None of our lives would be as they are today had it not been for the missionary heart of the Apostle Paul. As we continue the study of Paul’s great heart, we should bear in mind the four qualities we have already considered (liturgical, glorifying, visionary, and praying) were essentially vertical, whereas in this chapter we will see the horizontal aspects of his missionary heart.
The first characteristic of Paul’s heart described in this chapter is that it overflowed with personal love. If the long list of names and greetings in these verses teaches us anything, it is that Paul had a diffusive love for people. The word “greet” appears nineteen times and seventeen of them are by Paul. Our text features thirty-three names. Twenty-four were in Rome (seventeen men and seven women). In addition, the apostle mentions two households, the mother of Rufus, and the sister of Nereus. Nine of the people mentioned were with Paul in Corinth (eight men and one woman). Obviously Paul maintained a remarkable amount of affectionate relationships.
We may not normally think of Paul this way. We may naturally assume that though he was a great man, his greatness made him a forbidding companion. Having read through Romans, and knowing of his massive intellect, most of us would feel somewhat intimidated if we knew we were to spend an evening alone with him. We probably would spend a day brushing up on memory work, wading through the Minor Prophets, or clarifying some points in theology. No doubt such time would be well spent, but our fears unfounded, for Paul was a “people person” par excellence. Moreover, he did not determine his friendships on the basis of intellectual capability or theological literacy.
As we look at the list of greeting and the kind words in the first sixteen verses, we cannot escape the sense of genuine affection contained there. In verses 1-2 Paul mentions Phoebe, whom he gives four endearing names: “sister,” “servant,” “saint,” and “a patron.” In verses 3-4 he greets Priscilla and Aquila, who had “risked their necks” for him in Ephesus. This graphic phrase undoubtedly recalled a warm flood of memories in Priscilla and Aquila. In verse 5 he greets Epenetus, his first convert in Asia. What Christian worker can forget his first convert? In verse 7 Paul sends greetings to Andronicus and Junia, who spent time in prison with him. In verse 10 he greets Apelles who is approved in Christ. Tryphena and Tryphosa in verse 12 were probably twins who were given names that go together. Their names mean “dainty” and “delicate.” Paul employs some playful irony here because he calls them “workers in the Lord,” using a word that means to labor to the point of exhaustion. Dainty and delicate, yes – but dynamite comes in small packages.
Who was the “Rufus” of verse 13? Mark 15:21 identifies Simon of Cyrene as the father of Alexander and Rufus. Couple this with the fact that Mark wrote his gospel to Rome and we conclude that Rufus was the son of Simon of Cyrene who carried Jesus’ cross. The parade of names in closing chapter of Romans repeatedly affirms Paul’s affection for his Christian brothers and sisters in Rome. The best exposition of this horizontal affection was given by Paul himself in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8.
How Paul loved the Church! Paul’s loving example challenges us. If our hearts beat with something of the pulse of the Apostle Paul, we will be “people persons” who are affectionate to each other. This is the plain meaning of verse 16, which completes Paul’s individual greetings to Rome: “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” It is Biblical to express love and affection, even to the point of an embrace and a kiss. What a difference authentic Christian affection can make in a cold and indifferent world.
We must note before we move on to the next section that though Paul was a great giver, it all came back to him! In Galatians 4:15 Paul testifies that there were some in the Church who loved him so much they would have plucked out their eyes for him. Here in verse 13 of our text, when he greets Rufus and also greets Rufus’s mother, who he says “has been a mother to me as well.” When did she “mother” Paul? In Antioch when he was getting started? In some small town after a beating? At times Paul no doubt felt he could use a little mothering. Paul received back more than he gave. The richest people in town are always those who love the most. “People persons” – the affectionate – those who remember names and pray for them – receive the most. So we see from the list in verses 1-16 that Paul’s heart overflowed with a diffusive love.
Romans 16:1-16 Study Questions:
What observations do you make from the list of greetings in verses 1-16?
What do you notice about the house churches in Rome and their leadership?
Phoebe is the letter-bearer, entrusted with the fullest and most remarkable letter of Paul. What can be learned about Phoebe from verses 1-2?
The “holy kiss” (v. 16) became a key feature of Christian liturgy very early on, but it was not meant to replace normal expressions of affection; in many parts of the Middle East and elsewhere a kiss on both cheeks is a normal greeting between men as well as women. How does even this simple gesture reinforce the main themes Paul has written about throughout Romans regarding the Church?