we come from. We may be different in our educational backgrounds and our life experiences. But what unites us and enables the church to greet each other with a holy kiss is our unity in that God given unity. unity. One with the other. We may not give each other a holy kiss. That's okay. But what it means and what it needs to mean still that we recognize who we are together in Jesus Christ and so as chapter sixteen draws this letter to its conclusion, we get a wonderful picture of who the church is to be and it's and it's to be beautiful because Paul's greeting shows a diverse yet unified church. And the greetings here have three notable parts. First of all, Paul sees the people he greets as family. As brothers and sisters. Second, he loves this people and often calls them beloved. And third, Paul toiled and suffered alongside his friends. And so by sharing tasks and sorrows, bonds grow strong. But more foundationally, Jesus Christ united the church. In Romans 16 and verses 3 to 13, Paul greets eleven people and the family of Narcissus saying that they are in Christ or in the Lord. As they work together for the church, the grace of Christ sustains them, as Paul writes in chapter 20. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. They are to be a grace filled church in how they worship, how they live, and how they serve, and how they fellowship. And so every point in this passage has implications for us, the church, today. Above all, every true church focuses on Jesus and the gospel, because lasting unity grows from our union with Christ, not from mere human affinities. First, every church should strive to welcome and greet all who enter its fellowship. We greet one another by name, if possible. and give signs of affection through hugs, if you really want to do holy kisses, or whatever our society considers a normal way to convey that we are glad to see one another. Let's face it, in our culture, it's a smile and a strong handshake. That signifies a welcome. Are you doing that? Not just those who are out in the vestibule, but are you doing that amongst yourselves? That you're actually telling each other that you're glad that they are here? Are you telling our visitors that you are glad and thanking them when they had so many other choices to go to many other places But they chose here and we will be blessed because of their company So the implication for the church today is to welcome and greet everyone who enters the fellowship to show that we truly are a fellowship secondly Let us follow Paul by expressing our affection and acceptance in deeds as well as words. Paul praised people for their work, but he also worked beside them, fulfilling tasks and facing opposition together. By working together, suffering together and bearing one another's burdens. Relationships deepen. That's why service in the church is important. That's how we get to know one another. And I give you one example of holiday Bible club where we have people that I don't ordinarily get to serve with. But on holiday Bible club, we do. And because of that week we spend together, we get to know each other through conversations. through comments and jokes and things like that. Our, our relationships go deeper as we spend time with one another. That's what we hope Saturday will be for those who serve. You will be appreciated and welcomed and we'll have the time to sit and to chat so that we will have fellowship one with the other. So, uh, implications for the church today is to welcome and greet all who enter its fellowship, to express our affection and acceptance in deeds, as well as words. But thirdly, we should expect church growth through our unity in the spirit. And so not only will we save Nathan and a law native and along Ian's, if that's what we're called, those have an along who will come to salvation, but those from other cultures and nations, the church in Rome was truly a multicultural church. And we should be open to this as an expression of what we believe heaven will be like with all tribes and all nations. This is the church as presented to us in Romans that lives out what it believes and holds dear to its heart. You see, the church needs you to play an active role. The church needs you in worship. It needs you in prayer. It needs you in service and in giving. It needs you to be to your brothers and sisters, the support, encouragement and fellowship they need in this tough world. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2, 22, In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Holy Spirit. This is the church. And this is what is beautiful about the church because we get to do this together so that we may be built up to be the very dwelling place of God by his Spirit amongst his people. General Kitchener did a wonderful publicity for the war effort. But your church truly needs you. It needs to love you and it needs your love. It needs your hands, your feet, your eyes, your ear, ears, your brain. It needs every part of you that together we will grow so that yes, we will welcome. Yes, we will appreciate one another. And yes, we will see growth for the kingdom because we will live as kingdom people. Will you take seriously Paul's challenge so that indeed we will be built together to be a dwelling place for God by his spirit. I'm willing to go on that journey. I'm willing to give it a go. I'm asking if you'll join me seriously in doing this together. Let's pray. Father, your word challenges us individually, but often it challenges us corporately. Who we are as your people. And Father, by your grace, we need to know you love us so that we may welcome, that we will show affection for each other and acceptance, and that we will recognize and believe in the growth of the church through the conversion of souls. But Father, you need us to play our part and it's good to do so, so that we will be a blessing to your name. So Father, give us the strength and the courage and the grace to step forward in faith, to serve you well. So that we will be a blessing to you and fulfill what you require of us as a people to be your dwelling place by the Holy Spirit. So as we pay attention to your word and as we live it, keep us close to you in Jesus name. Amen.

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