We have finally reached the last chapter in our study in Romans. It has taken awhile to get here and hopefully we have learned some things. This letter is a gem that tells us how the God of Creation has come to save us—body, soul and spirit. That fulfillment was accomplished, not simply as followers of a mystic philosophy, or even a philosopher . . . no, it was accomplished through a relationship with a Living Person, a Savior and Redeemer. Many people prefer to ignore this last chapter because all they see is nothing but a list of names of people who are now dead and gone. But if that is all you see, you will miss all kinds of neat thing, which you will see as we travel through this last chapter.
Just remember this was a letter . . . okay, a long letter, longer than any of us have probably written, but a letter nonetheless. But as Gustave Flaubert once wrote, “The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” As such, it is interesting to see how Paul actually addresses real people who he knew intimately.
Now these people certainly never knew that they were going to be famous, and I am sure that if they had known that being mentioned in one of Paul’s letters was going to give them undying fame, there would have been a whole line of them saying, “Paul, Paul. Mention me, mention me . . .” Well maybe, but the reason these folks are mentioned is because they were personal friends of Paul’s in Rome, or they were with him in the city of Corinth, where he wrote the letter.
I find it interesting that in just the first twenty four verses, he mentioned thirty three people. Nine of them were with Paul, and twenty four of those mentioned were right in Rome. He mentioned two households and there were two unnamed women—the mother of Rufus and the sister of Nereus, as well as some unnamed brothers. What I am saying is that there is quite a list of people he knew personally in Rome, even though he had never visited Rome. He obviously must have met these people somewhere else in the Roman Empire. The reason I bring this up is because we tend to think of those ancient days as being a time with limited travel, which is true. I mean it took weeks to reach cities that today we can reach in less than an hour by plane. Nevertheless, these people got around, and here is proof of that.
Now in this chapter there are three simple divisions: First, Paul greeted the brothers and sisters at Rome (the first 16 verses), then there is a brief warning about phony Christians who were there in Rome, and then greetings from the brothers who were with Paul when he was writing the letter.
The amazing thing about this is that Paul could have easily been a loner. But he wasn’t. Whether it was easy or not, he made a point of becoming deeply involved in the lives of many other believers. He is greeting specific people by name, at the risk of omitting many others.
He mentions Phoebe, a businesswoman traveling to Rome who carried his letter for him. (As Donald Barnhouse wrote, “The Reformation was in that luggage!”).
He mentions Aquilla and Priscilla, a married couple in business together, who often traveled with Paul.
He mentions Erastus, city treasurer of Corinth. In 1929, a pavement was uncovered which was inscribed to say, “Erastus laid this pavement at his own expense.” Evidently, Erastus was a Christian big shot.
He mentions Tertius, his scribe. My point is that Paul mentions big people, little people, women, men, and all kinds and probably all shapes and sizes and he got deeply into their lives. He knew them and they knew him. In I Thessalonians he talks about how he worked right by their side, and cared for them as a father cares for his children or a mother tends to her babies.
I think that is important. In one church where I ministered, the senior pastor specifically told us not to become too close to the people. His reasoning is that if they saw the real you, they would lose respect for the ministry. I’m serious. That is what he believed. (As we discovered, he had too many weaknesses himself, and yes, we did lose respect for his ministry. But that was the point, he was trying to hide too many aspects of his faith. If you cannot live out this faith, how can you teach others to live it out?). But I say, “No!” Each of us must learn to love the Church! The grandparents, the children, the middle-agers, the young people, the mystics, the pragmatics, the theologians, the simplest, the immature, and the deep, the visionaries and the plodders, the faithful committee workers who make it happen and the laggards who have to be cajoled! Everybody!
When you read that list of types of people, I bet you thought of folks you know who fit those descriptions, but we have to learn to love them anyway! Whether they want you to or not. Whether they take hold of you with both arms or hold you off at arm’s length. They are the Church, and we must learn to love them!
As they say, “You can pick your friends, but you are stuck with your relatives.” You are going to find the must divergent group of people when we reach eternity, so you better start now getting used to them. lol. Look, when you do that, you are going to find how the multi-faceted, richly diverse Body of Christ will stretch and challenge you in a thousand ways more than one person ever could.
I can’t explain the miracle of the Church, but I do know that we need all the relationships our Father will give us. Each believer represents a different facet of Jesus Christ. As we are baptized into a life of fellowship in the Spirit, we are plunged into Christ Himself. Yes, doctrinally, we are baptized into Christ the moment we accept the message of Salvation. However, experientially, we are baptized into Christ when we are daily immersed in our fellow believers.
Do you remember what Paul wrote in his letter to Ephesus?
“From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” —Ephesians 4:16
We need to lay down our weapons, quit fighting with our brothers and sisters. We need to take a vow as seriously as our marriage vows that we will love the church for better and for worse, until death do we part. Did you notice that Ephesians 4:16 said it wouldn’t work unless each part does its job? We need to find the tools so we can forge meaningful and loving relationships in the Body of Christ.
Okay, so let’s get started . . .
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome