Paul goes on to mention two other friends, Verses 5-6:
Greet my dear friend Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. (Romans 16:5-6)
Gratefully, Epaenetus was never forgotten because, as Paul says here, he was the first one to believe the gospel when he entered Asia (of which Ephesus was the capital). I think it is significant that Epaenetus is second only to Prisca and Aquila, who we will discuss more in a moment. Paul generally lists people in order of prominence, so Epaenetus must have had an important role in a church in Asia. Although, we are not told what role that was.
Although, in other translations, Paul describes him as the “firstfruits” of Asia, which might give us a clue. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul describes the “household of Stephanas” as the “first fruits” in Achaia (I Corinthians 16:15). Stephanas and Titius Justus provided their house for Paul to start the church in Corinth. The term “firstfruits” could also be called the “first of many,” or the “first with the prospect of more to follow.” Paul’s churches were generally born when a prominent individual converted and provided a meeting place. In Corinth it was Titius Justus, and in Thessalonica, it was Jason. So maybe, that was the role Epaenetus played by allowing the church in Asia to be born.
If you have been involved in evangelism or simply sharing your faith with co-workers, you never forget that first person you lead to Christ. No matter how many others follow there might be, you never forget that first one. Now I realize I was just guessing about Epaenetus’ role in the church, because we really do not know what he was doing in Rome, but there is no doubt that he was cherished because he was the first person to exercise faith in Asia.
Along with Epanenetus, is Mary. Paul simply refers to her as someone “who worked very hard for you.” She is one of the group of the unknown women in the Gospels who had the gift of helps. Maybe she could not teach or preach or evangelize, but she could work, and that is what she did. Paul is very careful to remember these women and men who had the gift of helps. Then he mentions some relatives and friends. Many of us never give a thought about any family members of Paul’s coming to the Lord. But they had not only gave their lives to the Lord, they did before Paul, and went to jail along with him. Take a look at verses 7-10:
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. 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. (Romans 16:7-10)
Andronicus and Junias were relatives of Paul, and since he says they were “in Christ before me,” I started thinking of the early days of the church. Now think about this, Saul (which is Paul’s Hebrew name before using the Greek version of Saul) arrested Christians for jail or execution—and his own relatives are among them. Where Andronicus and Junias the ones who moved the Lord to meet Saul on the road to Damascus? I don’t know, but maybe.
Now here is Paul having some fond memories about them, because at some point they shared a prison cell with him. He spoke pretty highly of them and said that even the twelve apostles in Jerusalem held them in high regard. What they were doing in Rome we do not know—doubtless they were leaders in the church there.
Then he mentions Ampliatus. Now that is an interesting name. In the cemetery at Domitilla, found among the catacombs in Rome, there is a highly decorated tomb with the single name “Ampliatus,” written on it. A single name like that implies that the man was a slave, although, because the tomb is so ornate, it indicates that he was a Christian, and highly respected by the leaders in Rome. No, history cannot guarantee that this Amplaitus was the same person Paul mentions here, but he probably is. What I am getting at is that although he was a slave, he had a great ministry among the church in Rome.
Urbanus and Stachys are listed next. Frankly, we don’t know anything more about them than what Paul mentions here. So all we know is that somewhere, Urbanus joined Paul’s team, and also “his dear friend Stachys.” But then there is Apelles. I have always been fascinated by this man, because Paul says had been “tested and approved in Christ.” I hope that is something I would merit on my tombstone. Don’t you think that would make a great inscription, “Tested and approved in Christ”? Yeah, yeah. I have said before that I want Acts 3:16: “David served God’s purpose in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his ancestors.” I’ll leave it to my wife . . . anyway, Apelles will forever be known as someone who endured the testing of his faith and stood against the pressure. That is why he was approved in Christ. His name means “called,” and he certainly proved to be someone the Lord had called.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome