Sunday, February 21, 2016

[Matt's Messages] “Greetings, Grace, and Gospel”

“Greetings, Grace, and Gospel”
All Roads Lead to Romans
February 21, 2016 :: Romans 16:1-27 

Believe it or not, we’ve finally reached the end of the book of Romans.

I told you when we started this series on August 31, 2014, that I was not going to be one of the those preachers who go into Romans and never come out again. In fact, I didn’t think we would take a whole year go through it.

But now it’s February 21, 2016, and we’ve finally reached the last chapter. You might be surprised to hear that this is only the 37th message in this series. So it’s really been only 2/3 of a year’s worth of sermons, it just took me almost two years to write and deliver them!

But any way about it, here we are.

Romans chapter 16.

Which, if you’ve ever read it before, can seem on first glance to be a pretty...boring part of the letter.

Chapter 16 is not as elaborate or eloquent as the explanation of the gospel in chapters 1 through 7.

Chapter 16 does not soar like the great chapter 8.

Chapter 16 is not as thorny in interpretation or pointed in application as chapters 9 through 15.

But Romans chapter 16 is important. And it is holy Scripture.

Yes, most of it is a list of names. Some of them, hard to pronounce names. As I’ve said before, I don’t pretend to know the correct pronunciation of all of these name. I’m just going to fake it and make it sound like I do.

But Romans 16 is not just a list of information. It is the Word of God.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16).

And that includes Romans 16.

This chapter is just as inspired as John 3:16 even if it’s not as important as that passage or others in the Bible.

Romans 16 is holy Scripture.

I love that. Because it means that even as I read and think about these greetings that Paul sends along, I can expect to learn and grow through them. I can expect to be thoroughly equipped through Romans 16 for every good work.

I can expect to receive grace from reading Romans 16 and grow in God’s gospel.

So, here’s the title for today’s message, the 37th and last in our “All Roads Lead to Romans” series,“Greetings, Grace, and Gospel.”

Paul begins his ending with a commendation. Let’s look at verses 1 and 2.

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. 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.”

What can we learn from these two verses?

Well, first of all, we are reminded that this is a letter from real people to real people.

Sometimes we fall into the error of thinking that this is all just a fairy tale or a myth.

That Christianity is basically just a set of abstract ideas with some stories attached to them.

But Christianity is deeply historical. It is embedded in and arises from history.

When we read these names, and there are 26 separate people named in these verses, we are reminded that these were real people with real needs and real deeds who really lived.

There really was this woman named “Phoebe.” And she was almost definitely the bearer of the letter to the Romans. She was the carrier of the Epistle to the Romans. Phoebe carried it, probably from Corinth, where Paul was, to Rome. Cenchrea is a port city near Corinth. Kind of like a suburb of Corinth on the sea.

And she was a servant (Greek word “deakonon”) of the church there. She served that church faithfully and has now traveled all the way to Rome.

And in this letter from Paul to this church he has never met, her name appears. And he says, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cencrea.”

She’s a real woman, and she had some needs.

I think that the second thing we see. It’s not just that this is history, real people. But they had real needs. And they needed each other. V.2 again.

“I ask you to receive [Phoebe] in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints [you’ve got to act like the church is supposed to act] and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.”

Including “the great Paul!”

I think that’s interesting, don’t you? Paul had needs? Phoebe probably had some wealth, enough to travel, at least. And at some point she had been benefactor, a patron, a helper to Paul.

Ministry is a team sport. We need each other.

That’s one of the big take-aways from a passage like Romans 16. We need one another to do ministry.

Even Paul did! Paul would just laugh at that statement. “Of course, we need each other in gospel ministry. None of us can do this on our own. We’re a body, remember?”

So, the Wild Game Dinner, for example. Andy can’t do that on his own. Everybody needs to play their part whether it’s simply praying for the event or showing up with an apple pie or a crockpot of venison chilli.

We need each other. Gospel ministry is a team sport.

And women get to play on that team.

That’s third thing I see here in just the first two verses.

Phoebe is a sister in Christ. And she’s carrying the Epistle to the Romans!

Some people have the mistaken idea that the Apostle Paul was anti-woman. Or that Christianity is somehow anti-woman.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

As we read these verses, you might be astounded to see how many of Paul’s friends and co-workers in gospel ministry were ladies.

His sisters in Christ.

Just because Paul taught that there were some leadership roles in ministry that men alone should fulfill, the ones bearing the brute brunt of responsibility for the home and the church, doesn’t mean that Paul belittled or devalued women and their contribution to the church and its gospel mission in any way shape or form.

We’ve got a great set of ladies in this church, and they are active in gospel ministry and should be honored. Like Phoebe was.

Ladies, every time you hear a female name in this chapter (and there’s going to be  a bunch), think of your name being put in there, too.

And it sure seems to me that Phoebe was a single lady. There’s no mention here of a husband. So, I think it’s a shout to the single ladies, too. Christian sisters full of the gospel and worthy of commendation.

We’ve got a bunch of you here, too. We have got a church with a good many Phoebes in it, and we are blessed because of you.

Don’t worry. I won’t take this much time for every name on this list.

But you get the idea? These names are important and what Paul says about these people is important. It’s holy Scripture, and we can learn from it.

In verse 2, Paul turns from commending Phoebe to greeting the people in the Roman church that he knew. Some he probably knew better than others and some he may have only known by reputation. It’s hard to say.

But he greets them. Paul greets people in other of his letters, but this is the longest greeting of all of them. Colossians, another letter written to a church he’s not met, is the only one close to this one, and there are a lot more names here.

These are Paul’s personal greetings to these people.

Every time it says, “Greet,” think, “I send my personal greeting to...” whomever.

These are folks in Rome that Paul knows and to whom he is sending his warm personal affection and regard. V.3

“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.”

Wow. Wouldn’t you love to receive a greeting like that from Paul?

We learned about this ministry couple back in the book of Acts. Priscilla and Aquila (interesting that she is named first here and everywhere else they are mentioned in the Bible, Priscilla and Aquila) were tentmakers like Paul was, and Paul met them on his second missionary journey, and they were the ones who schooled and straightened out the great orator Apollos in the gospel.

What Paul emphasizes here is that they risked their lives, literally “risked their neck” for him. We don’t know how, but Paul did. And he was very thankful. And so were all of the Gentile churches.

“Thank you, Lord, for Priscilla and Aquila!”

They had apparently moved to Rome, and Paul’s letter was catching up to them with this greeting. V.5

“Greet also the church that meets at their house. [The church in Rome was probably too big for any one meeting place and they evidently distributed out their church family into smaller house churches. Priscilla and Aquila hosted one.] Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.”

Paul knew him, too.

One of you asked me last week, if Paul didn’t plant the church in Rome, where did it come from?

And we don’t know who planted it, but by this time there was a already a number of Christians in it from other parts of the Roman Empire.

Epenetus was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Now, he’s a member of the church at Rome. V.6

“Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.”

We aren’t told any more about this Mary, but what we know is enough. Isn’t it sweet?

Some Sunday, I should stand up here and just greet each one of you by name and say something wonderful about you.

Something that the Lord has done through or in you.

How would that make you feel?  Paul knew Mary and so did the church at Rome and they both knew how hard Mary had worked for them. How she had ministered among them.

And the Lord knew, too.

Do you feel like a nobody?  He knows your name. And He knows your ministry. V.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.”

It’s likely that these two are a married couple, as well. Though there is some question about whether Junias is a male or a female name. Either way, they were active in ministry and reaching out. Perhaps they were a gospel missionary couple like so many of those couples whose pictures grace our back wall.

They were Christians before Paul was. Maybe they planted this church?

What I want us to not miss is that little word “relatives” in verse 7. Did you see that?

I don’t think that means that they were cousins. I think it means they were Jewish.

Most of the names here are not Jewish but a few of them are.

That brings back home all that we’ve learning about Jews and Gentiles in this church, right?
The Jews were first but the Gentiles were bigger. And they had to learn to live with one another in gospel unity. V.8

“Greet Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my relative. [There it is again.] Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. 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. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.”

Do you feel it?

Do you feel the love here?

The church is a family. It’s not just a bunch of people who believe the same thing, but the gospel brings people together into relationship, into community.

Paul loves these folks, and he’s not afraid to say it.

Greeting others is a good and biblical and loving thing to do.

We take greetings for granted, but they are a wonderful blessing.

I hope that you were all warmly greeted by many people as you came in today.

And I hope that you all warmly greeted many people as they came in today.

You don’t have to do it just like Paul did. But presents a great model. He not only greets them but commends them for their hard work in the Lord.

It’s not wrong to commend people for their ministry. It’s right and good and loving.

I love what he says about Rufus and his mom, huh?

This might be the same Rufus who was the son of Simon of Cyrene, who carried Jesus’ cross. We’re not sure.

What we are sure of is that he was chosen in the Lord and his mother had been a mother to Paul!

We need more of that in the church. We need moms to be moms of people without moms.

And moms to be “second moms” and “third moms” to people.

Paul needed a mom, and Rufus’ mom fulfilled that for him.

Moms, who can you be “adopting” so to speak for the sake of the gospel, out of love for the Lord?

The church is a family.  And it’s an adopted family.

We adopt people into our family. “You’re one of us, now!”

Verse 14. “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers with them.  Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them.”

There’s more we could say about these names.

Heather pointed out to me that a number of them had the names of Greek and Roman gods. And strangely, they didn’t see the need to change them. Like Daniel in the Old Testament. That’s interesting.

Another interesting thing is that these names are common names for different levels of society in that time and culture.

There are people here from every social strata. Every level of social class!

Some of these folks were slaves. Some were freemen. Some were citizens. Some were poor. Some were rich. Some were rulers.

It’s not just that some were men and some were women. These folks had nothing in common culturally with each other in the rest of their lives.

But now they were family in Christ!

The church is supposed to be diverse. We are supposed to be different from one another. Different races. Different ethnicities. Different political parties. Different social spheres. Different financial classes. Different nationalities.

We are all supposed to be different and brought together as one in Jesus.

If you look around, and you don’t feel like you quite fit with this church culturally, I say, look again. We want different here. And verse 16 gives the command.

“Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.”

This greeting stuff is not just for Paul or for then and there.

It’s for today. It’s okay with me if we don’t kiss.

But we need to greet each other. We need to welcome and love and express our affection and care and support and respect and regard for one another.

That’s what Christians do.

“All the churches of Christ send greetings.”  The churches Paul had just served all send their greetings to the Roman church.  That’s what Christians do. We love one another, and we tell each other.

And then, all of a sudden, Paul drops the hammer. He says that there are some people whom we should not give a warm welcome. V.17

“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”

Here’s some people to not greet. In fact, we’re supposed to show them the door.

They are false teachers. They are snakes. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

They are smooth talkers, but they don’t love Jesus and they don’t really love you. They just love themselves.

Friends, doctrine matters.

Paul is warning these Christians that there are people out there who claim to be Christians but are actually troublemakers.

And there are more today than there were then.

People who (v.17) “cause divisions and put obstacles in your way.”

That’s people who won’t strive for unity, like we were learning about in chapters 14 and 15.

And they don’t do because they are “contrary to the teaching you have learned.” That’s the gospel.

They are believing and teaching a different gospel.

Maybe it’s gospel of works. You have to earn your salvation.
Maybe it’s a prosperity gospel. Where you are guaranteed health, wealth, and prosperity if you believe it.
Maybe it’s a painless gospel. Where you are promised that you won’t experience any hardship. But Jesus said that in this world we will have trouble!

Those are false gospels.  There are plenty of them out there.

And there are plenty of people trying to sell them to the church. Paul warns the Romans to be on guard.

Are you on guard?

Are you on guard against false teaching?

These were good folks who knew Jesus. We just read about them. How much he loves them. But he still feels the need to warn them. V.19

“Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.”

There’s stuff out there that you have to beware of.

You’ve got to know what is good and not dabble with what is evil.

And you have to be able to tell the difference.

I’m afraid that many Christians have very little discernment.

And there are people who can’t wait to take advantage of that.

Watch out!

But also don’t despair. Because of the promise of God’s grace. V.20

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”

Does that verse sound familiar? I hope so. We previewed it back around Advent this last year when we learned about the First Gospel in Genesis 3:15.

When God told the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under our feet.

The God of peace. That is the God who brings peace either by enforcing it or reconciling His enemies to Himself.  Either way, He brings peace.

He will soon crush Satan under our feet.

Not just the foot of Jesus, but ours.

In other words, the victory of Jesus will be experienced by us, His people.

The false teachers and false Christians will not win. As they are snakes, they will, too, be crushed.

Because of God’s grace.

We don’t deserve rescue from Satan and His people.

But we sure need it.

Where do we get it?  “The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”

Because of what Jesus did on the Cross, we are promised peace with God and our enemy crushed.

Isn’t that good? That’s the gospel!

Paul then turns over the mic to the rest of his team to add their greetings to the letter. V.21

“Timothy, my fellow worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my relatives. I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord. [He was the secretary for Paul.] Gaius, whose hospitality I [Paul] and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. Erastus, who is the city's director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings.”

And then he comes back to the gospel.

He always comes back to the gospel. V.25

“Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him–to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.”

This last paragraph has a lot in common with the very first paragraph. Some time, maybe this afternoon, open up both at the same time and look at the similarities.

Paul is giving glory to God through Jesus Christ because He is so wise.

He was wise enough to have the gospel be a mystery, something hidden, still running in the background like a program behind the scenes on your computer, and then at the exact right time bring it to the light of day. Making known the good news so that all nations might believe and obey Jesus.

Believe in Him as Savior and follow Him as Lord.

All nations.

Not just the Jews.

Not just the Romans.

But even us Gentiles sitting here in Lanse, Pennsylvania.

The gospel came to us and it is able to (v.25) establish us. To strengthen us.

To set us on our feet and give us a Rock to stand on.

The gospel is powerful. It is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.

So we need to believe it, every one of us.

And we need to (v.25) proclaim it to everyone.

And as we do we join with the church throughout the ages who bring the Lord glory for His gospel.

To the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ. Amen.


Messages in this Series:

01. All Roads Lead to Romans
02. I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel
03. The Bad News
04. Hope for Holy Sexuality
05. The Even Worse News
06. The Worst News
07. Justified
08. Father Abraham
09. The Blessings of Justification
10. How Much More
11. New You
12. Slaves Of...?
13. A Life-Changing Relationship with Jesus Christ
14. No Condemnation
15. If the Spirit Lives in You
16. The Spirit of Sonship
17. We Know
18. For Us
19. Who?
20. God's Word Has Not Failed
21. Israel Stumbled
22. God Raised Him From the Dead
23. God Always Keeps His Promises
24. Therefore
25. How to Think of Yourself
26. A Transformed People (Part One)
27. A Transformed People (Part Two)
28. A Transformed People (Part Three)
29. A Transformed People (Part Four)
30. God's Servants
31. What Time Is It?
32. Returning to Romans
33 Striving for Unity (Part One)
34. Striving for Unity (Part Two)
35. Striving for Unity (Part Three)