We have come today to the end of the epistle to the Romans. It’s been a long, somewhat arduous journey. Romans is a very thorough, very dense, theological treatise in the form of a long letter to the Roman church from the Apostle Paul. And as I have said quite frequently lately, the first 11 chapters were almost strictly theological, but the second part of the book beginning with chapter 12 are very practical.
Now they are practical because these last 5 chapters are dealing with the life of the church. The first 11 chapters tell us how we receive life from God, how we are made a part of the church, that’s the theological section, and the last five chapters tell us how we are to live as the church, that’s the practical application.
Starting in chapter 12 we looked at how we worship as the church, the essentiality of church, the love of the church, the church’s attitude towards the world, towards their neighbor, and towards government. Then we looked at the edification of the church, the model of the church, and the fruit of the church. Finally, today we are looking at the saints of the church.
Now I could just as easily say the people of the church, but I wanted to use saint because the apostle uses that word to describe Christians. Saint means holy one. We need to understand that there is a difference between a saint and a sinner. Yes, in one sense we are sinners saved by grace. But when we are saved we are no longer sinners, but saints. We have been set apart, we have been sanctified. We have been transformed. We have been changed. We no longer are controlled by our sin nature, but we are now controlled by our new nature, and that new nature is a new spirit which is born of God.
I feel a need to make that distinction because I see too many people who claim to be Christians and yet they are not living a holy life. They are still trapped in their sin. They are still living in the world. And that’s evident when you talk to them. They come to church, they move their mouth when we sing, they may drop some money in the offering box, but when you begin to talk to them it’s apparent that they are still living in sin. Listen, Christ died on the cross not to make it possible for you to have God’s blessing on your business, not to give you perfect health, not just to deliver you from your crisis, but He died to cleanse you from sin. He died so that you might have life, spiritual life, a life of consecrated holiness to the Lord. He died to deliver you from the bondage of sin, to escape the corruption of the world, and to live for Him. And that is why the early church were called saints. That is why you are called saints. Dead people are not saints, but living people are saints who live sanctified, holy, obedient lives for God. That is what the church is populated by, not just people who have a similar economic or cultural or moral background, but a people who have been changed from sinners to saints.
John Newton, who wrote the famous hymn Amazing Grace, was a slave trader before he was converted and eventually became a minister. And John Newton wrote a famous line which says, ““I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” I am not what I once used to be. That should be the testimony of every man and woman here. And if it is not, then you need to examine whether or not you have been truly saved.
In 1 Cor. chapter 6, Paul talks about sinners, how as unrighteous they will not enter the kingdom of God. And he describes the unrighteous as fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers. He pretty much covers the gamut of sinful activity. And then he says and “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” There was not only a change in position, but a change in behavior, from sinner to saint. And so in almost all his epistles, he addresses those in the churches as saints. And so it is in Romans 1, in his salutation “to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints.”
So the people of the church are the saints of God. A holy people, set apart and sanctified by God. And as was the typical format of letters in those days, at the end of the letter Paul addresses certain saints of the church that he knows of, either through prior association with or by reputation.
Now this chapter is one that is largely skipped over by the majority of pastors, and I can’t say that I blame them. Just reading the names listed here is difficult enough, much less coming up with a three point outline from this chapter. But I believe there are some very instructive things that are tucked into this final chapter which should be helpful to us as well. Because the church is the people. It’s not a building, it’s not a denomination, it’s not an organization. It’s the holy people of God. And here we have some insight into what that looked like in the first century.
Now there are some general observations that we can take from this, and then we will look at a few particular people, and then a warning and a blessing upon the church. First some general observations. From history, and which is also confirmed in this passage, we know that there were not any church buildings associated with the early church until the middle of the third century. For the first 250 years or so, the saints met in homes of various members. Probably the more wealthy members of the church had the largest homes, and so they would have likely been the home they met in.
Also, as we can see from this passage, there was usually more than one church home in a city. There are at least three mentioned here in this chapter, and possibly more. Perhaps they followed the pattern of the Jewish community, where synagogues were regularly spaced throughout the city. They were not allowed to travel more than a Sabbath day’s journey to go to the synagogue, and so they would have one in every community. And the standard was that if the community had at least 10 men then they could establish a synagogue. I think a similar principle would have been in operation in the NT church. Not that they were prohibited from travel, but they were limited in the size of their houses as to how many people could gather together as a church.
I think a lack of understanding about these house churches has led to a greater misunderstanding in regards to church formation today. When Paul and Barnabas established elders in all the churches in Acts 14:23, some have erroneously, in my opinion, thought that established the principle of a plurality of elders for every church. But what it actually says is they established elders in every church. In other words, every church, every house church, they established an elder, or an overseerer, or what we might call today a pastor. After all, if a church had only 20 – 40 members in it, if you had the principle that there must be a plurality of elders you would end up with all chiefs and no Indians. There are some churches today that ascribe to that idea of a plurality of elders, but I don’t see evidence for that in scripture.
Notice another thing about this church at Rome. Paul mentions only 29 people by name, but indicates there were more with the phrase “in their house.” “In their house” indicates there was a church in their house, and we have already said there are at least 3 house churches mentioned in Rome. Once again, that indicates small, intimate groups of believers who met in homes as a local congregation, with a local pastor or elder. And yet there would have been a recognition and even fellowship and sense of community with other congregations in the city.
Another thing worth noting in the names on this list is the fact that at least 30 percent are women. That is striking in a culture that did not recognize women as much more than property. But we can see that in the church they were highly valued. They filled important roles in the church. Not necessarily leadership roles, but then it is important in church that there are workers and not just all leaders. What’s amazing to consider is that God immortalizes so many people in these churches who were just average, otherwise unknown individuals who come from every walk of life. Commentators tell us that many of this list were slaves, some were nobles, some were civic leaders, some were undoubtedly poor. And yet they were unified in the church. There was no recognition of rank or privilege in the church, and if one did have money or position according to natural means, then it was used for the benefit of the church.
What else is amazing is that this list shows us that there was a good amount of travel going on in the Roman culture. Fro instance, Aquila and Priscilla were first in Rome, then Corinth, then Ephesus, and then back in Rome again at the time of this letter. People traveled and lived in various places in the Roman Empire. They had that sort of freedom under Roman rule, and the famous Roman road system obviously helped in that regard. In fact, the gospel was more easily carried throughout the Roman Empire by the fact that Rome had established a sort of peace throughout the known world, and their highway system enabled commerce and travel at an unprecedented pace, all of which contributed to the spread of the gospel.
Now let’s look at few particulars regarding certain individuals. First of all, Paul mentions Phoebe. “I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church which is in Cenchrea.” It’’s widely believed that Phoebe was the one who carried the letter to the Romans from Paul. It’s likely that she was a business woman, and so by this commendation from Paul the church so that they would accept her and show hospitality to her. But most importantly, she is described as a servant of the church. The word rendered servant is the same word from which we get the word deacon. That doesn’t mean that she was a deacon in position in a church, however. The word also can simply mean servant, or server. It was used to describe those who served in any capacity. There are some churches that I am afraid have once again failed to interpret this passage correctly and from it have come to the conclusion that women are to hold positions of leadership in the church in the form of deacons or even ministers. But that’s the danger of taking a indirect reference such as this and trying to use it as a proof text to substantiate a preconceived objective because of cultural preference. Paul’s letters to Timothy in regards to church organization and it’s ministers’ qualifications makes it clear that it does not permit women in church leadership, but simply to state this woman risked much to serve the church in the capacity of bringing the epistle to them.
Other saints of note in Paul’s epistle are his friends and coworkers in the faith, Aquila and Priscilla. It would seem from the text that they had a church in their house. That seems to be the case with this couple no matter where they were. They were always serving the Lord and hosting the church in their house, whether in Ephesus or Rome. Aquila and Priscilla are mentioned about 6 different times in the NT, and sometimes Priscilla is mentioned first, and sometimes Aquila. And once again some teachers who perhaps have an agenda have tried to say that since Priscilla is mentioned first more often than her husband, that means that she was the one that was the teacher, the leader, and not her husband. I think that’s another case of trying to find proof for an agenda that the Bible does not support. I think it might say something about her personality, or about her character, but it is a real stretch to find support for something that 1 Timothy makes quite clear, saying that woman are not to teach in the church. Scripture does not contradict scripture. And when it seems to, then you must reevaluate your interpretation, not change Biblical doctrine.
Paul says that Aquila and Priscilla risked their own necks for his sake, and that all the churches owed them a debt of gratitude for their service to the Lord. He goes on to mention Epaenetus, who was the first one saved in Achaia of Paul’s ministry. He had a special place in Paul’s heart.
Then Andronicus and Junia. These were apparently Jews (he calls them my kinsmen) and were imprisoned for the sake of the gospel (my fellow prisoners). They were well regarded among the apostles, having become Christians even before Paul did. Notice it doesn’t say they were apostles, but they were of note among the apostles. I think that means the apostles had selected them for special responsibilities to the church.
Then he mentions Amplias, of whom we are told there is found a tomb in the earliest Christian catacombs with that name. Then he mentions the household of Aristobulus. Aristobulus is believed to be the brother of King Herod Agrippa. He was not a Christian himself but many of his slaves evidently were. He mentions Tryphena and Tryphosa, obviously names for ladies. Their names mean dainty and delicate, or something like that. But notice how Paul describes them, “Those women who work hard in the Lord.” So these ladies of likely noble birth, who are dainty and delicate but they work hard in the Lord.
He mentions, “Greet Rufus,” whose name means ‘red’. That’s interesting because in Mark chapter 15 there’s a passage about a man named Simon of Cyrene, who was pressed into service to carry the cross of Jesus. He had two sons, Alexander and Rufus, and it is believed the whole family came to know the Lord as the result of Simon witnessing the crucifixion of Jesus. Tradition says that Alexander was martyred for the faith, but Rufus is now in Rome as a servant of the church there. Paul calls the mother of Rufus his mother, indicating that at some point it’s likely that Paul lived with his family and was befriended by them.
Paul continues in vs 14, “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.” I think it’s interesting to note how often relatives are mentioned together, as well as people who are of the same household. It’s illustrative of the way the gospel is spread, from one family member to another, from house to house, neighbor to neighbor. I think that kind of ministry is the key to effective church growth. Our witness begins in our home, with our loved ones, and then to our neighbors, and then to the community. But far too often today I feel our family members are excluded from church rather than included. When our unsaved relatives come to visit, that’s an excuse not to come to church, rather than viewed as an opportunity for them to hear the gospel.
Then note the personal affection Paul says is needed in the church. Vs.16; “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.” I wonder about such statements, whether or not God anticipated the Covid virus. That must have been such a shock for God, to find out that we can communicate germs to one another if we come closer than six feet. I mean, I think it’s prudent if you’re sick that you don’t sneeze on people, you don’t drink after people, you don’t kiss people if you’re sick. But somehow, someway, sooner or later there needs to be a return to normal behavior, and that includes shaking hands, kissing, touching, putting your arm around someone, or some form of showing affection.
I will say, however, that this kissing was not sexual in nature, but a perfunctory greeting in this part of the world. And it still is common today in a lot of places. It was usually a kiss on the cheek, maybe on both cheeks. But it demonstrates a willingness to let down your guard, to acknowledge in a public way your affection and friendship. That kind of brotherly love is necessary in the church. Christian love is not just spiritual, but it also must be physical. Kissing isn’t customary in our society, but shaking hands is, hugging someone is. And Paul indicates here that such a physical sign of affection is essential to the church.
Then in the 17th verse Paul gives a warning to the church. “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. 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.”
Paul is giving a warning against Antinomianism. That is, those who are professing to be Christians but live indulging the flesh. He says you should avoid such men. They seek to advance themselves he said, by smooth, plausible talk, by flattery. They flatter the ego of the saints and thereby lead them astray. It’s very easy for someone who has ulterior motives to appeal to your ego, to speak smoothly and plausibly to you, and to make you their disciple. That still goes on today in the church. From time to time we have people who come in, and after awhile it becomes evident they don’t really want to follow our teaching but instead they want to teach, to develop their own disciples. And Paul warns against such people who use flattery, who appeal to your ego, who appeal to your fleshly appetites, in order to take advantage.
But Paul rejoices in their obedience. That’s the characteristic of the saint. Obedience to what God’s word teaches us. That’s the mark of sanctification. That’s the goal of our instruction. 1Tim. 1:5 says, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” The deceivers and false teachers seek another goal, and that is to divide and deceive and lead the people of God astray to follow them, all with the promise that they will find fulfillment.
He says, be wise in what’s good , and be innocent in what’s evil. That’s a refection of what Jesus said in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” False teachers always appeal to some thing of the flesh, some appetite of our baser nature. Paul urges them to be on guard against such teaching and turn away from those people.
But Paul wants the church to know that God is fighting for the sanctity of the church as well. He says “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” Note first of all that it is God who will crush Satan. Secondly, that he will use the church’s feet to crush Satan. And third, that He will do so soon. God uses the church to accomplish His will. Way back in Genesis 3:15 God promised to bruise Satan’s head by the offspring of the woman. And Christ struck a mortal blow against Satan at the cross, fulfilling that promise. But there is also included in this passage a reference to the final crushing victory of God over Satan that will occur at Christ’s return for His church.
There is another list of people that Paul presents at this point, and I am not going to belabor it. These are his personal friends that are with him who send their greetings and prayers up for the church at Rome. I could spend a lot of time with Timothy, who Paul elsewhere calls his son in the Lord. But all these people were assisting Paul in his ministry to the church. He calls them fellow workers. Once again we see different types of people all engaged together in a common ministry, serving the Lord and His church. Tertius, the secretary of Paul, Gaius the host of the church where Paul was ministering, Erastus, the city treasurer, and Quartus, probably a slave, who he calls our brother. God uses people from all walks of life to minister to the church.
Finally, Paul concludes this great epistle with a great doxology. A liturgy of praise to God and a blessing upon the church. He says in vs 25, “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.”
In this doxology Paul manages to incorporate many of the primary theological principles that he has previously delineated in this epistle. It’s almost a review in liturgical form. He speaks of the blessing upon the church; that God will establish and strengthen them. He speaks of the gospel of God, which he calls my gospel. He had so thoroughly adopted it and believed it that it became part of him and was the sole purpose of his life. He speaks of the mystery hidden from long ages past: that mystery being the gospel of Jesus Christ, that Christ died to save sinners from all nations of the world and lives to make intercession for them so that they might have life in Him. He says this mystery is now manifested, it’s made clear through the scriptures, through the word of God and made known to all the nations, leading to the obedience of faith. Notice the connection between faith and obedience. Obedience is indelibly tied to justification by faith. Jesus said; “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Sinners become saints, by faith in Christ and obedience to His word.
So there is it, the gospel, presented by Paul through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. What a gospel! What good news! And Paul says it is all for the glory of God through Jesus Christ. There is salvation in none other. No man can come to the Father except through the Son. The fact that God has chosen to send His Son to die on the cross for our sins, so that everyone who believes on Him might be saved and be a part of His church and His kingdom, is a marvelous thing that Paul rightly ascribes wonder and amazement to. And I trust, it is something that 2000 years later we as the church of God can still say “Amen!” to as well. I pray that you will find inspiration in these testimonies of the saints of the church at Rome, and will likewise be found to be working for the Lord as holy, consecrated servants of God.