Romans 16 is the very last chapter and the conclusion of Paul’s letter to the Romans. One thing we get to see from this letter is how much Paul appreciated his fellow laborers in Christ, and a good part of this chapter is acknowledgement and praise of their labors in his ministry. What is interesting is that this chapter begins with his commendation of a woman, Phoebe.
We don’t know many things about Phoebe, except that she was crucial to Paul’s ministry. By calling her a servant, he emphasizes that not only was she a faithful sister in Christ but for her important role in furthering the Gospel. It is almost certain Phoebe delivered this letter in person to the church at Rome, which was a huge responsibility.
The name Phoebe means “bright and radiant”, and from what Paul has to say about her, it characterized who she was as a person. She is mentioned in three different ways: a sister in Christ, a servant, and a helper of many.
Romans 16:1 begins by giving the title of servant to Phoebe. Phoebe was a member of the church in Cenchrea, which was a neighboring port city to Cornith, where Paul wrote this letter. Phoebe obviously loved her church; she was involved, she was a worker, and she did so with humility, thus Paul’s commendation. This is an example of a woman we can look to as we understand our role in the Church.
Many times we attend on Sundays, going to Sunday school and maybe a potluck or two, but how many of us can say we are involved? What does it mean to be a servant to the Church? Do we attend the activities, or do we do the hard things? Are we there for our Church leadership, praying for them, and helping them in their efforts to spread the Gospel? I would encourage you sisters, find your role in the church and serve well.
Paul next mentions Priscilla and Aquilla. In Romans 16:3 Paul mentions that they stuck their necks out for him and his ministry. As he continues to mention the couple, he mentions those that meet in their home. The conviction here is simple: are we taking part in discipleship? What are we doing to mentor and disciple those in our local communities and churches. We are to help others grow and mature in Christ, to open our homes, and to be committed to the furthering of the Gospel.
Paul mentions several other friends who are playing an important in his cause, which is to spread the Gospel. After his initial greeting, Paul turns the tables.
Romans 16:17-18 states: “Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create divisions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned. Avoid them, because such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites. They deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting with smooth talk and flattering words.”
Paul warns the readers of this letter, initially warning us, that we need to be careful who we surround ourselves with. There are times we can be vulnerable in what we have learned, and with plenty of false teaching and fluff theology that has slipped into our churches, bookstores, and podcasts, discernment is more important than ever.
Paul continues to say they aren’t out to server the Gospel but their own appetites. Are those we are listening to serving themselves, or are they Gospel-centered? Many times the false teaching can come through flattering words, relatable and humorous stories, and an avoidance of talking about the nature and consequence of our sin. We need to heed Paul’s word, always keep watch, and always be discerning.
Paul concludes the book of Romans with an amazing glorification to God. Even in this letter, Paul wraps up everything he has said in the previous 15 chapters by giving honor and glory to God. He states in verses 25-27:
“Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation about Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept silent for long ages 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic Scriptures, according to the command of the eternal God to advance the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles— to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ—to him be the glory forever! Amen.”
Paul is emphasizing three things in this conclusion. The first thing he concludes with is God himself strengthens us. The Gospel and the proclamation about Jesus Christ strengthen us daily. The next thing he concludes is that with Jesus, the Gospel is the revelation of the mystery kept silent for long ages.
Paul knew His scripture, and Paul knew the mystery and the promise of the Messiah to come. His encounter with Christ made him witness to the truth of the Gospel. As a former murderer, someone who hated the Gospel, Christ revealed Himself, and Paul was reinforcing Jesus is the Messiah and the promise.
His third conclusion is God has commanded him to spread the Gospel among the Gentiles. The emphasis here is that the Gospel is for everyone, and we are all commanded to go and spread the good news. As we see Paul’s final words in the book, “To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ-to Him be the glory forever! Amen”, we see Paul wants no credit. Paul wants every single word he writes to bring glory and honor to Jesus Christ.
Where are we, sisters? Are we serving in our churches and our homes? Are we discerning about what we are letting into our minds and hearts? Are we obedient and glorifying God in our words and actions?
Paul gives a great example here of what that looks like, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, I will take these words to heart and apply these things to my own life. If you have these convictions, ask God to help you live them out as well. I will again conclude with Paul’s words: “to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ—to him be the glory forever! Amen.”