Sunday May 23rd
Some of you know that I have co-authored two books, one was called Imagine, You Being Rich, and the other was called Imagine, You Being Loved.
But I decided that my next book is going to be a mystery.
Or is it?
No, actually I already wrote a mystery novel.
Or did I?
Okay, I will stop with this stupid joke now.
Or will I?
As we study of Ephesians Chapter 3 today, we find the Apostle Paul focused on the mystery of God.
In Verse 1 he says:
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles…
Paul refers to himself as a prisoner because he is writing this letter while under house arrest.
Acts 28:16 says “When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.”
Paul says that his imprisonment is “for the sake of you Gentiles.” That’s because Paul’s journey to this Roman jail began when he started taking the Gospel to non-Jewish people, which infuriated some of the Jewish people so much that they tried to kill him, and when they couldn’t kill him, they had him arrested.
Notice that Paul begins sharing an idea, saying “for this reason, I Paul…” and then he never tells what “this reason” is until verse 14.
What sidetracks Paul is the need to explain what he means by calling himself a prisoner of Christ for the sake of the gentiles.
He refers to this situation as a mystery:
2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you;
3 that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.
4 By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6 to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,
So the core of the mystery is that even though everyone originally thought that God had chosen only the Jewish people for salvation, now it was becoming clear that God had also chosen the Gentiles to receive salvation. Paul declares that through faith in Jesus Christ both Jewish and non-Jewish believers have equal access to God.
Where this mystery has caused problems for Paul is that all of the first followers of Jesus were Jewish, and some of these Jewish followers of Jesus were teaching the Gentiles that to become a Christian meant that a person had to follow all of the Old Testament Jewish laws.
Paul's response to these claims was to say NO!
The requirements for salvation have already been fulfilled by Jesus, and the blessings of salvation are for those who come to God by faith rather than by works or religious practices.
He tells us several things about the mystery:
First, he describes it as “the stewardship of God’s grace”, meaning that God had given this mysterious grace to be distributed in some way.
Second, it was given to Paul “by revelation,” meaning it came directly from God to Paul.
Third, this mystery was previously hidden from men for some reason, but has now been revealed.
So what is this mystery, exactly? According to verse six “to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
The mystery that was once hidden but is now revealed is that we are all one in Christ. The entire mystery comes down to this one point – that through Jesus we are meant to be one.
Paul uses three terms to describe this oneness:
1) We are fellow heirs
2) We are fellow members of the body
3) We are fellow partakers of the promise.
Heirs are the people who get to split the inheritance. You don’t earn an inheritance – you receive it. Paul is saying that together all of us are receiving the inheritance of God. And it’s not like God is dividing up His riches and distributing a bit to you and a little bit to me. What really happens is that together we receive the same gift of salvation in its fullness. I get ALL of Christ’s riches, but so do you!
What does it mean to be fellow members?
Paul actually invented the word that he uses here. Paul invented a new word to describe all of us joined together, with Jesus as the head – because it’s only together that we can make up His body. If we’re not together, it can’t exist!
The third point of the mystery is that together we can partake in the promise. What promise?
We already saw from Chapter 1 verse 13 that the Holy Spirit IS the promise. “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” So the third thing that brings us all together is the promise of the Holy Spirit – and the fact that all who put their faith in Jesus for salvation receive the Holy Spirit.
Now Paul adds even more insight into the mystery:
7 of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. 8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things;
Paul talks about his experience of sharing this mystery with the Gentiles. He explains that his job is to preach “the unfathomable riches of Christ” and “to bring to light” the mystery of unity which had been hidden for so many years.
Then in verse 10 Paul adds this incredible reason WHY the mystery has finally been revealed: “so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.”
Think about what is being said here; the unity of the church, a body of diverse people coming together in Christ – demonstrates to the entire spiritual realm (both angelic and demonic) the incredible wisdom and plan of God. God created the church, united us as the body of Christ, with Jesus as the head. And the very existence of the unified church demonstrates the wisdom of God and His perfect plan. And it not only demonstrates His wisdom and power to PEOPLE, it also demonstrates it “to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.”
So the unity of the body of Christ, the unity of the church, demonstrates to the whole realm of spiritual wickedness and darkness that God is GREATER than all of them and that His wisdom, power and glory are evident through the church that Jesus established through the shedding of His own blood!
But of course we can’t do any of this on our own. That’s why verses 11 and 12 say:
“This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.”
It’s only because of Jesus that we have access to God. It is only because we’ve been made into the body of Christ that we can come before God at any time. We, who were once corrupt and rebellious and sinful and the objects of God’s wrath, were suddenly, miraculously, mysteriously invited into God’s presence through our faith in Jesus. Through Jesus we can display the unity and love for one another that magnifies God’s greatness for ALL to see, men and angels and the forces of darkness!
Without Jesus it’s really hard to imagine all of us achieving true unity and one-ness.
But WITH Him and with access to the throne of grace we surely can!
It can surely be done, but nobody said it was going to be easy.
That’s why Paul adds these words of encouragement in verse 13:
“Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.”
Even if there is sacrifice and suffering involved in the process, it is WORTH IT to press on with this Christian walk, and to WORK TOWARDS the kind of unity that Jesus has called us to, because in the end, God will receive the glory that He deserves!
Now, if you remember, Paul started off this chapter by saying “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus…” But then he got sidetracked on a discussion of the mystery of unity. Now finally in verse 14, Paul gets back to his original thought about “this reason”.
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love,18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
So what is “this reason”? Paul is referring to all of the wonderful things that God has done by restoring people back to Himself and building them up together into a family of believers.
And what does “this reason” cause Paul to do? It makes him bow his knees in prayer and ask for even MORE blessings to fall!
First, he asks that God would strengthen us with the power of the Holy Spirit “in the inner man”.
Second, Paul prays that we will be able to grasp the extent of God’s love for us.
Think about it this way: When something is very limited and superficial we might call it one-dimensional. We sometimes describe pictures as two-dimensional and we call physical objects three-dimensional, but Paul says that God’s love actually is four-dimensional: breadth and length and height and depth.
If we want to measure something we often use the dimensions of length, height, and width, but Paul adds this additional measurement of how DEEP God’s love is.
Long before the Bee Gees turned it into a song lyric, Paul was telling us to ask God: “How deep is your love, how deep is your love? I really need to learn.”
And it’s actually true. We need to learn how deep God’s love is so that we can fully embrace the love that He is trying to pour into our lives. Here is an attempt to gain a perspective on the 4 dimensions of God’s love:
God’s Love: is wide enough to encompass all of humanity
God’s Love: is long enough to last for eternity
God’s Love: is high enough to take us to heaven
God’s Love: is deep enough to reach the most unreachable sinner.
In the last two verses of this chapter Paul again attempts to express the inexpressible:
20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Someone once said, “It wasn’t the nails that held Jesus on the cross, it was His love for you and me.” In the same way, we need to realize that the power that brought Jesus back from the grave was God’s powerful love for US – a love that wanted to break the power of death over OUR lives and to RESTORE us to eternal life with Him!
His love is DEEP and He will go as deep into our hearts as He needs to in order to accomplish His purposes and to overwhelm us with His love.
The question for us is; are we walking in that fullness? Do we understand the depth of God’s love for us; what He was willing to do in order to pay for our sins and give us eternal life?
Can you see God’s love for you? Can you grasp it? Can you see how much He loves those around you?
That’s my prayer today, just like it was Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian church; that we will come to know how high, how long, how wide, and how DEEP God’s love for us really is!
You have probably heard the saying, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." This is true to an extent, for life is full of the unexpected. Did anyone really plan for COVID-19? Look how this pandemic has forever changed the world. How well can one really plan when life is so uncertain? Yet, we who are sons and daughters of God have access to the one who knows all things. He may only give us a glimpse of what is to come, but we can trust as long as we are in fellowship with Him, He will reveal to us what direction we need for the day that is at hand and what insight we need to prepare for what is ahead.
Here in Ephesians 1, we discover God's plan; knowing these scriptures will help us make sense of what naturally would make no sense. Paul starts by sharing his call as an apostle, according to the will of God. The word apostle is with a lower a, not capital, because it is more about a function than a title. Jesus is the Apostle, and His apostolic anointing flows through different members of His body for His divine purpose and the other giftings to whosoever He chooses. In verse 3, Paul now begins listing the blessings that each believer has in Christ Jesus.
We have every spiritual blessing of heaven as we walk in God's will. This includes being empowered to live holy, blameless, to walk in favor, and with grace. His blood has redeemed us, as our sins are forgiven, and we have wisdom and understanding to now know the mystery of His will so that we can fulfill His plan.
The plan of God is this, as stated in verse ten, "to bring everything together under the authority of Christ." If we can catch this, we can pass the tests we face and not have to continue to repeat them. Why can life be so difficult? Often the case is this; we need to surrender to God, that's it! He is bringing the world to its knees, "every knee shall bow, every tongue shall confess, that Jesus is Lord!" Now, Jesus could enforce His lordship, but He wants us to choose to surrender out of love.
It says in verse eleven that "everything will work according to His plan." This gives us the reassurance that no matter what we are going through if we submit it all to God, He will work it in line with His will. How do we know this to be true? We have been sealed as it says in verse 13 with the Holy Spirit which bears witness within us.
I pray as Paul prayed in verses 15-19, "that we would walk in the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ, that the perception of our minds would be enlightened, so that we may know the hope of our calling, the glorious riches we have as our inheritance, and the immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe, according to His vast strength."
The last verses in this chapter share how God demonstrated the power that Paul just released through prayer. That "the Messiah being raised from the dead now sits at the right hand in the heavens, above all rulers and authority power and dominion, and every title is given. Everything is under His feet, He is over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of the One who fills all things in every way."
Let us all be filled right now with His fullness as we submit everything into His hands.
In Ephesians 1, we discovered the PLAN of GOD, which is to see all things become subject to Jesus Christ. Every test and trial in our lives and this world is for this eternal purpose. If we can catch this, then it will be much easier to endure the challenges of life. It will help us trust God in times like we are where what lies ahead is uncertain.
We are not just to know the plan of God but to actively participate in it. As members of His body, citizens of His kingdom, His very own sons and daughters, we are to get to work in our Father's business. When you encounter a new employee in an establishment, you can often tell because they are uncertain of many things. They are in training, and until they grasp the organization and the responsibility they now hold as an employee, uncertainty will remain. It is a process!
In Ephesians 2, Paul addresses the foundation that needs to be laid out for us to start God's building plan. Identity and authority go hand in hand. People were amazed when they heard Jesus speak, for they said, "He speaks with such authority." Jesus knew He was the Son of God! Do we really believe that we are first of all saved, secondly, right with God, and finally instruments of God for His divine purpose? Verses 1-9 acknowledge that we were once spiritually dead carrying out the inclinations of our flesh, but God, rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ. If we believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead, then we have the certainty that we are saved. It states that this is by grace, not works. Therefore if we are saved by grace, we are kept by grace. We need to get our eyes off our insufficiency and trust God that He is sufficient.
In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul helps us understand who we now are in Christ. We are to let go of who we once were but yet not forget where we came from. If we do we will lose the appreciation we have for God's work and can easily be ensnared by the Devil who is always trying to trip us up. The saying goes "if you don't know history you are bound to repeat it." If we forget how Satan bound us in sin we will not be able to recognize his traps when they unfold again. We cannot lose our salvation but our faith walk can be hindered if we are ignorant of Satan's devices (2 Cor. 2:11). In verse 18 it says we have access to the Father. We are not just employees of a Boss that one never sees, where commands are given and we must just follow. No, we work with the boss! The world says "it is not wise for an employer and employee to become too close," yet, in the Kingdom that is all flipped, we are only as effective as we are close to our boss, Daddy, God!
In verse 19 we learn that we are not just citizens of the Kingdom but members of His household. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit, the very dwelling place of God. We cannot keep our work and home separate. We are homeworkers, God works through us, His home. In this world you are taught to keep things professional at work, intimacy is for one's private affairs. In the Kingdom intimacy and professionalism merge together. Our work is to be intimate with God and display that love to all whom we serve.
As this foundation of identity is set then as verses 21-22 states "the whole building is put together by Him as a holy sanctuary in the Lord built together for God's dwelling in the Spirit."
The charge today is to draw near to God in the midst of our uncertainties and allow the Lord to establish us in the certainty of faith, trusting our future in His hands, believing that all we are going through will work for His good.
Today we are going to look at Romans 16, the last chapter of the book. Romans is the longest book that Paul wrote and is considered one of his most important. He wrote it about 57 AD. As was his habit he concludes it with greetings. Most people skip right over the greetings, but I find hidden in them nuggets (Hidden Treasure”) (little glimpses) of wisdom and instruction. Paul mentions 26 people by name; 9 were women, 2 of those 9 had names that could also be masculine, and the remaining were men. The culture at that time was not favorable to women, but in Christ, Paul recognized their worth.
Looking at the names mentioned we see along with many women there were Jews, Greeks, Romans, and perhaps Asians. The gospel was becoming universal, and women held an honorable place.
Romans 16:1-2 (NASB)
1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; 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.
Cenchrea was a principal port about 10 miles from Corinth and currently was the home of Phoebe. A church was founded there in A.D. 55. Probably a daughter church of the one in Corinth. Paul probably knew her personally because they lived and were active Christians in the same area. She was going to Rome, maybe on business or maybe pleasure or perhaps moving there, we are not told. When Christians go to a new town, they often bring a letter of recommendation from their old church. This was quite common in the days of Paul. So, Paul is writing to recommend Phoebe to the church in Rome. Many believe she was also the carrier of this epistle to the Romans. There was a postal service, by horse, but it was used for official documents. Personal mail was sent by a slave or a trusted friend, or even a stranger for hire.
Paul’s first mention was a woman’s name, Phoebe, which is a Gentile name and means bright or radiant. First, he calls her a sister, so she was born again, a member of the family of God, one of us, a believer, even though she was a Gentile. Maybe she was saved under his ministry. He calls her a servant. This word can also be translated deacon or deaconess. This tells us she was dependable. Female deacons mostly performed those duties that had to do with the women of the church. They were usually widows that had had children and were over 50 years of age. He also calls her a helper of many. This word used for helper was a very honorable one meaning protector or champion, a befriender or patroness. It is the word used of the trainer in the Olympic Games, who stood by the athletes to see they were properly trained. This was a remarkable word to use to describe a woman and let them know she was worthy of respect.
He asks them to give her any help she needs because she has helped many including himself.
So, we see this faithful Christian woman named Phoebe, who worked for the Lord in the church ministering to the women. She was probably a widow over 50 years of age, having had children. She was very honorable (worthy of honor) and worthy of respect. She had helped many including Paul. She was trustworthy and Paul was trusting her with this letter.
Travel in the first century was safer than ever. The Romans had built their roads and bridges and if you went by sea. they had also dealt with the pirates. By sea, with good weather, it was 5 – 10 days (700 miles); a combination sea and land journey was about 800 miles and took 2-3 weeks. There were no passenger ships. You would have to go to the port and locate a cargo ship that was going where you wanted to go and procure passage from the captain. You were responsible for your own food and other needs. They had also built a series of inns along the roads, but they were not very nice. Mostly men from caravans, along with their animals stayed in them. Also, they were known for having prostitutes. Therefore, people would stay in friends’ houses. Or even the house of a stranger. That is why hospitality was so important. Phoebe would have never traveled alone. She probably was with friends and servants.
Nugget: Paul used a 50+ year old woman to travel over a sometimes-dangerous route, for 10 days to two weeks, to deliver an especially important document that we, two thousand year later, are still reading and studying. Take heart you older women, God still has work for you to do. Your small task might have eternal significance.
Edward Kimball was a Sunday School teacher for boys. One of his students was Dwight L. Moody who Kimball led to the Lord. Moody’s preaching led Wilbur Chapman to salvation and Chapman became an evangelist. One day Billy Sunday attended a meeting held by Chapman and he got saved. Billy Sunday began crusades and another young man named Mordechai Ham got saved. Ham begins to hold crusades and was preaching in Charlotte, North Carolina and Billy Graham responded to the call. Billy Graham preached to more people than anyone else had ever done, including the Apostle Paul. This all began with a Sunday School teacher who cared for the boys in his class. Don’t ever underestimate your small task.
Paul now begins to mention some friends in Rome. He repeatedly says “greet” a word meaning “Let them know that I remember them, and love them, and wish them well. It also means to enfold in one’s arms, in other words “hug”."
Romans 16:3-4 (NASB)
3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, 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.
We first see Prisca (Priscilla) and Aquila (Roman name meaning eagle) in Acts 18:2. Aquila was a Jew, but he used a Roman name. Priscilla is mentioned more often than any other woman in the early church.
They were active Christians in three different cities: Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome. One commentator said their Christianity was portable. Wherever they lived the gospel operated in their lives. He used four words to describe them: industrious, hospitable, studious, and consecrated. Admirable traits we should all desire.
They were not named as apostles or prophets, but they were very valuable fellow workers to Paul. They were well versed in the truths of their Christian faith and were well able to preach and minister to those in need.
Nugget: Titles do not determine our value.
Some commentators think Aquilla was one of the 70 Jesus sent out. Paul calls them his co-laborers. They were not apostles or prophets, but they were very dear to Paul. They had lived in Rome but when all the Jews were expelled from Rome they had to leave. (about 49 AD) They went and settled in Corinth. They were tent makers as was Paul. (Every Jewish boy had to learn a trade) In the synagogue it was the custom for those of the same trade to sit together, and that is probably where they made their acquaintance. Being of the same trade Paul lived with them. (about 50 AD) (God ordered their steps to meet Paul so they could work with him in ministry.) They also were with Paul when he was in Ephesus. When Claudius Caesar died the edict expelling the Jews from Rome was lifted so they returned to Rome. But wherever they went there was a church in their house.
We do not know when or how they risked their lives for Paul, but Paul knew, and all the Gentile churches did. Pricilla and Aquila moved back to Rome, and as was their custom they had a church meeting in their house. Paul might have sent them back to prepare for his coming. Paul says all the Gentile churches gave them thanks because they saved his life.
Nugget: God still moves people just like He did Priscilla and Aquila. He arranges meetings so they can get saved or further serve the Lord. Do not fight it when God moves you, (job, neighborhood, new city, etc.) He has a plan. Ex. Roger was raised in Western New York. He served with CLC Missions in Pa., the Caribbean, various countries in Central & South Americas and in Canada, but in the Lord’s timing He moved him to the CLC Bookstore in Northfield NJ. He started attending Praise Tabernacle, and here we are married 35 years.
Note: When the Jews were expelled from Rome it left only Gentile Christians in the church. Before this the Gentiles were pressured to conform to Jewish customs to fit in. When the Jews returned about 6 years later the customs of the Gentiles had taken over and the Jews now had to try to fit in. That was one of the reasons Paul wrote this letter, to settle the problems. There were disputes over what foods they could eat. The Gentiles ate meat sacrificed to idols, the Jews would not. There were disputes over observing days. They were judging each other rather than accepting one another. Whatever you do must be done according to your faith. If you will read Romans again you will see how he contrasts Jewish and Gentile customs.
Aquila and Priscila died as martyrs. When Rome burned in 64 AD, Nero blamed the Jews, and killed many of them. Aquila and Priscila were among those killed.
Romans 16:5-8 (KJV) Salute my well beloved Epaenetus, who is the first fruits of Achaia unto Christ. 6 Greet Mary, who bestowed much labor on us. 7 Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord.
Kinsman could mean they were fellow Jews or that they were actual blood relatives of Paul. It is not clear.
Epaenetus - I Corinthians states that the household of Stephanas was the first fruits of Achaia (western part of modern Turkey) so Epaenetus (praiseworthy) must have been from that household. Preacher's Outline and Sermon Bible - Commentary - Romans. It took raw courage to be the first convert to Christ in the midst of a pagan society. Just imagine the changed life, the surrendering of himself to Jesus as Lord, and the giving of all he was and had to the Lord's cause. Just imagine the attitude and reactions of his neighbors, friends, and fellow workers: the possible questioning, misunderstanding, ridicule, mockery, withdrawal, isolation. Epaenetus was unquestionably a man of remarkable courage.
Paul calls him “my well beloved”, “my dear friend”. This would indicate a close relationship. At some point Epaenetus had also moved to Rome.
Mary – Mary was a quite common Hebrew name. We do not know who she was, or what work she did for the Lord, But God knows, and Paul honored her here. Worked hard – carries the idea of toiling at a task to the point of weariness and exhaustion.
Andronicus (man of victory) (Latin name) and Junia (Greek name) (female)- they were probably husband and wife and were Jews (kinsman). At some point they were in prison with Paul. Even women were put in prison for their faith. They were saved before Paul, about 25 years ago, perhaps even at Pentecost or before, He says they were of note meaning they were outstanding or remarkable. Some commentators think they both were considered apostles. Of course, this is much debated because Junia was a female.
Amplias or Ampliatus– (Latin name, means enlarged) thought to be a slave. It was a slave name. Slaves were not allowed to have the name of free men.
Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
Behind the name of Ampliatus may well lie an interesting story. It is a quite common slave name. Now in the cemetery of Domatilla, which is the earliest of the Christian catacombs, there is a decorated tomb with the single name Ampliatus carved on it in bold and decorative lettering. The fact that the single name Ampliatus alone is carved on the tomb—Romans who were citizens would have three names, a nomen, a praenomen, and a cognomen—would indicate that this Ampliatus was a slave; but the elaborate tomb and the bold lettering would indicate that he was a man of high rank in the Church. From that it is plain to see that in the early days of the Church the distinctions of rank were so completely wiped out that it was possible for a man at one and the same time to be a slave and a prince of the Church. Social distinctions did not exist. We have no means of knowing that Paul's Ampliatus is the Ampliatus in the cemetery of Domatilla, but it is not impossible that he is.
Beloved in the Lord – Paul had a very warm personal attachment to him.
Paul genuinely cared for those he ministered with and to.
Nugget: Common ordinary people, even slaves, can become powerful and important in the Kingdom of God.
Romans 16:9 (KJV) 9 Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved.
Salute can mean to enfold in the arms, in other words hug them for me.
Urbane (Roman name) (a city dweller, refined, elegant) worked closely with Paul.
Stachys (unusual Greek name) (an ear of corn) has been found listed in the royal household. He had a close relationship with Paul. Paul calls him my beloved. Matthew Poole's Commentary on the Holy Bible - Some have reported, he was the first bishop of Constantinople. Also, it is thought he might have been one of the 70 that Jesus sent out.
Nugget: A refined, elegant man, and one who was part of the royal household served with Paul. Even those who might be considered the upper level of society served with Paul side by side with slaves. The Kingdom of God is available to all. There is no male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free. We are to accept all and treat all the same.
Romans 16:10 (KJV) 10 Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus' household.
Salute - Hug * Apelles (Jewish name) who was tried and tested and approved. We don’t know what his test was, but he came out of the fire as gold. What a great testimony.
Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee - Tradition identifies him as bishop either of Smyrna or Heracleia.
Hug * the members of Aristobulos’ household. Some believe this was a grandson of Herod. Aristobulus was either not a believer or was dead but some of his household, his servants and slaves had come to Christ.
Romans 16:11 (KJV) 11 Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord.
Hug * Herodion (Jewish) He was probably in some way in association with Herod’s family.
Of the household of Narcissus would indicate that not all the household were believers. Narcissus was a very wealthy and powerful man in Rome. It appears some of his household had gotten saved. When Nero came to power, he forced Narcissus to commit suicide. When he died, according to custom, his slaves and servants went into Nero’s household, so there were Christians in Nero’s court. The wealthy powerful man dies by suicide and the Christian slaves and servants live in a palace and are mentioned by Paul in the Bible.
God has his ways of getting people where He wants them.
Nugget: Again, God moves people where He wants them to be for His purposes. Even slaves into the Palace.
Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT). - The leaven of Christianity had reached the highest circles in the Empire.
Romans 16:12 (KJV)12 Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labor in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which labored much in the Lord.
Hug * Tryphena (dainty) and Tryphosa (delicate) are thought to be twin sisters. The verb used for labor means to labor to exhaustion. Barclay’s Study Bible says Paul was using a play on words “You two may be called dainty and delicate; but you belie your names by working like Trojans for the sake of Christ."
Nugget: Even dainty and delicate people can serve the Lord.
Hug * Persis (a Persian woman) was also said to be a hard worker. He calls Persis “a dear friend”. He adds “Much” to the description of her service. The beloved, not just beloved, could indicate that she was loved by all who knew her.
Nugget: Even foreigners can labor among us.
For these three women, along with Mary, Paul used the same word for labored, they all worked to the point of exhaustion.
Romans 16:13 (KJV) 13 Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
Chosen in the Lord – we might say a choice man or one of great excellence in Christianity.
Mark 15:21 Many believe Rufus was a son of Simon the Cyrenian who carried the cross of Jesus. Did this experience bring Simon to salvation.?
Acts 11:20 (KJV) 20 And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spoke unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.
About 45 AD Paul went to Antioch. He would have been about 40 years old. Paul’s time at Antioch is estimated to be between 9 months to as long as eight years. Perhaps sometime during Paul’s stay there Simon the Cyrene come to Antioch with his family? That could have been when Paul developed this close relationship with them. He might have even lived with them.
Adam Clarke's Commentary - His mother and mine--It is not likely that the mother of Rufus was the mother of Paul; but while she was the natural mother of the former, she acted as a mother to the latter. We say of a person of this character, that she is a motherly woman. Among the ancients, he or she who acted a kind, instructing, and indulgent part to another, was styled the father or mother of such a one.
Paul’s affection for her was as a son. Paul must have been very close to this family.
Mother’s Day thoughts. Mother’s Day not a happy celebration for many. No children, teenage rebellious children, adult children who don’t seem to care. Adopt a spiritual child. Become a spiritual mother. Look around, see the needs. Any age. A 80 year old or an e year old, all could be positively affected by your loving them in Christ.
Romans 16:14 (KJV)
14 Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them.
15 Salutes, Philologus and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them. brethren which are with them.
Here we have two groups of five names each. Paul knew them all. Some think they were various leaders of house churches because of the phrase “brethren which are with them”. Some things I read said some were part of the seventy. Others had risen to be called Bishops.
Even though we are all part of one body, we are also still individuals.
Nugget: God knows us all by name.
Romans 16:16 (KJV)
16 Salute one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.
Holy kiss – I think of the way many Europeans kiss each other on both cheeks.
Paul now abruptly switches from his greetings to a stern warning.
Because God was building His church in Rome Satan will surely come along and try to cause division.
Romans 16:17-18 (NASB) 17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.
Keep your eye on or mark – take aim at, look sharply at, examine, and scrutinize carefully. Not a witch hunt, nor a legalistic litmus test. Determine who is a problem. (most likely aimed at the Judaizers) Those who promote and practice falsehood and unrighteousness.
Examine their fruit. Check all teaching against the scriptures, even mine or the Pastors.
Dissensions – disunion, divisions, parties, factions. I eat meat, I observe the new moon.
Remember what I said before: When the Jews were expelled from Rome it left only Gentile Christians in the church. Before this the Gentiles were pressured to conform to Jewish customs to fit in. When the Jews returned about 6 years later the customs of the Gentiles had taken over and the Jews now had to try to fit in. This was resulting in many divisions.
Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT). Any man who does anything which disturbs the peace of a church has much to answer for.
Hindrances – a snare, a thing that offends, a stumbling block. One whose conduct is a bad example.
The teaching you have learned – we have taught unity, and brotherly love, not factions and bad conduct. Our teaching is the one to live by.
Thessalonians 3:6 (BBE) 6 Now we give you orders, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from all those whose behavior is not well ordered and in harmony with the teaching which they had from us.
What they say sounds good. They claim to love the truth. They also use smooth flattery. They are skilled in manipulation and deception. They are not serving the Lord; their interest is themselves. Guard your hearts. Examine all teaching and make sure it lines up with the Word of God. If you do not know the word of God, it is very easy to be deceived.
So, what is the right response to those who fall into these categories?
Turn away from them. Reject their teachings.
Avoid them, have no fellowship with them. Keep away from them, do not try to show them the error of their ways.
Preacher's Outline and Sermon Bible
A divisive person is a person who:
• causes strife• is argumentative
• acts out of pride, ambition, or selfishness
• is unloving
• teaches a different doctrine
The teaching you have learned. Know what the word of God says. God does not prevent false teachers; He has given us His word and expects us to use discernment and turn away from them.
Such teachers are slaves of their own appetites. No mater how caring and loving they seem their true motives are for power and fame, financial gain.
They are deceivers. Their speech is smooth and flattering and designed to deceive. Guard your hearts against such teachings. Pay attention to the nudging of the Holy Spirit. Do not ignore the red flags even if you do not know why you are receiving them. Ex. Lady one beach. Very early in my walk. So excited to find someone who spoke in tongues, Catholic charismatic renewal.
Romans 16:19 (KJV) 19 For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.
Obedience – attentive hearkening. It does not appear that any trouble had happened in the Roman church but Paul Says, “I know you can handle it.” When it comes “nip it in the bud.”
Their obedience to the Word of God was well known to all. Because they are used to being obedient to the word. The deceivers expect them to be obedient to their version of the word.
Obedience is what God wants but we must also be wise and discerning. It all goes back to knowing God and His word. Try the spirits and hold fast to that which is good. The best defense against being deceived by the counterfeit is to be fully acquainted with the real. Bank tellers don’t learn how to spot counterfeit money with fake money. They study the real so much that they can immediately spot the fake.
Romans 16:20 (NASB) 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
The God of Peace will war against the force behind the divisions.
The God of Peace will do the crushing but whose feet will He use? Get your stomping boots ready.
Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT) there is a kind of peace which can be had at the cost of evading all issues and refusing all decisions, a peace which comes of lethargic inactivity. The Christian must ever remember that the peace of God is not the peace which has submitted to the world, but the peace which has overcome the world.
Crush – crush completely, break into pieces., shatter, break into slivers.
Expositor's Bible Commentary “Paul means... soon -not that the victory will be near, but that it will be speedily gained once the conflict is begun. When the believer fights with the armor of God (Eph VI), the conflict is never long. Victory will result from two factors, the one divine (God shall bruise), the other human (under your feet). God communicates strength; but it passes through the man who accepts and uses it"
Soon does not mean shortly but quickly.
Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans. There were two victories to be obtained over Satan. By the first, his head was to be bruised under the feet of Jesus Christ; and by the second, the rest of his body will be bruised under the feet of the believers.
We are the conduit of His power through our obedience.
Romans 16:21-24 (KJV)
21 Timotheus my workfellow, and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you.
22 I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord.
23 Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, salute you. Erastus the chamberlain of the city salutes you, and Quartus a brother.
24 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
Paul now sends greetings from some of the brethren who were with him at this time.
Timothy his right-hand man.
Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT). Lucius may be the Lucius of Cyrene, who was one of the prophets and teachers of Antioch who first sent Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journeys (Ac 13:1). Jason may be the Jason who gave Paul hospitality at Thessalonica and suffered for it at the hands of the mob (Ac 17:5-9). Sosipater may be the Sopater of Berea who took his Church's share of the collection to Jerusalem with Paul (Ac 20:4). Gaius may be the Gaius who was one of the two people whom Paul baptized at Corinth
And his secretary Tertius sends his greetings also.
Preacher's Outline and Sermon Bible The need for dedicated people who are gifted to handle details is desperately needed in the service of Christ! Very little if anything can be done effectively without what may be called the Service Ministries. May God stir and arouse men and women to give their lives as Tertius did: to reach out in the service ministries of the Lord. Something we must always remember and proclaim: no work and no service done for God is small. Men may rank work and labor, but God does not. God ranks and judges only faithfulness.
Romans 16:25-27 (NASB)
25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past,
but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith;
27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.
Paul probably wrote this closing paragraph with his own hand. He often did this to protect his letter from forgery.
Establish – not stuck, not stopped in place. Ray Stedman describes it as: Have you ever erected a picnic table and tried to find a place where all four legs touched the ground at the same time? You tried to establish it so that it would not rock, or become shaky, or uncertain. God wants to bring you and me to a place where we are no longer rocking or shaky or unstable, but solid and secure. Having an inner security from which we can handle all the problems of life. We become dependable, and have a true sense of worth, so that nothings gets to us, or shakes us up, or throws us off-balance.
The one who will do this with us is God, the only wise God, the eternal God. We have to do our part, but the final responsibility is His. We will be established through the gospel, the preaching of Jesus Christ and the revelation of the mystery that has been hidden for long ages past. A mystery in the scriptures is something hidden that only God can reveal.
Here is the mystery in very short form. All that God is, wrapped up in a Person and given to you and to me -- the only hope we have of ever discovering the glory that God intended for us as human beings: Christ in you, the hope of glory. Jesus is the mystery. The details of it are found all through the Bible.
And so, Paul concludes his letter and I leave you also, hoping you will run home, grab your Bibles, and find out all you can about this mystery.
Sunday May 2nd
Did you ever hear the phrase “denial is not just a river in Egypt”?
The psychological phenomenon of denial is a very powerful thing.
Did you ever have anyone accuse you of being in denial?
I was having a conversation with someone recently who kept accusing me of denying reality and living in a fantasy world.
That’s so ridiculous! It actually made me laugh so hard that I practically fell off of my unicorn!
The heading over Romans Chapter 15 in the New American Standard Bible says that it’s about “Self-denial in behalf of others.”
Here’s how the Apostle Paul brings this out, starting in verse one:
Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not just please ourselves. 2 Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.
Notice that Paul say “we” who are strong have an obligation to bear with the struggles of the weak. Paul obviously considers himself one of the “strong” ones. And he sees the misinformed and immature “weak” ones as a true cause for concern, but his main emphasis is on the responsibility of the “strong” ones to support the “weak” ones. He doesn’t want to see pride, such as the flaunting our freedom in Christ in a way that is offensive or a stumbling block to our weaker brothers and sisters.
We see similar statements in Romans 14:19
So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another
And then in 1 Corinthians 8:1
Now concerning food sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes one conceited, but love edifies people.
Then in 1 Corinthians 10:23
All things are permitted, but not all things are of benefit. All things are permitted, but not all things build people up.
And further down in 1 Corinthians 10:31-32
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all things for the glory of God. 32 Do not offend Jews or Greeks, or the church of God
So this idea of not offending our weaker brothers and sisters is a pretty consistent theme for Paul, and he explains why in verse 3:
3 For even Christ did not please Himself, but as it is written: “The taunts of those who taunt You have fallen on Me.”
Paul quotes Psalm 69:9 here, pointing out that the willingness of Jesus to deny Himself and suffer for the benefit of others should serve as an example to all Christians in relating to our weaker members.
4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Paul is referring here to the Old Testament Scriptures, which were written not just for the benefit of the people of Israel, but also for the benefit of Christians. We also know this to be true from 2nd Timothy 3:16
All Scripture is inspired by God and beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness
5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another, according to Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one purpose and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It takes patience, perseverance, and encouragement to work together, but unity in the church is essential if God is going to be glorified. When we worship God with one common purpose and one common voice, then God’s true glory is manifested through us. And how does that unity begin? With acceptance.
7 Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us, for the glory of God.
A good basis for accepting others, even with all of their faults and failures, is to remember that Jesus accepted us into His family despite all of our own faults and failures. And notice again that when we do accept one another, it brings God more glory!
Now Paul addresses a specific area where acceptance might be a problem – the separation between Jewish and Gentile believers:
8 For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision in behalf of the truth of God, to confirm the promises given to the fathers,
When I first read this, I was thinking that Paul was talking about his own role in serving the Jewish believers, but what he actually says is that Christ (Himself) has become a servant to the circumcision (which meant the Jewish people).
But Jesus didn’t stop in His servanthood with just the nation of Israel. He became a servant to all:
9 and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written:
“Therefore I will give praise to You among the Gentiles,
And I will sing praises to Your name.”
10 Again he says,
“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with His people.”
11 And again,
“Praise the Lord all you Gentiles,
And let all the peoples praise Him.”
12 Again Isaiah says,
“There shall come the root of Jesse,
And He who arises to rule over the Gentiles,
In Him will the Gentiles hope.”
Paul quotes a series of Old Testament verses to show that God’s plan for salvation has always included the Gentiles as well as the Jews. And his quote from Isaiah points to the hope that comes with that promise. So in verse 13 Paul prays a little benediction over the Roman Christians:
13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Having hope is actually evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Wherever you find hope, you will surely find the Holy Spirit behind it.
Starting in verse 14, Paul begins drawing this letter to a close by returning to the theme of his vision for expanding the influence of the gospel.
14 And concerning you, my brothers and sisters, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another. 15 But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given to me from God, 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
In some ways, Paul sees his evangelistic ministry as a form of priestly service. Since he was raised as a Jewish man, seeing the offering of sacrifices in the temple, Paul now sees preaching the gospel as the means by which these Roman Gentiles will be brought to God as his form of personal offering. That makes sense for two reasons:
17 Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. 18 For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, 19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and all around as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
I think we should take note of the fact that Paul describes his ministry in terms of a work of the Trinity - God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the power of the Holy Spirit, who has moved in signs and wonders throughout Paul’s preaching of the Gospel. God works in unity with us as well.
And Paul describes the extent of his ministry as reaching “from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum”. Paul’s journeys, according to the book of Acts, stretched from the eastern part of the Mediterranean as far west as Macedonia. That quite an expanse of territory, especially considering that much of it was covered on foot. But Paul had a real passion to reach those who had never been reached:
20 And in this way I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already known by name, so that I would not build on another person’s foundation; 21 but just as it is written:
“They who have not been told about Him will see,
And they who have not heard will understand.”
Now keep in mind that the Christians that Paul is writing to are in Rome, a place where Paul has not been to yet, but it has been a great desire of his:
22 For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; 23 but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you 24 whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while--
There are two things that will make Paul’s visit to Rome possible at this time:
(1) The previous phase of Paul’s ministry in Asia Minor has been fulfilled for the most part. He is now ready to take on some new challenges
(2) Paul feels like the next phase of his ministry involves reaching Spain, and Paul can therefore stop by Rome on the way to Spain.
Spain was actually the western-most extremity of the known world back then. If Paul took the Gospel there, he would have essentially preached to the “ends of the earth”. But before he could head towards Spain or Rome, he had another stop to make along the way:
25 but now, I am going to Jerusalem, serving the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 For they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to do them a service also in material things.
Paul reveals that his immediate plans are to visit Jerusalem with the financial gifts that the Gentile churches had raised for the Christians there. But Paul also sees a greater significance in their gift.
He believes that it is the duty of the Gentiles to look after their Jewish brothers and sisters in view of the spiritual blessing they have received by being grafted into God’s olive tree, as we saw back in chapter 11.
28 Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. 29 I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
Now I want you to think about this. As far as we know, Paul may have never made it to Spain, but we know for certain that he made it to Rome. How did he arrive in Rome? As a prisoner! Paul says that when he comes to them, it will be “in the fullness of the blessing of Christ”.
Can we still believe that the full blessings of Christ are with us even in the midst of struggles, trials and persecution? Paul did.
But he also asked for prayers along the way:
30 Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, 31 that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints;
Paul’s prayer request is twofold:
32 so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and relax in your company. 33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.
I want you to notice again here that Paul believes that it is the will of God for him to visit Rome. And he also says he expects to come to them “in joy”.
What did we just establish a few minutes ago? What was Paul’s status when he finally arrived in Rome? He was a prisoner. And he had been shipwrecked and bitten by a poisonous snake along the way! Did Paul still arrive in Rome filled with joy?
To find out the answer to that question, we can look at Acts 28:15, which is the first verse that Luke wrote after he and Paul had landed in Rome:
And from there the brothers and sisters, when they heard about us, came as far as the Market of Appius and the Three Inns to meet us; and when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.
Did Paul let the circumstances of his arrival to Rome dictate his attitude? Not at all.
He simply thanked God for the opportunity to connect with other believers and he took strength and courage from the fact that he was not alone.
And as the book of Acts comes to an end, here are the last two verses: 30 Now Paul stayed two full years in his own rented lodging and welcomed all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching things about the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.
Do you see how this ties back in with the theme of self-denial? Paul still was a prisoner. He could have focused on that. “Woe is me! Life is so unfair! I didn’t do anything to deserve this!” But instead he takes any opportunity he has to receive visitors and tell them about the love of Jesus. Which is why he is able to write to the Philippians from prison and say this: (Phil. 1:12) Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.
What circumstances are you facing today that God can use for the greater progress of the gospel? Are you ready and willing to be used in that way?