In his recent book Do You Believe? Paul Tripp says the following about God. “God’s glory is the greatness, beauty, and perfection of all that He is. In everything that He is, God is great beyond human description. Every attribute and action of God is completely beautiful in every way. God is totally perfect in all that He is and all that He does…There is no one like Him, there is no one that rivals Him, and there are no valid comparisons to be made to Him. He is the great Other, in a category of His own beyond our ability to estimate, understand, or describe.”
This statement about God is similar to many statements we’ve seen in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Statements describing the glories of God, the power of the gospel, and the cross of Christ. And who would have thought that in the same document holding forth all these glories about the inexhaustible and unfathomable God we also see…statements about Paul’s travel plans and a list of names Paul desires to send greetings to, like we come to today in Romans 16. This is one of the marks of the authenticity of Scripture, at times it’s overwhelmingly majestic, while at other times it’s unusually ordinary. It looks and feels like real life.
For the second week in a row, we come to a text today that is unusually ordinary. Romans 16:1-23, where Paul sends his greetings to twenty six different people, two different families, and three different churches. But, perhaps you’re asking right now what many people have asked when they look at this list, how could Paul have known so many people in Rome since he hadn’t visited Rome yet? Good question, with, I think, a good answer. Rome was a busy city, travel was common, and the roads going into and coming out of Rome were good. When Emperor Claudius banished all the Jews from the city in 49 AD many of them went abroad and arrived at cities where Paul just so happened to be ministering. When Claudius died, his order concerning Jews was rescinded and many of Paul’s newly met friends went back to Rome. So, when it comes time for him to write this letter to the Roman church, he already knows many of them from meeting them throughout his travels, and thus, his letter carries much of his heart within it because he’s speaking to many people he loves a great deal for. Perhaps Paul’s deep feelings for these people is why then, right in the middle of greeting them, he stops and warns them about false teachers.
So those then, our two headings today all have to do with people, both the good and the bad. In Romans 15:24 we learned Paul enjoyed the company of these people he’ll greet in our text today, so in that spirit I’ve labeled our two headings:
Delightful People (v1-16, 21-23)
Divisive People (v17-20)
Delightful People (v1-16, 21-23)
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert2 to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you … … Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen. I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.”
This long list of names begins with a short commendation of a woman named Phoebe. While v1-2 is brief, these verses have no received no small attention by those aiming to understand the role of women in the life of the local church.Why so? Well, the first thing said about Phoebe is that she is a servant of the church in Cenchreae. The word servant might sound fairly straightforward, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. If you recall, Paul called himself a servant in Romans 1, but there he used the word doulos, literally meaning slave. Here in Romans 16 he doesn’t use the word doulos in reference to Phoebe, no, he uses the word diakonos, which literally means deacon. So, the question is a natural one: is Paul saying Phoebe was simply one who served the church greatly? Or is Paul here making it clear that Phoebe held the position of deacon in the church of Cenchreae? Many do believe Phoebe was just a dear servant of the church, and that Paul means nothing more here. I disagree. Paul could have used another word to describe Phoebe’s service to the church, like doulos, but he didn’t, he chose to use the word deacon. So, while this isn’t the only piece of evidence for this, I believe v1-2 does show us that Phoebe was a deacon in the church, and is making it plain that the office of deacon as described in Acts 6 and 1 Timothy 3 is open and available to qualified women as well as men. Which is one of the many reasons we have women deacons here at SonRise.
The rest of v1-2 says more, revealing the quality of Phoebe. Paul desires the Romans welcome her in a manner worthy of the saints. Does this mean she was carrying this letter from Paul to the Romans? Possibly. Paul wrote this letter while in Corinth, and Cenchreae was a port city attached to Corinth, so she very well could’ve been the one to carry this letter to the Romans. But whether she carried and delivered this letter to them or not, Paul requests they help her in anything she may need from them. Why? Because Phoebe has been a patron, a supporter, to Paul and many others. Clearly, that Phoebe is mentioned first in this list and that Paul gives such a commendation for her means she was a very godly woman and a was very great help to Paul and many others. Praise God for her and the many Phoebe’s we all could speak of today.
Paul moves on in v3-4 to greet Prisca (referred to elsewhere as Priscilla) and Aquila. For them, Paul has rich words. And for good reason. They were tentmakers like Paul (Acts 18:3), they taught the way of Christ more perfectly to Apollos (Acts 18:24), and they traveled with Paul to Ephesus (Acts 18:18). Paul says these two are his fellow workers. And that they at one time risked their life to save him. For them Paul not only gives thanks, but he says all the Gentile churches gives thanks for them as well. And to add to all this, they hosted a church in their home! Clearly, if there was ever a power couple in the early church it was Priscilla and Aquila.
In v5-7 Paul greets Epaenetus, his very first convert to Christ in Asia (who could ever forget the first person they led to the Lord?). We see the hard-working Mary, and Paul’s kinsmen (meaning Jews) who were well-known the apostles, another married couple, Andronicus and Junia, who were Christians before Paul, and who suffered in prison with Paul.
In v8-10 Paul sends greetings to beloved Ampliatus, Urbanus another fellow worker in Christ, Stachys who we know nothing about, Apelles who is approved in Christ, and the family of Aristobulus. Notice he doesn’t greet Aristobulus himself, but those who are in his family. Interesting isn’t it? This could be because Aristobulus wasn’t a Christian and that many in his home were, whether family or servants. Or it could also mean that Aristobulus was dead at the time Paul wrote this. The historian Josephus speaks of a man by the name Aristobulus who died in 49 AD who was the brother of King Agrippa. This could be the man here being referred to.
In v11-15 we see a storm of names. Herodion is greeted, Paul’s kinsmen. The family of Narcissus. Tryphaena and Tryphosa, most likely sisters and hard workers in the Lord. The beloved Persis, another hard worker for the Lord. Rufus, who Paul describes as chosen in the Lord, as well as his mother, who Paul warmly speaks of as being a mother to him as well. We then see Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and those who are with them. Then Philologus is greeted, along with Julia, Nereus and his sister, Olympas, and all the other saints with them.
And in v16, Paul speaks somewhat culturally saying “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.” Don’t misunderstand Paul here. This kiss he speaks of isn’t a romantic one, it was a common greeting in their day, that occurred not on the lips but on the cheek, which would make it similar to how we greet one another with the hug, handshake, or fist bump.
Now, fast forward a bit to v21-23 where we see another list of names in our text. When you read this it’s as if Paul finishes what he’s desiring to say in v20, and while he pauses for a moment, perhaps wondering how to end his letter officially, the crew with him quickly adds in their own greetings. So we see Timothy greet the Romans, along with Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater. Teritus is here too, who was the one who actually wrote out Paul’s words to the Romans as he spoke them. We then see Gaius the gracious host, Erastus the treasurer, and Qaurtus the brother all send their own greetings.
Now, that’s the names in the chapter. Let’s ask a simple question here: what do we do with all of this? There are two takeaways to notice here.
First, behind every great ministry lies, not a lone figure, but a community of great figures. We don’t normally think of Paul in this way do we? Such a great apostle, such a great man of God, we often view him as a solo figure, studying alone with his scrolls and quill, with too much important work to do and too little time for relationships like these. This text dispels that image of Paul and reminds us that Paul isn’t a lone ranger, but has and needs friendships and community.We learn much about Paul here, about what matters to him and who matters to him. And we ought to learn the same for ourselves. That it’s disobedient to God to isolate ourselves from others and to convince ourselves that we don’t need anyone else. If Paul needed friends like this, so do we.
Second, behind every great ministry lies, not a just a group of great figures, but a diverse group of great figures. Notice who makes up this list here. Both men and women are commended here, for their hard work for the Lord. Many wealthy families are present in this list, for how they housed and helped churches. Both the single and the married are present here. And many names included in this list are common slave names. Without any one of these groups mentioned here the Church in Rome wouldn’t be what it is. All were a great benefit to the whole. Lesson? The gospel not only breaks all kinds of barriers, the gospel unites all kinds of people in Christ, and sets them all to work together in one spirit for the spread of the gospel among all peoples.
Now, those were the delightful people, but notice, in the middle of all these greetings Paul gives a warning about another kind of people…
Divisive People (v17-20)
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”
This warning does seem abrupt in the flow of the passage, doesn’t it? Paul’s writing out a bunch of names, those near and dear to his heart, sending greetings, and all the sudden he warns them against false teachers? It might seem abrupt but I think it makes sense, because when you love people you want to protect those people, and that’s what he’s doing here.
These people Paul speaks against should be called false teachers because that’s what v17-18 say they are. They cause division and create obstacles, they serve their own appetites instead of serving Christ, and by their smooth talk and flattery they deceive many. All of this they do contrary to the doctrine you have been taught. Think of it Church, no false teacher comes into a town or place and says ‘I am a false teacher, come and listen to me! Allow me to deceive you!’ No, they sneak in, slowly deceive, and begin teaching what isn’t true by their smoothness of speech and flattery, and if they’re not called out and asked to leave the result of such underhanded work is that they lead many astray. So Paul’s conclusion is simple: avoid them. This sound harsh to you? Perhaps you’ve thoroughly enjoyed this passage so far, and you’re all in for the love and the community and the relationships found all throughout this chapter…but then v17-20 comes and ruins what you thought was such a lovely passage. But think of it Church, are we truly loving one another if we don’t protect one another from what is harmful? Indeed to not warn one another of what is false, is to fail to love another.
These Romans needed to hear this, as much as we need to hear it today. False teachers are real. Wolves really do seek to come in among the sheep, and they ought to be dealt with quickly, or else their smooth speech will start deceiving the weak and naive. Because they serve their own appetites, they can usually be easily identified by their insatiable desire to build their own kingdom and promote their own name. In our day the majority of these folks seek to spread their teaching by being on TV and writing books that land on the best sellers list at Barnes and Noble. If you avoid those and you protect yourself from many of them.
But some are tricky and very smooth in speech. How can we recognize these false teachers? Paul tells us in v19, “For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.” Or as Jesus said in Matthew 10:16, ‘…be wise as serpents and innocent as doves…” In Rome back then, and here today, in the Church there exists a very well-intended naïve bent about some that they will swallow whatever is taught to them from the Bible. This is our reminder from God, not everyone who teaches the Bible to us, is good for us. How do we know the difference? We must be wise as to what is good, or in others words, we must know the truth, we must know our Bibles.
Thankfully v20 comes in after this and say, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” Reaching back all the way to Genesis 3:15 and looking ahead to the final day when the Lord will return Paul gives us hope and strength and courage, by reminding us that evil, though real and eager to deceive, won’t win out…Christ will!
Church, the call is twofold from Romans 16:1-23 today. People really matter. Some people should delight us so much that our lives should be marked by enjoying their company all our days. Others people are so divisive and cruel that our lives should be marked by avoiding them at all costs to protect one another. Over it all stands the Lord Jesus Christ, the God of peace, who will crush Satan under His feet and usher in His Kingdom in full measure on that final day.
 Paul Tripp, Do You Believe? (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2021) 70.
 Daniel M. Doriani, Romans, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2021), 531. See also, The Reformation Study Bible, notes on Romans 16:1-16, 2009, they are very helpful.
 R.C. Sproul, Romans, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2009), 503.
 Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 940–941, footnote 254.
 Kent R. Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven, Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1991), 285–286.
 Moo, Romans, 942–943.