“I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.” (Romans 16:1)
This verse begins the final chapter of the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Church in Rome. Having instructed his readers in the great doctrines of the Faith, the Apostle now turns to a more personal note. He has told the Roman believers about his plans to visit them on a later journey to Spain, after a short relief mission to Jerusalem (Rom. 15:23-25). He has eloquently laid before them everything necessary for both a strong faith and for godly living; at times gently teaching them the basic tenets of Christianity, at other times firmly admonishing them by the great authority which God has given him. He has taught them the things which they need to know and has reminded them of those things which they should know already. Just as the Lord Jesus will later speak to the Seven Churches in Asia Minor through His Revelation to the Apostle John, Paul has both commended the Roman Church in the areas where they please God, and has rebuked them wherein they do not.
Yet now we come to the end of the Epistle and Paul is “preaching” to them no more. Paul tells them that he has fully preached the Gospel all the way from Jerusalem to Illyricum (Rom. 15:19) and now, through this Letter, he has preached the Gospel to them as well. However, he speaks to them now, at the conclusion, not as pupils under a master teacher, but as friends, brothers, and servants of the same Lord he himself serves.
It is not easy to find a great deal of commentary or teaching on Chapter 16 of the Book of Romans; many expositors simply skip over most of it, maybe giving a remark or two about divisive church members mentioned in verses 17 and 18 or commenting briefly on the closing “doxology” found in the final three verses of the chapter. But perhaps there is just as much for us to learn from what is not mentioned as there is from what is written. You see, as far as you and I are concerned, the bulk of Chapter 16 is just a bunch of names of people of whom very little is now known. But behind every name listed on the page there is a story, a life, a real person who came to faith in Jesus Christ and was saved by the very Gospel written in the previous 15 chapters. Bible scholars don’t know really anything about Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, Philologus, Julia, Nereus, or Olympas (v. 14-15) except one thing: the Apostle Paul knew them (or at least knew of them) and they belonged to the Body of believers in Rome. They were important people to Paul and they are important people to the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord knows them and we can be certain that they are living today in the place which He prepared for them and us. Someday, we will meet them all and will come to know them just as Paul did (or rather, does!).
We read these names in the Holy Word of God some 2,000 years after they first were written and it reminds us of another Book wherein our own names are recorded — if we are in Christ. And though our own names have not found their way into the Bible itself, we are assured that each one of us is loved by God just as much as these other believers who came before us. For both their names and ours are in the Lamb’s Book of Life, another Book written by the finger of the Spirit of the Lord, another Book filled with names behind which are real people who lived real lives.
Romans 16 reminds us that, at the end of the day, we are all part of a family, the family of God. And after all the teaching, admonition, correction, rebuking, and instructing we see a loving Father, full of grace and mercy, Who loves us, His own children. Some of the instructions given in Romans may seem daunting, maybe even impossible to follow, but we know from Chapter 8 that we are not walking in our own strength, but in the strength of the Holy Spirit. God has not told any of us that we must do the things written in His Word through our own strength, but has promised that He will give us the ability through the Lord Jesus Christ to walk according to His plans, will, and purposes. We must always remember that we are His children and that He wants us to walk with Him in the overcoming victory that He has won for us.
Though we experience trials, though we have setbacks, and though we suffer failures, God reminds us that all things work together for good for those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).
Back in November of 2010, when I wrote my introductory post for this study in the Book of Romans, I stated:
“I am eager to write about this great portion of Scripture because I know profoundly the capacity that writing about, reading about, and studying this Epistle has to affect wondrous spiritual growth for everyone involved, regardless of how many times they have previously done so. It is, therefore, with joy, excitement, and a keen awareness of my own inability to adequately deal with the Text at hand that I invite you to join me on this journey through the Book of Romans. May we come away from it at study’s end with a new and fresh appreciation for this very wonderful book of the Bible!”
Coming now to the end of this study, I am grateful to the Lord for all of the blessings He has given in opening my own eyes to the great truths of His Word. I have learned so much more about this great book of the Bible throughout the course of this study and I give thanks and praise to God for it. I thank all of you who have joined me on this journey and I look forward to moving soon into another part of the Word.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,
[ I will be taking the next several weeks off from writing and plan, Lord willing, to start posting again at the beginning of September. Thank all of you who take the time to read these articles and may the Lord greatly bless you in the study of His Word]