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Romans 16

Edwin N. Cross

This extensive, concluding chapter of the Roman epistle is worthy of our careful attention and consideration. The Holy Ghost is the observer of the minute details of the service of the saints and He delights to set down touching features of individual believers. Every name is connected with the memorial of some service done in an unostentatious and humble manner. Not great and eloquent preaching but quiet deeds of loving service are noted. Observe too how many of the salutations are to women.

There is no mention of a Pope, bishop, cardinal, priest, nor of what we see in the ecclesiastical arrangements of non-conformity: no "Pastor," nor mention of "the oversight." No such institution or committee exists in Scripture, though doubtless there were overse­ers in the true sense. Nor is there any reference to service conducted in relation to some para-church organisation. All is centred around Christ and directed according to His will. Shall we then join something which will compromise the special place of being simply Christians? We learn something of primitive Christi­anity from this section, not only from what is included but from those things to which Paul never refers. The so-called "Church of Rome" has long departed from the simplicity of these things but so has much of Protestantism. Alas, many who once professed to live by these truths recovered by the Lord to His church, are now returning to the confusion of Babylon. There is no reference in the epistle to Peter as having founded the Christian faith and church at Rome, or as being present there at the time of writing which was around 60 A.D.

Although the assembly is not addressed directly in the first chapter, indeed the epistle is addressed to "all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called. saints" (1:7), in this last chapter the assembly or assemblies are mentioned five times. The truth as to the assembly of the living God was in evidence and distinct testi­mony was being given to it by the saints in that city. We are not isolated individuals but gathered into companies which should give expression to the truth of the church which is His body. We are to act upon our membership of that one body continually and consis­tently. At no time can we legitimise any activity or membership that would militate against our part in the body.

Verses 1-2

Phobe was servant to the assembly in Cenchrea, yet Paul indicates that she was wealthy and communicated her resources to the Lord's people. She was a patroness (a succourer) to many including the apostle, whom she had probably met in Cenchrea (Acts 18:18). We see that her wealth did not make her high minded, but that she gave willing and humble service in promoting assembly testimony. There is much in which sisters can be engaged, for the activities of the testimony are many and varied. There is no cause for a sister or brother to say, "there is nothing for me to do." The memory of Phobe abides here in God's Word because of the diligent and faith­ful way in which she applied herself to the Lord's interests in this world.

Her departure from Achaia to Rome was the occasion of the writing of this letter. How thankful the Roman saints would be (and Christians ever since) that she delivered it safely. The last chapter commences with her commendation, and on the basis of this the Roman gatherings could freely receive her to the privileges and responsibilities of the Christian fellowship. Letters of commenda­tion were needed then (2 Cor. 3:1) and are needed even more now. As an example, the fact that nowadays there are fraudsters who prey on the gullible, pretending to raise funds for the church in China or Albania, should alert the careful Christian to the necessity of the divine pattern given here.

Verse 3-4

Prisca and Aquila were last heard of in Corinth (1 Cor. 16:19). It is very clear why they head the list here: they had hazarded their lives

for the sake of Paul and so aspired to fulfil their true brotherly love for him (cf. John 15:13). It was nothing short of what every Chris­tian ought to be prepared to do if the occasion arises (1 John 3:16). In God's mercy their lives had been spared as well as Paul's. They are mentioned six times in the Scriptures (Acts 18:2; 18:18; 18:26; Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 4:19). Luke uses the familiar form of her name, the diminutive "Priscilla." On three of the six occasions when their names appear, she is mentioned before her husband. This might be because she was the more impressive personality. She is an example of what a married woman can do in the Lord's service, just as Phobe is an example of a single woman's service.

Paul had first encountered Prisca and Aquila in Corinth, not long after their ejection with the Jews (Acts 18:2). After the death of the fourth Emperor, Claudius, in October 54 A.D., his edict (issued between 50 & 52 A.D.) against the Jews (and any perceived sect of Jewry) had probably lapsed. This meant they could return to Rome, possibly leaving their business affairs in Ephesus and Corinth in the hands of local managers. Their work in tent manu­facture was a reason for the tentmaker from Cilicia to labour with them in their trade. Cilicium felt not only made good weatherproof tent material but also good warm clothing. The trade required commodious accommodation and this would enable the couple to provide a place for saints to meet on the first day of the week.

Verse 5

Epænetus was the first convert for Christ in Achaia (A.V.), or as many manuscripts have, Asia. This latter I judge to be correct, as Stephanas and his family were the firstfruits of Paul's labours in Achaia (see 1 Cor. 16:15). He is described like Stachys (v. 9) as "my beloved," which suggests to me that they were personal friends of Paul. Brotherly love is extended to all saints but there is room for personal intimacy which in no way compromises the wider responsibility towards the brotherhood.

Verse 6

Maria, although not the only Hebrew, alone bears a Hebrew name in this chapter. She had worked hard among them. She is one of the six women who bear this name in the New Testament. News of her labours may well have been communicated to Paul by his friends Prisca and Aquila. The question is, are we known for our devoted and indefatigable toil in the cause of Christ?

Verse 7

Andronicus and Junias were Paul's kinsmen. If this indicates that they were fellow Israelites or even near relatives, we cannot now determine. The description "fellow prisoners" reveals their faith­fulness even unto bonds (2 Cor. 11:23). They were in Christ before him, and thus age has its place, privileges and rights even in spiri­tual men. They were of note among the apostles, which may mean they were noteworthy among the messengers known in the assem­blies and that their ministry had some apostolic character. However, this might suggest there were more than twelve (and if Junia is the preferred reading then we might have a female apostle! This is hardly likely, not least because Paul speaks of kinsmen). Perhaps it is easier to understand the commendation as indicating that they had come to the special attention of those regularly known as apostles because they had served the Lord and His people well.

Verse 8

Amplias was Paul's "beloved in the Lord." We are commanded to love one another-it is our duty-but how wonderful when we display those attractive graces seen in Christ. Then that love flows more easily and can be expressed more fully.

Verse 9

Urbanus was a fellow-workman in Christ. As Paul served the Lord elsewhere, so Urbanus served the same Lord in the city of Rome. Stachys was also in Paul's memory and again he writes "my beloved," demonstrating the apostle's delight in those who were faithful to the present truth of Christianity and going on in the freshness of first love to Christ.

Verse 10

Apelles is said to be a proved one in Christ. Had this brother undergone some spiritual testing?  There was much hostility to the faith of the Christians in Rome, the centre of adulation for the Emperor. Their's was the sect everywhere spoken against.

The aristobuli were, it seems, members of the household of Aristobulus. Presumably he had either deceased or was not then resident in Rome, but some of his family or some from his house­hold continued to walk in the truth. A large number of persons may have constituted such a household with only these few marked by Christian faith.

Verse 11

Herodion was presumably a Benjaminite now converted to Christ, as he is described as "my kinsman." Then we have reference to the Narcissi, but only some of them were in the Lord: not all were converts. How sad it is to see that some had not yet embraced the gospel in spite of the closest domestic ties with those who had. God was pleased to bless households in New Testament times and we rejoice to see this grace even today. How important that those who are the Lord's give a good consistent testimony. There in the home circle we are observed closely and all our inconsistencies are soon brought to light.

Verse 12

Three women who laboured much in the Lord are next mentioned. Two were still actively engaged: "who labour," but of Persis it is said that she had "laboured much." Presumably she was now too infirm to continue, but her service was still remembered. There is a real danger that we only think about and pray for those currently serving the Lord. The service rendered to the Lord, out of love to Him and according to His will, has an abiding value. Think of the aged saints: some bed-ridden and house-bound, of no account in this world. Perhaps they have laboured much harder than you or I have done, and indeed they continue in the vital service of prayer for the saints.

Verse 13

This Rufus was presumably the son of Simon, who bore the cross for the Lord Jesus (Mark 15:21). If so, the Romans had amongst them one who could attest the facts of the crucifixion on the authority of his own father, who I assume had by now fallen asleep in Jesus. What a day that had been. It appears to have resulted in the conversion of three in the household. By sovereign grace Rufus could be counted among the elect. Are we to assume that his brother was not converted or do we understand that Rufus was chosen for some distinctive but now unknown role?  Or perhaps he is so addressed in order to meet some doubt or anxiety in his soul. The readers, or rather the hearers, of the epistle would know the significance of the reference. God speaks personally to the readers of His Word. May our ears be open to His voice speaking person­ally to us today.

His mother was as a mother to Paul in her care for the apostle. How he had valued such care in the domestic sphere. Paul's own mother and father presumably were not converted but here was a family that had taken in the solitary Paul and made him a member of their own family circle. How many of the Lord's servants have left all, including the opportunities of marriage, for His Name's sake!  There is a service to be rendered to such. We should not neglect them. The unnamed mother of Rufus served thus in unpre­tentious domestic chores and routine.

Verse 14

Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them are next referred to. Here no specific service is mentioned yet we may deduce that a company of brothers laboured together in some unknown activity for the prosperity of the assem­bly.

Verse 15

Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister and Olympas and the saints which are with them are mentioned next. They may have been co-workers, or perhaps represented a company meeting in assembly testimony in a suburb of Rome, yet were they members of the one

assembly of God in that city. By their inclusion here we see that they too were deemed worthy as having served Christ and the saints.

Verse 16

A holy kiss is an appropriate gesture of brotherly love and fellowship when we greet the saints. It was the customary salutation in the Middle East, as elsewhere, as a mark of respect or affection. It was usual in the New Testament assemblies. The references in Acts 20:37, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26, and 1 Peter 5:14 are sufficient examples for our instruction.

This was the token of affection from the various assemblies of Christ to the Roman assembly. When a faithful testimony is manifested in the cities of this world are not our hearts moved with sympathetic emotions?

Verse 17

But now a word of caution. Not all are worthy of commendation. Do not think that because someone is a Christian he is necessarily fit for service, let alone fellowship. We thank God for everyone that is going on well, but great caution is needed in respect of those who follow their own tastes. Fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple, sowing discord and division. Faithfulness and constant vigilance are insisted upon so that they might continue to enjoy holy fellowship together. Unimpeachable soundness of doctrine and morals are vital conditions of practical fellowship. They are indispensable and woe to any that tolerate looseness in the truths of the faith once delivered to the saints.

The saints in Rome already had two things that put them in a position to obey. There was obviously unity amongst them, hence the warning against those who cause divisions, and they must have known and understood sound teaching, else they had no capacity to respond to this injunction. The danger of false teachers bringing notions contrary to the teaching we have learned from Paul, is increasingly potent. The responsibility is ours to judge by the only unerring standard, as it was theirs nearly two millennia ago.

Verse 18

Paul exposes the motives of these originators of false and divisive ways. They don't serve Christ but their own tastes. We have no right to make experiments upon our bodies by tasting poison, nor may we sample false doctrine, even under a cloak of pseudo broth­erly love. In fact the words of these evil teachers will eat us (2 Tim 2:17). Of course the ultimate sanction against evildoers is ejection, the discipline prescribed in 1 Corinthians 5:13, but meanwhile they are to be avoided until the verity of their evil is established beyond doubt.

Verse 19

The obedience of the saints at Rome had been broadcast and was widely known. We must be wise as to good. It is not needful to fathom the depths of a heresy or of evil. Truth will repel error. If we are His sheep we will listen to His voice and not to the voice of strangers.

Verse 20

all the divisions in the Christian testimony are here traced to their Satanic source. We hope for a consummation of victory over all evil, when by reason of our being one with the Victor, God shall bruise the serpent under our feet. This will occur when Christ returns and we sit with Him on His throne. How we yearn to be thus identified with Christ!  It will not be the result of human efforts, for only God can bring it about and will do so soon. This is a great encouragement.

Verse 21

There were others with Paul who were not ashamed of the gospel and who would not be ashamed of his bonds when he was arrested. They stood by him and for the things that he stood for. Their inter­est lay in those whom God had chosen at Rome. At the commencement of his monumental epistle Paul addresses "all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called. saints" (1:7). They had been separated from the corruption of the great metropolis. In the main they were lowly ones, servants and slaves toiling away and suffer­ing amidst idolaters and God-haters. These saints, despised by the surrounding world, were the object of the affectionate salutations of Paul's companions. The vital and abiding link of membership of the one body had a reality in those days that has almost been lost sight of since, but for God's gracious intervention in granting a recovery of that important truth over one and half centuries ago.

Timothy was yet with him, his fellow-worker. What a grand thing it was for Paul to have someone he could rely on, who shared the tremendous workload that the care of all the assemblies imposed. Lucius, Jason and Sosipater were also with Paul, here styled his "kinsmen," again because they were from among the election of grace, if not from Benjamin itself or of his closest family.

Verse 22

the epistle was dictated to Paul's amanuensis, Tertius, who now gives his personal greeting. It is evident that his inserted salutation amidst those of the apostle is not unwarranted. It shows he knew the brethren at Rome and had as real and personal an interest in them as Paul.

Verse 23

Gaius was one of the earliest converts in Corinth and had been baptised by Paul (1 Cor. 1:14). He was hospitable to the whole church. Can he be identified with Justus in Acts 18:7, who made such good use of his home after Paul had been expelled from the synagogue?  I am disposed to think that this may be the same man who served the elder John (cf. 3 John 1). It is admitted that it was a common name and that the duty of hospitality is incumbent upon all who name Christ. Gaius was evidently a large-hearted brother and liberal in making right use of material things. Perhaps he was not a preacher or teacher, but he could act for Christ and give unmistakable proof of his love.

Erastus of Corinth was converted by this time and sends his greetings to the brethren at Rome (Acts 18:17). I think he is also referred to in Paul's final communication to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:20), where he is said to have remained in Corinth, though evidently still among the apostle's companions. His employment was not as city treasurer, as some translations suggest. He was commissioner or steward to the local government in Corinth, and this continued after his conversion. There are many jobs which give opportunities for Christian witness, and when the believer applies himself diligently to his work the mundane is enhanced and ennobled as service to Christ Himself. If our understanding is correct we see two men in one verse who were at opposite ends of the social scale, but united in the faith: brethren!

"And Quartus the brother." Whose brother?  The younger brother of Tertius?  Or was he, like him, another converted slave whose name was just a number. Well, his name was written in the Lamb's book of life. He was a brother and as such he had been elevated to sit among princes. God has recorded his name and that is what matters. Paul graciously includes his greetings for the Roman saints too.

Verse 24

The closing verses are not merely a concluding piece of small talk. These final expressions from the heart of Paul disclose further details relative to the gospel and its effect in our lives.

If power is needed to judge error and to walk in separation from evil men and those that deviate from the pathway, grace will be needed to maintain fellowship with those who desire the good and ancient paths. The principal spiritual grace that will keep the saints at Rome together is love according to 1 Corinthians 13. This will manifest itself, not in sentimental feelings, but true care for one anothers' welfare. Grace is needed to continue in fellowship with the saints in faith's pathway. We should really understand this and seek to give an answer to this verse in our lives. Think for a moment of the grace of our Lord Jesus and His condescension. Have we displayed any reflection of this?  Do we make every effort to exceed our fellows in being gracious?  Did the lessons of the twelfth chapter effect a change in our conduct towards one another?  It is not sufficient to say that we have received the gospel message to our salvation. We must also demonstrate in our lives that a true change has occurred. The grace of the Lord Jesus is not only needed in connection with those we find difficult to get on with in the assembly. They need it just as much as you and I. I often hear of persons leaving companies of Christians because they couldn't (or wouldn't) get on with those there. The Lord Jesus is the sole centre of attraction, and we should not behave as if the compatibility or natural graces of the saints have drawn us together, and that we therefore need only continue with such for as long as suits us. If this is the case, when trouble or some small difficulty comes along, we will run away and find another place where there are some nice receptive Christians. This is not answering to God's will for us but really showing our spiritual state to be very poor. But Paul prays that the brethren at Rome might know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We often fail but the Lord is to be praised for such a rich and necessary provision. We may draw on this vast reservoir and be helped in our collective testimony.

Verse 25

When Paul speaks of "my gospel" he is not drawing attention to himself, but referring to the distinctive ministry among the Gentiles which was committed to him (cf. Rom. 2:16 and 2 Tim. 2:8). The subject matter is Christ (as in 1 Cor. 1:23). The secret had been divulged to Paul on the Damascus road, and as a consequence he would shortly be imprisoned (Col. 4:3). It had been kept hidden for long ages (Eph. 3:9, Col. 1:26), but was now disclosed and made known to the Gentile nations. The principal feature of the mystery was that Gentile believers would be joint partakers in the promises of God alongside Jewish believers. They had united in wickedness before God and crucified His Son at Golgotha, but now by infinite grace and superabundant mercy Jew and Gentile could be united in one body. This was a blessing never contemplated by the Jew nor revealed in the Old Testament. In the eyes of the Jews the preacher of such a message didn't deserve to live (Acts 22:21-22; & 26:20-21). It would not be long before the writer of this wonderful expo­sition of the gospel would be arrested and taken captive to Rome.

Verse 26

The prophetic writings referred to here are not the Old Testament prophecies. Paul wrote of these in the first chapter of this epistle (1:2) and quoted from them elsewhere in Romans. Paul uses this expression to describe the New Testament Scriptures. They have made known the truth of the gospel. This message had been hidden in Old Testament times. In Ephesians 5:32 the truth of Christ and His assembly are described as the mystery (see also 3:3-9 & Col. 1:26-27). At the present time God is looking for obedience among the Gentiles to His Word in the gospel. Faith in the gospel of our salvation is faith which the Spirit approves. Being sealed by Him we Gentiles are abidingly linked to Christ and made to drink of that one Spirit. The outpouring of this blessing upon Gentiles was never contemplated by Old Testament prophets. No Jew could freely accept "Messiah in you (Gentiles) the hope of glory," but this was the new thing which was foreordained by God from all eternity. The truth that Jew and Gentile were reconciled in one body was Paul's distinctive message, and this could only shine forth from the glory of an ascended Messiah. The doctrine which is set forth in Paul's epistles to the Gentiles opens out to the believer a calling quite distinct in many of its characteristic features from any that have preceded it.

Verse 27

God in His unsearchable wisdom has made the gospel known and revealed how it applies to the believer as His power unto salvation. This God is worthy of unending praise. His glory will be expressed eternally in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Old Testa­ment we see the recurring theme of God's Anointed reigning victo­riously upon the throne and bringing glory to God. The Christian sees the Son glorified in heaven as head of His assembly, patiently awaiting the time when He will establish the kingdom upon earth. This blessed view is open now to faith and will soon be realised in all its fullness of glory at His appearing. It will continue into the limitless expanse of eternity.