Thursday, May 31, 2007

Romans 16:19-20

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. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

Paul encourages the believers in Rome to exercise spiritual discernment. And for us, we need to know what we are learning and from whom we are learning it and test it against the Word of God. That’s spiritual discernment. And Paul tells them that they are doing a good job in obedience. Unlike the church at Corinth, where Paul is based as he writes Romans, the Roman church is obeying and avoiding false teachers (Romans 1:8). The Corinthian church struggled with this repeatedly. But here, Paul is full of joy at the Roman believers’ obedience. Yet, he reminds them to be on-guard. The Roman church was of strategic importance; it was at the center of the political empire. Tragically, we know that the Roman church did struggle down the road; the result was the Roman Catholic Church. So we, as Christians in America, must never drop the guard of spiritual discernment.

Finally, Paul assures the believers in Rome of the victory over Satan. The God of peace is our sure and settled hope. He will crush Satan under their feet. Notice that the God of “peace” will “crush” Satan. The point is that, ironically, peace requires war. In v19, Paul told us to exercise spiritual discernment, “to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” See 1 Corinthians 14:20 and Philippians 2:15. Think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:16: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” And think of Genesis 3 when Eve was tempted. She showed herself to be the opposite of what Paul asks of us. Eve was unwise about what is good and naive and deceived about what is evil. Paul is saying to the Romans and to us, “Don’t make the same mistake. Be discerning about those flattering words that sound good, because in the core, they are death.” And the prophecy of God regarding Satan was that the seed of the woman would crush Satan’s head (Genesis 3:15). So Paul is taking us back to Adam and Eve and showing us that we must not be like them, because the victory is won. It has already happened. But Paul says it will happen soon. It’s an already but not yet…

Lastly here, notice that when Paul says, “The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you,” he’s announcing that Jesus is the source of grace. Now, every good Jew knew that all grace and favor came from God alone. So, Paul, by making Jesus the source of grace, is claiming Jesus’ divinity. Colossians 2:9 says, “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” Paul is worshipping Christ as the divine and gracious Lord.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Romans 16:17-18

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. 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.

It is thought that Paul himself took up the pen and wrote v17-21. We read in v22 that Tertius wrote the letter as Paul dictated, but most of these epistles were authenticated by the handwriting of the actual author near the end of the letter. See 2 Thessalonians 3:17 and Galatians 6:11. So with the brief aside from the typical greetings and commendations, we might be getting a taste of Paul’s final exhortations to the believers in Rome. Paul is teaching the importance of doctrinal unity.

The Church must be wary of those who cause division by teaching things that are out of accord with sound doctrine. Notice that Paul directs this urging, this appeal, not to the elders, but to the whole Church. Elsewhere, Paul directs this to the elders. It is especially the elders’ job to guard the flock, as in Acts 20:28, 1 Timothy 1:3-4, and Titus 1:9. But here, Paul explicitly directs this exhortation to the whole congregation. We must keep a lookout for those who bring division through wrong teaching, those who create resistance to right teaching through their wrong teaching, and those who are hinderers of the work of the Gospel through divisive interests. We must first identify these false teachers.

Now Paul doesn’t just say to identify them, but he says to keep away from them. Separate from them. They are serving not the Lord but their own appetite. The KJV uses the word “slave” here. These false teachers are not slaves to the Lord like they should be, but they are slaves to their own appetite, their flesh. And they have skill in deception. They speak eloquently and with flattery. And look who they prey on: the naïve. One of the problems today is that the lay people within the church do not know enough doctrine to be able to recognize a person who is teaching contrary to sound doctrine. False teachers go after the minds of those Christians who can’t yet defend the faith. This is the exact strategy of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are taught what to say in many basic level debates. But once you get beyond the basics, they’ll be stifled in their attempt to defend their positions and refute yours. Don’t just watch out for them; keep away from them. I think we can take that as “keep them away from the naïve while you are strengthening the naïve to be not naïve anymore.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Romans 16:1-16

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant [or deaconess] of the church in Cenchrea. 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. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. 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. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. 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. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my relative. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. 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. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.

While this chapter is the conclusion to Paul’s letter, it still contains a great deal of practical information for us to study. Consider that Paul gives a full chapter in this great work of doctrinal and practical theology to thanksgiving for the role of servants within his ministry. That says a lot about Paul and a lot about Christianity. There’s no room for pride, because, as Paul explained, we’re all part of one body working for each other. We have a duty of gratitude to appreciate our fellow servants of our Lord, and as we’ll see from this passage, we have a duty to non-professional evangelistic missionary work. Paul asks the believers at the church in Rome to greet friends and fellow laborers for the Gospel. In the first 16 verses, we get 28 individuals and numerous others as associated by group. Anything stand out in this list? The number of women! The first 2, 3 of the first 5, and 9 or 10 of the 28 individuals are women. So right away, we can say that Paul values women and views the role of women in the church as very important. He’s no misogynist. Let’s look at each assessment that Paul makes:

(1) Paul begins by commending to the Roman believers, Phoebe, servant or deaconess or minister of the church in Cenchrea, the seaport of Corinth. It is likely that Phoebe was the deliverer of Paul’s letter to the Romans, and that’s why she needed the commendation to them. It is likely that Phoebe was a Gentile Christian, possibly even a freed slave, as her name was a common name given to slaves in the Greco-Roman culture. It is also likely that she was a wealthy business woman like Lydia of Acts 16. She probably was going to Rome on a personal business trip in the company of her own personal servants; that’s why Paul needed not address the church of Rome to greet those traveling with her. She was a woman of status. Finally, it is likely that she, as a “great help to many,” including Paul, had resources at her disposal and used them to further the mission of the church at both Cenchrea and Corinth as Paul. Perhaps she met Paul in Corinth, as he wrote this letter from there. Paul asks the church in Rome to receive her and help her. Paul wants them to show her Christian hospitality – “in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints.” See Ephesians 4:1, Philippians 1:27, Colossians 1:10, and 1 Thessalonians 2:12. What is Phoebe’s role? Many use this passage to support women preachers, teachers, elders, and deacons. We’re not going to get into that, but consider 1 Timothy 2:11-15, 3:11-16, and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Let’s just acknowledge for now that Phoebe is a valued servant, just as valued as any male servant that ever served.

Before moving on, let me remind you of the introduction to our Romans study: The first church at Rome was likely founded between 33-37 AD by Andronicus and Junias (mentioned in Romans 16:7) and made up of Jewish believers in Christ. These Jews gathered to worship Christ according to Old Testament mandates (as required in the Torah). Aquila and Priscilla likely joined this home fellowship sometime before 41 AD. In 41 AD, Emperor Claudius prohibited the public assembly of Jews in Rome. Several apocryphal (uninspired), ancient texts, such as Justin’s First Apology, reported that Simon Magus (Simon the Sorcerer from Acts 8:9-24) came to Rome around this time proclaiming to be a god and won many converts to his form of Gnosticism by his ability to perform magic. The theory is that Simon Magus gained influence among the gentile converts in Rome, who could no longer meet in public to retain the leadership of Jewish Christians. With Claudius’ expulsion of the Jews in 45 AD, the church moved from genuine Messianic Judaism (Christianity) into Gnosticism over a period of years (41-49 AD). While in Corinth during his second mission trip (49-51 AD), Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, who had come from Rome to Corinth around 45-49 AD. Aquila and Priscilla later went to Ephesus with Paul, where they stayed and tutored Apollos while Paul continued back to Antioch. Aquila and Priscilla returned to Rome around 54-57 AD (Claudius died in 54 AD, and the ban on Jews was lifted or at least not enforced). By the time Paul wrote to the Romans (57 AD), Aquila and Priscilla were there, hosting the church in their home, most likely having restored the Jewish believers to regular fellowship and converted gentiles as well. By the time Paul wrote to Timothy (64-65 AD), Aquila and Priscilla were back in Ephesus. Aquila and Priscilla may have fled for their lives from Nero, who stepped up persecution against Christians in 64 AD.

(2-3) Paul greets Priscilla and Aquila, his fellow workers in Christ, who risked their lives for him. He and all the Gentile churches throughout Paul’s region are grateful for them. Acts 18 introduces us to this Jewish Christian missionary couple. They were industrious, hospitable, teachable, knowledgeable in the Scriptures, local-church oriented (both in Rome and Ephesus – 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19), courageous, submissive but not suppressed, faithful, and consistent. Notice that early Christians were non-professionally mission-minded! Paul became closely acquainted with them. Paul mentions Priscilla first, before Aquila, and there is speculation regarding his reasoning. Perhaps she came from a higher social class; perhaps she was more mission-oriented than Aquila. We simply don’t know why, but we can say that it was not a culturally-correct thing to do. It shows Paul’s non-concern for political-correctness. This couple was committed to the spread of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God. And Paul sends his greetings to both them and the church that meets in their home. And all the Gentile churches of Asia know of their work. That’s the mission-mindedness of the early church.

(4) Paul greets Epenetus, the first Christian convert in all of Asia (modern-day Turkey). Paul considered this man to be the firstfruits. He expected success, and this was the beginning. It’s easy and appropriate to remember the beginning. Ever seen a dollar bill hanging on the wall of a large corporation?

(5) Paul greets Mary by name, attesting to her hard work on behalf of the Roman church. The Greek word here yields strenuous work to point of weariness and exhaustion.

(6-7) Paul greets his relatives (Blood relatives? Or fellow Jewish believers?), Andronicus and Junia(s) (possibly husband and wife, but more likely a team of male friends / cousins), who were in prison with Paul. Paul calls them apostles, even outstanding among the apostles. This word “apostles” refers to “the sent ones.” This missionary team was sent to evangelize the lost by their local church, and they were, by the grace of God, among the most successful of the day. They were in Christ before Paul.

(8) Paul greets Ampliatus (common slave name) as loved in the Lord, (9) Urbanus, a fellow worker in Christ, and (10) Stachys, his dear friend.

(11) Paul greets Apelles, tested and approved in Christ. How would you like to be forever archived in the Word of God as “tested and approved in Christ”? Awesome. I wonder what he went through. It had to be pretty hellacious.

(12) Paul greets the household of Aristobulus. He doesn’t greet the head of this household. Some have suggested that Aristobulus was both the grandson of Herod the Great and a brother of Herod Agrippa I.

(13) He also greets his relative (perhaps a fellow Messianic Jew), Herodion, who some have speculated was also a member of Herod’s family.

(14) As is the case with Aristobulus, Paul greets the household of Narcissus and not Narcissus himself. Tradition tells us that these two men were servants in Caesar’s court (Philippians 4:22); Narcissus may have been Emperor Claudius’ secretary. Though they themselves were not Christians, there were Christians in their households, perhaps believing wives or daughters or servants. In the days of Paul, God planted Christians among the servants of Caesar's household.

(15-17) Paul greets three women who worked very hard in the Lord, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis. The first two names mean “delicate” and “dainty” respectively, but Paul points to their hard work. It is thought that Tryphena and Tryphosa were sisters, even twins. And their efforts are described in the present-tense, suggesting ongoing labor. Persis’ labor, on the other hand, is described in the past-tense suggesting that she has grown old and is unable to work to that extreme any longer. Nevertheless, if that is the case, Paul is sure to memorialize her past diligence. See 1 Corinthians 15:58. This labor is not done in vain. Paul has a genuine respect and love for all those members of the Body who are doing their part.

(18-19) Paul greets Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who though nameless had been like a mother to Paul as well. Perhaps Paul was seeking to encourage the heart of Rufus by reminding him of the glorious fact of his election, a fact which should bring forth much thanksgiving from the heart of every believer (2 Thessalonians 2:13). In this way, Paul may have been saying to Rufus, “Never forget God’s wonderful work of calling you and choosing you and bringing you to Himself! You are a trophy of God’s sovereign, saving grace!” Perhaps there’s something else here; follow me on a speculation path for a moment: Mark’s Gospel was written to the Romans and he mentions Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus, being forced to carry Jesus’ cross (Mark 15:21). Why would Mark include the sons of Simon in his account unless he knew that they were known in Rome? Could it be that Paul addresses the very same Rufus here? Could it be that God was providentially at work in the bringing of Simon to carry that cross so that his son, Rufus, would come to believe the Gospel? Think about it: What if God in His wise providence began to plant a core group of believers in Rome by having a Jew on a pilgrimage, Simon, whose son would be known in Rome as a chosen one, bear the cross on which another Jew on a pilgrimage, God’s own Son, Jesus, would die to pay the price of that first man’s son. And even more, Paul himself was ministered to by Rufus’ mother; perhaps Paul had received aid and encouragement from her testimony to the events her son went through. Mothers should be ready and willing to be mothers to all the saints.

(20-28) Finally in this section, Paul greets Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, Philologus, Julia, Nereus, and his sister, Olymphas, and all the saints and brothers with them. Perhaps this last batch represents two different home churches in the Roman region that Paul had heard about in his sharing the Gospel. We’ll talk more about the significance of these greetings when we combine them with the last batch of greetings in v21-24.

Once last point: notice v16. “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” While some folks still practice this exhortation, we can point out that the churches of the first century had a kinship and unity that we no longer find among churches today. Thus a handshake or hug is fine. See 1 Corinthians 4:17; 7:17; 11:16; 14:33.