An Ordinary Joe (Romans 16:1-13)
Many Christians complain that there isn’t anything for them to do.
I was once working with some teenage girls who didn’t want to become Christians, because, in their words, “Women can’t do anything in the church.” Such is a great misnomer. No women cannot serve in leadership capacities (1 Tim 2:11-12). But if we are all leaders, whom are the leaders going to lead? Although women can’t serve in leadership capacities, some of the best work of the church is performed by women!
Many Christians—young and old, male and female, married and single—complain that there isn’t anything they can do in the cause of Christ If they think there isn’t anything for them to do in the church, they must not be looking very hard!
In Romans 16, Paul salutes some Christians in the early church. Many of these Christians are only named here—we know nothing about them other than what we are told here. They are “ordinary” Christians, Christians who never had the limelight, yet they are saluted here for their works.
These greetings provide clues for how we can serve the church in this century. We can:
Serve, vv 1-2
Phoebe was a servant of the church in Cenchreae.
Some modern translations say that she was a “deaconess” in the church in Cenchreae. The word used here is the female form of the word “deacon.” As far as simply translating from Greek to English, “deaconess’ is not an improper translation. However, Scripture provides no guidelines for women deacons. Deacons are to be the husbands of one wife (1 Tim 3:12); women cannot meet that qualification. Therefore, Phoebe did not serve as a female deacon.
The word for “deacon” or “deaconess’ simply means “servant.” When Jesus said, “Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant” (Mk 10:43), he used the word for “deacon.”
Phoebe, then, was a servant of the church in Cenchreae; Paul says that she had been a help of many and of himself also. It wasn’t uncommon in that day for wealthy women to support missionaries (cf. Lk 8:1-3). Phoebe probably helped support some missionaries.
Although she wasn’t a deacon, Phoebe served the church. Most scholars believe that she took this letter from Corinth to Rome. Undoubtedly, she helped the church in many capacities. She probably didn’t wait for someone to tell her what needed to be done, she did what she saw needed to be done.
We, like Phoebe, can serve the church. The Lord Jesus taught us that greatness comes through serving (Matt 20:25-28). We have so many opportunities to serve. Those who come home from the hospital need meals, and we can help provide those meals. We can take our turn cleaning the building. We can serve on visitation teams. We can teach Bible class.
Are you serving others?
Sacrifice, vv 3-5
Priscilla and Aquila made sacrifices for their Christian brethren. They risked their own necks to save Paul’s life—this probably occurred during the riot at Ephesus (Acts 19:28-31). The provided room for the church to meet in their home.
We, too, need to sacrifice for our brethren. We show love through sacrifice (1 Jn 3:17-18). We must sacrifice for one another. “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being” (1 Cor 10:24). “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2:4).
Are you sacrificing for others?
Shine, v 5
Epaenetus was the first convert to Christianity in Achaia (or Asia)—he set an example for others to follow.
We Christians need to set an example for others to follow. Jesus taught us to let our lights shine (Matt 5:14-16). “You may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as light in the world” (Phil 2:15).
Stand Firm, v 7
Andronicus and Junia were imprisoned along with Paul. We know that Paul was imprisoned on several occasions (2 Cor 6:5; 2 Cor 11:23). During one of these imprisonments, Andronicus and Junia were imprisoned with him. Yet, they seem to have stood firm, for they were well-known missionaries (“who are of note among the apostles”).
Like Andronicus and Junia, we must be willing to stand up for Christ even if it means imprisonment or death.
Revelation 2:10. Jesus didn’t say, “I know that you’re about to be thrown into prison, so if you want to deny being a Christian, that’s ok, because I’ll understand.” He told them to stand fast even in the face of imprisonment and possible death (“until death” actually means to the point of death).
“If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (Jn 15:20). “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim 3:12).
We will suffer persecution. In the early church, that persecution meant imprisonment or death. Although we don’t face such persecution today, we will suffer. Our friends and family may forsake us—I have a dear friend whose mother will have nothing to do with him because he’s a member of the church and not her chosen denomination. People ridicule us for our faith—Watch some talk show and watch the response when someone says, “I believe homosexuality is a sin against God.”
Strive, v 9
Several of those whom Paul mentions worked for the Lord. Urbanus was a “fellow worker in Christ.” Tryphena and Tryphosa “labored in the Lord.” Persis “labored much in the Lord.”
The idea seems to be that they worked to win souls to Christ.
We, too, can work to win souls to Christ. This is our task (Matt 28:19-20). We need to use whatever opportunity we have to reach people. Are you striving to win people to Christ?
Sanctioned, v 10
Apelles was approved in Christ. The idea of approved is “tried and true.” Paul wanted Timothy to be approved before God (2 Tim 2:15). Apelles has been tried and shown to be a true Christian. Apelles had undergone some extreme suffering and had stood against it. By withstanding this suffering, he showed that he was a genuine Christian; he was no counterfeit.
We, too, need to show that we are true Christians.
Be Superior, v 13
Rufus was chosen in the Lord. Rufus was probably the son of Simon of Cyrene (Mk 15:21). The meaning for “chosen” here is “excellent” or “outstanding.”
We, too, can be outstanding Christians. We don’t need to do great works. God knows our hearts, and we need to work to please him.
There is so much we Christians can do in this age.
When Jesus returns, we will give account as to how well we have used our talents (Matt 25:19). How are you using your talents?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Owingsville church of Christ in Owingsville, Kentucky.