This chapter reveals Paul's appreciation of all who labor for the Lord. He realized that the work of the Lord is like a tapestry. Just as many hues and colors are blended together to create a beautiful design, so many types of service are needed to present and reveal the wonderful love of God! As each member of the body of Christ wholeheartedly contributes what the Lord has given him, God's wonderful design will emerge and be revealed to the world. It will be like a full orchestra producing a beautiful symphony of praise to our Lord and Savior!
"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." (vv.1-2)
Apparently Phoebe, of the church at Cenchrea (the eastern seaport of Corinth), was planning to go to Rome on business, and would carry this letter to its destination. Paul wanted the church at Rome to know that she was a woman worthy of their trust and help. She was not a phony, preying on their time and resources for selfish reasons and for her own benefit. Paul's recommendation ensured her favorable acceptance by the church.
Phoebe was a deaconess in the church at Cenchrea. The Greek DIAKONOS primarily denotes a servant - whether doing servile work, or an attendant rendering free service. Here it is used in relationship to her service in the church. This is the only time it is used of a woman in the New Testament. Since the translators probably did not want to give the honor of being a deaconess to a woman, it was translated servant instead of deaconess.
She was also a helper or succourer of many. The Greek word PROSTATIS means a protectress or helper. Athenian writers used this word when referring to those who took in strangers. Most likely she had also entertained Paul and his friends; we know that she had helped them in their work.
Paul appreciated the work women did in the church. Their ministry of love and ministry of the word did not go unnoticed by him. In spite of his busy life, he kept up his interest in people. Although he had not been to Rome, he had a long list of friends there!
At least 7 women are mentioned by name in this chapter. Phoebe (v.1), Priscilla (v.3), Mary (v.6), Tryphema, Tryphosa, Persis (v.12), and Julia (v.15). All of them were Christian workers, deaconesses and prophetesses who "labor in the Lord." (v. 12) This indicates that they labored in the ministry of the word. There were a number of prophetesses in the early church.
In verse 3 Paul begins his greetings to a number of his friends. This was not surprising, since he had met many of them elsewhere during his journeys. It was safer to send individual greetings of this kind in a letter to a church with which he was not acquainted at first hand, than to one where he knew practically everyone. If he singled out a few for special mention in a church where he knew many, others would ask, "Why was I left out?" They might feel slighted or hurt. But he did not have to worry about that in writing to an unknown church.
Paul mentions Prisca (Priscilla) and Aquila, a couple who are first mentioned in Acts 18:2. Priscilla's name precedes Aquila's four out of the six times their names are mentioned in scripture. This prominence has been attributed to her superior ability and leadership. We don't think that Paul would have regarded her higher social standing as a member of an old Roman family as a reason to put her name first.
Aquila was a Jew, a native of the Asiatic province of Pontus. His name was common among both slaves and freedmen. He doubtless also had a Hebrew name, but it is not mentioned. We don't know under what circumstances he came to Rome. He may have been a slave, and then later gained his freedom.
The fact that they are first greeted, indicates their close association with Paul. They first met in Corinth. Claudius had commanded all Jews to leave Rome, so Aquila and Priscilla came to Corinth. They became friends with Paul and worked together in their tent-making trade. This relationship soon led Priscilla and Aquila into a deep experiential understanding of Christianity.
This relationship was mutually so satisfactory, that when Paul wanted to begin work in Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila went with him. (Acts 18:18-19) They remained in Ephesus to establish the work, while Paul left for Jerusalem. In the synagogue Priscilla and Aquila met Apollos, a man eloquent in the scriptures. However, he was only acquainted with the baptism of John, so they took him aside and updated him.
They were still in Ephesus when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Paul sent greetings to them and to the church in their house. (1 Cor. 16:19) Paul stayed with them during his work in Ephesus. Where and when Priscilla and Aquila risked their necks for Paul's life is uncertain, but it is a witness to their love and high esteem for Paul.
When Paul wrote this epistle, they were back in Rome, and again having a church in their house. The greeting to them in 2 Tim. 4:19 indicates that they had again returned to Ephesus after their stay in Rome.
In verse 5 Paul affectionately greets Epaenetus as "my beloved" and "the first convert in Asia for Christ." Such senior Christians naturally assumed positions of leadership in the church. That Epaenetus was an accepted leader is implied in Paul's mention of him immediately after Priscilla and Aquila.
The reference to Epaenetus has been used to support the claim that this list of greetings may have been appended to a copy of the letter sent to Ephesus. But the mention of more than twenty others with no known Ephesian connection, weakens that claim.
In verse 6 Paul greets Mary of Rome. She had served Paul and his colleagues well elsewhere, and had now moved to Rome. There she was again serving the Lord!
Andronicus and Junias (v.7) were early Christians, converted before Paul was. Paul calls them "my kinsmen." It is unlikely that this simply means fellow Jews; it probably means blood relatives, members of the same tribe at Tarsus. They were "outstanding among the apostles." This indicates that they were distinguished apostles, and were legitimate preachers of the gospel. They had also been imprisoned for their faith and ministry for Paul calls them "fellow prisoners".
Paul sends greetings to Ampliatus, a Christian living in Rome, and addresses him as "my beloved in the Lord." (v.8) This name was common in ancient Rome. It is found twice in the cemetery of Domitilla at Rome, one of them dating from about the end of the first century A.D.
Paul then sends a greeting to a list of people about whom little is known. Urbanus was a fellow worker in Christ; Stachys was Paul's beloved in the Lord; Apelles was approved in Christ; Herodion was also Paul's kinsman. He also sends greetings to the household of Aristobulus and the household of Narcissus. (vv.9-11)
"Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord." (v.12) Paul calls these women "workers in the Lord". These names are derived from the same root, and it means "to live luxuriously." It is thought that they were twin sisters or very close relatives. Both names occur among slaves at the imperial court of Claudius and they have also been found in a cemetery used chiefly for the emperor's servants. They may have been among "the saints of Caesar's household." (Phil. 4:22)
"Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord." Persis was a member of the church at Rome. Paul thought of her very highly, referring to her as "the beloved Persis who has worked hard in the Lord." The name is common in ancient papyri and inscriptions.
Paul sent greetings to Rufus, "a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine." (v.13) The Latin name, Rufus, meaning red, appears twice in the New Testament. In Mark 15:21 we read that Simon of Cyrene had a son named Rufus. Some expositors believe there is a possibility that this family might have found its way to Rome, and there played an active role in the church. However, there is no evidence to support this theory.
Asyncritus, named together with Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, and Hermes, was probably the leader of this group of believers. (v.14) The name is found in papyri and inscriptions.
In verse 15, Philologus, meaning a lover of learning, is the first of five Christians to whom Paul sends greetings. Apparently he was the leader of another house church in Rome. His name is coupled with that of Julia, who may have been his wife or possibly his sister. If they were a Christian couple, Nereus and his sister were probably their children.
It was customary to greet each other with a holy kiss, as a token of peace, friendship and brotherly love. This was the custom of all oriental people, not only of Christians. (v.16)
"Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and 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." (vv.17-18)
Paul's urgent appeal to the church in Rome to be on the alert for false teachings shows his concern for them. Churches that he had planted had been visited by troublemakers, and they had caused strife and divisions. He knew the same thing could also happen in Rome, so he brought this strong exhortation for them to be on the alert for those who cause divisions and hindrances in the fellowship, and for teachings that were contrary to his teachings. We are to turn away from wrong teaching! False teaching causes division, because it separates those who love the truth and those who don't. Those who follow false teaching will often malign those who don't. Paul does not endorse a unity at the expense of truth.
True leaders can always be detected from the false by their godliness, unselfishness, faithfulness, loyalty and obedience to God. False teachers are slaves of their own appetites. (v.18) They desire glory for themselves and use their teachings to gain wealth for themselves. Their minds are on earthly things, but they use biblical language to promote their deception.
Peter also warns against false teachers. (2 Peter 2:1-3) They deny "the Master who bought them." Any teacher who proclaims righteousness by the works of the law or by self-effort is a false teacher, for he is denying the work of Christ. False teachers appeal to the sensuality and the religiosity that is in natural man. They may use biblical principles, such as forgiveness, not keeping resentments, bringing love where there is hatred, countering darkness with light, etc., but their source of energy is the inner self. Through self-effort they change their thought life, and thus change themselves to become better people. This is denying the work of Christ.
The closer a counterfeit is to the real, the harder it is to distinguish it from the real. Satan quoted scripture to Jesus with the intent to mislead Him. False teachers can use biblical words to promote a wrong understanding, because the spirit behind the words has deception in mind. For example, there are many today who use scripture to prove that God will abundantly bless those who give to the Lord generously - meaning of course that God will abundantly repay them if they give to their ministry. God does love a cheerful giver, and He has promised His blessings, but giving in order to get more is not what the Lord has in mind. Our giving is to be prompted by our love for God, not by our selfishness.
False teachers bring in heresies. Because of them the way of truth is maligned. Jesus said that His words "are spirit and are life." Spiritual words need to be understood spiritually because the carnal mind does not understand them. When they are received in the carnal mind, they bring in the law, heresy and death. If the words we hear do not bring life, they are not from God. If they bring us into a dependence on people instead of a dependence on God, beware! If they bring fear instead of faith, beware! If they bring condemnation to those who are in Christ, beware! If they preach law instead of grace, beware, because they are false teachers!
"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. And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you." (vv. 19-20)
The church at Rome was known for its obedience! We are to be well-versed and wise as to what is good, and innocent and guileless as to what is evil. We need wisdom to know what is good, because there are two kinds that are called good, but one of them is evil. The good that comes from the tree of life is good! There is no evil and no darkness in life! But the good that comes from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is rooted in disobedience, and comes from our own choices. However, the good from the tree of life is rooted in obedience.
Jesus lived a life of obedience, and Satan was crushed under His feet. Obedience does away with disobedience! Satan has no power over us when we obey our Lord! Our life of obedience causes Satan to be crushed under our feet! Do we want to be wise? Obeying God rather than our own feelings is wisdom! This wisdom is from above, for Christ has become our wisdom. Satan, the author of disobedience and discord, will be crushed under our feet when we are true worshipers of the God of peace. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ empowers us to overcome all evil!
Paul had already sent greetings from the Gentile churches. (v.16) He now sends greetings from some of his personal friends who are with him at the time of writing. (vv.21-23)
Paul regularly dictated his letters to a secretary, but Tertius is the only one whose name is known. (v.22)
Timothy is well-known in the letters. (v.21) He was like a son to the aging Paul. Jason may be the same Jason who was Paul's host in Thessalonica. (Acts 17:5-8) Lucius, Jason and Sosipater are grouped together as Paul's kinsmen. In Acts 20:4, a Sopater of Berea is mentioned as being one of Paul's travelling companions. The name Sopater is a variant of Sosipater; linguistically it is possible that they are the same person. The names, Sosipater and Erastus, have been found inscribed on a marble paving-block at Corinth, dating from this time. Erastus was the city treasurer at Corinth at that time, so it might even be that it his name.
"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen." (v.24) This benediction is Paul's stamp of authenticity. It is a strong exhortation to avail ourselves of the grace of our Lord. All self-effort is futile!
"Now to Him who is able 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, but now 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; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen." (vv.25-27)
Paul's gospel was Jesus Christ! Paul had never seen the physical Jesus but he had received revelation of the spiritual Christ! He received spiritual sight when his physical eyes were blinded. The prophets had prophesied of the coming Messiah, but it remained a mystery to them because the Christ had not yet been manifested and the Holy Spirit had not yet been poured out. Unless the Lord opens our eyes, He will remain a mystery to us too. The revelation of this mystery brings us into a faith that demands obedience. If we say we have faith, but do not live in harmony with that faith, it is not faith.
What a blessing and comfort to know that God is able to establish us! This is all God's doing! He is the only wise God! In our spiritual growth, we recognize more and more the greatness of His wisdom and His way of doing things! Just as children often do not recognize the wisdom of their parents, so we often fail to recognize God's unsearchable wisdom! Our God is a God of righteousness, hope, patience, consolation, wisdom, joy, peace, love and grace! To Him be all honor and glory! Amen.