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Romans (Series 2)

Mentioned in Despatches

Romans 16

Lesson audio

In European military forces there exists the custom of honoring individuals and units with a “mention in despatches.” It means that in the summary report drawn up by the commander after a military action, certain individuals are mentioned, and possibly certain units, for which they receive a medal.[1] Paul does something similar in this chapter of Romans.

Romans 16:1-27 NIV

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant[1] of the church in Cenchrea. (2) 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. (3) Greet Priscilla[2] and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. (4) They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. (5) Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. (6) Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. (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. (8) Greet Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord. (9) Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. (10) Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. (11) Greet Herodion, my relative. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. (12) 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. (13) Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. (14) Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers with them. (15) Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them. (16) Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings. (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. (18) 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. (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. (20) The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.

The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. (21) Timothy, my fellow worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my relatives. (22) I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord. (23) Gaius, whose hospitality I 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.[3] (24) (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, (26) 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-- (27) to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

(The interested reader will find a fascinating article on the subject of Junias – or Junia – at http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=21-08-022-f. We do not have time or space to match this learned article, but it brings light on the extent of radical feminism’s touch on Gospel scholarship.)

Mentioned in Despatches

The reader who has followed this series on the web will note that our older series on Romans does not include this chapter. It seems, on the surface, to have little to say – just a collection of personal greetings. But there are some nuggets of gold in here. Let’s examine first the kind of people Paul mentions, their deeds and why they mean so much to him.

What kind of people are they?

Paul tells us:

  • Such people are servants. It is a simple distinction, but one which is often forgotten today. Prestige and “do it my way” conflict with this; it is well to remember the task to which you are called, and do it humbly.
  • They worked very hard. They took their tasks seriously and bent their backs to them. It is something which in this time of ease and comfort seems less than probable. But they knew it well.
  • They were tested and approved in Christ. The results of their labors were clear. Temptation? Tribulation? We don’t know the testing, but we know they passed.
What they did

Some did what would seem to be small and ordinary things; others had the privilege of greater risk and sacrifice.

  • Some were said to be a great help. For everyone who leads there must be some who not only follow, but help. The leaders are grateful for followers – but love the help.
  • Some, probably the more wealthy, had the church meet in their homes. Recall that church buildings had yet to be devised. So often it seems that the rich are called only to give money; here we see that they too shared all they had.
  • Others provided hospitality to the saints, including evangelists and apostles. A place to stay with friends is a grand thing when your other option is an inn likely enough to be a brothel too.
  • For others things were more serious – they had been imprisoned with Paul. It seems so distant, but we must remember that in many parts of the world the penalty for being a Christian is imprisonment – or death.
  • Indeed, others risked their lives for Paul’s sake. Can you imagine such a thing at our comfortable church?
Who they are to Paul

We may also look at them from Paul’s point of view. How did he see these people? How would we like to be seen by those who are great in the faith?

  • First, he saw them as his fellow workers. There is no sense here of “you peon, me boss.” Each member of the team has his or her part to play.
  • They are also dear friends – it seems to be the natural result of working together for Christ.
  • Paul also mentions those that he “loves in the Lord.” There are some who become like family to you.
  • Indeed, of one woman he says that she was like a mother to him. Unpopular in these feminist times, but somebody has to do it. The evangelist needs someone to see that his socks match.

Taken together, we see the picture of a church which is very loving and very close, a model for us even today.

Look Out!

Paul also warns us of those who are harmful to the church. It’s not all warm and fuzzy at First Christian.

How to recognize the wolves

Paul gives us three characteristics of those whom Christ called wolves in sheep’s clothing:

  • They are those who cause division. That’s the original meaning of the word, “heretic.” It’s interesting that our pastor now tells us that people who know the Bible best are the most divisive. No one is quite so subversive, I suppose then, as a Bible teacher.
  • They put obstacles in your path. Remember that the obstacles may appear to be good things. For example, feeding the poor is certainly a good thing – unless it becomes the primary goal of the church. Then it’s an obstacle to the faith.
  • They teach what is contrary to the faith. Enough said.
Recognition test

Of course, that might not be sufficient for your purposes in identifying them. Paul gives us two clues to recognition:

  • First, they are not serving Christ but their own appetites. If the preacher’s first concern is his paycheck, we have a problem. (This is one reason this teacher is not at all fond of televangelists.)[2] But note also: there are those who don’t serve Christ because they believe that the church must be fundamentally altered to survive.[3] Do they serve Christ, or their own vision of the new church?
  • More visibly, you can tell them by their smooth talk and flattery. If they are always telling you how wonderful you are, and never admonish you, it’s a dead giveaway.
What should the saints do?

Other than watch out, you’ll notice that Paul doesn’t give any specific action relating to such people. That’s interesting! It seems that we are to deal with such a situation by doing the ordinary, obedient things of the Christian life. Some examples:

  • In one instance he commands the Romans to “receive her in a way worthy of the saints.” We are to provide the practical help the workers of the Gospel may require.
  • He tells us to be wise about good, but innocent about evil. Never spit at a skunk. Do not ask how you may out-wicked the wicked; rather, overcome evil with good.
  • Finally, we are to be obedient. We all know that only those who believe, obey. But as Bonhoeffer pointed out, only those who obey can believe.


Let’s examine the end of this book again:

Romans 16:25-27 NIV 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, (26) 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-- (27) to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

(Verse 24 apparently is a late addition to the original text, and is either omitted or marked as a late addition in all the modern translations. Curiously, the Vulgate also omits it. Its place thus disputed, we have chosen to omit it here.)

Able to establish you

It is of some comfort to those making a major purchase to know that they are dealing with a “well established firm.” The assumption is that if they were complete frauds they wouldn’t have been able to stick around so long. We too can be established:

  • First, by the Gospel of Christ. The power to become firmly established in Christ is not something that comes from within you – but comes from him. It does not depend upon you. You did not create the light; you just flipped the light switch.
  • Second, by the proclamation of Christ – the word also means “preaching.” If the word of Christ comes to you, should you dam it up and hide it, or should you let it flow through your life?

Paul now explains the mystery of Christ – as much as can be explained.

  • He was a “mystery.” The word doesn’t carry the meaning of “murder mystery” but rather something that was hidden. Perhaps “secret” might be a better translation.
  • But now Christ has been revealed. One way in particular: through the writings of the prophet. The mystery had clues, but now the end of the book is here, and God reveals the answer – Jesus the Christ.

Why all the secrecy? Prophecy fulfilled is a testimony to Christ, just as your own personal testimony is. Both have the same purpose: that all might believe, and believing, obey. God wants all people to be saved.

To Him be the glory

It’s a doxology; it is to bring glory. The word itself is composed of the Greek words doxa (meaning glory) and logos (meaning word). There is somewhat to be learned here too:

  • The glory is to God – the only God. There is no other. No one is like God; no one else deserves this glory.
  • He is wise – indeed, we sometimes speak of the holy wisdom. It is to his glory that we recognize his wisdom.
  • Such glory is given through Christ – the only mediator between man and God.

Well: there it is. A lesson on Romans 16. It didn’t look like there was much there, did it? The Scripture is infinitely deep, for it is of God. It aids our humility to remember that.

[1] Those interested in the concept may see a good summary of the practice by Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mentioned_in_Despatches. And yes, the spelling is correct – it’s British English.

[2] The example of Billy Graham and the “Modesto Manifesto” is highly instructive here.

[3] But see Daniel 2:44. Of His kingdom there shall be no end.

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