Finally all we have left of Romans is chapter 16. Today let’s study about the great fellow workers from the first half of the chapter.
When we read the Bible sometimes there are passages that are full of only names. Matthew chapter 1 is like this. It is all about whose child is whose child. There are some people who decide to read the Bible, but in the first chapter they think it is boring and quit reading. Luke chapter 3 is another enumeration of names. Especially Chronicles is difficult to read. I Chronicles from chapter 1 to 9 is nothing but names. This type of passage is even difficult for pastors to read. Such records seem like just unessential passages that have just been added on. It seems like they serve no purpose. Therefore, we tend to skip over them and go on to the next chapter. However, this Romans 16 passage isn’t a meaningless record. Here is a record of the great workers that worked with Paul and helped his ministry.
Today let’s study 3 aspects of the great fellow worker’s ministry. Let’s look at
1. the woman Phoebe who helped many people
2. Priscilla and Aquilla who were faithful fellow workers
3. the great fellow workers in Rome
I. The woman Phoebe who helped many people (vs.1,2)
First let’s look at verses 1 and 2.
Paul at the end of this letter is sending greetings to many people in the Roman church. Here 28 people’s names appear. Paul had never been to Rome, not even one time, so it is surprising that he knew so many people and had so any friends. More than that what is surprising is that Paul gave personal regards. .
First the woman Phoebe is introduced. She was from the area of Corinth from the Cenchrea church. She was a deaconess. The meaning of deacon is “servant”. I don’t know if this is the same as present day deacons or church officers, but she took care of many people. By this meaning, it could be said that she grandly fulfilled her duties as a deaconess.
In verse 2 it says, “I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints…“ so she probably took the letter that Paul had written in Corinth to Rome. Romans, that we are reading, was probably carried by Phoebe. If we look now at the number of pages, these 16 chapters are a very thin book. In that age everything was recorded on scrolls so it would have been enough to fill about 2 furoshikis (a huge traditional scarf used in Japan to carry loads). When we entrust a letter we to someone, we choose someone we can trust. Paul trusted Phoebe deeply enough to leave his precious letter up to Phoebe to deliver. In an age where the human rights of women were very vague, to have been trusted that much could be said to be a revolutionary thing.
One other way Phoebe is introduced is as “a great help to many people, including me“. These words show that she was a financial supporter. The apostle Paul in the beginning while preaching the Gospel supported himself for his living by being a tentmaker. However, gradually as time went on, he became busy with the work of the Lord, and he couldn’t work for his living. At times like that Phoebe filled his financial needs. Not only Paul, but with the money that was given to her, she helped many workers that served the Lord.
When Jesus and his disciples evangelized how much do you think it cost? There is an economist who figured that if one meal was 300 yen per person, then one meal for everyone would be 3,900 yen. Then one month would be more than 300,000 yen. Therefore, one year would be 3,600,000 yen. Jesus was the son of God. However, when he was preaching the Gospel of the kingdom on this earth he didn’t go without eating, he had to eat. How were his meals paid for? If we look at Luke 8:3 there were sponsors that backed him up. They were “Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others“. Many women paid for the expense of the work of Jesus and his disciples so the work of Jesus and his disciples was possible.
Phoebe was the same. She financially supported Paul and many workers. Paul and the workers had this kind of support so Paul didn’t have any hindrances. Also they were able to concentrate on evangelism without worrying about anything. Such contributions to the work by these women were huge. Today too by the dedication of people like these women the might works of God move forward.
II. The faithful fellow workers, Priscilla and Aquila
Next, let’s look at verses 3 to 5. Here the beautiful work of the faithful fellow workers, the couple, Priscilla and Aquila are introduced.
In Acts 18:1-3 we can see that Paul already knew Priscilla and Aquila. When he visited Corinth on his second missionary trip, they had already come there from Rome and Paul met them there. They also were tentmakers. They were such good friends that Paul lived in their house and worked together with them there. Then Priscilla is introduced as Aquila’s wife, but gradually they are introduced as not Aquila and Priscilla, but Priscilla and Aquila. Priscilla’s name is given before Aquila’s. I don’t know why they were introduced that way, but I think it was perhaps because the wife Priscilla more than the husband, Aquila, had a better understanding of the Gospel that Paul explained or perhaps this shows that her work was assessed as better. However, I think that even though her understanding of the Gospel was better, or that she was more zealous in the work, here it shows that it must be remembered that this work was as a couple.
Paul is saying about Pricilla and Aquila are people that “risked their lives for me.” (3) Paul is saying that they went so far as to for the sake of Paul’s life to put their own life on the line. Priscilla and Aquila were such faithful fellow workers that Paul felt this way. This is how beautifully dedicated the couple was before God. The presence of such a couple is such a huge consolation and encouragement to a pastor.
There is one more important thing about the couple, Priscilla and Aquila. That is in verse 5. “Greet also the church that meets at their house.” Their house was the church. It was a house church. Church buildings like today were not built until much later, in the second century. At that time there were hardly any churches that had a building. Therefore, like this, believer’s homes were used as churches. They were all house churches. If in open homes people met in the name of Jesus Christ, then that was a church. The couple, Priscilla and Aquila, wherever they went they opened up their home and it was a place of worship.
This teaches us that we must open our homes. It is a huge blessing for Christians to open their homes for worship and fellowship. This in itself is a splendid work of God. Especially in Japanese churches which are so small that the ministry is almost like doing church planting it is said that the presence of such home churches are extremely important. By Christian homes being opened like this and the seeds of the Gospel being planted there, lots of fruit is produced. While remembering this, let’s like the couple, Priscilla and Aquila, while opening our homes for the work of the Lord, let’s desire to want to contribute to the evangelism of the Gospel.
III. The great fellow workers (vs. 5-16)
Next, let’s look at the last half of verse 5 to verse 16. Here in addition to Phoebe and Priscilla and Aquila, people that served Paul are enumerated. While remembering those fellow workers who were engraved in his heart and he could never forget, he says to the Christians in the Roman church to “Greet” them.
First Paul says to greet Epenetus. This was the first person that believed in Christ in Asia. This is one person that Paul could never forget.
The next person that appears is Mary. Here it says, “Mary, who worked very hard for you.” (6) Phoebe too, Mary too, also Junias, Tryphena, Persis, Rufus’ mother, Julia,and Nereus’ sister were all women. Such women while having great hardships supported Paul’s ministry. In that age the human rights of women were so low that a Roman philosopher caused a debate over whether women were human or not. In such an age that women supported Paul’s work meant that they had hardships, but even in the midst of that the women supported Paul.
And then if you look at verse 7 Anronicus and Junias appear “Who have been in prison with” Paul. They were also well known among the Apostles. Paul probably remembered the good and bad times they shared preaching the Gospel. Moreover, Paul said, “They were in Christ before I was”(7) showing his respect towards those who were in the faith longer than him.
Also in verse 10 Apelles is introduced. He was “tested and approved”. No matter where he was sent, he was o.k. and everyone approved of him. He was a splendid Christian, a real Christian.
In the Roman church there were many people like this. We also know that among them there were people that Paul had probably never even met one time. Even those whom Paul had never even met one time, he considered them as fellow workers in Christ. In other words, he didn’t think about what kind of a relationship he had with them, but in the Lord, in Christ, he understood them as fellow workers.
All people have people they blend with and people they don’t blend with. Probably Paul was the same. However, he didn’t put his thinking first, but persistently looked at them through Christ. When he looked in Christ, in the Lord, even a person he didn’t blend with, that person is also a fellow worker in Christ. He was conscious that in the Lord the person was a chosen believer. Therefore, he used such people, and worked together with such people.
Here many believer’s names are enumerated to teach us this. In other words, God’s work is definitely not something that one person can do. The Apostle Paul was so. You may have an image of Paul being someone who lived completely for Christ, who could overcome anything, a super star, a hero that did everything that God wanted, etc.
However, looking at this passage we can see that the reason he was able to accomplish all that he did was because he had the help of such people. Here at least 28 people’s names appear. If in the Roman church that he sent the letter to there was this many people that he needed to record, then within his lifetime there must have been so many fellow workers that he had a relationship with. The ministry of Paul was not by the power of he himself. In the shadows he was supported by the help of many fellow workers. In a way it could be said they were with him working in a team ministry. In this way when the Church works functioning as one team, many times more work can be accomplished than what one person could do by himself.
If we look at Acts 6:4, when a problem arose over the distribution of food to the widows in the Jerusalem church, the apostles asked the church to “choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them, and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This does not mean that prayer and the Word of God is the only thing that is important, but that so the Apostles could give their strength to prayer and the Word of God, they gave all the rest of their jobs in the church to other people. He used other people and worked together with other people. This produced many times greater power. In fact, by the church having everyone working together, not only did the number of disciples in the Jerusalem church greatly increase, but “a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)
Eccles. 4:6, 12
The strongest string is not a thick one, but “a cord of three strands” (Eccles. 4:12) If the Pastor together with the laymen evangelize as a cord, then they will be really strong, and have huge power.
Everyone doesn’t have to become a pastor. Not everyone has to go to seminary and study. However, we all need to become fellow workers that help their neighbors. As a layman you can grandly do the work of the Lord. God is seeking this type of dedicated people. He desires that so called laymen leaders will rise up. It is only natural that the pastor serve the Lord faithfully, but when laymen leaders as fellow workers serve the Lord faithfully, the church will be abundantly blessed, and will move powerfully ahead.
Paul remembered such fellow workers individually and said “greet” them. This “greet” was not just saying “hi!” This is to recognize their hardships, and respect them from their hearts. To follow the Lord there are many hardships, but such rewards are also promised. May we each accomplish the commission that God has given us, and be a great fellow worker used of the Lord. May you be a person that won’t be forgotten because of the grace you have given and be carved in other’s hearts. Rather, let’s pray that we will be a person whose name is not forgotten, but is engraved in the Lord’s heart.