We have made it to the last chapter in Romans. Dub McClish outlines this chapter in the following way:
“(1) commendation of Phoebe of Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1-2); (2) greetings to and complimentary descriptions of familiar and unfamiliar (to us) saints and greetings from the churches (Rom. 16:3-16); (3) a closing plea regarding doctrinal purity and proper handling of false teachers (Rom. 16:17-20); and (4) final greetings and a descriptive statement about the gospel (Rom. 16:21-27)” (Denton Lectureship – Romans 16).
Let’s begin with the first two verses.
Romans 16:1 I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, 2 that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.
Paul is introducing Phoebe to the church at Rome and is telling them that he stands behind her. He points out that she is a servant of the church in Cenchrea. Cenchrea was seaport town about seven miles east of Corinth. The only other time this place is mentioned is when Paul had taken a vow and had his hair cut off (Acts 18:18). Paul knew this woman was a faithful Christian. She had helped many and even helped Paul.
Paul wants the church in Rome to receive her in a manner worthy of a faithful Christian. This would include giving her a place to stay, feeding her, and helping her get around Rome. It used to be a common practice for churches to follow this method that Paul was using because when the church at Rome would receive a letter like this, they could know that Phoebe could be trusted and was not some false teacher or some person trying to trick or take advantage of the church. Sometimes, I wish this was still practiced, but it is much easier today for an eldership to find out about a new person that moves in by simply using the telephone. There is certainly nothing wrong or devious about checking up on new people that move in because some false teachers have been known to enter a church for the purpose to divide it. Sometimes, they are successful, but this practice could have been stopped before it got started had the person been checked on.
We are not told in our text why Phoebe was going to Rome. Though not specifically stated, our text implies that she would be taking this letter to the church, which was an awesome responsibility since many things could happen to her along the way. However, I have no doubt that God would have a hand in protecting her and this letter as she journeyed to the church at Rome.
Some Bible versions, such at the NIV and the RSV, call Phoebe a deacon or deaconess. Since Paul is commending her and possibly using her to transport this letter to the church of Rome, some claim this is proof that we can have women be official deacons. In fact, there has been a big push to denounce any limitations to women in the church today because many seem to think its chauvinistic and that the limitation in the first century were purely culture driven.
However, this will not stand the test of Scripture and to use Phoebe as example of this is farfetched. No doubt, women like Phoebe can do great things for the kingdom of God, but nothing in our text indicates that she was an official deacon per the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3. The word deacon can be used in a generic or official sense. I have no problem calling Phoebe a deacon or deaconess in the generic sense that simply means servant. Every Christian can be a deacon or deaconess in the church because we can all serve, but not all Christians can be deacons in the official sense per the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3, which is limited to men who are married and rule their children and household well.
Please notice what McClish points out about our word deacon:
Admittedly, the Greek word [@diakonon] (from which our English word deacon derives (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8,10,12-13)) is the word translated "servant" in this verse.<4> However, Paul also used [@diakonos] to describe civil rulers, who, he said, are "ministers" of God (Rom. 13:4,6). It is most unlikely that any of them were even Christians, much less deacons.
Even nearer the context of Rom. 16:1, Paul calls Christ a [@diakonon] (Rom. 15:8, "minister"), but would anyone argue on this basis that He was a deacon in the church? Furthermore, Paul often referred to himself as a [@diakonos] (cf.1 Cor. 3:5; 2 Cor. 3:6; 6:4; et al.), but we must understand this to be only in a general sense; not being married (so far as we know), he was not qualified to be a deacon in the church (cf. 1 Tim. 3:12). Why then assume an official use for the term concerning Phoebe? (Denton Lectureship – Romans 16).
No one has the right to force the idea of Phoebe being an official deacon of the church, and no one honestly can claim that the limitations of women in the Bible were culturally driven because Paul teaches us that the reason roles differ for men and women in the church goes all the way back to creation.
1 Timothy 2:12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.
Having different roles in the church for men and women doesn’t make a man greater or lesser than a woman. Instead of trying to worry about things we can’t do, we should focus and make the most of what we can do. When you look at the Godhead, you can quickly see that each member had as different role, but you never seen Jesus or the Holy Spirit complaining about not getting to do the role of the Father. I don’t know of anyone who would claim that there is inequality in the Godhead.
The bottom line is that women can serve in the kingdom. They can be trusted to carry out tasks just like any Christian man, but women have not been given the role of leading in the church over men. They are not to be elders or to serve as official deacons. Though they have some limitations in this area, there is plenty they can do for the kingdom of God.
In verse 3 – 16, we will see Paul’s greeting to several people. Some of these people we know a little bit about, some we know nothing about. Let’s start breaking these verses down.
Romans 16:3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house.
Aquila and Priscilla were a great husband and wife team that did their best to further the kingdom of God. Paul met them when he visited Corinth for the first time. This couple had lived in Rome, but they had to leave when Claudius evicted ever Jew from Rome (Acts 18:2). We don’t know when they became Christians, but some believe they were Christians before Paul met them for the first time.
This strong Christian couple followed Paul to Ephesus and remained there for over three years, but they went back to Rome probably after Claudius died. However, later during Paul’s second imprisonment, they made their way back to Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:19).
While Paul was gone from Ephesus, this couple took Apollos to the side and explained to him the truth more fully as he was still preaching John the Baptist (Acts 18:18-21). Paul mentions how this couple put their lives on the line for him, but we don’t know in what way they did this. It was most likely one of the events that happened in Corinth or Ephesus. The main point is that they were willing to risk their lives for Paul, and he and all the Gentile churches were thankful for what they did.
Just like in Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:19), this couple had opened their home as a place of worship in Rome. It is so wonderful to see such a great husband and wife team that were working together to encourage and influence the Christians around them. Their evangelistic efforts to the lost are certainly worthy of emulation. Next Paul writes:
Romans 16:5 Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ.
I like what Dub McLish says about Epaenetus:
Epaenetus was well-known and greatly loved by Paul. A textual variation prevents our knowing whether he was converted to Christ in Asia (ASV) or in Achaia (KJV). In either case, it would likely have been while Paul, Prisca, and Aquila were together, either in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-10) or earlier in Corinth (Acts 18:1-11). Since Epaenetus is mentioned in such close proximity to Prisca and Aquila, some conjecture that they converted him and he traveled to Rome with them (Denton Lectureship – Romans 16).
Next, we have Mary.
Romans 16:6 Greet Mary, who labored much for us.
Mary was a common name, and we have around six different women named Mary. We have another textual variance in this verse, so we don’t know if she was laboring for Paul or for the Romans, but the main point was she stood at as one who was laboring for the cause of the Lord. Paul points out several women that are doing great things in the kingdom, which goes against the modern false idea by some that he didn’t care for women.
Romans 16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
There are several things that we don’t know about this verse. It’s possible for Junia to either be a male or a female. If Junia is a woman perhaps she is either the wife or sister of Andronicus. Paul calls them his countrymen, which can mean that they were related to him or just part of the Jewish nation. Whoever they are, they were in prison with Paul and were considered as a noteworthy by the apostles. These two had obeyed the gospel before Paul did, which means they may have been some of those Jews there on the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2.
Romans 16:8 Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord.
This is another saint that Paul considered his beloved. While we know nothing about this man, some scholars believe this man and several others in this list of names may have been servants in Caesar’s household.
Romans 16:9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys, my beloved.
Urbanus was a Roman name, and Paul considered him a fellow worker in Christ, which is the same thing he said about Aquila and Pricilla (3). Stachys is a Greek name, and Paul considered him worthy of mentioning.
Romans 16:10 Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my countryman. Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.
The only thing we know about Apelles is that he had faced some kind of trial and came through it, which is what is meant by him being approved in Christ. What you will notice about Aristobulus and Narcissus is that Paul sends his greeting to the members of their household and not them. There are several possible reasons for this such as these men not being in Rome, or perhaps they were dead, or maybe they weren’t Christians but some of those in their household were. Herodion was another countryman of Paul.
The next three are women.
Romans 16:12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord.
It is believed that are first two ladies were sisters and maybe twins because of the similarity in their names, which mean Delicate and Dainty. These two ladies were hard workers in the kingdom who worked to the point of exhaustion. Persis also worked hard in the kingdom, but the tense has changed in this verse indicating that she is no longer working like she used to perhaps due to age or other reasons.
Romans 16:13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
We have seen the name Rufus before. He and Alexander were the sons of Simon of Cyrene, who was compelled by the Roman soldiers to bear the cross of our Lord on the way to Golgotha (Mark 15:21). Since Mark’s account was written with Romans in mind, it makes a good case that this is the same Rufus Paul mentions in our text. Rufus’s mother must have treated Paul like a son and probably cared for him as some point, which is why he is calling her his mother.
Romans 16:14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.
We don’t know anything about these people, but Paul lumped them together in two different groups, which indicates that they lived in the same area or perhaps were part of two different congregations.
Next, Paul says;
Romans 16:16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you.
Some try to use this first part of the verse to claim that we in the churches of Christ don’t follow all the commands because we don’t greet each other with a kiss. However, this is gross misunderstanding of this verse. When you look at the history of that time, men kissed men and women kissed women on the check as part of their way of greeting people. In fact, this is still the cultural norm in the Middle East.
Paul was not commanding that people kiss each other, but when they do it as A greeting, it needs to be holy. In other words, it needs to be pure and sincere. We in the United States don’t greet each other with a kiss, we either say, “hello”, shake hands, or maybe give a hug. When we do these things with our brethren, they need to be pure and sincere.
I like Dub McClish wrote:
Howard Winters identifies several kisses mentioned in the Bible that are always unholy: "(1) the idolatrous kiss (Hos. 13:2); (2) the deceitful kiss (Prov. 27:6 (cf. 2 Sam. 20:9-10, D.M.)); (3) the betrayal kiss (Luke 22:48; Matt. 26:48; Mark 14:44)."<18> He also adds the passionate kiss (Cant. 1:2), observing that it can be either unholy or holy, depending on circumstance. By commanding them to use a "holy" kiss in their greetings, Paul was warning them against allowing deception, lust, or any other unholy motive to prompt or characterize their kisses of salutation.
Contrary to what some would have us believe, Paul is not binding the mere cultural norm of that place and time for exchanging greetings (namely, the kiss) upon others of different places and times. Rather, what Paul binds here is that our greetings, whatever form they may take, are to be holy (Denton Lectureship – Romans 16).
When Paul says, “The churches of Christ greet you” he could be referring to all the congregations he has ever had a hand in setting up, but most likely he’s referring to those congregations that were around him, and this also indicates that he had been telling these different congregations about how he was going to write a letter to the Romans.
Also, the churches of Christ is plural, which refers to the various congregations that belong to Christ. While Paul was not giving us an official name for the church, the church of Christ is certainly a scriptural descriptive designation. There are others as Dub McClish points out:
Other New Testament designations by which the church is called are: (1) "the church of God" (1 Cor. 1:2; 10:32; 2 Cor. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:5,15; et al.); (2) "the church of the Lord" (Acts 20:28, ASV); and (3) "the church of the firstborn."<20> It is also referred to by various figurative designations, such as: (1) the "kingdom" of Christ (Matt. 16:19; John 18:36; Col. 1:13; et al.); (2) the "body" of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23; et al.); (3) the "house of God" (1 Tim. 3:15); and (4) the "bride" of Christ (Eph. 5:23-32; Rev. 21:9; 22:17). The most frequently used designation for the church in the New Testament is just that -- "the church." There was only one church envisioned and established by Christ (Matt. 16:18). He purchased only one with His blood (Acts 20:28), and He loved and gave Himself up for none other (Eph. 5:25). No other designation than "the church" was needed to identify it in the first century… (Denton Lectureship – Romans 16).
There is no room for denominationalism is this because as Jesus said, “I will build My church” (Mt. 16:18). There is only one universal church, but there are many congregations that make up that one church. The best way you can tell if your congregation is one that belongs to Christ is if they make Jesus their head and the things they teach and practice are authorized by Scripture.
Next, Paul warns the Roman church about dissension, and he pleads with them to maintain doctrinal purity.
Romans 16:17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. 19 For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. 20 And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
Paul wants the Romans and for us to listen. He urges them to note those who cause divisions and offenses that are contrary to the doctrine that they learned through the apostles, and they are to avoid these people. This passage loudly proclaims the necessity to maintain a pure doctrine, and to keep a close eye on anyone who is trying to teach false things.
The word ‘note’ in verse 17 means, to pay careful attention to, look (out) for, notice (BDAG). In other words, keep your eyes and ears open for anything false that might be taught by another. Some are opposed to the idea of marking someone as a false teacher or marking a particular congregation as being unsound, but even if we just use what Paul said in this verse, it seems reasonable to me that if you do mark a person or even an entire congregation for being divisive and teaching things that are contrary to the Word of God that it can be done so that likeminded Christians can know to avoid those false teachers or those congregations who have choose to embrace error.
Certainly, some Christians go out of their way to find error and to label everyone they can as false teachers, and that would of course be wrong. So, it’s not about going in witch hunt, but if the false way is being proclaimed in your face, then certainly that person or congregation can be marked if they are unwilling to change their ways.
We have more support for this idea of marking and avoiding in other places in the New Testament, which also shows that the evil way and sinful men must be opposed.
God commands us to avoid evil, but He also commands us to actively oppose it.
Ephesians 5:11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.
The word ‘expose’ has several definitions and they are as follows:
to scrutinize or examine carefully, bring to light, expose, set forth used of the exposure and confutation of false teachers of Christianity
Also, Paul said,
2 Thessalonians 3:14 And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
The word ‘note’ in this verse means: take special note of, mark (out), publicly identify (Friberg Lexicon).
In Ephesians 5:11, we are told to expose the works of darkness, which would include all works of darkness, no matter who the person is. However, in 2 Thessalonians 3:14, he is dealing specifically with those who have obeyed the gospel and who have fallen away from God’s truth. They are to be exposed, and marked as well, but we are not to count them as an enemy. Instead, we are to admonish them, that is warn them, as a brother or sister in Christ. When it comes to one of our own, and we are expose his sin or false teaching, we do it because we love him and want him to be right with God. If we don’t warn him, then we are failing to do our duty as Christians. This idea is taught in the OT as well,
Ezekiel 3:18 "When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.
So, when we know the evil way is being taught or practiced, we must be bold and courageous and take a stand for Gods’ truth. Sometimes, this requires withdrawing fellowship from them as Jesus talks about in Mat. 18:15ff. When their sins are put on the table for all to see, it should make them feel ashamed of what they have been doing and cause them to come to their senses and return back to God. This is the idea Paul gives us in,
1 Corinthians 5:4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
This is what Paul did to Hymenaeus and Alexander.
1 Timothy 1:20 of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
When Paul heard that a church was moving away from God, he would write them a letter, and he would send men he trusted to go to those churches to help them get back on track, and sometimes he would visit them himself because Paul wanted these churches to serve God with their whole being, and he wanted them to worship God in spirit and in truth.
This is the same stand that we must take today. When we learn that a church is moving away from the truth, we need to pray for them and reach out to them if possible. If they will not listen, then we need admonish them and rebuke them out of love for their souls, so they might return to God.
Sometimes. we start developing the attitude that we are too busy with own problems in our own church or in our own community to be concerned about what other churches are doing, but that should not be the way we think. While our primary focus should be on our congregation and our community, it doesn’t mean we wash or hands of whatever our sister congregations are doing in the city next to us because sometimes there is a need for us to reach out to our brothers and sisters in Christ that are in different areas especial when we hear that they are struggling with following the right path.
Please understand, I am not saying we should act like some nosy neighbor and seek out the false way, but when we hear about and find out that what is being said is true, I think we should make an effort to help in any way we can to remind them to stick to the Book.
Back in our text in Romans, Paul tells us the motivation for those who would teach false things.
18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.
Those men or women who
choose to teach something false are not doing it for the good of all, they are
doing it for themselves. For some false teachers it’s a power trip because they
are able to change people’s minds through their smooth
words and flattering speech. False teachers are really good
at charming people and saying the right words to win their hearts. Once they
win the hearts of the people, the people will tend to follow them blindly.
Every good marketer knows if you present a package with a pretty wrapping that more people will buy that product even if the product itself is not great. That is exactly what these false teachers or we could say the divisive people do. This is why Paul wants us to pay close attention to these people and make sure that we look beyond the pretty wrapping they are presenting and pay attention to their content and how it stacks up against the Bible. In other words, never let your guard down. Then Paul says:
19 For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. 20 And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
Paul was happy to hear about how obedient the Romans were to God. Obedience to the Word of God is not dirty word as some want to make it. Obedience is how we show our love for Jesus (Jn. 14:15) and maintain doctrinal purity.
Paul wants them to be wise with what is good. The more we focus on the good, the better off we will be. He wants them to be simple concerning evil. In other words, stay away from evil things. One does not have to know about all the details of the evil way. Some seem to think in order for you fully understand the effects of alcohol that you need to get drunk at least one time. While that might sound logical to some, it is not necessary nor is wise do such a thing. Is someone going to murder someone so he can understand it better? Of course not.
Some like to think verse 20 is referring to the end of time, but it’s not. All Paul is saying is if the Romans are watchful, like Paul said, and they keep these divisive people at bay, who are the workers of Satan, then he and his work will be crushed.
Paul closes with the expression of his desire that the Lord's favor remain with them.
Next, Paul mentions some greeting from his fellow worker in Christ.
Romans 16:21 Timothy, my fellow worker, and Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my countrymen, greet you.
We all know who Timothy is because he is mentioned many times in the New Testament and has two letters written to him by Paul. He was a younger faithful Christian who did great things for the Lord. These other three men are Paul’s fellow Jews or possibly his relatives. There is a Lucius mentioned in Acts 13:1, but we have no idea if the Lucius mentioned here is the same one. Jason may be the one who opened his home to Paul and his companions in Thessalonica and then was persecuted for it (Acts 17:5-7,9). We know nothing about Sosipater.
Romans 16:22 I, Tertius, who wrote this epistle, greet you in the Lord.
It wasn’t uncommon for Paul to use a scribe to write down his words, but this is the first scribe to have his named mentioned. Other than that, we nothing about him.
Romans 16:23 Gaius, my host and the host of the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the treasurer of the city, greets you, and Quartus, a brother. 24 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
Gaius may have been the man Paul baptized in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:14), but there are other Gaius mentioned in Scripture (Acts 19:29; 1 John 3:1). Paul was apparently staying in his home and his home was being used by the church as a place of assembly.
Erastus was a treasurer of the city. His name is mentioned in other places as well (Acts 19:22; 2 Tim. 4:20), but we have no way of knowing if this was all the same person. Though not universally accepted, David Roper writes;
Today, visitors to the ruins of old Corinth are shown a slab of limestone about two feet by seven feet with letters seven inches high. Translated into English, the inscription on the slab reads “Erastus in return for his aedileship laid [the pavement] at his own expense” John McRay wrote, “From other evidence found in the excavation this Erastus was identified as none other than …’the city treasurer’ mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:23.” (Truth for Today commentary Romans).
We know nothing about Quartus. Then we have this benediction again, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen”, which some manuscripts don’t have. It may have been copied from verse 20.
Paul closes out this beautiful letter with a doxology, which means a formal praising of God.
Romans 16:25 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 kept secret since the world began 26 but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith-- 27 to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.
Paul makes it clear that only God can establish us. Paul had taken possession of the gospel and made it his own because he belonged to Christ and preached nothing other than Christ. The mystery of the gospel was unknown before, but it has been fully revealed through the apostles. This mystery has been proclaimed to all the nations.
Just as Paul started his letter showing that obedience to God’s will is key (1:5), he again points out that his desire is for all of us to be obedient to the faith. He finishes by pointing out that God alone is wise and that all glory be made through Jesus Christ forever, Amen.
We have learned much from the Book of Romans that we can apply to our lives and make them better. I just hope we never forget that we are to be unified in Christ based on the doctrine found in the New Testament. While we are to treat each other with respect and not get wrapped in matters of opinion, we should never ever compromise the Word of God for culture or for anything else.