July 28, 2019

Romans 16:1-16: The Bond We Share

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Series: Romans: The Gospel of Grace Scripture: Romans 16:1–16

Romans 16:1-16: The Bond We Share

Please turn with me in your Bible to Romans 16. If you’re using one of the Bibles we provide, that’s on page 787. We’ve been working our way passage by passage through Paul’s letter to the Romans, and today we come to the last chapter in Romans, Romans 16:1-16. And if you think this passage is just a list of greetings, I believe you’re mistaken. There’s so much here in these verses that has enormous significance for us and our lives. So Romans 16:1-16:

1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, 2 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. 3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 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. 5 Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. 11 Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus, 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. 

If you’re a Christian, you’ve probably noticed that there’s a bond Christians share that’s a bit difficult to explain but so, so wonderful. Several months ago, I think I told you about a mission trip I went on to Bosnia. And on that trip to the Bosnian village of Gorazde, I met a dear Christian woman by the name of Munevera. Munevera was about 70 years old, and I could tell that she had been through a lot in her life. Her eyes had seen a lot of things in that war-torn country that most of our eyes have not. Yet even though Munevera had gone through all of those things, it was still very evident that she possessed an inward joy—the kind of joy that comes from Jesus. And as she and I talked about the things of the Lord together, there was just a bond there. Keep in mind that I had never met Munevera before and we didn’t even speak the same language—we had to communicate through a translator. Yet even with all of the cultural and linguistic hindrances, the bond between us as Christians was unmistakable. And it’s interesting to compare that to the relationships Becky and I have with people in our lives presently who aren’t Christians. God has blessed us with some very good friendships with people who aren’t Christians yet, and we’re thankful for those friendships. Yet that special bond just isn’t there. Even though we see some of our non-Christian friends multiple time a week and have so much in common with them culturally and socio-economically and linguistically, we don’t have anything close to the bond with them that I experienced with Munevera—or the bond that we presently experience with our Christian brothers and sisters here in the church.   

And that bond, I believe, is the most noticeable thing here in Romans 16. Paul’s greetings in this passage show us that Christians share a bond that’s rooted in their identity as family and strengthened by their devotion to a mission. That’s the main idea we’ll be looking at from this passage. Christians share a bond that’s rooted in their identity as family and strengthened by their devotion to a mission. And I’d like to spend the rest of our time this morning looking more closely at those two factors that contribute to the bond Christians share. First, we’ll look at how that bond is rooted in our identity as family and then, second, at how it’s strengthened by our devotion to a mission. 

Rooted in Our Identity as Family

First, notice from this passage how it’s rooted in our identity as family. Because that’s what we are as Christians—a family. So often, I think people have a tendency to view church more as an event we attend on Sundays. Yet church is so much more than an event. It’s a family. And we see can see that by noticing the family language Paul uses to talk about other Christians. And although that family language certainly isn’t unique to this passage, it’s definitely here and very much intertwined with the overall tone of the passage. In verse 1, Paul says, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe.” And we’ll talk more about Phoebe a little bit later, but for now just notice that she’s introduced as “our sister.” Spiritually speaking, Phoebe was a sister to Paul and his readers. Then, down in verse 14, Paul says to “greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them.” Of course, they would be not biological brothers but brothers in the Lord. And like I said, this isn’t really something that’s unique to this passage. It was very common for early Christians to refer to one another using the family language of “brother” and “sister.” Just here in Paul’s letter to the Romans, he refers to other Christians in this way a total of 22 times. And if you look at all of his writings in the New Testament, he does it a total of 142 times. That was just the way he thought. Paul regarded other Christians as family. And so did Jesus, so did Peter, so did John, so did James, and so did the author of Hebrews. All of them viewed other Christians as family and employed family language. That was the depth of love and affection they had for other Christians. 

And as we’ve already seen in our study through Romans, the way we as Christians have become a family is through adoption. In Romans 8:15, Paul states that we’ve received “the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” So the Holy Spirit is there identified as the Spirit of our adoption. Paul also teaches, in Ephesians 1:5, that God “predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.”  So we’ve been adopted into God’s family.  And notice in that last verse it says we’ve been adopted “through Jesus Christ.” It’s only through Jesus that this adoption is possible. It wouldn’t be possible apart from him. You see, the Bible teaches that even though God created us and has blessed us in innumerable ways, we’ve all sinned against him. We’ve rebelled against our good Creator. And because of that, we’re now alienated from God and cut off from his presence. Not only that, but our sins demand justice—they demand judgment in hell for all eternity. Yet because of God’s love for us and his incomparable mercy, he sent Jesus to bear our sins on the cross. As Jesus died on the cross, he was suffering the judgment we deserved so that we wouldn’t have to. He then resurrected from the dead so that we can be rescued from our sins as we put our trust in him. That’s all we have to do. Just look to Jesus for rescue—even this morning—and he will rescue you. And that rescue includes God forgiving you of your sins, making you a new person, giving you a place in heaven, and even adopting you into his own family. That’s how we become brothers and sisters to each other and have such a special bond with each other. We’re adopted into the family of God through Jesus Christ. So this gospel message of salvation through Jesus is the foundation of the bond we share. It brings us together as family. 

And the fact that we’re a family is an important thing for us to keep in mind especially since we tend to be quite individualistic as Americans. Individualism is sort of our natural bent. Yet when we were saved, we were saved not only into a relationship with Jesus but also into a family of believers. Let me say that again. You were saved not only into a relationship with Jesus but also into a relationship with other believers. You were saved into a family. It’s kind of like when you marry someone. It’s commonly said that when you marry a spouse, you’re marrying not just them but their entire family. And there’s some truth to that. You may not be living with their family, but you’re probably going to be spending a lot of holidays together and communicating with them on a regular basis for the rest of your marriage. Likewise, when you become a Christian, you’re joining the family. 

And in some ways, this family that you’re joining—this heavenly family also known as the church—is even more significant than your biological or earthly family. Jesus alludes to this in Matthew 12:46-50. It says, 46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” So what is Jesus saying there? Well, he’s not saying that we should reject our earthly families, but he is making the point that the bonds of our heavenly family are deeper than the bonds of our earthly family. After all, an earthly family, by definition, only lasts for as long as we’re here on earth, while our heavenly family continues into eternity. We might say that God instituted this system of earthly families as a shadow of the heavenly family he’s building. So the earthly family is the shadow, while the heavenly family or church is the substance. As you know, a shadow of something—like a tree, for example—points to the existence of that tree. You can look at the tree’s shadow and reasonably conclude—even if you were only looking at the shadow—that there must be a tree there. Not only that, but the shadow would give you some idea of what the tree is like such as how big it is and the general contours of its shape. Yet the shadow is not the substance. Unlike the substance of the tree itself, the tree’s shadow is very temporary. As the sun sets, the shadow disappears. Therefore, we could probably say that the shadow isn’t as significant as the tree. And in a similar way, as wonderful as earthly families are, they are indeed a shadow of something much more glorious. That something, of course, is the church—the heavenly family that God’s building and that will last forever. 

Now perhaps you’re here and you don’t have much of an earthly family. This is often especially true if you’re single. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I believe a sizeable portion of people gathered here this morning are single. And some of you may be single by choice, while others aren’t single by choice. You want to be married. Regardless of which category you fit into, understand that God’s designed the church to be a family. You may be “single” in the way that word is commonly used, but there’s also a very important sense in which you’re not single. You have a family—especially if you’re a member of the church. And as far as having children goes, I don’t know if you do or don’t or will or won’t have biological children. But I’ll tell you this: regardless of whether or not God blesses you with biological children, you can have children spiritually in the form of the disciples you make. That’s a very legitimate and meaningful way to leave a legacy. 

And by the way, as the rest of us think about the church as a place where those who are single can find family, we would do well to ask ourselves if we’re cultivating an environment in this church that feels like family. Are we really living in such as way that those who are single can be a part of our church and think to themselves “I have a family?” When you decide who you’re going to invite over for dinner, how often do you invite over someone who’s single? Or when you’re going out on some recreational outing and you want to invite others to come with you, how often do you invite those who are single? You know, we talk a lot about making sure we’re forming relationships in our church that go beyond Sunday mornings, but make sure that as you seek to form those relationships you’re not overlooking the one third to one half of our church that’s single. And of course the responsibility goes both ways. Those who are single should also be intentional about developing these relationships as well. I know inviting over a family that has two or three or four kids is a lot of mouths to feed. But I believe those relationships will be a blessing to you. 

Strengthened by Our Devotion to a Mission

So our church is both designed and instructed by God to be a family. However, we can’t let it become an inwardly focused family. Many churches have, unfortunately, fallen into that mentality. They do a great job of loving each other as family, but their concern never really goes beyond those who are already in the family. And that’s a problem—because God has given his family a mission. And in fact, the way we form the deepest and most meaningful relationships with each other is as we’re focused on that mission. So that brings us to the second factor that contributes to the bond Christians share, which is that this bond is strengthened by our devotion to a mission. It’s strengthened by our devotion to a mission. 

As we look through our main passage in Romans 16, we see not only a lot of family language but also a lot of references to the mission the family shares. We see this in the first two verses, where Paul writes, 1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, 2 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. So Phoebe is an example of someone who was devoting herself to the mission. She was apparently a very wealthy woman and was using her wealth to support Paul himself and others who were working to spread the gospel. Not only that, but she had proven herself to be so trustworthy that it appears as though Paul entrusted her with carrying this letter to the Romans to Rome. Now, we can’t prove that since there’s no verse that specifically says it, but most scholars agree that it’s probable. Paul probably wrote this later as he was spending time in Corinth and gave it to Phoebe to take to Rome. That’s why he commends her here in verse 1 to the church in Rome. 

Then in verses 3-5, Paul describes the ministry of Prisca and her husband Aquila. He writes, 3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 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. 5 Greet also the church in their house. So Prisca and Aquila were so devoted to serving the Lord that they did so even at the risk of their lives. They “risked their necks” for Paul. And apparently their ministry was so extensive that not only Paul but “all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks” for them. This couple also opened up their own house to host a church. 

Then in verse 6, Paul says that Mary “worked very hard for you.” In verse 7, Adronicus and Junia are described as “fellow prisoners” with Paul. These two people—probably a husband and wife—actually did jail time with Paul for the sake of the gospel. Then in verse 9, Urbanus is identified as “our fellow worker in Christ,” in verse 10 Appelles is described as “approved in Christ” most likely for his ministry, in verse 12 Tryphaena and Tryphosa are called “workers in the Lord,” and also in verse 12, Persis is described as one “who has worked hard in the Lord.” 

Now as we look at all these different names, plus the other names recorded in Romans 16, it’s interesting to observe that some of these names are Jewish while others are Greek. That means Paul was describing people who had two vastly different ethnicities—ethnicities that were so different that they probably wouldn’t usually, in regular society, associate with each other. So what brings them together? Well like we said, Christians are a family, and the bond we share as family is strengthened by our devotion to a common mission. So these people who otherwise would have no reason to be together were brought together and had their bonds strengthened by their mission. 

And like I said, focusing on a mission as a family actually creates stronger bonds within the family than just focusing on one another. The way to have the deepest bond with each other isn’t by focusing exclusively on that bond itself but rather by focusing on the mission God’s given us. 

You may have seen the miniseries that came out a number of years ago called “Band of Brothers.” This miniseries was based on a true story about a group of soldiers during World War II who fought to liberate Europe from Nazi control. And they experienced some things in Europe that nobody should have to experience. They fought side-by-side through some unbelievably intense combat situations. And during those battles, they risked their lives for each other. If a fellow soldier was wounded out in the open and was exposed to the enemy, another solider would risk his life to pull that wounded soldier out of the line of fire. And of course, some soldiers died in these battles. Actually, a lot of them died. But those who survived became unbelievably close friends with each other. A bond was formed between them that those soldiers who were interviewed said no one else could understand. 

So what brought those men together? Well, they had a shared mission. And in the course of pursuing that mission and through the difficulties they encountered along the way, they became the best of friends. I’m sure at the beginning, a lot of them probably didn’t really like each other. But by the end, they were the best of friends because they had pursued a common mission together. And our church may not be dealing with incoming mortar rounds or machine gunfire or things like that as we pursue our mission, but God has given us a mission that can be very intense at times and require significant sacrifice, and pursuing that mission side-by-side has a way of bringing us together. In fact, I believe that’s the only way our church will have the depth of relationships that God wants us to have. That depth comes—at least in part—from not just paying the mission lip service and not just from doing something here and there related to the mission but by being truly engaged in our mission of spreading the gospel everywhere. That’s a key factor that strengthens the bond we share. Now, of course, all this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t cultivate meaningful relationships with other Christians. Like we’ve already discussed, we are family. However, something critical is going to be missing from our relationships if this family isn’t focused on its mission. 


So Christians share a bond that’s rooted in their identity as family and strengthened by their devotion to a mission. And as we begin to wind things down this morning, I’d like to give you a very practical exhortation about the bond we share—because this bond is very special and very valuable and very much worth protecting. And it needs protecting because it’s actually quite fragile. That’s a characteristic that a lot of things that are beautiful have. Some of the most beautiful things in this world are also some of the most fragile things. Likewise, the bond we share as Christians can easily be damaged—especially through gossip and other careless things that we say. James 3:3-5 reminds us of how powerful the tongue is. It says, 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! Think about that last sentence. It only takes a small spark to set a huge forest on fire. And it only takes a small part of your body—your tongue—to do incredible harm in the church. That’s why Jesus says in Matthew 12:36, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” Every careless word we speak will eventually be brought up again out of the archives on the day of judgment—the day we give an account of our life to God. And again, that’s because those careless words can do incredible harm. 

However, the opposite is also true. Your tongue can also be used to strengthen the bond we share. That’s why, back in our main passage, Paul says so many things that build people up. He does that in just about every verse. All throughout this passage, he talks about the commendable things people have done. He also calls people “beloved” four times—“my beloved Epaenetus,” “Ampliatus, my beloved,” “my beloved Stachys,” and “the beloved Persis.” In addition, Paul talks about how Rufus is “chosen in the Lord” and how the mother of Rufus is a mother to him as well. This passage is absolutely saturated with Paul speaking well of people and building them up. And that’s what Paul tells everyone to do in Ephesians 4:29. He says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (NIV). So before you say anything, ask yourself, “Is this ‘helpful for building others up according to their needs’? Will this ‘benefit those who listen’?” Make sure your speech strengthens the bond we share rather than damaging that bond. 

other sermons in this series

Jul 21


Jul 14