38. Paul’s Greetings (Romans 16:1-16)
A friend of mine had an opportunity to become involved with Billy Graham and his ministry. While attending a breakfast with Mr. Graham and a number of other influential men, my friend was impressed with Mr. Graham’s conduct in two areas. First, he was impressed when the bill was presented that the evangelist quickly reached for it rather than waiting for someone else to take it, as often happens. Second, he was impressed with the way Mr. Graham responded to the waiter.
The waiter asked Mr. Graham if he would sign the bill and if it would be all right for him to keep it as an autograph. Even though it had been over a year since Mr. Graham had eaten in the restaurant, he was able to call the waiter by name and ask specific questions about his family.
I am amazed that anyone has that kind of memory for names. Even more, I am impressed when a prominent public figure, one of the best known men in the world according to a recent survey, takes the time to show interest and concern for someone who is not nearly as important in the eyes of the world.
Similarly, I am impressed with Paul, the apostle, the man with a vision for the world, when I read Romans 16:1-16. Paul has already succeeded in preaching the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum (15:19), and he now has his heart set on preaching in Spain. Yet, Paul pauses to take time to write this monumental epistle to a church he did not found and which he has not yet visited. In spite of this, Paul is able to greet many of these saints by name. In these few verses, twenty-nine people are mentioned specifically. He seems to be able to identify these people in the groupings of which they were a part. He also is able to give some personal information about many of them.
Frankly, many Christians would be hard-pressed to name as many people and be as specific about them if these were people in their own church. Paul is able to do this in writing to a church he has never yet visited. His greetings are a most impressive feat.
These saints whom Paul greets have long since died, and their names and the information Paul supplies may seem irrelevant. But the Holy Spirit has not only inspired these words, He has preserved them for our edification. Our task is to determine why these words have been preserved for us and what they have to teach us. It is a task well worth the effort. Let us look to Him who inspired these words to open our eyes to their meaning.
The Structure of Our Text
Our text falls into three main divisions:
(1) Verses 1-2 — A Commendation of Phoebe
(2) Verses 3-15 — Greetings to the Saints
(3) Verse 16 — Greeting One Another, A Corporate Greeting
In verses 1 and 2, Paul commends Phoebe to the church at Rome, urging them to receive her in a manner worthy of a saint and to help her as she has helped others. Verses 3-15 contain a long list of greetings to individuals and groups in the church at Rome. Verse 16 sums up the greetings by telling the saints at Rome they are to greet one another with a holy kiss and then sends greetings from all of the churches with whom Paul has had contact.
Phoebe: A Woman to Welcome
1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe,129 who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea;130 2 that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.
The thrust of Paul’s words in the first two verses of chapter 16 is to commend Phoebe to the church at Rome so that she will be welcomed and helped during her stay at Rome. This however is not the main point of interest to Christians or to the commentaries. The question of greatest interest to many is this: “Was Phoebe a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea?” Stating the matter more broadly, “Is there an office of deaconess in the New Testament church?” Many think there is.131
The arguments for such an office, and for Phoebe being the only “deaconess” ever named in the New Testament, are few and far from convincing. Nevertheless, I mention them because they are so often and so dogmatically stated by the supporters of this position. First, they inform us that the term used here (diakonon) is feminine in gender and thus best rendered, “deaconess.” Second, they suggest that this verse, found in 1 Timothy 3, most likely refers to “deaconesses”:
Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things (1 Timothy 3:11).
Third, they would tell us that such a position was necessary because of the need to minister to women.
Functionally speaking, I would not be very distressed that any church would determine there is such an office as that of “deaconess,” so long as Paul’s teaching on the role of women132 was not set aside by this practice. I have no problem with women exercising leadership over women or children in the church. But there is a serious problem in the lack of biblical evidence in support of the view of deaconess and the way in which the Scriptures are used. At best, the conclusion that the Bible indicates there is such an office as that of “deaconess” should be tongue-in-cheek and admitted as having no compelling evidence in its support. I am inclined to think those who “see” such teaching want very badly to find it. It is hardly a position the evidence compels us to hold.
I would therefore wish to offset the confidence of those who believe Phoebe was a deaconess with evidence which strongly points in the other direction, namely that there is no such office, and that Phoebe most certainly was no more than a “servant” of the church.
(1) The use of the root term strongly argues against a formal office. There are three Greek terms used in the New Testament which share a common root. Altogether these three terms are found 101 times in the New Testament (in the King James Version). Out of these numerous occurrences, the term is rendered “deacon” only three times. Apart from this one occurrence in Romans 16:1, the translation, “deaconess,” would never be considered an option. Even so, “deaconess” is the marginal reading of the NASB and the NIV. In the text itself, both versions render the term in question, “servant,” and rightly so, for this is the most natural rendering. Some of those versions which translate more loosely do render the term “deaconess.” J. B. Phillips, for example, renders it this way. The statistics strongly argue against this.
(2) The offices of elder and deacon are leadership and management positions, and this is precisely what women are forbidden to do by Paul (see 1 Timothy 2:12).
(3) Women were not appointed to oversee the care of the widows in Acts 6; men were. It is often argued that deaconesses are not given authority over men but only over women. They argue that this leadership role is necessary because of the special needs of women, to which women can better minister. This may be true, but when the feeding of the “widows” in Jerusalem became a problem, the apostles did not appoint women to oversee this matter; they appointed seven men. If there was ever a case when a deaconess seemed to have been needed, it was at this time. But women were not put in this leadership role, even though the ministry was a ministry to women.
(4) The one verse in 1 Timothy 3 which is used to support the “deaconess” position seems rather to argue against this position.
Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things (1 Timothy 3:11).
None of the terms related to the office or function of deacon are used in this verse. The term is one which can be rendered either “women” or “wives,” as the marginal notes indicate. As the text is laid out, the most logical explanation is that this verse refers to the character of the wives of both elders and deacons. Surely a man’s wife can make or break his ministry in leadership. We would expect to find some reference to the wives of both elders and deacons. Here it is.
If this one verse refers to deaconesses, as some maintain, why are the qualifications for a deaconess so few? Why, when the qualifications for elders and deacons are nearly identical, are the qualifications for a deaconess so different? It is a very long reach to say that verse 11, which is a somewhat parenthetical verse, refers to some new category of office. If this is indeed an office, why is it not clearly identified as such somewhere? And why, if it is an office, in addition to that of elder and deacon, does Paul slight the deaconesses at Philippi by greeting only the elders and deacons (see Philippians 1:1)?
(5) Phoebe’s reception by the church in Rome has nothing to do with her office (of deaconess); she is to be received “in a manner worthy of the saints” (v. 2). Paul did not seek to set Phoebe apart from or above other saints; he urged the church in Rome to receive her as a saint, not as a deaconess. Leadership has nothing to do with being welcomed into the church and helped by the saints. It has everything to do with being a saint. Paul’s use of the term in question is to characterize Phoebe as a “servant” and to encourage the church to serve her as well.
(6) Paul’s description of Phoebe’s ministry in verses 1 and 2 is not that of deacon-like duties but that of faithful service. Paul specifically mentions her service to him. Did she serve him as a deaconess? I think not. She simply served.
(7) Ministry in the New Testament is not rewarded by bestowing an office or a title on someone. Ministry is simply service. Why do we think that a person who is faithful in their service deserves an office, as a kind of reward? Why do we equate ministry with an office or a title? This concept is not foreign to the church today, but it was foreign to the church of Paul’s day.
(8) The post-apostolic church fathers were neither divinely inspired nor inerrant in their practices, and thus the existence of deaconesses (or their likeness) in the post-apostolic church is not proof this office has apostolic sanction. Often the writings of the church fathers are cited to show how the early post-apostolic church functioned. I do not doubt the accuracy of their description of how things were, but this does not make it biblical. If church history proves anything, it demonstrates how quickly the church departed from its biblical form and function to that of human design.
Now that we have addressed this issue, let us press on to consider what Paul is doing here. First, Paul was honoring faithfulness in service. Second, he was honoring the service of a woman. Third, Paul was endorsing this woman and urging the church to come to her assistance, in whatever form that might need to take. Paul is hardly the chauvinist some today accuse him of being. He was a man who appreciated faithful service, who commended it, and who encouraged others in their service to the saints.
Specifically, the words of Paul recorded in verses 1 and 2 are similar to a letter of commendation. This is not a letter of church membership, which is better known in our time. Paul’s letter was a letter of recommendation, identifying Phoebe as a true and faithful believer who should be welcomed into the church at Rome. I wonder if Phoebe’s service to Paul included hospitality for him and his companions. Now Paul seems to urge his readers to deal with her in a similar fashion. Now she is the traveler. Now she should be the guest who receives the hospitality of the saints (see Romans 12:13).
On the one hand, the church was urged to show hospitality to Christian travelers:
Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; and they bear witness to your love before the church; and you will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers with the truth (3 John 5-8).
On the other hand, there were false teachers and deceivers going about representing themselves as Christians. Such people were to be identified and avoided. They were not to be shown hospitality:
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you might not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds (2 John 7-11).
A letter of commendation was a very practical solution to a very sticky problem—the need to identify true saints and distinguish them from false teachers. We would do well today to make better use of such references. If we did so, we would be spared many problems which are the result of indiscriminate acceptance of strangers who are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
3 Greet Prisca and Aquila,133 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,134 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.
Before we look at these greetings themselves, let us remind ourselves of several pertinent facts.
(1) Paul did not establish the church in Rome; indeed he has never been to Rome.
(2) Paul had a substantial ministry, taking him to many cities and countries and introducing him to countless numbers of people. Paul had the perfect excuse for forgetting names and details about individual people. He was a busy, important, and successful man.
(3) Paul had goals which were global. He has already fully preached the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum. Now he is about to commence a new ministry to Spain. A man with such visionary goals could be excused for not knowing much about the people in a church he had never visited.
(4) Of all the epistles we would expect to be cold and distant, Romans would come close to the top of the list. The Book of Romans is a meticulous, systematic exposition of the gospel and of biblical theology. If one considers doctrine to be cold and personal, surely Paul might be expected to be distant, academic, and aloof here. One might not expect to find any personal greetings. How warm can a systematic theology be?
Concerning Paul’s Greetings
In the light of these observations about the man Paul, and the excuses which could be made for an impersonal letter, consider the following characteristics of the greetings found in verses 3-15.
(1) The term “greet” is found 16 times in verses 3-15 (plus one more occurrence in verse 16).
(2) This greeting section is, by far, the largest of all of the epistles, larger than all the others combined.
(3) Including Phoebe, 25 people are mentioned by name.
(4) Two other individuals are specifically referred to, but not by name—Rufus’ mother, in verse 13, and Nereus’ sister in verse 15.
(5) Paul’s words imply that he had a personal acquaintance or relationship with at least 10 of those mentioned.135 Prisca and Aquila are the most obvious of Paul’s personal acquaintances (see Acts 18:2; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19).
(6) Of the 15 individuals named, whom Paul seems not to have known personally, Paul nevertheless describes them in a way that reveals he does know a good deal about them.136
(7) Paul grouped his greetings. There are at least nine groupings in these verses of more than one person. Paul not only knew a number of people personally and knew about others individually, his greetings indicate he knew of the Romans by the groups to which they belonged. Each time the word “greet” occurs in this section, it is followed by one or more people. Each greeting separates one individual from the rest or suggests that those individuals listed between greetings were a part of a group. Paul groups individuals by family relationships. Husband and wife, brother and sister, mother and son are listed side-by-side. Paul also referred to groups by household (verses 10 and 11), and he identifies at least one house church (verse 5). There are other groups not so clearly defined, other than by the expression, “those with them” (see verses 14 and 15). Paul’s grouped greetings are amazing, something like Joseph’s placing of his brothers by their birth order when they sat at his table (see Genesis 43:33).
(8) Paul’s greetings are all-inclusive rather than exclusive. Those named or referred to in this list of individuals to be greeted seem to encompass a very broad spectrum. In Paul’s list we find men and women, Jews and Gentiles, leaders (see verse 7) and servants, slaves and nobility,137 and (very likely) rich and poor. I am reminded of Paul’s words in Galatians when he wrote:
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).
(9) Paul’s greetings are so extensive, personal, and detailed that some have questioned whether they are addressed to the saints at Rome. There are some who hold that these greetings must have been addressed to the saints at Ephesus, not Rome.138 Such a view does not take the text seriously enough, nor does it do justice to the great heart of the apostle, but at least it realizes how unusual Paul’s relationship with the church at Rome was.
I believe Paul did know the church at Rome that well. How this is possible is not such a great mystery as it may seem at first. Consider these factors:
(1) Paul had known about this church in Rome (and they of him, it would seem) for a number of years (see 15:23). What seems impossible over a short period of time is possible given much time. Paul had much time to learn about the saints in Rome.
(2) There was considerable mobility in those days, and thus people were able to travel a great deal. Prisca and Aquila lived and ministered in a number of places. Phoebe, who was perhaps a single woman (like Lydia in Acts 16?), nevertheless traveled from Cenchrea (a port city about 9 miles from Corinth) to Rome. Paul traveled near and far (see 2 Corinthians 11:25-26). And so, whether by his travels or those of other saints, relationships could have been formed with those now in Rome without Paul ever having set foot in Rome.
(3) Paul frequently sent others to visit churches about which he was concerned. Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3) and elsewhere (see 1 Thessalonians 3:2; Philippians 2:19) and left men like Titus in Crete (Titus 1:5). He sent others, like Tychicus, to Ephesus (Ephesians 6:21-22). Sometimes the church sent men to Paul, as was the case with Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25; 4:18).
(4) Letters were sent to Paul and by him, keeping track of the churches and their condition, and giving instruction and admonition where needed (see 1 Corinthians 5:9-13).
(5) Paul seldom worked alone but went out as a team, often sending some ahead and leaving others behind. In Romans 16:21-23, we see there were a number of men with Paul as he wrote this Roman epistle. This “network” of men provided Paul with much more information than he could have gathered by himself.
(6) Paul’s greetings are as personal and specific as his prayers, which may very well help to explain the intimate knowledge Paul had of the saints in Rome.
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world (Romans 1:8).
We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel, which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit. For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1:3-12).
We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you (1 Thessalonians 1:2-4; see 2 Thessalonians 1:3).
I wonder, were we to take this list of greetings and place it alongside Paul’s prayer list for Rome, if we would not see a great deal of similarity. My opinion is that Paul prayed daily for those whom he is now greeting. It would not have been difficult for him to come up with such details if he upheld them daily in prayer.
Greeting With a Holy Kiss
16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
In verses 3-15, Paul has conveyed his personal greetings to a number of the saints in Rome. Now, in verse 16, Paul does two things. In the last part of the verse he conveys greetings from “all the churches of Christ.” He does this because of the essential unity which exists between all of the churches of Christ, because of our union with our Lord and in Him (see Ephesians 2). He can convey greetings on behalf of these churches because he has had direct contact with many of them and indirect contact with virtually all of them (see 2 Corinthians 11:28). In addition to Paul’s involvement with all the churches, he was in the process of taking up a collection for the saints in Jerusalem, and each contributing church seems to have sent a personal representative along with Paul (see 1 Corinthians 16:2-4). If any of these representatives were with Paul at the time of the writing of this epistle, Paul’s words would be even more literal in meaning.
The first part of verse 16 conveys a command, to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” Paul sends his personal greetings (verses 3-15). All the churches send their greetings (verse 16b). Those with Paul send their greetings (verses 21-23). And now, Paul tells the Romans to greet one another among themselves (verse 16a). A Christian greeting is the manifestation of Christian unity. Therefore greetings must be intra-church (within the church), as well as inter-church (between churches).
Paul tells the church at Rome not only to greet one another, but he tells them how this greeting should be expressed—“with a holy kiss.” This command is not found only once; it is found five times in the New Testament. In addition to our text, it is found in 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26 and 1 Peter 5:14.
Does this mean that in order to obey the Word of God we should all pucker up? The answer is not quite as simple as it might first appear. Let me explain.
(1) Every Christian should be willing to obey the Scriptures, exactly as the command is given.
(2) In many instances—more than we might like to admit—this is exactly what we should do, without excuse or modification. Simple obedience to God’s commands ought to be our desire always and our response most often.
(3) When there are commands, there is the danger of stark literalism, mixed with legalism, which we must avoid. Obeying God is more than just “keeping rules.” Righteousness requires keeping the rules, obeying God’s Law and man’s laws, but such obedience must be properly motivated. Keeping the rules is not to be merely external but internal as well. Obedience must come from a pure heart and a clean conscience.
The Sermon on the Mount was our Lord’s attack on the stark legalism (“rule-making” and “rule-keeping”) of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus, throughout His Sermon, stressed that men must think beyond the rules to their reasons; they must press beyond the precepts to the principles underlying them. Paul understood this very well. He understood, for example, that the command “not to muzzle the ox” was based upon a principle with broad ramifications (see 1 Corinthians 9:9, in context).
If one is going to “obey the law” in a way that pleases God, then this must be consistent with the principles underlying it. It will also mean that obedience to the principle may occasionally require what looks like disregard for the precept or rule. For example, Jesus “appeared” to violate the Sabbath. He defended His actions by reminding His opponents of an important principle, “Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8). The Sabbath was instituted for man’s benefit, and thus for Jesus to heal on the Sabbath was legal, even though it was work (see Matthew 12:1-8). David ate the sacred bread and gave it to his men, a thing which was not lawful to do. But a higher principle made this apparent disobedience right conduct (Matthew 12:1-5). The legalists could only see the rules, but Jesus taught His disciples to look for the reasons and to obey in the light of the reasons.
(4) I believe there are reasons—higher principles—which may require us to obey Paul’s command in a different way than actually going about kissing one another.139 The higher principle is this: “Avoid every appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). In our culture, kissing means something quite different from what it meant in the days of Paul. If kissing one another would cause some to stumble or cause unnecessary offense to the gospel, then it may not be the thing to do.140
(5) When a certain (commanded) practice seems to violate the principle on which it was founded, then we should seek to obey in the best way possible, in the way which best fulfills the principle.
(6) The fundamental truth underlying our text and Paul’s command is that of Christian unity. The command to “Greet one another with a holy kiss” is given to assure that unity is demonstrated in the church. The opposite of this is to refuse to receive others, especially those who differ with us in the matter of convictions (see 14:1; 15:7). In Paul’s day and in his culture, “Greeting one another with a holy kiss” caused Christians to do that which was unnatural and even culturally unacceptable.
Let me seek to demonstrate what I am saying. In the State of Texas we recently had elections for state officials. The governor’s race was an especially heated and ugly campaign. At a particular function, the two major candidates, Ann Richards and Clayton Williams, met face-to-face. Ann Richards held out her hand to Clayton Williams. He refused to shake her hand. Public reaction to his action may have contributed to his loss of this election.
A handshake is symbolic. It is not nearly as intimate as a kiss. A kiss is an even more intimate gesture. In the East, this kiss is often between men. Because of the war in the Middle East, we have seen some of the political leaders of the Middle East greeting one another with a kiss. Can you imagine one of Israel’s top political leaders greeting Saddam Hussein with a kiss? Hardly. Muslims and Christians do not greet this way. Muslims will greet Muslims with a kiss. And Eastern Christians would greet Christians this way. A holy kiss is a token of unity, of oneness.
Paul has worked very hard to demonstrate the unity which exists between all Christians, whatever their race, economic status, or sex. The command to greet one another with a holy kiss is an exhortation to demonstrate this unity in a tangible way and in a way that is naturally repulsive and detestable. We know the saints whom Paul greeted in Rome were male and female, Jew and Gentile, and likely slave and free. For people who were so different, so inclined toward animosity toward their counterparts, this command was a real test of obedience. Imagine the impact of walking in the streets of Rome and watching an Arab Christian greeting a Jewish Christian with a holy kiss. Paul is calling for nothing less than this.
In our culture, Christian unity may not be best demonstrated by a kiss. There may not be a way for us to greet others with a kiss which is truly holy. If not, then let us find some way in which to demonstrate our unity. One way is to open our homes to those believers who would not normally be invited into the intimacy of our restricted privacy and fellowship. Culturally, this would be shocking to those who wish to preserve and promote our differences. For Christians, it would be an excellent way to demonstrate the greater unity we have in Christ in the midst of our differences. Some outside the faith, who would claim us as a part of their culture or group, will undoubtedly be angered. Let it be so. Christian unity must be something we not only declare in concept but demonstrate in our conduct.
“Greet” is the dominant word (and concept) of our passage. Every Christian is to greet other Christians. In some way or other, our brothers and sisters must be shown that we accept them and receive them into our fellowship, because we are one in Christ. Our “greetings” are but one expression of our unity. There should be various expressions.
Greeting visitors to our church is not just a courtesy, a polite gesture which we perform. It is an essential expression of who we are in Christ and of our unity with all others who are in Christ. To exclude fellow-believers (except in cases of church discipline) is sinful disobedience. To fail to warmly welcome is only a more socially acceptable form of the same sin. We must take this matter most seriously. We dare not leave it to others. It is our personal obligation.
In addition to our unity in Christ, there are several other reasons for such an emphasis on greeting in the final words of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Let me conclude by explaining why I believe Paul devoted so much time and effort to these final greetings in Romans, based upon his teaching and practice elsewhere in his epistles to other churches.
People are to be our priority. We are to love and serve God, above everything and everyone else. But our service to God is to work itself out in loving and serving others, putting their interests above our own, seeking to please them, and not ourselves. In this way, we are pleasing God. We are to offer our own bodies as living sacrifices to God, and as a result we are also to offer up to God those whose lives we have touched for good, for His glory and kingdom.
Paul is very much concerned about right doctrine in Romans. But right doctrine is not to be viewed in isolation. Right doctrine is important because it accurately reflects the character of God and the conduct which is pleasing to Him. Right doctrine is important, not only because the truth is important but also because people are important. This epistle which gives such priority to doctrine also gives priority to people. Let us hold both in high esteem.
People who come to know God and to serve Him faithfully are the Christians’ joy and reward. They were for Paul, as he was careful to tell them. He cherished them and his relationship with them. He yearned to be with them and experienced sorrow in separation from them.
Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved (Philippians 4:1).
But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost. But we, brethren, having been bereft of you for a short while—in person, not in spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan thwarted us. For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy (1 Thessalonians 1:7-20).
I hope and pray our church is known for our love for God, and that we are careful to be faithful to the Word of God in all that we believe and practice. But in addition to this, I hope and pray we are a church marked out by our love for one another, demonstrating that we are disciples of our Lord.
129 “Nothing else is known of her, though her name (Phoibe) means bright or radiant.” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931), IV, p. 425.
130 “Cenchreae (RV, RSV, NEB) was one of the two seaports of Corinth, situated on the Saronic Gulf (cf. Acts viii. 18). The church there may have been a daughter-church of the city-church of Corinth.” F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), p. 270.
131 “The only question here is whether it is used in a general sense or in a technical sense as in Phil. 1:1 and I Tim. 3:8-13. In favour of the technical sense of ‘deacon’ or ‘deaconess’ is the addition of “tes ekklesias” (of the church). In some sense Phoebe was a servant or minister of the church in Cenchreae. Besides, right in the midst of the discussion in I Tim. 3:8-13 Paul has a discussion of gunaikas (verse 11) either as women as deaconesses or as the wives of deacons (less likely though possible). The Apostolic Constitutions has numerous allusions to deaconesses …Whether the deaconesses were a separate organization on a par with the deacons we do not know nor whether they were the widows alluded to in I Tim. 5:9f.” A. T. Robertson, p. 425.
132 Teaching such as that found in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16; 14:33-36; 1 Timothy 2:9-15. See also Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:1-6. The historical precedent is the fall in the Garden of Eden. The principle is that of headship, which a woman is denied to exercise over men in the church. A woman not only exerts headship by teaching or preaching and leading men in the church, but by being preeminent. This is done not only by her speech, but by her demeanor and dress. Our culture is incensed by this teaching, and many Christians have succumbed to secular thinking, rejecting the biblical teaching out of hand.
133 “The first persons to whom Paul sends greetings here are his friends Priscilla and Aquila. When we last heard of them, either in Acts (xviii. 26) or in Paul’s correspondence (1 Cor. xvi. 19), they were resident in Ephesus, where they had a church in their house, as they have here. In the absence of any hint to the contrary, we may presume they were still in Ephesus.” F. F. Bruce, p. 267.
134 “It is impossible to decide whether the second of these names is feminine, Junia (as in AV), or masculine, Junias (as in RV, RSV, NEB).” We know nothing of these two apart from Paul’s reference to them here, … they had shared one of Paul’s frequent imprisonments (2 Cor. xi. 23)—where, we cannot say; certainly not in Philippi, quite possibly in Ephesus. Moreover, they were ‘of note among the apostles,’ which probably means that they were not merely well known to the apostles but were apostles themselves (in a wider sense of the word), and eminent ones at that …” Bruce, pp. 271-272.
135 For example, when Paul refers to Mary, he simply says that she “has worked hard for you” (verse 6). Paul seems to claim only to know about her but not to know her personally. But when he refers to Ampliatus as “my beloved in the Lord” (verse 8), he implies that there is a more personal acquaintance and relationship.
136 Mary, in verse 6, Paul knew to be a woman who “worked hard for the Roman saints.” Apelles, in verse 10, was identified by Paul as “the approved in Christ.” Tryphaena and Tryphosa Paul referred to as “workers in the Lord,” and Persis Paul called “the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord” (verse 12).
137 The last two categories are inferential and thus speculative, but I do think the inference may well be present. For example, those who had households may well have been either well-to-do or influential or both. Herodion may have been tied to royalty, and some of the female names seem to have been common names for slaves.
138 “It has been widely held that this final chapter was directed not to Rome but to Ephesus—that it was for Ephesus that Phoebe was bound and that the friends to whom Paul sends greetings lived in Ephesus.” F. F. Bruce, p. 266.
139 At this point, I should probably point out that whether or not we should “greet one another with a holy kiss” may be a matter of personal conviction, such as those discussed in chapters 14 and 15.
140 I think my reasoning here is biblical, but it may not be as necessary with this one command as with some other. We are not simply told to “Greet each other with a kiss,” but to “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” There are many “kisses” in our culture, but they are most often a Hollywood kiss, not a “holy kiss.” If we cannot obey Paul’s command exactly, then we dare not try to obey it at all, if our kiss brings about evil rather than good.