Paul's Beloved Co-Laborers (Romans Sermon 116 of 120)
October 15, 2006 | Andrew Davis
Brotherly Love, Gospel Partnership
I. Introduction: It’s a Wonderful Life
When I was a college student at MIT, there were a lot of courses that were just crushing burdens, the kind of courses that you just hope to survive, and you think you might not get through. And then there were other courses. They weren't called underwater basket weaving, but close, alright. And one of my favorites was a course on American cinema. I got to watch movies for college credit, and I will never forget this December evening. I went to the place where we watched them and I saw for the first time what became one of my favorite movies, and that is, It's a Wonderful Life. Now it's on every year at Christmas time. I'm sure you've seen it with Jimmy Stewart, George Bailey, the American hometown hero, who doesn't like his life working at The Bailey Building and Loan, and wish that he could have done more, could have gone, traveled, seen great things… And he reaches a crisis in his life where he just doesn't see any value, any worth whatsoever in his life. And a crisis comes where he might be facing prison for something he didn't do. And he wants to throw it all away and dive in over a bridge into the water.
Now I'm not vouching for the theological precision of this movie. You understand that. But at that point God sends Clarence the angel to come and help him. Alright, and Clarence comes and basically Clarence mission is to try to convince him that his life was worthwhile, and at one point Jimmy Stewart says, "Well, I guess you're right. It wouldn't be better for me to kill myself. I wish I'd never been born." And then somehow he gets to see what life was like if he had never been born, and it's absolutely chilling to him and there comes a point where people he's loved, the people that he's been with don't know him, don't recognize... His own wife runs away screaming from him, and he just wants it back, even as bad as it was, he wants it back, that he was living that same life again.
And the lesson is very clear, the value and the worth of a single human life. And at the end of the movie, the climax comes after he wants to live again even as bad as it was, and God enables him to step back into that tough situation. The door of his home opens and friends come flooding in the door, bring in money to try to pay for that which was lost and free him from the burden so that he won't have to go to prison. And it's just streaming in and it's just a tremendous climax of friendship. And he sees a book on the tree, and he opens it up and there's an inscription there and it's from Clarence the angel. Remember, I did not vouch for the theological precision of this movie, but there it is. There's an inscription from Clarence the angel and says, "Remember, George, no man is a failure who has friends."
Now as I come to Romans 16, and you may wonder, is our pastor really going to preach an expositional sermon from these greetings? Can it really be done? Well, yes, it can, I hope. We'll find out over the next half hour or so, but yes, I think it can be done. And what I get out of this is I look at name after name, and I want you to go up and encourage Ryan after the service, this man did yeoman duty standing up and pronouncing all of those proper nouns one after the other. So let's go and encourage the dear brother, thank you for your courage.
Alright. But these are friends in the ministry of the apostle Paul. He lists no less than 27 people by name. Verses 21-23, there are some that are greeting back the church at Rome, and they want to be remembered. And so there are people that Paul wants to greet, and then there's people around Paul there in Corinth where he wrote the letter and they want to greet their friends in the church at Rome. And it's amazing insight into first century church life and the preciousness of friends in Christ. And I'll tell you this, the Gospel is a treasure trove. You just open up the box, and there's just one rare and beautiful gem and treasure after another. The greatest is reconciliation with God through the blood of Jesus Christ. All of our sins forgiven, we saw Tommy testifying to the value of that to him through water baptism, all of our sins forgiven.
And then it just flows from there, a new nature transform within a heart of stone taken out a heart of flesh, given in. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit, we have adoption into the very family of God, we have a gloriously bright future, and every day, every toilsome and suffering day in this world brings us closer and closer to that. The future is gloriously bright, but along with all of that, we have brothers and sisters in Christ who make the journey with us, and that is precious, it's unspeakably precious. And in the end we will get to look each other in the face when we are done being glorified, and we will just smile and with joy we will say, "God did it. God saved us. He brought us through that toilsome journey and look where we are now." In the meantime, we have each other. We can look at each other, and we can encourage one another and they can encourage us. And that's what I see in these verses today.
II. Commending Phoebe and Properly Valuing Women’s Ministry
Now I just like to draw out some themes. I'd like to look at the names, look at some of the details of those things that are said about these folks, and try to learn some things together. We're not going to exhaust this passage, we're not going to understand everything, but there's some good things that we can learn. And we begin with this woman Phoebe, as Paul commends this woman Phoebe. And throughout these verses we see him valuing the ministry of women. It's really quite a remarkable thing. I think this may have been the most precious letter delivery in history. Can you imagine being entrusted with the only copy of the Book of Romans ever? Tertius wrote it down. We learned later on that he was his secretary in effect, we think perhaps Paul's eyesight wasn't good enough, and so he dictated the letter and there is Tertius. He's the one who actually wrote the letter, but after it was written, it seems entrusted to this woman Phoebe, and she was going to carry it to Rome.
Now why do commentators think that Phoebe carried the letter? Well, it's because she's placed first in this chapter, the first and the greetings and it could be she's the very one who's standing there, having handed the letter over to the leaders of the church at Rome. And so he's writing basically a letter of commendation for the messenger, for Phoebe and it says there in verse 1, "I commend to you, our sister Phoebe, a servant to the church at Cenchreae." Now this word commend is an official term, it literally means, I stand alongside her, she's in effect standing in my place in handing this letter over. And it also could mean I demonstrate her worthiness.
Now frequently in the ancient world, letters of introduction had to be written so that people who had never seen another person by face would know who this individual was and would treat them properly. This was the days before the lightning quick communication that we're used to through email and text messaging and all that kind of thing. And it's to the point with virtual conferences, you can have a relationship with somebody you've never seen and never we'll see, but you know what their faces look like. You could know it the next day if somebody does some significant issue in history or in the news, you know what their face looks right away, looks like right away. But these folks they had to have letters of recommendation. So we see this whole issue in 2 Corinthians, chapter 3:1, there, the apostle Paul says, "Are we beginning to commend ourselves again, or do we need like some people letters of recommendation to you or from you?" So we're talking there about the issue of a letter of recommendation, again, in connection with the big offering that was being taken among the Gentile churches for the Jewish believers in Judea.
In 1 Corinthians 16:3, Paul says, "When I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem." So it seems to me that Paul is here writing a letter of introduction for Phoebe, in effect, so that they will accept this letter as from the apostle Paul. It seems to me, I think, reading between the lines, that Phoebe was a wealthy woman, more on that in a moment, and she was planning on going to Rome. Paul perhaps heard about that and wanted to take advantage of it. And so he sat down to write the book of Romans, and what a good use of time that was. I don't know how long it was that Phoebe was going to leave, but he made a good use of his time. She, Phoebe, was from the city of Cenchreae, which is very close to Corinth. Corinth is across a very, very narrow isthmus of land and Cenchreae is just on the other side, it's the port city on the other side of Corinth, and that's where Phoebe was. It could be that that church at Corinth planted the church at Cenchreae and Phoebe was a member there. Therefore, she was entrusted with the most precious letter delivery in history.
I can't recount to you all of the people whose lives have been transformed by this book of Romans. How many people will be in heaven because they say they read or heard a message preached from the Book of Romans? We know Martin Luther was one of them. His soul was transformed, his soul was saved by Romans 1:17, The righteousness from God, that is simply by faith, he read about it in the book of Romans. Imagine being Phoebe holding that letter as she boarded a ship perhaps, or traveled over land to Rome.
If the ship had sunk in a storm, or if highwaymen had been able to strip her of her possessions and destroy the letter as of no value whatsoever to them, it would have been lost. But let me tell you something, God has sovereign power over the entire process of getting the Scripture to us. Isn't that marvelous? The same God that inspired the apostle to write it and guarded him from all error, was with Phoebe when she traveled to get it to the church. It was with the church when they read it and recognize it to be apostolic and authoritative, and then it was protected until they started to copy it, and it was protected through all the centuries that they copied it by hand, until finally in the 15th century, the printing press was developed and they could mass produce them. And now there are literally millions and millions of copies of this letter. God sovereignly watch over all of it, and now we have it today.
Phoebe: A Remarkable Woman
Well, who is this woman, Phoebe? She's a remarkable woman. But I will say this, apart from this one mention here in Romans 16, we know nothing else about her, and that's going to be true of many people in Romans 16. We have no other information about Phoebe than what we have here in this account. Paul clearly has admiration for her, he calls her our sister, so she's part of the family of God, she's a believer in Christ, and we're going to see later in the message the tender affection that Paul has for every member of the body of Christ. But he calls her sister, but he also calls her, and a literal translation would be a servant of the church at Cenchreae. Now whether this means more than servant we'll talk about it in a moment, but at least it means that she has taken up the role of a servant to Jesus Christ. Remember that Jesus commended this role as the highest that we can do in this life. The best thing we could ever do and be in this world is a servant of Jesus Christ.
It says in Matthew 23:11, "The greatest among you will be your servant." And so servanthood is of the essence of our Christian faith. Now, Paul asked the church at Rome to receive her well and to take care of her needs. Look at verse two, I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and to give her any help she may need from you. Now saints should be receiving each other gladly, and we should be helping each other in each other's journey, and Christ will never forget anything you do to help a brother or sister in Christ along in their heavenly journey. To speed them along in making progress in Christ, in the internal journey of sanctification growing in grace becoming more like Jesus, in the external journey of worldwide evangelization, all of you that came and stood around us a moment ago and prayed. And all of those of you that prayed from the pew, you helped us in our journey and God will never forget. And so he wants the church to help this woman in her journey and to receive her well.
This is especially so back then and the fact that there were no hotel chains, there was no Motel 6, no place to spend the night except a network of friends and contacts, and then some irreputable places that you really probably wouldn't want to be for the evening. And so he wanted them to show her hospitality and to care for her needs, and why? Well, because of her past ministry. It says in the NIV, she has been a great help to many people including me. The word great help, comes from the Greek word which means a patroness to some degree.
My take on Phoebe is that she was a wealthy business woman, perhaps in the pattern of Lydia, who made a great deal of money dealing in purple cloth in Thyatira, that's Lydia. We don't know how Phoebe may have gotten her money, but I think that she was probably in some way a financial patroness to the apostle Paul. And we see the exact same thing in the life of Jesus in Luke chapter 8, verse 1 and following, it says, "After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna, the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means." So here's a group of women around Jesus, kind of funding and supporting him as he goes about his work of preaching the good news. And I think that it probably was that Phoebe was this kind of a patroness.
Now the question is in front of us, was she a deaconess? Some of the translations will give us perhaps deaconess as one of the possible translations for this Greek word. Now, the Greek word translated here is diakonon, and you can hear the similarity between diakonon and deacon. Frankly, the deacons themselves were simply servants. The word originally meant table waiter. For example, in John chapter 2, when Jesus changes the water into wine, it says there that the headmaster didn't know where the wine had come from, but the servants who waited the tables, they did. It's the same word. So these are just table waiters, but it's a term of honor, isn't it? To be a servant of Jesus Christ. Jesus said in Matthew 20, "Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave, just as the son of man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." Frankly, this exact same word, and I mean to the letter, to the Greek letter right across, this exact same word is used of Jesus. If you look back one chapter in Romans 15:8, it says there, "For I tell you that Christ has become a servant to the Jews on behalf of God's truth to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs…" A servant, it's diakonon, the exact same word.
Now, I would say no one is arguing that Jesus was a deaconess, certainly. They may be arguing that he was a servant of some sort. So the term servant can apply to any Christian at any time, and I might say to you that if the only evidence we had for deaconesses in the early church life is Romans 16:1, it's very scanty. However, in 1 Timothy 3, in a chapter on deacons where there's more extended treatment, there is some scriptural evidence that women were to be deacons. They just were not to have authority or leadership over men in the very previous chapter, in 1 Timothy 2, Paul says, "I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man, she must be silent." But in the very next chapter, there's a section on elders and then on deacons, and as he's going through the section on deacons, suddenly there's some descriptions to women or to the wives, some translations go with wives and some with women. It may very well be that some women were identified in some way, and they would minister to the needs of the poor, they would instruct younger women on how to respect their husbands according to Titus 2, so the Gospel might be adorned, etcetera, and it may be that they held that role.
Others see exegetical reasons for saying no even then they were not identified deaconesses. So, I really, bottom line, don't know. Here I stand in front of you and I say that I don't know if Phoebe was a deaconess. But it's okay because you know what? I think throughout this chapter we see the value and worth of the ministry of women, and we're going to see that I think very, very plainly. I see also that there are good reasons for accepting either way. So I don't reject evangelical churches that established male leadership according to 1 Timothy 2, but have women deaconesses doing other types of serving ministries. I don't think that's wrong. I respect those churches that say we can't see that in the text. I respect those things as well.
The Ministry of Women in Romans 16
Now concerning women's ministry, we see it throughout this whole section in Romans 16. Look in verse 6 of how sweetly Paul speaks of maybe seven or perhaps even eight women that are mentioned and commended for their service to the Gospel and to the church. Look at verse 6, it says, "Greet Mary who worked very hard for you." And then verse 12-13, "Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord." Well, those are beautiful names, aren't they? If you're going to have a daughter, consider that, Tryphena and Tryphosa. They may have been twins, actually, sisters, we don't know for sure. The names mean dainty and delicate. So you've got dainty and delicate. Imagine having twin girls and one of them is dainty and the other one's delicate. But at any rate, these women were hard workers for the Gospel. Paul thinks very highly of them. And then here's this woman "Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord." And then we get Rufus, "Rufus, chosen in the Lord and his mother, who's been a mother to me, too." More on that in a moment. And then in verse 15, "Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister…" by the way, if there's any difference in my pronunciation, from Ryan's, Ryan is right and I'm wrong, okay. But anyway, I'm going to take my crack at these names and do the best I can, and "Olympus and all the saints with them."
Bottom line is Paul was delighted, delighted to do the work of the Gospel and the ministry with many women as he commends here. He's delighted to have sisters in Christ as friends and co-laborers in the Gospel. Based on Romans 16 alone, it is obvious that women have amazingly vital and wide-ranging ministries that are indispensable to the life of the church. That's what I get out of Romans 16.
III. Some Lessons from the Greetings
Now, there's some other lessons in these greetings that I like to pull out. Again, we're not going to get them all, but let's just look at some aspects of early church life from these greetings.
The Richness of Devoted Friendships
The first I get as I began with the message today is the value of devoted friendships. People measure wealth in different ways, don't they? You can measure wealth financially, the amount of gold that you might have bought over the last number of years, or bonds, or stocks, perhaps in real estate or in some other holdings. You could measure your wealth and finances. Some people measure their wealth in terms of knowledge, maybe academic degrees, one degree after another from a good institution. Or, perhaps some people measure it in terms of experience, maybe work experience, the ability to switch out an engine in a car, which is quite amazing to me, or to re-decorate a bathroom, which is more amazing to me than it ever was before I did or tried to do mine. So experiences, wealth of experiences, or saying, "I laid on a beach in Tahiti and I was at Rio during the festival down there. I have been and walked along the Rive Gauche, Paris, or I've taken a cruise along the Alaskan shoreline. Been there and done that." Rich in experiences, etcetera.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, if you're a Christian, you are rich in friends, you never need to be lonely in the Gospel. You have brothers and sisters in Christ around the world and right here in this very room, who are deeply devoted people and who could be your friend. If you're feeling lonely reach out to them. There is no reason ever to feel lonely in the Christian life. And many of you can say, with me, that my Christian friends, my Christian brothers and sisters are some of God's richest blessings to me in my daily life. So we see the richness of devoted friendships here, and we've seen it throughout in the life of the Apostle Paul. Time forbids me from going through this, but in the Book of Acts, in chapter 20 and 21, one group after another is weeping with Paul, kneeling on a beach to pray with him, urging him not to go to Jerusalem, because he's going to get arrested there. And when he's determined to go, then they say, "The Lord's will be done." And they put their arms around and pray. We see Paul drawing from people tears and love and commitment because they saw from him the same level of commitment that he gave to them everything he had. He stayed up late at night counseling with them or praying with them, pouring into their lives and building them up in Christ, and so we see that friendship.
The Family of God
We also see, secondly, the theme of the family of God. Paul uses a lot of family language and there's three different senses of family here. First, we get Paul's own relatives. Now, the word is translated in some cases, kinsmen, but I actually think Paul is talking about his extended family here. I respect those that think he's just talking about other Jews, but I think he is actually talking about family members, because he mentions them by name. He says, "So and so, my kinsmen or my relative." So he's got his relatives. Look at verse 7, "Greet Andronicus and Junius, my relatives who have been in prison with me." And then again in verse 11, "Greet Herodion, my relative." So we see Paul's family and I think that... Can you imagine being family to Saul of Tarsus? And it says of Andronicus and Junius that they were in Christ before Paul was. So imagine praying for that troublemaker relative of ours, Saul of Tarsus, almost being ashamed that he's our relative. He's destroying the church. Imagine Andronicus and Junius getting down on their knees and praying for Saul, cousin Saul, or third cousin twice removed. I don't know he's a relative, but they would get down and pray that Saul would be converted. Imagine their joy when they heard what had happened on the road to Damascus, tears of joy at answered prayer over family members.
We see also Paul's used more generally and spiritually of the idea of the family of faith, that when you're a Christian you're in a family. Look what he says in verse 13, "Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too." Now, Rufus is a fascinating individual. If you were to look over in Mark 15:21, in the Gospel of Mark, Mark, most scholars believe was writing to the church of Rome, and he mentions a significant man at a significant moment in Jesus' life. Jesus is making his toil some way up the cross, up the hill carrying the cross. He's going to Calvary, he's going to Golgotha to die for our sins. And a man watching is pressed into duty, his name is Simon of Cyrene, he's pressed into duty to help Jesus carry the cross. Mark mentions parenthetically that Simon is the father of Alexander and Rufus. Now, he wouldn't have put that in, except that they would have known him. So I think that Rufus is the son of Simon, the very man who physically helped Jesus carry the cross at Golgotha. What that means is that Rufus' mother is Simon's wife.
Now, what's the relationship to Paul? Well, I think no biological relationship. He's not saying, Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord and his mother, who is a mother to me, too." If he were write into his mother he would have said, "Hi, mom, it's your son. I'm fine. I'm eating my vegetables. I'll see you soon." There was nothing familiar like that. He's saying she's been a mother to me, it's like having a mother in the faith. And I can testify to the value of godly older men and women in my life who have been like that for me. It's such a rich thing. And then more horizontally brothers and sisters in Christ, etcetera. And to some degree, even other people's children feel like children of mine as well. So it's a sweet thing to be a member of the family of God. He also uses this common brother and sister language that speaks of our kinship in the family of God. When He says in Verse one, "I commend to you our sister, Phoebe." And then in verse 14, "Greet Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the other brothers with them."
The final way that Paul uses family language, concerns household churches. In other words, churches that are meeting in people's households and Gospel having spread along household or family lines. May I say to you, the church growth flourishes best along family lines. History has born this out. More people have been brought to faith in Christ, by far, by parents than by any other category. More than by pastors, more than by friends, by college members, roommates, more than by missionaries and evangelists, more have been brought to faith in Christ by their mom and dad than by any other category of person. And may I stop and just say to you, if you're a parent of growing children, you have a weighty responsibility to share the Gospel of Christ to your children. You need to evangelize them. If they are new-borns, you need to bring them home from the hospital and share the Gospel with them. And keep sharing the Gospel and keep sharing the Gospel. May they say, "I never knew a time I didn't know Jesus. I never knew a time I didn't know that he had shed His blood on the cross for sinners like me. I never knew a time that I didn't need to repent and believe in Jesus, for the salvation of my soul." Never be derelict in your duty.
Charles Spurgeon, talking about his own conversion, remembered specifically the time that he overheard his mother and she didn't know he was listening, but she's down on her knees praying for her children, and she said, "Lord, they have heard the Gospel from me and may it not be that I will have to stand up and bear swift witness against them if they continue in their sins." And as a child, loving his mother, he did not like that idea of his mother bearing witness against him, that she shared the Gospel boldly, with him, and he never repented. He remember specifically his mother putting her arms around his neck, and crying and praying, "Oh, that my son may live before thee." Oh parents, please share the Gospel with your children. Don't leave it to the Sunday school, don't leave it to the pastor, don't leave it to anybody, it's your responsibility. God will ask you on judgment day about your children. And after they've made a profession of faith, be sure that they're working out their salvation with fear and trembling, that they're making their calling and election sure. Do those things that will feed their souls, feed them in the Gospel.
And so we see these house churches and we see the development there. The house churches developed along the family lines as well. Now, you may imagine and say, "What is a house church?" We're used to larger churches, big rooms like this. This sanctuary is built in 1927, and it is a benefit for us to have a place to meet, isn't it? Isn't it better to be here, especially when it's cold and rainy etcetera, to have the weather off of us? But the church is people, it's not a building, it's not a location. And many churches in the first century, they were house churches, and so we see these house churches. Look what he says here. We have an example of them in Priscilla and Aquila. Look at verse three through five, it says, "Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I, but all the churches, the Gentiles are grateful to them." Look at verse five, "Greet also the church that meets at their house." So Priscilla and Aquila had a house church there in Rome.
Well, what's amazing is, according to 1 Corinthians 16:19, when Priscilla Aquila were in Ephesus, in Asia Minor, they had a house church there too. Because it says there, "The churches in the province of Asia send you greeting. Greetings, Aquila and Priscilla. Greet you warmly in the Lord and so does the church that meets at their house." Oh, they were consistent people, weren't they? But their home was Rome, that's where they were at originally. And the Roman Emperor Claudius had driven all the Jews out of Rome. Well now apparently, they've been allowed to come back, and guess what they did when they got to Rome? They opened up their home in hospitality to have a house church. Now, we don't have so-called house churches here, but we do have home fellowships. And many brothers and sisters have been glad to use their gift of hospitality and open up their homes on Sunday evenings to these home fellowships. Are you involved in one? If you're involved in one, in a committed way, you will testify, can testify to the value of getting to know brothers and sisters in an unhurried and comfortable hospitable setting like that. Please be involved in those home fellowships. We see these house churches.
Hard Work for the Lord
We also see the issue of hard work, hard work. Look what he says here again, we've seen it in verse six and 12, "Greet Mary who worked very hard for you." Again in verse 12, "Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord." And then, "Greet my dear friend, Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord." But Paul himself can testify that he didn't leave the hard work just to women, but he himself was an incredibly hard worker in the Gospel. He says in 1 Corinthians 15:10, "By the grace of God, I am what I am. And His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than any of them, yet not I, but the grace of God that was in me."
You see, Paul was a tent-maker, and I think what he did was at night, late at night, he made tents for a living. And during the day, minister to God's people. He deprived himself of sleep. It says in 2 Corinthians 6:5, "In hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger." At the beginning of my ministry here, I wrote those three phrases or words across on a card and put it in front of me, at my computer terminal; hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger. That's a standard. I'm not saying I live up to it, I'm saying that's what Paul did. That's what he did to establish the church. How can we do any less?
As you look at your own life, would you say that characterizes you in your service to Christ? Hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger. I yearn for that level of dedication in my life. We see hard work. So I say to you, it's not the lazy, but it's the diligent who are going to advance the church of Jesus Christ. So don't be lazy, but labor. Labor in the scripture, labor in prayer, labor in evangelism, labor in your spiritual gift ministry, labor for the Lord, fully convinced that your labor in the Lord is not in vain, but rather that God will remember all things and then he will cause it to flourish in the day of Christ Jesus.
Finally, I'd like you to look at affection. Note the affection that the Apostle Paul has for these people. He says, in verse five, "Greet my dear friend, Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia." What joy that must have brought him. It's brought me incredible joy to get to know, Tommy. It's just been a great joy. I wonder if Epaenetus was like that for Paul. The first one in Asia. What a close relationship that they must have had, what a close friendship. And then look at verse eight and following, "Greet Ampliatus, whom I love, in the Lord." You see his affection there. "Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ and my dear Stachys. Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ." And then verse 12, "Greet my dear friend, Persis." You see this sense of affection and he puts it in writing. Can I urge you, just very practically, take time to express your affection to each other. Write it down, write a note of encouragement to some brother or sister. Say, "Your ministry has blessed me hugely." Take the time to write it. Those things are precious and they're actually pretty rare that someone would take the time to speak words of encouragement.
IV. Stories Left Untold
Now brother and sisters, there are many stories left untold. And they need to be left untold because I need to be on a plane at 3:10. And I got a hurry out of here. I don't want to leave undone what I plan to do today, but there are lots of stories that cannot, really literally cannot be told by us, because frankly many of the names that are listed here in Romans 16, we don't know anything more about at all. Nothing. Some of the folks have little phrases after them or little identifiers and we know something, some of them are just... They're just listed, they're just names, we don't know anything about them at all. Have you ever read the genealogy, the First Chronicles, name after name after name? And you're like, "Why do I have to know all the descendants of the Gadites? Is there some reason I have to know these names?" And then just in honoring the Word of God, you think, "Well, God is not foolish. There must be a reason that there are so many names in the Bible of men and women." You have no idea who they are or what they did. I think there's a couple of things we get out of this.
One is that, God is the loving historian, and you may not know any of their stories, but He knows all their stories. He knows what was the best day of their lives, He knows what the worst day of their lives was, He knows the day they came to faith in Christ, He knows what sins plagued them and how they struggle with them and how they overcame them. He remembers it all. If you wanted to say, "Lord, tell me about at Apelles. I want to know about him." He'll say, "Let me tell you about Apelles." And off you would go. What that means is that, everything we do in this life matters. The message of, "It's a Wonderful Life" is true. Our lives are significant, incredibly so. And even though you don't know somebody else's story, God does. And it's all been part of an intricate network that's brought us to this point. There are no insignificant human lives. People matter and so do their lives.
Let me pick up on that and say, in four or five generations, if the Lord tarries, doesn't return, there might be as many as eight or nine billion people on the face of the earth walking around. I have no idea, but there might be. It might very well be that not one of those nine billion people will know anything about you at all. None. It might be. So therefore, can I urge you to invest in eternity? Can I urge you to invest in the record book of God, where He keeps a record of every cup of cold water that's given to one of the Lord's servants, every dollar given to serve and advance the Gospel, every prayer for those who have gone out to preach the Gospel. He remembers all of it. Invest in eternity, not in what your neighbors and co-workers and other people think of you, that doesn't matter. It's dust in the wind. Build an eternal legacy by living to God, and to God alone.
And Paul writes here, secondly, this letter of commendation. I can't say anything more important to you than this. She took that letter. And if it is indeed a letter of recommendation or commendation from the Apostle Paul, on Phoebe, he was introducing her to the congregation of the assembly there at Rome.
Can I say to you, not one of you, none of you will get into heaven without Christ commending you to the Father. If he doesn't commend you to the Father, you're not getting in. You won't be let in, you'll be stopped at the door. And so therefore, if you have come here today and Christ has never commended you by name to the Father, then you're on the outside looking in. Oh, come to Christ.
It says in Romans 5:1-2, it says, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained introduction, commendation into this grace in which we now stand." Has Christ introduced you to the Heavenly Father, has he commanded you into the heavenly assembly by faith? Don't leave this place without trusting in Christ and having Christ commend you for the glory of God to the throne of God. Close with me in prayer.