92: Altar Blessings

Or, How Then Shall We Believe the Gospel?

March 24, 2024 • Sean Higgins • Romans 1:16–17, Romans 12:11

One test of whether or not you understand something is if you can explain it in your own words. It's not only a helpful exercise to engage with the material, it's strategic for locating the *point*. If we assume that what we're reading is organized in order to reveal truth — which we can assume with the epistle of Paul to the Romans — then we expect that all the parts build into a whole.

I keep being not just surprised, but disappointed when I reach the last verse of a Bible book in a commentary and the next page is: Appendix A, or Topical Index, or Acknowledgments. What about the *synthesis*? What about the *point*? We spent all the time looking at the trees on our way through the orchard, and some of the trees had great fruit. Now that we can look back, how far did we come?

To me, not just a review but a rejoicing review is in order.

There were two phrases that stood out to me as summaries of the two main divisions of the letter. Those phrases stood out to me enough that I used them as my email signature in two different years. The first captures the doctrinal (though there's truth for practice) in chapters 1-11, and the second captures the practical (though there's principles of truth) in chapters 12-16.

# From Faith to Faith

I get this from Romans 1:16-17, arguable Paul’s own summary of the theme of the epistle. In the gospel is revealed the righteousness of God **from faith to faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith.' (NASB)**

- We cannot be saved without faith; the gospel is for all the believing ones.

- We cannot please God without faith; the gospel argues against our righteous works.

- We cannot resist sin without faith; the gospel forgives and the Spirit frees us from sin’s power and fulfills righteousness.

- We cannot endure suffering without faith; the gospel gives us hope, but hope that is seen is not hope.

While one day we won't need faith any longer, when we see face to face, we cannot live as Christians without it for even one day in these bodies.

Faith is the instrument of justification, and this undid Rome *twice*, first the paganism of the Roman Empire and then again the popery of the Roman Catholic world. In the 16th century the dominant worldview, which came from the teaching and worldview of the dominant worship, was that men could only be righteous through a combination of faith *plus*: faith plus their own works, faith plus some saint's extra good works, faith plus money that purchased a status, faith plus visiting/touching/kissing some special artifact. To be righteous by faith *alone*, that led to the single greatest church split ever, and we are still blessed by that proper division 500 years later.

That said, faith apart from works is not really our fight. We wear t-shirts and drink out of coffee mugs with *sola fide* printed on them. That doesn’t always mean we live from faith to faith.

Our fight is more faith vs sight, faith except for all the times we think we can fix it ourselves. We are people who get things done, who make things happen, who take responsibility. We are realists, pragmatists, “modern” men of math and material things. If there’s a problem, we’ll solve it. We’ve got bullet points, after all.

And then we see the second half of Romans 1 played out in front of us, and we thought cultural degradation should be done by now. More bullet points!

But consider the placement of Romans 1:18-32. We say that it shows the *need* for the gospel, and it does. Men do not meet God's standard for righteousness, in unrighteousness and ungodliness they suppress the truth, so they are guilty and need the gospel. So true.

But who did Paul write the explanation *for*? It wasn't an evangelistic tract for the pagans per se, it was encouragement for those who needed to live from faith to faith. He wrote about God's wrath so that the Christians in Rome would know what to tell their sinning neighbors, but also so that the Christians in Rome would not lose heart.

Our culture is schizo. Unbelievers want more and more material things, we want physical comfort and prosperity, and we figure all that is possible if we follow the right 7 Steps to Success. But when it comes to moral things, the same unbelievers think that's up for grabs, think and act and be whatever you want, and we figure any of it is possible, just follow your feelings.

What both those perspectives share is not *not* faith, certainly not saving faith, but an alternative faith, just that we don't call it "faith" because it seems like we have some sort of control.

If there is anything that Romans teaches us, beloved, it is that men are not in control. As Christians we cannot even control our own flesh (think the last half of Romans 7); men are slaves to sin or slaves of righteousness, but they are not their own.

It is God's will, by His eternal command, that the gospel go out, that faith would come by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. That faith confesses that *Jesus is Lord*. At what point in your Christian life do you not need to live in light of that reality? We do not enter the blessings by faith and then fix the rest ourselves. It's all by faith.

# Don't Hold Back

This is from part of a verse in Romans 12:11: **Do not be slothful in zeal**.

Three times Paul references zeal in Romans, and all three assume that there are ways to mess up zeal.

Paul said in Romans 10:2 about the Jews that "they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge." In Romans 12:8 he exhorted those with various gifts in the body and included, "the one who leads, with zeal," like it's possible to go out first halfheartedly. And it is.

Then in Romans 12:11, **Do not be slothful in zeal**.

I think that the first line actually sets the tone for 11-13, because "being fervent, serving, rejoicing, persevering, being devoted, contributing, and seeking" are all participles that hang on it.

To be **slothful** is to be reluctant, to lag behind, to hold back. Brothers, Jesus is Lord, don't hold back.

# Conclusion

*We are individually offerings*, having received mercy by gospel, so Romans 12:1.

> I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

We've been called to altar living. You are not allowed to hold back some part of your life, some time of the day, some percent of your will. “To be freed from only one sin—that’s just our own agenda." (—John Owen, _The Mortification of Sin_). The mercies of God move all our bodies up onto the altar.

*We are collectively an offering*, being made by the gospel: Romans 15:16. Paul was

> a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

The gospel is the power of God to make an offering of offerings, one made up of many, just like the singular body of Christ has a plurality of members. How then do we believe the gospel? Like offerings to God.

We are part of the fulness of the Gentiles (Romans 11:25), so that “the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy” (Romans 15:9). God has grafted us into blessings, and His blessings make us jealousable before men and pleasing to Himself.

Because of the gospel we are to be a people of faith, believing in God and confessing Jesus as Lord and being conformed to the image of God’s Son. By His will we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. By His love we have reconciliation and peace with God. By His command the gospel has been known to us to bring about the obedience of faith among all peoples. By His mercies we present our bodies as living sacrifices.

What altar blessings! What gift. What depth of riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. To Him be glory forever!


## Charge

Christian, living from faith to faith is not a hobby or side-hustle, it is your life calling. It is your identity; you are "the ones believing."

Keep on believing in your heart the word of faith about the Lord of all. He bestows His riches and joy and peace on all who believe in Him.

## Benediction:

> Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!


> “For who has known the mind of the Lord,

> or who has been his counselor?”

> “Or who has given a gift to him

> that he might be repaid?”


> For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36 ESV)

More from Romans

91: There Will Be Strength

March 17, 2024 • Sean Higgins • Romans 16:21–27

This is it, the last of the letter. Unlike our salutations there’s no “Sincerely,” but Paul sincerely commits the Roman Christians to the care of the only wise God. We'll see a few more greetings in verses 21-23, then a send-off doxology in verses 25-27. Next week, Lord willing, we'll take one more run at a Romans recap, then we'll rejoice together on Resurrection Sunday. # Other Withs (verses 21-23) Chapter 16 started with 13 expressions of greeting to those *in* Rome, verses 21-23 include four more greetings from those *with* Paul. **Timothy** was one of Paul's with-workers, and we know more about him than any other named person in the chapter. He even received two letters from Paul himself, extending the ministry to churches. **Lucius and Jason and Sosipater** were more of Paul's with-borns, called **my kinsmen**. There's no reason to think they weren't part of his extended family. Verse 22 comes from Paul's with-writer, though that is not actually a word; I made it up. **I, Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.** Have you heard of the job: amanuensis? It's the academic name for a writing assistant, for one who takes dictation. Tertius wasn't just a professional secretary, he himself cared about the believers **in the Lord**. **Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you.** If Pheobe hosted a church in the port city of Cenchrae, just south of Corinth, Gaius was hosting an assembly in Corinth itself *and* at least Paul as a guest. **Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.** Just for sake of observation, while Paul told the Corinthians in his first letter to them that having a rank in the world didn't guarantee having wisdom to know God, Erastus, who was a Corinthian, did have some recognizable rank, and had become a Christian. He likely had enough of a network to have known some who now lived in Rome. You might not have noticed that, at least in the ESV, there is no verse 24 (NAS has it in brackets, KJV includes it). The more likely to be original manuscripts don’t have it, and if we read verse 20, we don’t miss anything. # Strengthening Worship (verses 25-27) There is a difference between a Benediction and a Doxology. I think about it when I choose the final Scripture for our Lord's Day worship. Paul ends different letters *both* ways, both are good, all are yours. A *benediction* is a good word (from Latin *bene* and *dico*, good-speaking), a favor-blessing usually directed to/over the recipients. "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you" (16:20) is a benediction, as were 15:6 and 15:13. A *doxology* is a praise word (from Greek *doxa* is glory and *logos*, praise-speaking), an honor-blessing usually directed to God. Romans 11:33-36 is a previous doxology. But both — praying to the Lord for His favor (benediction) and praising the Lord for His glory (doxology) — *bless* the hearers. It is good for us that this is our God, and so we lose nothing by finishing with doxology instead of benediction. It is a different kind of literary protein, both build the muscles of our faith. Verses 25-27 make the longest doxology in the NT, one sentence stretched out (11:33-36 is like three within one, or even just verse 36 alone is the doxology proper). **Now to him who is able to strengthen you**, and immediately we see how an attribute of God blesses the people who worship this God. We could pause here for a moment, because, are you allowed to be encouraged that God has abilities to enable your abilities? Or is that man-centered? Are you just coming to God because of what you can get from Him? There is a kind of exaggerated pietism that is too good to ask God for help, as if helping "*me*" is below God. But God doesn't want our strength, He wants us to thank Him and honor Him for all His power (see Romans 1:20-21, see also 2 Corinthians 4:7 and 12:9, see also Psalm 50:12-15). The establishing/stabilizing/reinforcing comes **according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ**, which, is Paul allowed to say "*my*" gospel (which he already did in Romans 2:16, too)? Again with the so afraid of being man-centered that we focus on how a man is doing it wrong. The gospel is the theme of the whole letter according to Romans 1:16, and note that the gospel converts only as the start, then it transforms (Romans 12:2) and fortifies. This message is **according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages**. What is the **mystery**? The OT prophets knew a lot, including knowing that they didn't know it all. We're told some of them studied their own writings to know the time and person of the Christ (1 Peter 1:10-12). The identity of the Messiah was a secret, but so also that “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25). Then light! There were shadows, but now there is substance. There had been questions **but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations** (*ta ethne*). Have all the Gentiles heard the gospel? Had *Spain* heard the gospel? The point here is that the gospel is *good for* all the peoples, that there is to be no narrowed for the Jews *only* even if “to the Jew *first*” (Romans 1:16). While not revealed in its entirety, the revelation is not a change of course. The gospel has gone out **according to the command of the eternal God**. God is internationally known, eternally governing. The gospel of salvation to all who believe was **to bring about the obedience of faith**. The only other place the phrase “the obedience of faith” is used is in Romans 1:5. In it is root and fruit, faith that leads to obedience. It is impossible to be justified by works/obedience, and those who have peace with God have been raised to walk in newness of life/obedience. So we keep living from faith to faith. This is the second bookend, more about the "Him" of abilities in verse 25. God is also the God of wisdom: **--to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.** I appreciate that the ESV translates with an exclamation point. # Conclusion There’s room to recap the whole epistle and some of the emphasis we've considered, but what can we take-away from the final praise? God has wisdom and strength. Every moment God's wisdom and strength works all things for good for the called, for those who love God. Do you love God? He is the God of all glory; none compare to Him. Do you love God? He is the God of all wisdom; He neither seeks nor needs counsel. Do you love God? He is the God of all power, who has sent His Son for the eternal blessing of all who believe. From this doxology we are blessed to know that God is powerful, eternal, wise; those three attributes are stated explicitly. Also we see that God reveals His will. God has global intentions. God expects worship and obedience. God is personal, He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ and the gospel. God deserves all glory. And He delights in glorifying Himself by giving us strength to worship Him as our Rock. You’ve been called to believe, to live from faith to faith. This is the God in whom you believe. > For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, > for my hope is from him. > He only is my rock and my salvation, > my fortress; I shall not be shaken. > On God rests my salvation and my glory; > my mighty rock, my refuge is God. > (Psalm 62:5–7 ESV) All the alternatives are smoke. They are superstitions and ignorance rather than revelation, deaf and mute and mortal and worthless idols rather than true. What are your temptations? What are your doubts? What are your sufferings? What are your weaknesses? Christian, do you need strength? *There will be strength.* ---------- ## Charge God not only has the power to strengthen you if He wants to, HE WANTS TO. The eternal and wise God saves you by faith and STRENGTHENS your faith to persevere in praise. He wills strength for you because He wills glory for Him. There will be strength! Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. ## Benediction: > Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20–21 ESV)

90: False Offenses

March 10, 2024 • Sean Higgins • Romans 16:17–20

There are only so many more verses left in this letter, only a couple more sermons from Romans after today. What a mountain of material we’ve traveled over, and yet the final 5% is still important. They say most accidents happen closest to home, Paul doesn’t want us to crash before we get there. He puts up a big warning sign as he gets ready to sign off. In verses 17-19 he urges the believers not to be naive because they’re in a battle, and in verse 20 he encourages them with a good word about winning that battle. # Divisions and Scandals (verses 17-19) There is a kind of selfish person that sounds as if he’s “in-the-know” and who gets kicks out of kindling strife. With only a few strokes left in his pen, Paul gets in this crucial instruction, how to identify offense-mongers (AKA offense dealers, offense traffickers), what drives them and how to respond to them. Before considering the exhortation, observe the problem people: **those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught.** **Divisions** is “dissensions” (NASB)(one of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:20), a break between people. We also call these factions, schisms, splinter groups. The divisions belong with the **obstacles**, which is from * σκάνδαλα*, so stumbling blocks, hindrances, *offenses*. And the structure identifies a group with shared characteristics. They are “the — factions and offenses - making ones.” This is the way of man, to “help” someone to see how BAD it really is, and form a Ring of the Ones Who Are Right (ROWAR) against those who are the cause of the BAD or even against those who can’t see how BAD it is. Show a person how upset, how offended he should be, the dam of love is broken, the floods of offense flow and now there are two sides. In marriage, two become one flesh; in the flesh, one becomes two, or more. These persons are creating a perverted koinonia as they teach how grieved some should be (at others). That divide-by-offense strategy is **contrary to the doctrine**. It’s false teaching making false offenses, teaching that is outside the “standard of to which you were committed” (Romans 6:17). What was the contrary teaching? It’s not specified here, and it’s not even obvious that such faction-makers had arrived in Rome. Paul addressed some arguers throughout the letter, but he had also just said that the Roman believers were doing great (Romans 15:14). That said, he’d been around “all the churches” (Romans 16:16), and of course he was writing from Corinth, known for their divisive quarreling. The problem and the problem people, are not those who have questions, who have exegetical disagreements, or those who have different convictions in disputable matters. Think back to Romans 14 and the need to sacrifice for and welcome whose who choose differently. Yet there is a kind of teaching that is opposed to salvation by faith alone; they teach there must be *more* than faith. There is a kind of teaching that is opposed to grace that frees us form sin and makes us slaves of righteousness; they claim that adds *more* to faith. Both of those angles have been addressed earlier in Romans. The gospel is the power of God to save and to cause us to walk in newness of ever-transforming altar-sacrifices. It’s not hard to see Pharisees, Judaizers, legalists, church ladies offended by free grace, and it’s not hard to see law-hating, obedience-oppressed, flesh-lovers. That kind of division is no good and works against the witness of harmony in the body as just seen in verses 1-16. Paul is also NOT calling sin confrontations “divisive.” Here’s an example. Person A is sinning, Person B goes to them (per Matthew 18:15-17) and Person A pushes it off. Person B takes Person C, maybe eventually Persons D and E, too, and Person A still won’t listen to the appeals. Especially if Person A is a leader (and see 1 Timothy 5:19-20), he may be tempted to use his position of authority to claim that that Persons C-E are causing division, but he would be *wrong*. Not liking that someone else (or multiple someones) can see your sin does not make them the object of this paragraph. When there is an offense-monger faction-maker, Paul urges the brothers **to watch out**, to keep their eyes open, and to **avoid them**. The KJV has “mark…and avoid,” which is punchy enough for a lot of social media, but is nonetheless a call to divide from the divisive (applicable to pulpits, podcasts, and parking lots). Verse 18 exposes the motivation: they want power. **For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites**. They “serve their stomachs,” their bellies. It could be a figure of speech, not just that they want food, but appetite represents the esteem and support they get from others. It’s the idol of ego, without the resources of Nebuchadnezzar to make a 90’ tall statue. They are dining out on the grievances they triggered. This is how most fundraising works, show how your opposition is the devil that’s ruining lives and the wallets open. Most outrage-raisers eat well. They also manipulate, **by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive**. This doesn’t only happen with soft verbal pats on your cheek, “you’re so pretty.” Smooth talk can seduce you to anger not just adultery, and flattery leads to war not just personal vanity, hence offenses that cause divisions. It’s like our politicians use verses 17-18 as a playbook. Why should they care if we’re too dumb, **naive** or unsuspecting, to destroy ourselves. The same happens in local churches (the immediate context of Paul’s warning) and denominations and extended families. In verse 19 Paul makes clear that he’s giving preventative medicine to the Romans. **For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.** Naivety is a sliding scale. The Roman Christians had knowledge as evidenced in their living. It still didn’t change the charge. Without saying her name, a number of terms seem to reference Eve: wise, good and evil, flatter and deceit, as well as Satan and feet in verse 20. Have all kinds of wisdom doing all the ways of good, but be unmixed, be pure, when it comes to evil. Jesus taught His disciples to be serpents of good and doves of evil (Matthew 10:16), which goes against the usual animal archetypes. # Grace and Peace (verse 20) Peace and grace, both are typical expressions by Paul, here in powerful promises. Satan loves schism. Our adversary loves making adversaries among WITHS. The devil works to conquer by division. He loves destroying faith, he loves destroying fellowship. **The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.** The juxtaposition of peace crushing is obvious, but how does it work? Peace is more than absence of conflict, just as fellowship is more than two people in a room not choking each other. We battle as worshippers of the God of peace, we have peace so we engage, and we know His aim is peace, not eternal wars. But we don’t become pacifists because of our God, we are not naive. We may be tired, but we’re not blind. Satan will be crushed by God who uses **our feet**. This seems eschatological, the final win, though it will be **soon** depending on how you see the timeline. As the Seed of the woman crushed the serpent’s head, fulfilling Genesis 3:15, so by extension God uses those who confess the Son as the Seed. Don’t hold back. The **grace of our Lord Jesus Christ** is also not throw away. The anointed Christ, the master Lord, the God-man Jesus, who is and was and is to come, from through and to Whom are all things, risen from the dead, the Lion who defeats the prowling lion, the Son of the God of all grace. Such personal grace is blessed to you who serve the Lord Christ. # Conclusion “The Church’s One Foundation” is a great song. > though with a scornful wonder > men see her sore oppressed, > by schisms rent a-sundered > by heresies distressed; > yet saints their watch are keeping, > their cry goes up,“how long?” Saints, keep watch, it won’t be long. ---------- ## Charge Christian, mark and avoid your OWN false offenses, mark and avoid your own selfish appetites. Be wise in the ways of truth and true fellowship. Be innocent in envy and grumbling. Let your obedience be known to all. Victory is promised, and the Lord's grace given to keep watch. ## Benediction: > Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20–21 ESV)

89: The Network of Saints

March 3, 2024 • Sean Higgins • Romans 16:1–16

This passage is by far the most extensive and detailed and intimate expression of love and appreciation in Paul’s corpus. In 15:14-33 he focused on his mission of the gospel and ministry to the saints. In chapter 16 he focuses on his relationship to other saints with him in his ministry. He reveals his deep affection for those whom he had served, for those who had served him, and for those who served with him. How does reading/studying a list of greetings compare to reading/studying a long genealogy? Both require some patience, both have some profit. Genealogies are who we're from. Salutations are who we're *with*. # Commendation (verses 1-2) Paul makes a personal recommendation. > I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. (Romans 16:1–2 ESV) Cenchreae was the neighboring port city of Corinth, from where Paul wrote this letter. This is the first time the word **church** is used in Romans, but it appears five times in this final chapter. We remember that the church is identified as *where the people* are, not necessarily a building with a sign (I suppose we could refer to a “church’s” building if we wanted to be precise, and yet churches as places were mentioned first sometime in the third century). To **commend** was to endorse or give a favorable reference. Paul’s reference for this **sister** as being a **servant** has caused quite a stir in theological circles. The Greek word for servant is *diakanon*, the term from which we get deacon. KJV/NASB/ESV all translate the word here as “servant” (NIV uses “deacon” and notes that it’s referring to the office). Paul doesn’t just doesn’t use the feminine form of “deaconess” (διακόνισσα), a form not found in the NT. Whether or not Pheobe held some official title or not, Paul commended her as a highly-proven servant of Christ and urged the church at Rome to receive her in the Lord. Why is so much attention given to Phoebe? It is almost certain that Phoebe was the one who delivered this letter to the church at Rome, a significant responsibility. Since the letter was hand-written (by Tertius, verse 22) there probably was no second copy. She was to be received into fellowship **in a way worthy of the saints.** There is unreasonable hospitality, and then there is *saints* hospitality. “Welcome one another as Christ as welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). Part of the reason for receiving her was that she had been a helper or **patron**. A “patron” was one who came to the aid of others, especially foreigners, by providing housing and financial aid and sometimes by representing their interests before local authorities when necessary. Phoebe was probably a woman of high social standing and some wealth, who put her status, resources, and time at the services of traveling Christians, like Paul himself, who needed help and support. # Salutations (verses 3-16) Paul offers multiple personal greetings. **Greet** or "salute" is used 13 times in verses 3-16, then 2 more times in verses 22-23. Although he had not yet visited Rome, Paul names twenty-four individuals, seventeen men and seven women, along with many who are unnamed, such as those in the households of Aristobulus and Narcissus. There are Jewish names, Latin names, and Greek names. His greeting of so many specific people also confirms that Paul was aware of the circumstances in the Roman assemblies. The first to be greeted are **Prisca and Aquila**, a husband and wife who were **my fellow workers in Christ Jesus**. This couple is actually mentioned six times in the NT. Paul first met them on his first visit to Corinth, where Prisca (with the diminutive form, Priscilla) and Aquila had fled from Rome when all Jews were driven out by the Emperor Claudius (Acts 18:2). They were tentmakers like Paul, and Paul stayed in their house while he began his ministry in Corinth (Acts 18:1-3). After working together in Corinth Paul dropped them off in Ephesus for a lengthy ministry (1 Corinthians 16:19). They were more than fellow workers with Paul, he says they had **risked their necks for my life**. Then apparently sometime after Claudius died (AD 54) they returned to Rome, where they lived and ministered when Paul wrote this letter. By that time one of the congregations was meeting **in their house**. Paul’s next greeting is to **my beloved Epaenetus**, who **was the first convert to Christ in Asia**, or “firstfruits” (KJV). He is mentioned nowhere else in the NT. Paul had kept track of him through the years and was pleased that he was now a part of church at Rome. Then, **Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.** Mary was a common name among Jews and Gentiles, so we do not know where this Mary came from, how or when she was converted, or anything else except that she had worked hard for the church in Rome. Paul calls **Andronicus and Junia**, **my kinsmen**, which indicates that they were not only fellow Jews (there were many other Jews in the list who didn’t receive this title), but they were probably Paul’s relatives, along with Herodian (verse 11) and Jason and Sosipater (verse 21). They apparently were at one point **my fellow prisoners**, which could have been anywhere since Paul was often in prison (or it could simply be saying that they had been imprisoned for the sake of the gospel like Paul). In verse 8 Paul greets **Ampliatus** who was **my beloved in the Lord.** The next two saints were **Urbanus** and **Stachys**. **Apelles** was a relatively rare name. Here Paul says he was the **approved in Christ**. The word “approved” carries the idea of being tried and tested and was used of precious metals that had passed tests for purity. Paul’s next greeting was to a group of believers whose names and number we do not know. They are simply identified as **those who belong to the family of Aristobulus**, who himself is not identified. Because he is not greeted, it seems he was probably not a Christian himself. At least one commentator has suggested that Aristobulus may have been the brother of Herod Agrippa I and the grandson of Herod the Great. So maybe this household was a group of believers within the imperial household. As with Andronicus and Junias (verse 7) Paul greets **Herodian** as my **kinsman**, so a relative to Paul. Like Aristobulus, **Narcissus** was probably not a believer, but some of his household were in the Lord. In verse 12 Paul greets and commends three women. The first two, **Tryphaena** and **Tryphosa** were possibly twin sisters (since it was common to give children names form the same Greek root). **Persis** was **the beloved**, suggesting (from the definite article) that she was loved by everyone who knew her and who had been a beneficiary of her hard work in the Lord. **Rufus** was **chosen in the Lord**. This doesn’t refer to every Christian’s election, but more like we might say an extraordinary Christian – a choice man. The specific greeting to **(Rufus’) mother, who has been a mother to me as well** does not mean that Rufus was Paul’s natural brother, but that Rufus’ mother had somewhere and in some way during Paul’s travel and ministry, cared for him as if he were her own son. Paul makes no comment about **Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, and Hermas**. The mention of the brethren with them indicates that the five names here were leaders of one of the many assemblies of believers in Rome. In verse 15 Paul greets another assembly of saints, which included **Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympia**. Finally, verse 16: **Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.** The kiss gesture of greeting seems more cultural, so not required for us, though a gesture of welcome is certainly appropriate. # Conclusion Who doesn’t like to hear their name mentioned aloud from up front (only some, ha)? There’s nothing wrong with names; *God* included these in His Word. Nothing wrong with expressing thanks for specific people. There were *many* in the network of saints (“in the Lord” - ἐν κυρίῳ - used in verses 8, 11, 12 (x2), 13, and 22; and see “in Christ” - ἐν Χριστῷ - in verses 3, 7, 9, 10). Men and women. Working, suffering, supporting, the kind of people worth standing with. From the end of Romans 15 and into chapter 16, Paul uses 6 different words beginning with the preposition meaning "with." 1. συναγωνίσασθαί - sun-agonisasthai (15:30) = with-struggle 2. συναναπαύσωμαι - sun-anapousomai (15:32) = with-rest 3. Συνίστημι - sun-istemi (16:1) = with-stand 4. συνεργούς - sun-ergous (16:3, 9, 21) = with-work 5. συγγενεῖς - sun-geneis (16:7, 11, 21) = with-born 6. συναιχμαλώτους - sun-aichmalotous (16:7) = with-prisoned We are IN so we recognize our WITHS. I urge you to be, or to excel still more at being, anti-isolatist. We want to be with you, not *without*. Saints love the saints they're WITH. Saints are stronger because of their WITHS. ---------- ## Charge One of the saints in our body has fought the good fight, finished her race, kept the faith. She has endured and her faith has been an encouragement to all those who have loved the Lord’s appearing. Beloved, work with and suffer with and stand with and sing with each other. Our WITHS are our strength. ## Benediction: > May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5–6 ESV)