MARKS OF AN ENCOURAGING CHURCH – 2 by Pastor Shah, Clearview, Henderson
In this message we will come face-to-face with many different characters from the early church. They were flesh and blood human beings just like us. But, they were worthy enough to be mentioned in the Bible because they were a great source of encouragement to Paul and to each other. Our generation can definitely learn from these personalities were about to encounter in this passage.
Romans 16:1-5 1 I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, 2 that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also. 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. 6 Greet Mary, who labored much for us. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
Overall Background: Most people, when they come to Romans 16, just skip past the names mentioned by Paul and their description along with it. To them, they are no different than the genealogies that are found in the Old and the New Testaments, just some names that are hard to pronounce. Who cares? Let’s get to the good part. But as one scholar noted, “for those few who are especially interested in the socioeconomic composition of the early church, it is a gold mine.” (Douglas Moo) Meaning: If we want to know what the early church looked like, study these names and their descriptions. In these 16 verses, we come face-to-face with 26 Christians who lived 2000 years ago. These were common people with common problems. They probably had the same struggles we do, same weaknesses we have, and same trials we face. But, there were three things that qualified them to be included in the Bible – first, they knew Jesus Christ as their Savior; second, they were a great source of great encouragement to each other; and three, they were in the business of ministry – reaching people for the kingdom.
We need to hear this message today – many of us have such a distorted view of what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be a member of a church, what it means to serve God as a body. This message teaches us what our church should look like. It teaches that what our focus should be. It teaches us how everyone has something to offer in the church. Let this message be a mirror for you this morning.
Without further due, let’s meet these Christians. There are 7 different personalities.
I. MEET PHOEBE – A SERVANT
1 I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea,
Background: Keep in mind that Phoebe was not from Rome. She was coming to Rome and Paul was writing this letter as a commendation, asking the Roman Christians to help her. For starters, Phoebe was probably a Gentile believer. Her name Phoebe comes from Greek mythology – the goddess of prophecy, who held the oracle at Delphi. We don’t know how she got saved but she did. Paul knew her from Cenchrea. He probably met her when he was in Corinth for 18 months and Cenchrea was was only 8 miles from Corinth. Maybe Paul started the church in Cenchrea and led her to the Lord. We don’t know that for sure. What we do know about her is her reputation. Paul calls her a “servant.” He does not use that term lightly. Several times he used it to refer to himself:
Ephesians 3:7 “…I became a servant according to the gift of the grace of God.”
Colossians 1:25 “…I became a servant according to the stewardship from God…”
He encourages Timothy in 1Timothy 4:6 to be “a good servant of Jesus Christ.”
In Romans 15:8 he even refers to Jesus as a “servant to the circumcision for the truth of God.”
The word servant is not an ordinary title in Paul’s vocabulary. It was someone who gave their life for others. Can you picture Phoebe? If someone is sick, she is the first to bake a casserole or a pie. If there is a fellowship dinner, you can count on Phoebe to cook, to clean, and to wash the dishes. If there is need for helpers in a class or at an outreach ministry, Phoebe will gladly volunteer.
Listen to what else Paul says about her in verse 2 “…receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, (What a great complement! Treat her like you would treat the saints – Moses, David, Peter, James, and the other) and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.” What is amazing to me is that Paul is putting his own credentials on the line for this woman!
Application: What is your reputation? Servant or Helper. Or is it selfish, troublemaker, or gossip. Would someone like Paul put his credentials on the line for you? Praise God for the servants. Our church has many care-givers who work behind the scenes.
II. MEET AQUILA AND PRISCILLA – RISK TAKERS
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus,
Background: Who were these two? They were a husband-wife missionary team. Paul first met them at Corinth. At that time, they had to leave their home in Rome because the Roman Emperor Claudius had kicked out the Jewish people from the city. They were also tent makers like Paul. They were fellow workers who helped Paul in Corinth and later in Ephesus. They were instrumental in discipling Apollos. They did not do that publicly or proudly but Acts 18:26 notes that “they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” What a beautiful picture of spiritual maturity!
But there’s more – verse 4 who risked their own necks for my life. Meaning: They were not just great Bible teachers and discipleship leaders. They were risk-takers. They were willing to put their lives at risk so that the gospel would go forward. Nothing significant is ever done without a certain amount of risk. Most Christians say “Give me some proof” or “Give me some guarantee.” Clint Eastwood – “If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.” Most churches are like a toaster. You go in fluffy and come out jammed or burnt.
Will Rogers – “Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.”
Paul goes on to say, “to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house.
Application: What is your reputation? Firm as a pillar, hard as a rock, favorite song is “I shall not be moved.” Are you the safe player? Or, are you a risk taker?
III. MEET EPAENETUS – SAMPLE
Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ.
Background: Some people say “firstfruits” means that Epaenetus was Paul’s “first convert in Acahaia. Could be. But then Paul could have said “first convert.” He specifically uses the term “firstfruits” to refer to Epaenetus. What are “firstfruits?” Before the Israelites harvested the crops, they were supposed to bring a sample to the priest as an offering to the Lord. It was a sample of the greater, fuller harvest to come.
For e.g. When we go to the mall and then go by the food court – they offer you samples. “If you like this, you can have more.”
Epaenetus was a constant reminder of the greater harvest still to come. New converts are a must in every church. They are a reminder that more harvest can come. A church with no firstfruits is a dying, defeated, and discouraging church.
Vance Havner – “We are not going to move this world by criticism of it nor conformity to it, but by the combustion within it of lives ignited by the Spirit of God.”
How is our reputation? Do we have firstfruits? Do we welcome firstfruits? Is this a place where firstfruits are seen as a sign of more to come?
IV. MEET MARY, ANDRONICUS, AND JUNIA – FAITHFUL PARTNERS
6 Greet Mary, who labored much for us.
Background: The Greek word for “labor” is considered by some scholars to be a designation for early missionary enterprise. People like Mary have been in the trenches for a long time. The emphasis is on “much.”
Again verse 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
The emphasis there is on “before me.” There were people like Andronicus and Junia who were tried and true fellow Christians in the church. You can count on them. It’s great to have new people but it’s also beautiful to be around people who have been there through the thick and thin. They don’t bail out, back out, jump ship, walk out, “take their toys and go home.” I tell people who threaten to take their toys and go home, “Your replacement is already in the wings.”
Application: Is this your reputation? Tried and true, consistent, faithful, and trustworthy, dependable, reliable.
V. MEET AMPLIAS, URBANUS, STACHYS, APELLES – VALUABLE
8 Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys, my beloved. 10 Greet Apelles, approved in Christ.
Background: Not much is said about them, just a word on each. Based on their names, more than likely they were either slaves or freedmen. But Paul found it necessary to greet them because they were valuable. Like the description of Apelles – “approved in Christ.” Meaning = they were people who proved their value in time.
There are people in church that are very valuable. If they did not show up, something would be missing. From greeters, to audio-visual, to kitchen, to nursery, they make a difference.
Application: May I ask you a question? – When you miss a Sunday or a Wednesday or another event, are you missed? Or do things go on as usual? People say – “If I knew what to do, I would get involved.” Start showing up. Start reading the bulletin, monthly newsletter, and weekly newsletter. Ask to volunteer. Get started somewhere. It may not be the end ministry but it’s a step in the door. You don’t have to preach, sing, or teach but there’s something you can do that makes all this work.
VI. MEET FAMILIES OF ARISTOBULUS, HERODION, AND NARCISSUS – INFLUENTIAL
10…Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus.
Background: Many scholars have held that this Aristobulus was none other than the grandson of Herod the Great and brother of Herod Agrippa of Judea. This is a very wealthy and influential family. 11 Greet Herodion, my countryman. Meaning: This person was also connected to the family of Herod. Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Narcissus was a wealthy and powerful freedman under Emperor Claudius.
Bottom Line – There were wealthy, resourceful, influential people in the church. The church is not just a place for the poor and the downtrodden but also for the wealthy.
Application: Are you using your resources for the Kingdom of God? Are you being a good steward of what God has given to you?
VII. MEET THE REST – SAINTS
I’m going to read the names even though we will not examine them in detail, like the rest. They deserve to be mentioned.
12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.
The word that Paul uses in the end to designate all of them is “Saints.” He doesn’t call them laypeople, church folks, or church members but saints, meaning set apart ones.
– What do you see in the mirror?
– Did you see yourself in one of those categories?
– Do you see yourself at all?
If you don’t see yourself, it’s because you are not in Him. You need to be saved.
Maybe, you do see yourself but all you see is someone sitting on the sidelines. You walk in and walk out, no contribution, no ministry, and no service. It’s time to get up and get involved. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in what He wants you to do.