I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you. – Romans 16:1-16 ESV
Phoebe, Prisca, Aquila, Epaenetus, Mary, Andronicus, Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles, Aristobulus, Herodian, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Rufus, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, Phililogus, Julia, Nereus, and Olympas. That’s quite a list. Twenty four hard-to-pronounce names of people to whom Paul wished to express his personal greetings. Having never been to Rome before, we are not quite sure how he knew some of these individuals. In a few of the cases, Paul had met them before.Phoebe, the woman by whom he was sending his letter, was an active member of the church in Cenchreae, a port city of Corinth. She was most likely a Gentile and had been a patron to many in the church. She was evidently from the wealthier upper class, but had used her resources to assist others in the church in Corinth. Paul had also enjoy a prior relationship with the husband and wife team of Prisca and Aquila. They had worked alongside him in his missionary journeys. We read about them in the Book of Acts.
After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. – Acts 18:1-3 ESV
This couple, who had been forced to leave Italy because of an edict of the emperor Claudius, had risked their lives for Paul and had made a tremendous impact on the Gentile churches. They were now back in Rome and were continuing their efforts to grow believers in the church and spread the gospel throughout the city.
The amazing thing about Paul’s list is that we know little to nothing about most of the individuals listed. But they provide us a glimpse into the makeup of the local churches in Rome. It is interesting to note that verse 1 of Romans 16 is the first time in his letter that Paul uses the word, “church.” The Greek word is ekklēsia and it means “gathering, congregation, assembly.” It literally means “called out” and was used by the Greeks to refer to any group that had been called out for the purpose of a meeting for deliberation. It was the perfect designation for the people of God, those who had placed their faith in Jesus Christ. They had been called out by God. They were to remain in the world, but not be of the world. In His High Priestly Prayer, Jesus said to His Father, “They do not belong to this world any more than I do” (John 17:16 NLT). “And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world” (John 16:14 NLT). Paul’s list contains the names of those who had been called out by God to be a part of His universal church. They were people of all walks of life. There were Romans and Greeks, freedmen and slaves, the wealthy and the poor, the influential and the insignificant. There were men and women, young and old, the educated and the illiterate. All had been placed into local congregations by the grace of God and because of their faith in Jesus Christ His Son.
As Paul has so painstakingly explained in his letter, there was no reason for anyone in the body of Christ to boast. All had been equally guilty and worthy of God’s condemnation at one time. None had earned favor with God because of their own self-manufactured righteousness. There was no one whose wealth or social influence had gained them any brownie points with God. Every single one of them had received their justification before God the same way, by placing their faith in the righteousness of Christ. None had been more righteous than another. Their sinfulness was equally condemning in God’s holy eyes. But God had extended grace and mercy. Paul made this point quite clear earlier in his letter.
We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. – Romans 3:22-24 NLT
Each of the individuals Paul lists were dear to him. They each had their own unique name and personality. Each had come to faith in Christ in their own personal way. They brought different talents and spiritual gifts to the body of Christ. They had their own individual roles to play within their local congregations. But at the end of the day, they were one. They shared a common faith in a common Savior and shared a common bond with every other believer around the world at that time. Paul sent greetings to them for all the churches of Christ. He wanted them to know that they were not alone. They were part of a much larger family made up of other individuals who bore other names, but who shared their belief in the risen Christ. We are the called out ones. We live in the midst of a world that hates us because we share a common love for Christ. We don’t belong here. We are aliens and strangers. This is no longer our home. But we are brothers and sisters in Christ, compatriots who share a love for the cause of Christ and the Kingdom of God. We are in this together because God has placed us together into the body of Christ. May we learn to look past our diversity and embrace our unity through a growing desire for mutual love and fidelity.