|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2007|
|Dr. Barber helps us work through a roll-call of "ordinary" Christians singled out by the Apostle Paul for special recognition for their work on behalf of the body of Christ.|
Romans 16: 1-16
Paul made some hard choices. Look over in 1 Corinthians 9:23 at some of the commitment that the Apostle Paul had. You’ve got to remember that you can imprison yourself when you start pursuing the desires of your flesh. But when you only pursue the desires of the Spirit, you are free then to be what God wants you to be and a part of the will that He has for you on this earth. In 1 Corinthians 9:23-24 Paul says of himself, “And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.”
Now he’s not saying there’s only one prize and we’re competing with each other to get it. He’s giving an illustration. He’s saying that in a race that’s the way they run – they run to get that prize. There’s a prize for all of us, folks. He’s saying you live the Christian life the same way. He says in verses 25-26, “And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim [I know exactly where I’m headed]; I box in such a way, as not beating the air.”
Now you ought to understand that. Do you know what he’s saying? “I don’t shadowbox.” Do you know what shadowboxing is? That’s when a person gets in a ring and there’s nobody else there and he’ll just go through the motions. The Apostle Paul says, “Don’t waste that kind of energy. All the energy that I have is not in shadowboxing, but it is in buffeting my flesh.”
He says in verse 27, “But I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” Not kicked out of the kingdom. We have a word in athletics that fits that perfectly. It means to be benched. When I played basketball in college, I sat on the bench a lot because there was a player who was much better than I was and two inches taller. Every game I wanted to play but I was sitting on the bench. All of us know what it means to sit on the bench. We want to be out there in the action. The Apostle Paul says, “You can be out there in the action. You can, as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, be a part of what God’s doing, but you’ve got to learn to turn loose of whatever it is your flesh desires. Come to God with an open hand and God will use you in a powerful way.”
Paul did not allow his flesh to hinder what God was doing through him. He had his priorities and he had his persistence that kept him focused on those priorities. Now we know that about the Apostle Paul. It’s very clear in the book of Romans.
But we’re seeing in chapter 16 that there are some other people who lived exactly the same way. This was encouraging to me. We know Paul lived that way. Some people can say, “Yes, he was an apostle.” But we’re going down a list right now of common, everyday, ordinary people just like you and me, and they were as much a part of what God was doing to reach the Gentile world as Paul was himself. This is the encouragement. This is what I want you to see. The emphasis is not on your being a woman or a man. The emphasis is on Romans 12:1-2 and you and me being a servant to Jesus Christ. Then God gets hold of that and will use you in His eternal plan of reaching this world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
God had others to come alongside Paul, and Paul begins to mention them in verses 1-16. We’ve only seen one so far and that’s a precious lady by the name of Phoebe. She possibly could have even been the one who took the letter of Romans to the people. We don’t know that. That’s speculation. But she was a very precious person who was very needed in the work that God had assigned to the Apostle Paul.
We’re going to pick up there and move on. Now we’re going to see a couple. We saw Phoebe in verses 1 and 2. Look at verses 3-5a: “Greet Prisca [and that’s short for Priscilla] and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; also greet the church that is in their house.”
Now I wonder if you’re a couple and want to be used by the Lord God. We know what the formula is, if there are formulas or such a thing. Back in Romans 12:1-2, when the two of you come, you could be a Priscilla and an Aquila because God took an ordinary couple and used them in an incredible way to aid Paul in the ministry to the Gentile world. They were an integral part.
We learned earlier that Priscilla’s name was put before Aquila’s in this passage and in Acts 18:18 and 2 Timothy 4:19. Why would somebody put her name first? Well, some say that she could have been more prominent socially. We don’t know that, but that’s what some say. Some say she could have been more prominent spiritually. Maybe her gifts were more outstanding perhaps as far as her personality and aggressiveness or those kinds of things. But that again is all speculation. Don’t get too hung up in the fact that Priscilla’s name is put before Aquila because you don’t want to push either one of these two out of the sight of the fact that they were servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Aquila was a Jew, a native of Pontus, and like Paul, a tent-maker by trade. Look in Acts 18:1-3 and you find out when he met these folks over in Corinth. What a couple these people were and how they let God use them in the ministry that Paul had been assigned. Acts 18:1-3 reads, “After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth (that’s where he writes the book of Romans). And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.” So they used to live in Rome, were driven out by the Emperor Claudius. “He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working; for by trade they were tent-makers.”
According to one source I read, when they would go to the synagogue, the people would separate, the men on one side and the women on the other. If you’ve been in any of the Eastern European countries, you’ll know that’s the way they also sit, the men on one side, women on the other. But not only that, many times the men would sit by trade. It could just be that Paul sat down beside Aquila in the synagogue right there. Paul was also a tent-maker. Perhaps that’s the way they got to know one another. But just think for a second. Just a tent-maker and yet he’s mentioned about six times in the New Testament, he and his wife. A tent-maker and his wife said, “God, here we are. Use us. We come to You open handed. We just want what You want. God use us.” And God powerfully worked through this ordinary tent-maker and his wife.
Now, when Paul left Corinth they accompanied him down to Ephesus. When they got to Ephesus, they kind of did the spade work and when Paul returned to Ephesus, the place was right for revival because of the work that this couple had done. Now they’re back in Rome. Claudius, you remember, had died. Now they’re back in Rome, and their home is once again a center for evangelism.
Notice three things that Paul said about Priscilla and Aquila, this precious tentmaker and his wife. First of all, in verse 3 he says that they were fellow workers. “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus.” The term fellow workers is sunergos. It means to work together. The word comes from sun, that intimate together and the word ergos, to work. So it means to work together intimately to help share the load in something.
Here’s Paul. He’s called. He knows exactly what his assignment is. But here’s a couple who comes alongside him to help share the load. They’re fellow workers with him. Whatever he needs they’re there to be servants of the Lord Jesus.
Then secondly, he says that they risked their own necks. That’s an interesting phrase, by the way. Romans 16:4 says, “who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.” Now, we don’t know much about this. The scriptures are silent as what is it he’s talking about exactly. But the term “themselves” seem to indicate that they put themselves in danger many times for Paul’s sake and for the sake of other believers in the churches there in the area. The phrase “risked their own necks” actually is two Greek words. One, hupotithemi, means to put yourself under the sword or the ax of the executioner. Then the word trachelos is the word for “neck.” We get the word “trachea” from that. That’s just used as a picture here that many, many times they were in extreme danger for the sake of protecting Paul or other believers who were in the church. So not only does Paul thank them, but all of the churches benefited. They all give thanks for the precious lives of these two people.
Thirdly, their home was where a church met in Rome. Romans 16:5 says, “Also greet the church that is in their house.” Meeting in homes was part of the norm of that day and something we don’t understand now in our country. If we don’t have a church, we don’t think we can meet. They met in homes, and their house was a place, a gathering, where many of the believers could come.
In my study I came across a statement from the Acts of Martyrdom of St. Justin. It seems that Justin Martyr was asked the question of a man named Rusticus, “Where do you assemble?”, speaking to the Christian. And the answer from Justin Martyr exactly corresponds to the genuine Christian spirit that we’re seeing in these people. His answer was, “Where each one can and where each one will.” He says to the man who asked the question, “You believe, no doubt, that we all meet together in one place but it is not so. For the God of the Christians is not shut up in a room but, being invisible, He fills both heaven and earth and is honored everywhere by the faithful.”
I love that statement. And of course a home is just as important as any place else. Wherever they will, wherever they can is where they met during that time. And in the home, there in Rome, of Priscilla and Aquila a church met. Their home was open to the believers there. What a picture of how God wants to use a couple and will use a couple if they’ll just come to Romans 12:1-2 and say, “God, here we are. Use us. We’re not holding on to our flesh. We’re coming empty handed. Use us.”
I keep thinking of how God wants to shake our church. Missionaries are just going this place and that place. Couples are so geared right now to doing the things of the world, but God is saying to them, “I want you to be a part of my will. I want you to come and help Me reach the world for the Lord Jesus Christ.” And I tell you, again, when you let loose of that which the flesh desires, there’s no telling how God could use you.
What does God want to do in you as a couple? I guarantee you, there are couples who one day will be on the mission field. There are couples who one day will be great supporters of missions. There are couples who God wants to speak to and I think is speaking to as we go through Romans.
Well thirdly, Paul mentions Epaenetus. He says, “Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia.” The New American Standard says “Asia.” The King James says “Achaia.” Now that’s interesting to me. Why would there be a difference? I can’t answer that. I’m not theologically trained enough to answer that. However, it presents a problem if it’s Achaia, if that’s where it really is. Let me show you something. Look over in 1 Corinthians 16:15. If Epaenetus is the first convert in Achaia, that’s real interesting. In 1 Corinthians 16:15 they’re two different localities all together. It says, “Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints).” Well that’s interesting. I thought Epaenetus was.
Now there are different answers for that. Some say that Epaenetus might have been saved at the same time Stephanas was, therefore, shared in being the first convert there in Achaia. Others say that it says his household. Maybe he was a member of the household and therefore could qualify in saying he’s one of the first converts in Achaia. I don’t know. Let’s just say it’s Asia, like the New American Standard says. The capital of pro-consular Asia was Ephesus. Ephesus was the area where Paul spent three years in. And if it was in Ephesus, this would have been very tender and special to Paul because this would’ve been the first convert to come to know Christ in the time that he spent there for three years in Ephesus. You don’t get the first convert that comes along.
Well, we don’t know who he is. Was he from Achaia? Was he from Asia? That is really not the point. The point is that Paul calls him his beloved. The word for “beloved” is agapetos. It’s the word that means dear to somebody, somebody who is especially dear to someone. I’ll tell you what, if the Apostle Paul says that this man was beloved to him, then take it to the bank. This man was a quality individual, unknown, a nobody, but Paul says that this man is a dear, dear brother. Somehow God had used him in all that God had assigned to the Apostle Paul.
Well, fourthly, he mentions Mary. Look in verse 6. He says, “Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.” There are two problems we’ve got with the name “Mary.” First of all, there are just so many Marys in the New Testament. We’ve got Mary, the mother of Jesus; Mary Magdalene; the sister of Lazarus; Mary the wife of Clopus; Mary, the mother of John Mark. Here’s a Mary who is unknown in Rome. There’s another problem. Is she Gentile or is she Jewish? The Gentile name is Maria. The Jewish name is Miriam. There’s a lot of debate. Is she a Jew or is she a Gentile? We don’t really know. The opinions vary. The one thing we know about this unknown lady named Mary in Rome is that she wore herself out for the saints there in Rome. Look at the word, “Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.” “Worked hard” comes from two different words. One word means much and the other word, kopiao, means fatigue. In other words, she had labored to the point of fatigue.
This is the same word that is used in John 4:6 when it says of the Lord Jesus, “being wearied from His journey, He sat down by the well.” It’s the same word for the disciples in Luke 5:5 when it says, “They toiled all night long and caught nothing.” The term means to work or to labor until the point that you are literally worn out. The Apostle Paul, in giving this list of people he wants to send greetings to, people who were so important in the body of Christ who said, “Yes, Lord. We’ll do whatever You tell us to do,” mentions this little precious lady. We don’t know anything else about her. She’s the Mary of Rome. But we do know she wore herself out for the saints.
There are a lot of people like this even today who have come empty handed before the Lord and literally worn themselves out. You know, I hear a lot of people say, “Well, that must be flesh.” Wait a minute! When you get in touch with what God wants in your life, He does energize you, and He’ll burn you out. You’ll work to the end; but listen, it’s the best burn-out you ever had in your life. God takes you right down to where He takes you on in to Glory. There’s a lot of work. There’s a lot of sweat. There’s a lot of effort that goes into serving the Lord Jesus Christ and that’s not carnal. That’s not flesh. That just goes along with it.
We use the analogy of a runner. You know the effort that goes into running a race. We know that goes along with it. Here’s a precious lady who has literally worn herself out for the saints. When I was studying this, people just started popping in my mind. Of course I think of people who are close. I think immediately of Mia Oglechia. I want to tell you something, Mia never has a day to sit down and rest. I’ve never seen a woman quite like that in all my life. I’ve traveled with her, and I have seen her go until three and four in the morning, fall in the bed, get back up at seven and go all day long. That’s all she does. Then she comes home and you’d think she would have time to rest. No. Their house becomes the center for everyone. Her phone rings off the wall. They want to stay at her house. She fixes them meals. She fixes and prepares whatever it is they need. A woman who has literally worn herself out for the saints. I think it’s absolutely marvelous that we still have people like that in the body of Christ.
You say, “Well, if I wear myself out in serving the saints, will I get a position in the church?” No, and you don’t want it. What happens is God will honor you in a marvelous way one day when you stand before Him. Who is this Mary? We just don’t know. But she wore herself out for the saints.
Next Paul mentions Andronicus and Junias. Who in the world are these people? “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” Now if you’ll look at that verse very carefully, it tells you a lot about them even though it doesn’t completely, specifically define who they are. Junias may be a woman. We don’t know. It’s hard to tell from the name. We don’t know if it’s a couple or not. It could be another couple. It could be another Priscilla and Aquila, but we cannot say that for sure. The word “kinsmen” probably does not refer to blood relatives, and there are several reasons for this. You may pick up a commentary and it says they are his relatives but there are some real questions about this.
First of all, the phrase “kinsman” was used back in Romans 9:3. Paul uses it not for personal blood kin, but for those who are his countrymen, those who are Jews, even those who perhaps could be of the same tribe. Romans 9:3 says, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
Secondly, the only relatives of the Apostle Paul that we know about are his sister and his nephew. Look in Acts 23:16. These are the only relatives that we know about that scripture records. Andronicus and Junias are not in that list. Acts 23:16 says, “But the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, and he came and entered the barracks and told Paul....” That’s when they were plotting against him over there. Remember, that was his sister and her son. That’s his nephew. They are the only two relatives that we know about.
Thirdly, they are known as Paul’s fellow prisoners. In verse 7 he says, “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners.” They shared prison with him at some point. They may have shared it with him over in Acts 16 when he was put in prison. We don’t know. It is possible, however, they were not in prison together, but because they had been in prison and Paul had been in prison he calls them his fellow prisoners. There’s no note here that this could possibly be his kinsmen.
Fourthly, they are described as those “who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” Now we don’t mean that they were in the office of an apostle. That’s not what he’s saying. But somehow he was well known to the apostles, and they were saved before Paul was. In my study the thought came to me that perhaps they might have prayed for Paul to get saved. But all this speculation doesn’t get you anywhere. The key is that they’re two servants of Christ. That’s all that really matters. As you go through all of this it doesn’t matter if it’s a woman who nobody knows of, or if it’s a couple who were prominent. It doesn’t matter. Being servants to Jesus Christ is what matters as you go through this list. That’s why God the Holy Spirit even led Paul to put them on the list.
Sixthly, he mentions a man by the name Ampliatus in verse 8. “Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord.” Now, we know absolutely nothing about this man from scripture. There’s not one thing that you can say. However, in my study I found in archeology we do know something about him. Ampliatus was a popular name among slaves. In fact, in Rome most of the Romans who were prominent had three names, but there’s a tomb there in Rome even today that very clearly has one name on it. It has this man’s name on that tomb, giving the idea that he possibly could have been a slave. Now the question goes through my mind. I wonder if he’s part of Caesar’s household that Paul talks about in Philippians 4:22. Remember the verse? Let me read it for you. “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” I wonder if he was not a slave in the household of somebody who was in Caesar’s company.
Well, again, free Romans always had three names and this man only has one. It is definitely marked on one of the tombs there in Rome even today. You know the Apostle Paul just blows me away. He’s a man who says in another place that in Christ there’s no male or female. As you go down his list, it’s just random, women, men, it doesn’t really matter. In Christ there’s no Jew or Greek. As you go down the list you find some Gentiles, you find some of the Jewish nationality. But in Christ also there’s no free man and no slave. He sees them all as one in Jesus Christ. I just love that. There’s just something about the heartbeat of the Apostle Paul as he lists these people. They’re in no order. They’re in no rank or file. They’re just people, people who have come to the Lord Jesus and said, “God, will you use me?”
If you had to sit back and look back over your life, is God using you? Now remember, the qualifications are back also in chapter 15. The Apostle Paul says, “I only boast of the things that Christ is doing through me.” So unless you have an empty hand, your boasting may be pointing more to yourself than it is to Christ. Is Christ using you? It’s so simple. Turn loose of whatever it is that flesh wants to hold on to and enter into the freedom of being what God wants you to be.
Young people always pumps me up because of their potential. We might have another Billy Graham sitting right in the congregation, and if God tarries, we don’t know what God might do through a young person who makes up his mind. Daniel was a teenager when they took him out of his land over into Babylon, and Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not sin against his God. He was a man God could use as a teenager. Think about the potential. All that God’s waiting on is for us to turn loose and to come to Him with an empty hand.
Look at the list. A prominent lady named Phoebe. Who is she? We don’t know. A tent-maker and his wife, Aquila and Priscilla. A nobody named Epaenetus. A lady named Mary who literally wore herself out for the saints. Two saints who perhaps prayed even for Paul’s salvation, we don’t know that, but two saints, Andronicus and Junias. A slave who loved Jesus. Look at the list. I think of 1 Corinthians 2 when God did not choose the wise but He chose the foolish to confound the wise. He chose the things that were not to confound the things that are. Not many noble, not many mighty are chosen. Why? Because people who are mighty and noble have their hand in the vase. They’ve got things they’re pursuing other than God, therefore, they’ve imprisoned themselves and shut down God’s using them.
People of a humble character are people who have bankrupted themselves before God and said, “God, here I am. Send me. Use me. I don’t have to have a position. I don’t have to be recognized. God, just use me so that one day when all of the economy of what you have done, I’ll somehow be included as being a servant, one who gave himself to whatever You wanted in my life.”
Before you can be used you’ve got to be a part of the kingdom of God. Is that not correct? We’ve been doing a youth camp for many years. Recently, I had the precious opportunity of just sharing about the Apostle Paul and being a servant to the Lord Jesus to all these kids who were out there, but I was really speaking to their counselors, folks. Because I had a deep conviction in my heart that when you go and try to water it down to reach a kid, you’ve just missed the whole point of what God has you there for.
We’ve been doing this for years. We don’t sacrifice anything, we just set the table. Eat from it if you won’t to. If you don’t, that’s not our responsibility. When I gave the invitation Thursday night, a man about forty years old walked up. I have never seen a man more emotionally moved in all my. He stood up in front of the kids there. He was one of their counselors from Mississippi. He said, “I just want you to know that for years I’ve been teaching Sunday School. I’ve had head knowledge. Oh, I have had head knowledge! But I have never bowed my knee to the Lord Jesus Christ.” Weeping he said, “Tonight, I come in repentance and bow before my Lord Jesus Christ and salvation.”
Well, that went on for a while. The invitation was about over. A man stood up, and when I saw him walk across the stage I recognized him. He’s been with us six years, one of my dear friends, a pastor down in Louisiana. He walked up and began to weep and said, “I have to come tonight to say I have never bowed before my Lord Jesus Christ in repentance of my sins, never. I’ve known what to say for years but I’ve never bowed my will before Him.”
Do you know why a lot of people aren’t getting involved in what we’re talking about? It’s because they don’t even know Jesus. That’s why. Now there’s a lot of people in church who can get involved in church work. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about in what Jesus and Jesus alone can do through you and gives you the right to boast about. Not what you’ve done for Him but what He’s done through you. You might have even joined a church, but you’ve never bowed to the Lord Jesus Christ as your Lord and as your Savior. Maybe that’s the whole problem. I don’t know. But I’ll tell you this, God wants to use every breathing individual who knows Jesus Christ. He wants to use you. And if you’re not being used, it’s not Him. It’s you holding on to what flesh wants, trying to live in two worlds and you just can’t do it. God uses the body of Christ to accomplish His work.