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Greeting (16:1-16)

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When we speak of the church we often refer to it as an institution. For example, we will say things like, “The church teaches...” However, we should never forget that the church is composed of individuals who have submitted themselves to Jesus Christ. In light of this, it is no wonder that the Apostle Paul mentions several individuals in his inspired letter to the followers of Christ at Rome.

In chapter 16, verses 1 and 2 he writes, “I commend to you Phoebe, our sister, who is a servant of the assembly that is at Cenchreae, that you receive her in the Lord, in a way worthy of the saints, and that you assist her in whatever matter she may need from you, for she herself also has been a helper of many, and of my own self.”

Scholars debate whether Phoebe had an official position in the church or not. The one thing we can say about her for certain is that she served. She helped many people. Because she served others, she was worthy of receiving help when she had to travel to Rome on some business or legal matter. It is likely that Paul sent his letter to Rome in the hands of Phoebe. Paul vouched for her and asked the followers of Christ in Rome to assist her.

Paul continues, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life, laid down their own necks; to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the assemblies of the Gentiles.” Paul first met this couple in the Greek city of Corinth where they lived after being expelled from Rome. They gave Paul work. Afterwards, they traveled with Paul to Ephesus. While at Ephesus they taught the noted speaker, Apollos, more about Jesus. Later they returned to Rome. We do not know when they risked their lives for Paul. Perhaps it was when the silversmiths in Ephesus rioted against Paul.

Another noteworthy thing about this husband and wife is that they hosted a church in their home. Many people think that the word “church” refers to a building. According to the New Testament, however, a church is not a physical building but rather a living temple composed of people – an assembly of those who follow Christ.

In verses 5 through 7 Paul writes, “Greet the assembly that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first fruits of Achaia to Christ. Greet Mary, who labored much for us. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives and my fellow prisoners, who are notable among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” Though scholars debate the point it is probable that Andronicus and Junias are another husband and wife. When Paul calls them his “relatives” he probably does not mean that they are from his immediate family, but that they are fellow Jews. Paul writes that they had been in prison with him, but we do not know any of the details about this incident.

What does Paul mean when he calls this couple “apostles”? They certainly are not among the 12 men whom Jesus selected as apostles. The solution to this dilemma is to realize that the word “apostle” means “one who is sent.” Apparently, a church chose this couple to work on its behalf in spreading the Gospel. In today’s language, we would call them missionaries.

In verses 8 through 12 Paul writes, “Greet Amplias, 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 them of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, who labor in the Lord. Greet Persis, the beloved, who labored much in the Lord.”

We do not know who most of these people were. We do know that two very prominent men named Aristobulus and Narcissus were associated with Caesar’s household. However, we do not know whether they are the same men as Paul mentions. In any case, Paul does not greet them but, rather, the believers in their households. Since many of the people Paul mentions bear names which were given to slaves, we can assume that the followers of Christ in the households of these men most likely were slaves.

Verse 13 says, “Greet Rufus, the chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.” Many scholars believe that this is the same Rufus who is mentioned in Mark 15:21. If this is true, it was Rufus’ father, Simon, who carried the cross for Jesus. Undoubtedly, it was Simon’s unwilling service on that horrible day which eventually led his wife and sons to faith. Not only did Rufus become a well-known figure in the church, his mother became a mother to Paul.

Paul continues his greeting in verses 14 and 15, “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.” We do not know who these people are. Their names are not mentioned elsewhere in Scripture. However, from what Paul says we can assume that churches met in their houses.

One of the remarkable things about the people whom Paul greets is how many of them are women. Several of them were prominent in the church. No matter who we are, our background or our gender, in Christ’s church there is a place for all of us. All can serve.

In verse 16 Paul says, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” At that time it was customary for people to greet one another with a kiss. What is important is not the form of greeting, but that the greeting be holy. Among the followers of Christ, there is no room for insincerity.

Paul concludes this section by saying, “The assemblies of Christ greet you.” At the time he wrote this letter, Paul had gathered a large offering for the church in Jerusalem. Representatives of the churches which had collected the offering accompanied him. No doubt it is they who are conveying the greetings on behalf of the churches they represented.

Paul concludes his letter by telling us how we can be strengthened. If you would like to know, listen to our next program.