Many people say that Phoebe was a “deaconess”. This verse does not say that. Phoebe could have been a servant of the church without having the “office” of deaconess. She could have been a helper of many by helping them as she was able. When she helped them she was a servant of the church. It is not good to think that every time someone is a servant of the church he or she must have an office.
Paul was probably at Corinth when he wrote the letter to the Romans. Cenchrea was very close to Corinth. There is a narrow piece of land (an “isthmus”) which joins the upper part of Achaia to the lower part. Corinth was the seaport which faced west on that isthmus. Cenchrea was the seaport on the east coast (see Acts 18:18). This is the only place in the Bible where this church is named.
It seems that Paul knew Phoebe well for she not only was a helper of many but she helped Paul as well. He asked the brethren at Rome to receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints. She was a “saint”, and all brethren should receive “holy persons” in a good way. We are fellow-saints.
Paul also asked them to help her in whatever matter she may have need of you. She was a helper of many. It was now time for the brethren at Rome to help her. Brethren are people who help one another.
Probably Phoebe carried this letter to the brethren in Rome.
Verses 3-16: 3 ¶ Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; 5 also greet the church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. 10 Greet Apelles, the approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.
16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
Paul had never been to Rome but he knew a large number of brethren there. This was natural. Rome was the great capital city of the Empire. And it was the business centre of the empire. It drew people from everywhere. So people who were converted in Asia, or Greece, or Syria, or Judea went to Rome. Paul knew many of them.
Prisca (Priscilla) and Aquila, Paul’s fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, are well-known to those who read the book of Acts. They were Jews who came from Rome to Corinth. Paul lived with them and worked at the trade of tentmaker with them. When he left Corinth for Jerusalem, they travelled with him as far as Ephesus. At Ephesus they taught Apollos, that great preacher of the gospel, the way of the Lord more perfectly (Acts 18:1-3; 24-28). We are made to love these two very much by knowing that they risked their own necks for Paul, and by knowing that all the churches of the Gentiles gave thanks for them.
Paul said to greet the church that is in their house. The New Testament does not tell us that any church owned a meeting house. We read where there were churches in the houses of Nymphas (Colossians 4:15) and Philemon (Philemon 2). Hamilton writes: “Some of the Roman homes were built around an open court that would provide a good meeting place”. It must have been a joy for a family to build a house in which the church could meet.
Paul described many of these people as being “in Christ”, and their labour was “in the Lord”. A Christian is in Christ, and our labour “in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthian 15:58). This means that if our labour is “out” of the Lord it is worthless. We must be “in” the Lord (which means we must be Christians), and what we do must be “in” the Lord (which means that we do what the Lord says). Those who have not come into Christ by being baptised (Galatians 3:27) are working for nothing. Those who do things which are not given by Christ in His word are working for nothing. These people were in the Lord and they were working in the Lord.
Andronicus and Junias were relatives of Paul. Paul was put in prison a number of times, and they also had been in prison for Christ. Therefore Paul calls them my fellow prisoners. Paul did not convert them. They were in Christ before me. They were men whom the apostles in Jerusalem knew and loved.
Paul calls Herodian (verse 11) my kinsman. We cannot know whether he was a relative of Paul or whether Paul was calling him “my fellow countryman—a Jew”.
Rufus (verse 13) must have been a fine Christian. He is called a choice man in the Lord. At some time Paul became very close to the mother of Rufus, for he calls her his mother, also.
Others are called, “my beloved in the Lord”, “our fellow worker in Christ”, “the beloved who has worked hard in the Lord”. Paul loved his brethren. He felt close to them. He was happy when they worked for the Lord.
Because Paul knew many of the brethren in Rome, he knew of the problems in the church. When he wrote the letter to the Romans, he knew that the Jews and Gentiles in the church were sometimes not receiving one another, and he knew that there were problems between the weak and the strong.
In verse 16 Paul wrote: “Greet one another with a holy kiss”. In Bible times men greeted one another with a kiss on the cheek (Matthew 26:48-49; Luke 7:45; 1 Corinthians 1 6:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12). Paul is not here commanding that the form of greeting must be a kiss. He is making sure that the brethren make the kiss a “holy” kiss. It must not be the kiss of a hypocrite, like the kiss of Judas. Today we may greet one another with a handshake, or a hug, or in some other way. When brethren greet one another, the greeting must be “holy”. It must mean that we truly love one another.
Paul also wrote in verse 16— All the churches of Christ greet you. The churches which knew that Paul was writing asked him to send their greetings. They wanted the brethren in Rome to know that they loved them and accepted them as their brethren. Sometimes today brethren use these words when advertising to the world. This is not the way Paul used these words. This greeting was from churches to brethren.
Paul wanted the brethren at Rome to be united (Romans 15:5-7). In this letter he taught that Jew and Gentile are both saved in the same way and that there is no difference between them in Christ. They must receive one another. He told them in chapter 14 that they must not judge one another in things which the Lord has not condemned. It is important that they all be united in Christ.
Those people who tried to destroy that unity were enemies of Christ. Therefore he wrote, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.
Notice that these people were teaching contrary to the teaching which you learned. They were not teaching the pure gospel preached by Paul. This was causing dissensions and hindrances. “Dissensions” are quarrels and arguments. They lead to fighting with words and to division. “Hindrances” are things which keep us from doing something. In this case, the hindrances were keeping the brethren at Rome from following the teachings of Paul. They were causing brethren to make differences between one another.
When division comes to a church we must be careful to see what and who causes it. Those who stand for the truth against error do not cause the division. It is those who do things contrary to the teaching which you learned. When people teach things which are not found in the gospel they must be opposed by the gospel. If they keep pressing those things and cause dissensions and hindrances, they must be marked and avoided.
We must do two things to these men. First, we must keep your eye on them. We must not think that maybe their false teaching and divisive ways will stop. We must name their names. We must show that their teaching is wrong. Second, we must turn away from them. It is not enough to condemn their teaching and their actions. The church must take action. This action is described in 1 Corinthians 5; Titus 3:10-11 and 2 Thessalonians 3:14-17.
The teachers and overseers in a church must know the gospel of Christ. They must be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock (Acts 20:28). They must hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that they may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict (Titus 1:9). They must silence the false teachers (Titus 1:11) by teaching the gospel clearly and by leading the congregation to avoid the false teachers.
Unfortunately, the false teachers who are slaves of their own appetites (verse 18) use smooth and flattering speech. This deceives even some elders and other leaders. Then the false teachers use those leaders to cause division and force faithful brethren to leave the congregation.
In the modern history of the church division has been caused when brethren have brought in instrumental music in worship, the missionary society, sponsoring churches, church-supported orphan homes and colleges, entertainment as a work of the church, and many other things. The ones who bring these things into the church are smooth-talking men. They make their new things seem very good. But they must be opposed because they are bringing in things contrary to the teaching.
Paul wrote that such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites. Men like high positions. They like people to praise them. And they like money. These things make them slaves of their own appetites. They then use flattering speech to get what they want. We must know the truth so that we do not listen to them.
Verses 19-20: 19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
¶ The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
This shows that Paul did not think there was great danger from the false teachers when he wrote. The church had a good report. He was rejoicing over them. But even with a good church there is danger, and he wanted them to be warned. He wrote: I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. So we must be wise. We will become wise by learning the gospel well. We will become wise by imitating those who are following Christ. To be innocent in what is evil is to have nothing to do with evil. It means that we will oppose the false teacher and avoid him (verse 17-18). We will not let evil take root in the congregation.
Verses 21-24: 21 ¶ Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.
22 ¶ I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord.
23 ¶ Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, the brother. 24 [The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.]
Bible students know Timothy well. He was Paul’s faithful companion and fellow-worker. Three of Paul’s relatives send greetings, so Paul had relatives in several places! Gaius was one of the first converts in Corinth, baptised by Paul’s hands (1 Corinthians 1:14). He had Paul stay at his house and the church met at his house.
Paul wished the very best for those brethren when he wrote: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (Many scholars believe that these words were not in the letter which Paul wrote but were added by someone at a later time. It doesn’t make any difference. These words express what was in Paul’s heart.)
In his closing words Paul asked God to bless them greatly. He described God as Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ. Paul tried to establish (strengthen) them by teaching that gospel in this letter. He wanted to strengthen them further by coming to them (Romans 1:11-12). We are established by the gospel!
He described the gospel as the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested. The gospel was a mystery during all those long ages before Christ, but now it has been made clear. All men are saved through Jesus Christ!
This mystery had already been preached to all the nations. And it was the same gospel for them all.
At the beginning of this book Paul wrote that we (Paul) have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake (Romans 1:5). In this book in which he wrote of salvation by faith, he made it clear that salvation was by obedient faith, not by faith alone (James 2:24). Here at the end of the book he used the same words. He said that the mystery had been made known leading to obedience of faith. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). But in order for that faith to be a saving faith, it must lead to obedience of faith.
Paul’s letter to the Romans gives us a deep understanding of the will of God. No other book of the Bible gives us so much. In this book the thought is higher, the understanding is richer, and the appreciation of God’s love is greater than can be found anywhere else. In Paul’s letter to the Romans we have a mine of material. We can dig and dig in this mine and never get everything that is there for us. When we study the book our hearts are made more righteous and our minds are made richer. Here we can find food for our souls that we can find nowhere else.
Paul closes by giving everlasting praise and glory to God through Jesus Christ. When we study this book we can only do the same. To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen