GREET ONE ANOTHER
Romans 16:1-27, Key Verse: 16:20
“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”
Today we see that the book of Romans ends with Paul sending a string of greetings to some of the believers in Rome. Usually Paul’s greetings are short and general. But here in Romans, Paul’s greetings are very personal and specific, and addressed to many different people. He mentioned 29 people in total, including at least 9 women. It was a diverse group of Jews and Gentiles and spanned the social spectrum, from slaves to government officials. Some of them seem to be close personal friends of Paul, and others he may not have met. Yet he valued them all, because they were in Christ.
Studying this passage may help us remember the importance of the relationships we have in Christ and how we should maintain them. We’ll also see how the book of Romans concludes with assurance of the final victory the gospel gives us.
First, Paul greets the Roman believers (1-16).
The first verses of this chapter reveal a little more about the circumstances in which this letter was written. It is considered likely, based on internal evidence and on correlating this letter with events in the book of Acts, that Paul wrote Romans while staying in the major Greek city of Corinth. Acts 18:11 says that on his second missionary journey, Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, where he had fruitful labor in the gospel in spite of opposition. Considering that, let’s read verses 1 and 2. “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. 2 I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.”
I don’t know if the Roman Empire had a well-organized postal service or not; probably not one like ours. So letters would often be sent through a specific, trusted individual who was traveling to the letter’s destination. Paul sent this letter we are reading to Rome in the hands of Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. The port town of Cenchreae was only six miles from Corinth, so there must have been a lot of interchange between the churches at Cenchreae and Corinth—kind of like between us and Chicago.
Paul asked the Roman believers to receive Phoebe in a manner worthy of God’s people and give her any assistance she needed. In those times, the work of women was often not well respected. But Paul fully respected the role of women in the gospel and entrusted them with very important missions, such as delivering this letter, and he made sure others showed the same respect. We see that throughout this passage. Paul said Phoebe had been a benefactor of the church, which usually means one who gives material assistance—a patron. Such benefactors are very important in advancing God’s kingdom.
Now we come to the greetings. In verses 3-16, the word “greet” appears seventeen times. Paul greets individuals, couples, and family groups by name. What is a greeting, anyway? It may seem too obvious to mention, but greeting is not really a small thing. Some people might think of greeting others as a mere custom, but in fact acknowledging a person’s existence through a greeting is the starting point of showing respect, concern and even love for them. Given this, we can see how important it is for us to greet our brothers and sisters in Christ, who we know are precious to God and are our family members in God. We need to express our concern for each other whenever we meet. It is easy to neglect a greeting when we are busy and it’s the same person we see over and over again. But you never know when someone who is struggling may have their spirit lifted by our warm acknowledgment of them. On the other hand, when someone is not greeted, they may feel taken for granted or even disliked. We may not always feel like greeting others, but when we greet others, we ourselves can receive a greeting in return and even our own spirits may be lifted, and the environment will become warm, even in the winter.
Greeting can even go to a more advanced level. As we learn each person’s individual character, we can learn how each person likes to be greeted best. Paul says “Greet one another with a holy kiss,” but that holy kiss can have many different forms. Some people like to be greeted with a big smile and hug, displaying emotion freely, while others prefer a more subtle style. Sometimes there’s even a special handshake people use to greet those who are close to them. Also, the way an old person greets a young person may not be the same as how the young person greets other young people. It’s the same with men greeting women versus men-to-men and women-to-women. Regardless, the true spirit of greeting is welcoming that person as they want to be welcomed, and so building them up.
I am trying to train my children to always greet others. They don’t always see the importance of looking up from what they are doing to acknowledge someone whom they see every day. Actually, I was kind of like them, a little anti-social. I also had to learn the importance of greeting. I always felt to welcomed in the church when others greeted me, but it took me a long time to realize that I needed to take my own initiative to greet others. I learned more about greeting when I entered the workplace, where I realized it that there was a definite dynamic of greeting that’s expected in the workplace in order to make good relationships. Then how much more important is it among God’s people? Let’s pray to greet one another.
Now let’s consider who Paul greets and how he greets them. Verse 3 says, “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus.” The married couple Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned frequently in the New Testament (Ac 18:2,18,19,26; 1Co 16:19; 2Ti 4:19). Sometimes they appear as “Priscilla and Aquila,” and other times as “Aquila and Priscilla,” But they are always mentioned together. We don’t know how they came to Jesus in the first place, because from the first time they are mentioned, they are serving diligently. They were the original gospel power couple. Paul says they were exemplary and influential to all the churches of the Gentiles.
Priscilla and Aquila originally lived in Rome as immigrants. But when Emperor Claudius expelled all the Jews from Rome, they moved to Corinth, where Paul was beginning his gospel ministry. Paul got to know them through their shared trade of tentmaking, and they became partners in business (Ac 18:1-3). In this way they became gospel partners and lifelong friends. They served in gospel ministry in Corinth, and then Priscilla and Aquila followed Paul to Ephesus. Now, they were back in Rome; they must have gone back after Claudius died in A.D. 54. Maybe they had gone in response to Paul’s vision he had in Ephesus, which led him to say “I must visit Rome also” (Ac 19:21).
Paul says that Priscilla and Aquila risked their lives for him (4). Probably this refers to the time when Paul was in danger in Ephesus, recorded in Acts 19. (Ac 19:23-41). In any case, it shows the depth of their commitment to Paul and love for him, which came from their love for Christ. Paul never let himself forget what they had done and always expressed his thanks for them.
Look at verse 5. “Greet also the church that meets at their house.” This reveals the consistent character of Priscilla and Aquila’s ministry. Wherever they were, they used their own home as a basis for ministry. We see this in Acts Chapter 18. When Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollo speaking in Ephesus, and realized he was very knowledgeable but only knew the baptism of John, they invited him to their house, where they could welcome him as a brother and then explain the way of God more adequately. In this way, a great gospel servant was raised up. Thank God that our ministry also takes advantage of the power of house church ministry. The first UBF worship service I ever attended was in my Bible teacher’s apartment.
We won’t spend as long on the rest of the people Paul greets. But when we observe these greetings carefully, we can learn important general principles about serving in God’s ministry. First, Paul often says “in Christ” or “in the Lord”. To be a Christian means to be a person who has been born again and is now in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the basis of Paul’s love and valuation of every person he greets. Being in the Lord also means that a person’s value is not dependent on their nationality, social status, education, or wealth. Being all in the Lord, believers can regard each other as equals and have fellowship freely and form a community of love. The Roman church consisted of Jews, Romans and Greeks. We can tell, from their names and what Paul says about the people he mentions here, that they include men and women, free and slave, rich and poor, social elites and the lowly. But “In the Lord” all barriers are torn down and they could be one.
Besides that, what did Paul value these people for? We notice something else from words like “my dear friend” (5b,8,9,12b) and “my fellow Jew(s)” (7,11), and “my co-worker(s)” (3,9), which are repeated eight times. This shows that Paul valued his personal relationships with people. Though Paul was an apostle with great spiritual authority, he saw the Roman believers as his co-workers and friends. This reflects the love of Jesus, who called his disciples “friends” (Jn 15:14-15). Our relationships in Christ should not be limited to titles and positions, but always be moving in the direction of friendship.
Secondarily, Paul also acknowledges people’s spiritual history and achievements. For example, he greets Epenetus as “the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia” (5b). Paul respected Epenetus as the first sign of God’s work in Asia. Andronicus and Junia had “been in prison” with Paul. We don’t normally think of being in prison as a great achievement, but in Christ it was a badge of honor, a sign of being counted worthy to suffer for the gospel. He also calls Andronicus and Junia “outstanding among the apostles,” and “in Christ before I was” (7). Some scholars say that they were a husband and wife, an itinerant missionary couple like Priscilla and Aquila. Paul greeted Apelles, saying, “whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test” (10). Apelles had been tested by a trial, yet remained faithful to Christ. Now Paul recognized him as a victor. Paul greeted Rufus as “chosen in the Lord” (13a). Rufus may very well be the son of Simon of Cyrene, who carried Jesus’ cross (Mk 15:21). I’m sure Simon didn’t want to be chosen for the unpleasant task of carrying the cross. But it was all part of God’s grace to choose and bless his whole family. Rufus’ mother, Simon’s wife, became a mother to others, including Paul (13b). Clearly, mothers’ love is a model for gospel love.
Another thing that Paul praised people for is working hard. Hard work is important and necessary for the gospel mission. Interestingly, all three of the greetings that mention working hard are greetings of women! “Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you… 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.” (6, 12) Maybe women are in general more consistent in working hard, while men tend to persist in daydreaming. Or maybe it’s that women’s work has traditionally been more behind-the-scenes, so there is a danger of women’s work going unnoticed unless it’s called out and praised. Paul made sure these women’s efforts did not go unnoticed. It’s a good example for us.
Overall, in these greetings, we see the heart of Paul. It’s amazing when reading these to think that Paul was once a harsh and legalistic person. We can see how drastically he was changed to become a big-hearted person able to co-work with and build up all kinds of people. Let’s pray we may become better at building such relationships, as one of the pillars of the gospel work.
Second, a warning, final greetings and doxology (17-27).
As Paul signs off on his letter, his heart as a shepherd was moved to give a final warning that could protect the church against trouble. Verse 17 says, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, 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.” This warning seems quite general, so I don’t know if it was directed toward a specific problem in Rome that Paul knew about. Paul knew that creating divisions was a major way that Satan tries to attack any church, so he warns the Roman believers to keep away from people who cause divisions.
Then what kind of people is it that cause divisions? Verse 18 says, “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.” Interestingly, the people that Paul says are responsible for causing divisions in the church are not contentious people or those who were obviously difficult to deal with, but smooth talkers and flatterers. How does a smooth talker cause division? It seems like their talking would smooth over everything and prevent divisions. But in actuality, when a spiritually immature person falls under the spell of a smooth talker who tells them what their itching ears want to hear, they don’t want to hear anything else. They don’t want to do the real hard work of building up relationships with other sinners in their church. They just want to be right by sticking to their teacher who makes them feel good and judge everybody else. In that way they finally divide against each other.
However, Paul was confident that the believers in Rome were more mature than that, because everyone had heard about their obedience. But it was still necessary for them to be vigilant. In verse 19 Paul admonished them to “be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” What an interesting saying. To me, being wise about what is good means knowing what is really worthwhile for us to spend our short time on in this life. But being wise about evil means to have a lot of experience with evil, and we don’t need that. It’s much better to be innocent of evil than to be wise about it.
Paul’s final blessing is the assurance of victory. Let’s read verse 20. “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” The church has a powerful adversary: Satan, the accuser of the brethren, who seeks to destroy it, especially by causing divisions. But the gospel itself, which Paul has been teaching us in Romans, gives us a guarantee of victory. The image of Satan being crushed underfoot hearkens back to the very beginning, to the book of Genesis, when Satan in the form of a serpent tempted Adam and Eve and they fell into sin. The world has been suffering from the consequences of that ever since. But in Genesis 3:15, God cursed the serpent and prophesied that the seed of the woman would one day strike the head of the serpent, though his own heel would be struck. This was fulfilled through Jesus’ death on the cross, which nullified Satan’s ability to use our sins to accuse and condemn us. When we are in Christ, Christ’s victory is our victory. So Paul can rightly say that God will crush Satan under our feet. We are spiritual snake-stompers.
I love the word “soon” in this verse. “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” Though we are now in the thick of battle, we can be assured that our factory is rapidly on the way. Division and strife will ultimately be replaced with peace, because God is the God of peace. Then Paul blesses the church, according to his very meaningful custom, with the abundant grace of the Lord Jesus.
Verses 21-23 are greetings from people who were with Paul when he wrote the letter, including Paul’s spiritual son Timothy, the rarely-mentioned Jason, who suffered a beating for welcoming God’s servants into his house, and Tertius, who wrote down this long letter as Paul dictated it. I wonder how difficult that job was.
The last verses, 25-27 are a doxology. Of course, Paul is going to end with praise to God. But this praise contains in it the whole gospel that we have been studying through Romans. The gospel is the long-hidden revelation from God, which was prophesied and then fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and is now preached to the whole world, so that people of all nations can come to obey God through faith. When Paul thinks about the God who planned and brought all this about, and about all the Gentiles who were now being saved and living as God’s children in the church, he can’t help but call him the “only wise God”, because his wisdom in doing this is truly unsearchable. To him be the glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.
Thank God for blessing us to study the book of Romans. To help us remember what we’ve learned, let’s hear our key verse for the entire book, Romans 1:17: “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed-a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” By faith in Christ we receive God’s righteousness: we are justified by faith in Christ, being forgiven of all our sins. We are being sanctified by faith in Christ; and we will be fully glorified by faith in Christ. Let’s hold to this faith, live by this faith, and share this faith with a world that so desperately needs it. And let’s do so with the shepherd’s heart of Christ, as Paul did.