Today my dad preached at The Fountain of Grace Church, here’s what he said:
Psalm 107:23-31 23 Others went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. 24 They saw the works of the LORD, his wonderful deeds in the deep. 25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. 26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. 27 They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits’ end. 28 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. 29 He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. 30 They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. 31 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men.
Romans 16:1-16 1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. 2 I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me. 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. 4 They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. 5 Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. 8 Greet Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my relative. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.
Let’s pray together.
We are finishing up the book of Romans, we’re in the last chapter now. Today we’ll look at the first 16 verses and then next week we’ll finish the last few verses of Romans. Next week is a very powerful passage of Scripture; it’s the grand finale, the crescendo of the entire Book.
So the first 16 verse of Romans 16 are by far the most intimate expression of love and appreciation that comes from the tender heart and inspired mind of the apostle Paul. He reveals this deep affection for many Christians, as he signs off his letter to the Romans. It is a rich and rewarding section to study.
There are so many things we can learn from this passage. I’ve titled the sermon “Commendable Christians” because Paul commends numerous people in Rome. He speaks well of them in this letter. So we can challenge ourselves right up front with a question: are we commendable Christians? As we read through this today, see if any of the things that Paul says could be true about you. Are we living our lives in such a way that will cause others to speak well of us like Paul speaks of the Romans?
Another thing we can learn right up front is that we should commend others, should speak well of our brothers and sisters, publicly. Maybe not during a sermon, as that will keep the church small, but in speaking with one another, and in our writing back and forth we should find something commendable and express it. And even as Paul is writing in the role of a parent here, parents should learn to commend their children. “Well done Suzy…that was very good how you helped your sister, Jim”, etc.
Finally, just by way of introduction, notice Paul’s warm, tender heart for people. A local church should be a friendly, welcoming church—an open, gracious church. There should be no strangers here but all who believe are family.
So now let’s begin to look at this passage, and we read this in vs. 1: Romans 16:1-2 1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. 2 I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.
Here is a commendable Christian. And notice Paul commends her in three ways: as a sister in Christ, as a servant of the church, and as a sucouror of many (that word just means helper). She was family, a sister to many, she served, the word is “deaconess”, and she spent her life helping people. Maybe feeding the hungry, or giving clothes to those who need it, or visiting the sick, or those in prison, or the elderly. She was known for being helpful to many people. She’s a commendable Christian. Would you look with me in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 25. I picture King Jesus saying these words to Phoebe:
Matthew 25:34-36 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Matthew 25:40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ This is Phoebe.
Of course she’s just following Jesus Who left heaven to come and give His own body and blood as spiritual nourishment to us, who on the cross thirsted that you might be quenched, and who gave His robe of righteousness to us who were naked in sin. And Phoebe follows in His steps and loves to serve and to give and to help people.
Then let’s see a couple of other commendable Christians. In vs. 3 Paul says Romans 16:3-4 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. 4 They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets in their house.
How commendable is this couple. In the original language it says they “risked their own necks” for Paul. The mental picture we get is someone placing their neck on the chopping block to save someone else. Now I don’t think it’s recorded what they did, but clearly they placed their own lives in jeopardy for Paul, probably to rescue him from the Jews who wanted to kill him.
What love that is, to see someone in danger and to step in to rescue them. This is the greatest love in the world. Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Priscilla and Aquila are commendable Christians.
And of course, they are just following Jesus. Jesus give not only His neck, but His back to be struck, and His cheek to be hit, His beard to be yanked, His hands and feet to be nailed to a tree for Acquila and Priscila, and for you. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep, and here are two people following in His steps.
I want to ask you 2 very important questions, please think about these: First, have you ever experienced that kind of love, the love of Jesus Who gave Himself for you? Have you seen Him willingly putting His neck on the chopping block for you? That is, dying on the cross for your sins? Secondly, have you ever loved others that way?
Look with me for a moment at the Book of 1 John chapter 3. John addresses these two issues. Let’s see them both: 1 John 3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us (put His neck on the block for you). And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. Acquila and Priscila got that, and we have to get the order right. We are not Muslims that instruct people to go and die for Allah, no we are Christians who have a God Who came and died for us. And our response to His love is to love others in the same way. We’re not winning His favor by dying for Him, Jesus won His favor for us by dying for us. And we too want to show people that love.
Now let’s look at another commendable Christian. In vs. 5 it says, “Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ.” What does that mean? Firstfruits? Well Paul is referring us back to the Law, and in the Old Testament at harvest time they were to set apart the first fruits of what they gathered, and honor those first fruits as a sign of things to come. Epenetus was a commendable Christian because he was a bold Christian, having placed his faith in Jesus before anyone else dared to do so. And here he is set apart and honored as the first believer in Achaia.
Maybe you’re the first believer in your family. Maybe you’re the first Christian at your job. Or maybe you’re the first believer from the bar you used to drink at. Maybe you’re the first young person you know who loves the Bible and prayer and church. It’s commendable to be a bold Christian, the first Christian where you are.
Now here’s another one in verse 6. Romans 16:6 Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.” In 1 Timothy chapter 5 Paul is giving a definition of a widow who is worthy of being supported by the church. He says in vs. 10 she should “have a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.” That’s what this Mary was known for. She knew what happened at the cross, where Jesus purified a people to make them eager to do good works.
Now let’s learn something here. Mary was a hard worker, but nowhere is it mentioned what she did. Her works, though hidden from us, are known to God; and her name is recorded with honor in this book of life. Maybe the work you do is behind the scenes and nobody sees what it is. God sees. God knows, and they will be rewarded. Hebrews 6:10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.
Now in vs. 7-12 Paul mentions people whom he loves, of various households, who all were commendable Christians, worthy of mention and honor. You can see some who were like Mary in that they labored much in the Lord, like vs. 12 you can see 3 people who worked hard in Christ. And we learn that the Christian life and ministry is made up of hard work. The Christian life can be described as an oxen in a yoke plodding along, laboring much. But you know what? All who work in the Lord find that the yoke of Jesus is easy, and His burden is light. Because He’s right there in the yoke working with us and in us. Paul said, “I worked harder than all the rest, yet not I but the grace of God in me.” 1 Corinthians 15:10.
Then he mentions a few more people in vss. 8 and 9 and then we come to vs. 10 where Paul says Romans 16:10 “Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ.” Wouldn’t you love to have that as your tombstone: Tested and approved! The mental picture we get is precious metals, like as gold and silver, being heated up in a furnace, being tested and purified.
And we have to understand God does that with each of us. And I want to illustrate this point, so if you would please turn with me to the book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy chapter 8. Here the Israelites were completing their journey and about to enter the promised land, and Moses is reviewing their history. He says in vs. 2:
Deuteronomy 8:2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. And just like that a Christian can look back on his life and see ways in which God humbled us and tested us. Apelles passed the test, he was approved. He was a commendable Christian. Peter was humbled and tested and he failed, but was then restored. So even if we have failed the test in our lives God loves to forgive and restore. Isn’t it interesting that Peter wrote:
1 Peter 1:6-7 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
And now we come to a very interesting person. Notice vs. 13: Romans 16:13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. Here is this choice Christian named Rufus. But we’ve heard his name before, and here’s something we can learn if we connect the dots. Mark 15:21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. Rufus’ father was Simon who carried Jesus’ cross. It’s very easy to imagine what an effect Simon had on his son. Maybe he said, you know son, Jesus prayed for His crucifiers, I was there, I heard him. Jesus forgives sin, Rufus. He forgave the thief who was crucified next to him. I heard him say to that thief, “today you will be with me in paradise.” And then Rufus, I’ll never forget when He died, because people came to life, they were just popping out of their graves like popcorn, as if His death brought life to them, just like it does us if we believe, Rufus. “Dad, tell me about the earthquake again, was it scary?” Oh, the earthquake happened right when He died, and the rocks split in two, and you know Rufus, His death broke my stony heart in two also. Oh, and then some Jewish rabbi came running up to us shouting that the curtain in the temple was torn in two, because Jesus’ death opens the way for you to go to God son. And I still remember the soldier who just crucified him saying “surely this man is the Son of God.” And Rufus listens to his dad, and eventually comes to faith in Jesus. Oh what an influence fathers can have on their children, if they know and love the gospel of grace.
Well Paul finishes up his greetings in vs. 14-16 by mentioning additional commendable Christians and then tells them in vs. 16 to greet each other with a holy kiss. We might interpret that to say be affectionate toward one another in a holy way.
Let’s conclude this morning by reminding ourselves that we are all dying, and that one day something will be said about each one of us. We will be known for something. Will it be that we served people, that we worked hard in ministry, that we were tested and approved, that we influenced our children for the gospel? May God make it so with each one of us, that we might also be commendable Christians.
You are Loved!