Lesson 87: "Salute One Another. . .Mark Them Which Cause Divisions" (Romans 16:16-17)
Welcome to lesson # 87. Paul's Missionary Journey Epistles. To begin lesson #87, let's read v. 1-2. Are you ready? Rom. 16:1-2. Let's read:
"I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchreae: that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succorer of many , and of my self also."
It is generally thought that Paul sent this letter, the book of Romans, to the church in Rome by Phoebe, mentioned here in this verse. We mentioned this back in the introduction of Romans. That which is written here is all we know about this Christian lady named Phoebe; but, we learn several things in these verses about her. Cenchreae (city # 32 on your map-work-sheet) is on the eastern side of the Isthmus of Corinth, i.e. the narrow strip of land (two or three miles wide) in the which the city of Corinth (city # 31, on your map-work-sheet) is on the west side, the place from which Paul wrote this letter, I trust you remember. Notice, on your map, to go to Rome it's likely that Phoebe boarded a ship on the west side, i.e. on the side where the city of Corinth was situated. Actually the seaport was at Lechaeum, a mile or two north of the city of Corinth. Notice, it is said in v. 1, that Phoebe was a servant of the church which was at Cenchreae. The word "servant" here is the same Greek word, I'm told, that is sometimes translated deacon. Thus, some have interpreted this to mean the Phoebe was an officer of the church in Cenchreae. Now, I don't know my Greek (or anybody else's Greek) so I can't speak very authoritatively on the subject; but, I think that is off base. There is a sense in which every Christian, every member of a church is a servant, or at least they should be. It is in that sense that Phoebe was a servant of the church in Cenchreae. Even if Phoebe was married, it would be a little hard for her to fulfill the deacon qualification in I Tim. 3:12 where it says: "Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife," etc. At the close of Paul's second missionary journey, Paul passed through Cenchreae (according to Acts 18:18). Whether that was the time she assisted or "succored" Paul, we don't know. Remember, Paul spent 18 months at Corinth during his second missionary journey; so, it may well have been during that 18 month period that she assisted Paul, we simply don't know. Notice, Paul said: "she hath been a succorer of many..." Thus, she had the reputation of assisting many people and Paul wanted the Roman brethren to know that. First, Paul commended this Christian lady to the Roman brethren. And on her behalf, Paul requested: (#1) "That ye receive her in the Lord," i.e. as a Christian or a disciple of Jesus Christ. (#2) "That ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you..." The Holy Spirit did not see fit to tell us what kind of business or profession in which Phoebe was engaged. Lydia, you will remember (Acts 16:14) was a seller of purple. Some have thought that Phoebe was a nurse. This is deducted from the wording: "she hath been a succorer of many" and Paul included himself in that number. The word "succor" is an old English word meaning to give aid in distress or difficulty. And this word, (used possibly a half dozen times in the Bible) usually carries with it the idea of immediate or instantaneous help; for example: when a person slips and is in the process of falling to reach out with a firm hand and stabilize the person or give them balance to prevent serious consequences is to "succor" that person. Whether Phoebe was going to Rome for some official reason connected with government or whether she was simply going there for employment or what ever, is any body's guess. But, it must have been an honorable purpose and Paul could see she may need assistance from others. He considered it the Christian duty of the Roman saints to assist her. There's a message for us.
Paul's personalizing this letter on Phoebe's behalf, does show that Christians communicated from congregation to congregation in those days with reference to the members of Christ's body. As I talk with some of my Baptist friends today, for example, some of them say, my letter is here or my letter is there, implying that officially they are a member of this or that denominational church. That denominational letter business today has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with Paul and Phoebe and the letter to the Romans. If you examine the Baptist denomination today, they teach the erroneous doctrine that one becomes a Christian when they believe and then they encourage the person to be baptized at a later tune in becoming a member of the local so-called church. They do NOT teach baptism for the remission of sins, as the Bible teaches. So, when they move from one local congregation to another the question came up many years ago: shouldn't they be baptized again at the new congregation accord to their teaching? So, it's my understanding this led to the practice of one denominational church writing a letter to the other congregation so that the person moving wouldn't have to be re-baptized, ye see, in their thinking. It's a problem for them, that comes our of unscriptural baptism and the teaching of a false doctrine with reference to baptism. Some may point to Paul's letter to Rome on Phoebe's behalf in trying to justify that practice today; but, Paul's letter on Phoebe's behalf has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with Phoebe's baptism and you cannot establish that it did. I challenge your indulgence. I do not say this, trying to be nasty to my Baptist friends or anyone else; they'll explain it to you, if you ask them. I simply tell you this, hoping to make you wise enough to see through that error and not to be taken in by such unscriptural stuff. There is nothing wrong with one congregation writing a letter to another congregation about members or even other things Paul did it! But, that a letter from this place or that is necessary to make one an official member here or there is absolute garbage. When you are baptized into Christ for the remission of sins; just like the apostles done it on the day of Pentecost (Acts ch. 2) and just like Paul was baptized (Acts 22:16), then you become a member of the Lord's church by Him adding you to His church (Act 2:47). A letter, even if it was signed by the pope, doesn't have anything to do with it. Many creed books teach that letter business; but, the Bible doesn't teach that. As a matter of fact, my Baptist friends are not alone in this; most denominational creed books contain a section on, so-called, "church letters." So, if you have a creed book, check it out, look it up for yourself. You won't find it in the Bible. So, be careful not to go beyond what the Bible teaches. Paul cautions against all such, further down the page (look at v.17). And while you're there, let's read some more, v.3 beginning and let's read down through v.20. Have you got it? Do you recognize any of these people? Let's read.
"Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus: who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epenetus, who is the first fruits of Achaia unto Christ. Greet Mary, who bestowed much labor on us. Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord. Salute Urane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus' household. Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord, and his mother and mine. Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hennas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them. Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and her sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them. Salute one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you. Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen."
That was a lot of saluting. Abut 26 persons are mentioned here by name and reference is made to several others; their relatives, etc. How did Paul know so many people in Rome, a city where Paul ad never been? Well, that's not an unreasonable number in my judgment. You recognize Aquila and Priscilla, the ten t makers that Paul worked with in Corinth and that went on to Ephesus with Paul. At the time of this writing they were back in Roe. Undoubtedly the emperor's banishment of Jews from the capital city, we read about in Acts 18:2, had been lifted. Several others in the list were obviously Jews also. Since Paul, being a Jew, referred to some of them as his kinsmen. You might note that if you read this list in another translation the names may or may not be spelled the same. But, we won't let that upset us. Very few, if any, of these people are mentioned in other places with the exception of Aquila and Priscilla. Some were Paul's relatives; but, most were probably fellow workers and fellow helpers in time past. Obviously, they were all Christians, members of the church at Rome. Some names like Rufus (v.13) for example, occur other places in the New Testament; but, have reference to different people most likely. Was Rufus Paul's brother in the flesh? Not likely! V. 13 probably refers to a lady who had played second mother to Paul some place along the line. I think that's the idea. Another question that has been asked is: how was the Roman church organized? Was it one large congregation or were the brethren there organized into several small congregations, spread over the city? Paul spoke of the church that met in the house of Aquila and Priscilla (v.5). We don't know every detail here. Obviously, several families and several households that Paul knew or knew of and this would imply many others that Paul did not know. After Pal finished his salute so-and-so-list; notice that he then instructed them (v.16): "Salute one another.," Much has been made of the "hole kiss" in the same verse. We talked about his back in I Thess. 5:26, where Paul said: "Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss." Obviously in that verse; reference is made to a greeting. Thus, here in Rom. 16:16, they were to greet one another and they were to do so in a holy way, i.e. in a godly manner. In the east, it seems history bears out that the embrace has always ben part of the greeting regularly practiced in those countries. I am not inclined to think Paul was teaching them some special or secret greeting. Definitely not! Thus, the hand shake, practiced in American is just as acceptable. This greeting is to be practiced in a holy way, i.e with dignity and admiration in a godly way. Then after the apostle instructed them to greet one another; he informed them that the churches (or congregations) where he was and where he had been greeted them also. Paul referred to those churches, possibly Corinth, Thessalonica, Philippi, Troas, Ephesus, etc. as, you might note: "churches of Christ." Please note that "churches" is not capitalized. This is the way Paul spoke of the congregations or camps of the saints in his day. This included all Christians that were truly followers of Christ. Thus, I trust you are aware there were no denominations in that day. There were a few troublemakers and doctrinal perverters, yes. Paul spoke of them in v. 17,1 beg you, "brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid the," i.e. let them along, avoid them. Stay away from divisive doctrines and strife contrary to scriptural teaching. That eliminated denominationalism then and the same still holds true today. What Paul says here is the very thing Jesus prayed for in John chapter seventeen. Paul goes even further (v.18) to say that those who are divisive and push denominational thinking "serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly." In other words for personal gain, prestige, respect, celebrity, etc. Now, I didn't say that! That's what Paul said! Read v.18 again. He said, "by good words and fair speeches [they] deceive the hearts of the simple." In v.19, Paul said the Roman Christians were not that kind. But, nevertheless, Paul used this opportunity (v. 19-20) to give them warning. We should take notice also.
Verses 21-22-23 are personal greetings sent from Paul's helpers, those that were closely associated with him at that time. Timothy, you will remember was from Derbe (Acts 16:1). Paul later wrote about Timothy, "I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state (Phil. 2:20). Lucius is the Romanized form of Luke, and I prefer to think the Luke that was the writer of the book of Acts. We learn in Acts 20:5 he traveled with Paul as they arrived at Troas a very few weeks after Paul and Tertius laid down their pen in writing this letter, the book of Romans. Some argue against this; but, the fact that he is mentioned here with Timothy seems a very natural association to me. Jason, I would assume to be from Thessalonica, the same man we read bout in Acts 17:5-9. Although the spelling is a little different, Sosipater is probably the brother from Beroea mentioned in Acts 20:4 that also helped carry the collection to the poor saints in Jerusalem. Some translate "kinsmen" (v.21) as "fellow-countrymen," thus, I would assume these men were all Jews but not necessarily close relatives of Paul. Tertius in v.22 identified himself as the scribe (or emanuensis) or what we would call a stenographer. Although others helped Paul write, this is the only place in the N.T. where the stenographer sent an independent message. Gaius, we have mentioned in this letter several times; Paul's host. The Gaius in Acts 20:4 being identified with Derbe is most likely a different Gaius than the one mentioned here as Paul's host; but, most likely IS the one mentioned in I Cor. 1:14 that Paul baptized when he first came to Corinth. And most likely NOT the same as the Gaius mentioned in the book of III John. Notice in v.23, Gaius was not only Paul's host but the host of the whole church; thus, I would assume Gaius' house served as a place of assembly also. The word "chamberlain" identifying Erastus is another word for what we would call the treasurer of the city, and thus, I would assume treasurer of Corinth, a rather high position considering what we have said about Corinth before. Whether this is the same Erastus mentioned in II Tim 4:20 and Acts 19:22 of course we have no way of knowing. Quartus isn't mentioned anyplace else. We'll finish up in lesson #88. Until then, have a good day.