A Loving and Serving Church


Sermon Text: Romans 16:1-16
Sermon Series: “Romans Chapters 9-16”

Main Points:
I. A church with people of various backgrounds
II. A loving church that transcends diversity
III. A church with people of various works
IV. A serving church that demonstrates unity

This is the last chapter of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. From the first chapter and up to ch. 11, the apostle has taught some truly important and foundational doctrines of Christianity. He taught justification through faith alone because of man’s sin. Importantly, he declares in 1:16 that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” This includes believer’s confidence in the life of Jesus Christ. The apostle argues that God gave His only Son to us to die on our behalf so that we may live and walk in newness of life. If then, He who has purchased us with the blood of His beloved Son will never leave us nor forsake us. Therefore, we can stand firm in the faith and live for Christ.

He also emphasises that each of us should realise the blessing of our membership in the church which is the body of Christ. Therefore, loving one another and building each other up in church is our blessed duty and privilege. Doing so is to the glory of the Father in the name of the Son and that through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Then, from ch. 12 and up to ch. 15, Paul helps us with what to do with the doctrines we’ve learned, how to apply the gospel truth in daily living. Then, in ch. 16, the Apostle Paul lists some names who are members of the church at Rome, and asks the church to greet them on his behalf. He is about to end his letter. So he takes this opportunity and say ‘Hi’ to some of his dear friends at Rome. We see this quite a normal way of closing a letter.

But, once again, I’d like to ask the same question I asked last week when we read Paul’s travel plan from ch. 15 – why do we read a personal greeting from this Holy Book? It’s Paul’s personal howdy, hello, to his friends and what does this to do with us? None of us knows any of these people Paul greets. After all, all of them died not a few hundred years but almost 2,000 years ago.

But again, let me remind you of the truth that everything in this Holy Book is carefully planned and selected by God the Father and recorded and preserved by the Holy Spirit for our benefit. Every word is necessary for teaching us, God’s elect, to come to Jesus and follow the Saviour and rejoice in Him and live for His glory.

In fact, Paul’s personal greetings to some of his friends at Rome tells us about what a church of Christ Jesus should be. In a word, Jesus’ church ought to be the loving and serving church. So, let us hear and know what it means to be a loving and serving church.

We begin with the most obvious fact we find from Paul’s list, that is, ‘a church with people of various backgrounds.’ Surely, the church at Rome was consisted of people with diverse backgrounds.

First of all, there were Jews and Gentiles in the church. As you know, the Jews of the OT disliked the Gentiles and their descendants in the 1st century world were not different. They abhorred all people who were outside of the bloodline of Abraham. But in the church at Rome – like most of the early churches planted by the apostles and through the gospel of Jesus Christ – its membership was shared by Jews and Gentiles. They rubbed their shoulders daily and it was indeed a miracle!

Let’s see how diverse these people were. In today’s text, Paul lists at least 29 individuals and six of them are known as Jews, like Prisca and Aquila, Mary, Andronicus and Junia, and Herodion. Five others, on the one hand, are most likely slaves at the time of writing this letter or ex-slaves. They are Ampliatus, Urbanus, Hermes, Philologus and Julia. On the other hand, Aristobulus and those who belong to his family of v. 10 and Narcissus and those who belong to his family of v. 11 are both of high class in the Roman world, influential in every way – socially, economically and politically. Aristobulus could be the grandson of Herod the Great and friend of the Roman Emperor Claudius. Narcissus was well-known, rich and powerful man who exercised great influence on the same Roman emperor, Claudius. So, the church at Rome is not simply a group of Jews and Gentiles, but a body of extreme diversity. Some were of the very top of the social hierarchy whereas some others were of its very bottom.

Moreover, some of the people in the list believed in Jesus before others. Rufus of v. 13, for example, is probably the son of Simon of Cyrene who carried Jesus’ cross to Golgotha. Mark’s Gospel 15:21 tells us that he had two sons, and Rufus was one of them. Andronicus and Junia of v. 7 are in Christ before Paul.

So, the members of this church at Rome were from extremely diverse groups and classes.

I don’t think many churches around us in our time are similar to this church of Rom. 16. Churches in our time are generally more homogeneous than heterogeneous. Church membership in our days is rather narrow than diverse with a certain group of people with a similar socioeconomical background.

I say this not for the sake of criticism, but to point out the gap between us of the 21st century churches and the church at Rome to whom the apostle wrote this epistle. My intention is to remind you of the fact that how far we have drifted away from the real and true gospel of Jesus Christ.

What I mean is that, if a church of Jesus Christ is true to the gospel of the Lord, this gospel should melt away, dissolve all differences among believers and cultivate or yield members of one body of Christ. The gospel truth will make any difference that exists among people disappear and bond people to people, creating a whole new body of people with one mind.

In such a case, every visitor will find immediate Christian welcome and invitation to fellowship with all people in the church. He/she will have an impression that everyone in this church is his kind or her friends, finding no difference, no disparity at all from the church members. The visitor will feel at home as soon as he/she enters the church and worships in the midst of the congregation. That’s because the gospel of Jesus is the good news of love between people – even enemies; the gospel of Jesus is the good news of forgiveness and acceptance between offenders and victims or between belligerent parties. It is also of mutual care and friendship. So, if a church is true to Jesus’ gospel, all members of that congregation will see no difference in any kind from one to another, but call each other brothers and sisters in Jesus, fellow gospel workers in God’s kingdom! Such is a loving church of Jesus. In this way, a loving church transcends diversity.

We have some perfect examples of this in Rom. 16. What actually happens in a church that is true to the gospel of Jesus Christ is like what we read from vs. 8-10. Aristobulus of v. 10 was a friend of Claudius the Emperor. A Christian from his family comes to church on a Sunday and, seeing another man in the church like Ampliatus or Urbanus of vs. 8-9 who probably is a slave or ex-slave, would not despise or disdain him. Rather, he would greet this man and call him ‘brother!’ and most possibly embrace him. Likewise, any of these slaves/ex-slaves would never bow but respond to him with brotherly love in the Lord.

It’s just a picture of what the gospel of Jesus does to a church that is faithful and true to the Saviour’s love. A loving church of Jesus transcends diversity. It’s not simply overcoming differences between and among believers; it is removing and cancelling any disparity among brothers and sisters. This is because Christ has welcomed us who were enemies and God-haters; this is because Jesus has cleansed us from all sins and made us a new creation in Him. As people say and I’d also love to say the same, a new blood runs in the believers’ vein and that is of Jesus Christ! So, we welcome all, even our enemies.

The very basic and visible measure of this in a church is how well its members know each other. The truer a church is to the gospel, the deeper its members are in loving one another and sharing fellowship. If a congregation has a several hundred or thousand membership, it’ll be almost impossible for any person to know all others in the church, but in smaller churches not all people know their fellow church members. And I see this as a problem. If it’s not a problem, then, a clear sign at least for that church failing to transcend diversity – a sign that tells lack of love and fellowship among fellow Christians who are brothers and sisters to each other in Jesus.

Consider Paul, naming all these men and women of faith at Rome. At the time of his writing this letter, he hasn’t been to that city. But he knows all of them more than simply ‘well’ but ‘deeply’ in the Lord.

So, let me tell you this that when a church is true to Jesus’ gospel, everyone knows everyone in the congregation – not simply names, but deeply in the Lord through His Spirit!

I’d like to go back to the church at Rome of ch. 16 and briefly point out to you another interesting and important fact. That is, this church was a church with people of various works. Everyone the apostle mentions in this list is a worker in Christ’s church with a role.

The Apostle Paul calls some as his ‘fellow workers in Christ Jesus.’ They are Prisca and Aquila of v. 3 and Urbanus of v. 9. Mary of v. 6 and Persis of v. 12 were ‘hard workers’ for the church at Rome and in the Lord. Apelles of v. 10 was described as ‘approved in Christ’ and Rufus of v. 13 as ‘chosen in the Lord,’ just to name a few.

These workers were both male and female. At least eight of them are women. In terms of the scopes of their works, there’s no difference between genders. As much as one person’s works are reckoned by the apostle as important for the church, another’s labours are appraised as significant in the Lord. The common denominator among these workers is consistency in their works aiming to achieve a sole purpose, that is, honouring Christ. That’s what we find from these workers in Christ’s church.

But the roles of these people seem to be different. Phoebe of v. 1 seems to be a deaconess as the Greek word used and translated into English as ‘servant’ is ‘diaconos’ from which the English word ‘deacon’ comes. Andronicus and Junia of v. 7 are probably missionaries, and they were imprisoned due to their works for Christ. Apelles of v. 10 is ‘approved in Christ’ which sounds like he is appointed to a certain position in the church at Rome. Some people have provided their homes for worship and meeting. Prisca and Aguila of v. 3 are named first for this, followed by five men of v. 14 and another five people of v. 15. Aristobulus of v. 10 and Narcissus of v. 11 could’ve possibly been listed for the same. All others are faithful and hard workers in the Lord’s church.

As I mentioned earlier, there are at least 29 people in the list. They are faithful and diligent workers – male and female. Some held official positions and others were most likely lay persons. This means only one fact, that is, everyone of the church at Rome was active in the life of the congregation, serving fellow Christians as well as their neighbours with the gospel message. In a word, the church at Rome in Paul’s time was a serving church.

Unlike some extremists’ view, the early church was not at all a male chauvinist church. Both genders were equal in Jesus as His gospel had broken down the wall of hostility between believing males and females. Opposite to this world’s perspectives, in Christ’s church that upholds the gospel truth, male and female have always been equally considered and treated, equally serving the Lord with different roles in His church. Read these verses of Rom. 16 and where can you find any hint of male chauvinism or feminism? None whatsoever! Surely this was – and still is for a true church of Jesus Christ – the fulfilment of Gal. 3, that is, the faith that saves has come to all people, and salvation is readily available for anyone who comes to Jesus through repentance and faith. In this, as v. 28 of that chapter in Galatians proclaims, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Indeed, a true church of Jesus Christ is a gathering of believers serving the Lord with various works.

A church that servs does, in fact, demonstrate unity in the Lord Jesus. We’re from various backgrounds – ethnically, linguistically, socially, economically, politically, culturally, and you name it. We’re so different from one to another. But the gospel of Jesus Christ takes away all differences among us, and makes out of us one unified body of Christ. Paul describes this in 1 Cor. 5:17 as a ‘new creation.’

Then, this one unified body works – moves, speaks and carries out what a normal and living person would do. This body moves as all its members carry out a coordinated work. There’s no tension, no discord. Otherwise, it would not be one body.

This means, everyone does each one’s roles. No one is exempt. If a member leaves his/her part, the whole-body aches and suffers. It’s as simple as that. At the same time, each member should desire to take greater service to the body. When each one serves, he/she demonstrates the blessed unity in Jesus!

Let me conclude and emphasise once again that Christ’s church that is faithful and true to the gospel of our Lord loves and serves. In our love, we prove that we’re new creatures in Jesus; in our works and services to one another and our neighbours, we present Christ’s living body to the world.

I pray and invite you to join me in this prayer that God our gracious Father may turn us into a loving and serving church for the glory of Jesus our Lord! ***

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