There are some chapters in the Bible that we tend to avoid reading and that we definitely don’t want to have to read in public! The top of our list would undoubtedly be genealogies – someone begat someone who begat someone else…and on and on the list goes. Just down from that would be lists of names like we find in Romans 16.
Although we might initially find such lists “boring,” the more we study them the more I become fascinated with what I find. Rather than “just” being a list of names, what we have in Romans 16 are snapshots into Paul’s life. We really don’t know much about Paul. We have a general overview of his life from the time he became a Christian in the book of Acts, although great chunks are even missing from that account. We have a few odds and ends scattered throughout the letters he wrote. Then we find a long list of names like we have here. His life suddenly becomes quite interesting.
The chapter begins with Phoebe, a faithful Christian woman from Cenchrea who has helped many, including Paul. Yet this is all we know about her. When did she even know Paul, let alone have the opportunity to be a great help to him?
Prisca and Aquila we know from the book of Acts and Paul’s other writings. But when did they risk their necks for Paul’s life and for the lives of many Gentile Christians? Perhaps this was in Ephesus, but we aren’t given any other details.
Then we get to meet the first convert to Christ in the Roman province of Asia – Epenetus. Paul refers to him as his “dear friend” (or “beloved”). In fact, he refers to several Christians in Rome as his dear friends – Ampliatus, Stachys, and Persis. And of course we could not leave out Rufus and his mother – who was also a mother to Paul. When did Paul know all these people and when did he develop such close relationships with them?
There are others who have been his fellow workers and are known for their hard work. These included Mary, Andronicus and Junia who were also fellow prisoners, Urbanus, and Tryphena and Tryphosa (were they twins?). Others are well known Christians – yet unknown to us: Andronicus and Junia were well known to the apostles, Apelles was approved in Christ. Then there is the household of Aristobulus and that of Narcissus, as well as Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Pabrobas, Hermas, and the other brothers and sisters with them – plus Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas as well as all the believers with them. What a list! Give them all a hug we might say – Paul says “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16 NET).
I think one thing we have to take from this long list of greetings is that people mattered to Paul. When he sends a letter he usually appended a list of greetings to certain Christians at the end. Paul had to have lived his life in contact with other Christians to be able to have developed all these close relationships.
No wonder he warned them against “those who create dissensions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned. Avoid them!” These Christians and friends of Paul were faithful in serving the Lord. They had to guard against people who would want to divide them. People doing that were not serving Jesus, but themselves. Instead they were “to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.” God would take care of them.
Readings for next week:
30 March – 1 Thessalonians 4
31 March – 1 Thessalonians 5
1 April – 2 Thessalonians 1
2 April – 2 Thessalonians 2
3 April – 2 Thessalonians 3