I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also. — Romans 16:1-2
Perhaps to amuse a small child you have intertwined your fingers and said, “Here’s the church, and here’s the steeple. Open the doors and see all the people.” It’s an entertaining rhyme. However, it makes a valid point: in order to have a church, there must be people — people who are doing what they can to share the Gospel. Phebe was such a person. The Apostle Paul said, “She hath been a succourer of many.” “Succourer” means assistant, so we know Phebe had reached out to help others.
All of us know people like that. Edna Janzen was one of those who helped others in many ways. She would testify, “I was brought up in a good home. However, having a good upbringing and going to church did not automatically make me a Christian. For years, I rebelled against all that my parents taught me. I was a good student, at the head of my class in school, and read many books. I began reading things that put doubts into my mind as to the truth of the Bible and the fundamentals I had learned. Sad to say, I got to where I refused to go to church. When I was fifteen years old, I became severely sick. My throat was so badly swollen I could hardly breathe, and I was painfully conscious of every breath I drew.
“Once I was better, I realized the debt I owed to God for sparing my life. I did not expect to enjoy being a Christian, but I surrendered to God. What a surprise it was when the burden of sin rolled away! A whole new life opened up for me. I had new desires, new friends, and a new disposition. How I have loved the Lord from that time on!”
After Edna graduated from high school, she worked for the State government in Salem, Oregon. Then she felt the Lord definitely call her to work in the church office in Portland. It was a bit of a struggle to make that consecration to fulltime service, but she did. She also found a niche in the church orchestra and Sunday school work, along with any other place of service she could fill. She was faithful to pray with others, became the official photographer of church events, transported elderly sisters to and from church services, corresponded with people from around the world, served as a youth camp counselor, and loved to travel to branch churches to fellowship with other Christians. She worked in our headquarters office for over fifty years and was the office manager part of that time.
In her elderly years, Edna testified, “It has been a wonderful life. Of course there have been hard times, periods of self-discipline, of yielding to the molding of God, but if I had it to do over, I would do the same. And the best is yet to come: I’m looking forward to seeing Jesus and I want to hear Him say, ‘Well done.’”
We can be sure that Edna has heard those words now that she has gone to Heaven. No doubt Phebe heard the Lord give her that same commendation. It can be the reward of each of us. God does not require that we be dramatic, exceptionally gifted, rich, or superbly qualified. He only asks that we submit to His will and be faithful in what we can find to do. His Church is made up of just such people!
In this concluding portion of his epistle, Paul sent instructions, greetings, warnings, and a final benediction to the Romans. The abundance and variety of salutations — addressed to Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, men and women, and those from both upper and lower classes — illustrates the unifying bond of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Though Paul had never been to Rome, these were individuals with whom he had enjoyed fellowship and shared spiritual labors in the past. At some point they had relocated to Rome, joining the body of Christian believers in that city.
In verses 1-2, Paul introduced Phebe, a deaconess from the church in Cenchrea, the eastern seaport city of Corinth. Since Phebe was traveling independently, she was likely a widow. Her name is Greek and reflects an idolatrous background, but she had converted to Christianity and become a beloved laborer in the Corinthian church. She presumably was the bearer of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, as only government officials were allowed to convey letters through the imperial postal system.
The Apostle greeted Priscilla and Aquila (verses 3-5), a couple who were greatly instrumental in the spread of the Gospel. This couple first met Paul in Corinth, where they had fled as a result of Roman persecution because Aquila was a Jew (see Acts 18:2-3). While pursuing their trade as tentmakers, they became friends with Paul, and the Apostle lived and worked with them while founding the Corinthian church. When Paul left Corinth for Ephesus, he took Aquila and Priscilla with him, and there they established a church in their home (see 1 Corinthians 16:9) and ministered to the eloquent preacher Apollos (Acts 18:24-26). The circumstances Paul alluded to when he said they “laid down their own necks” for him (verse 4) are unknown.
More greetings are given in verses 5-16. Notable among these are Paul’s words to the households of Aristobulus and Narcissus (verses 10-11). The reference to “households” likely means that the Christians whom Paul addressed were slaves, and the wording indicates that only a portion of each household were Christians. Neither master is included in the greeting, so presumably they were not believers. (Historians suggest that Aristobulus may have been the grandson of Herod the Great and brother of Herod Agrippa I; Narcissus may have been the wealthy freedman named Tiberius Claudius Narcissus who was later executed by Nero’s mother.) These facts indicate that the great message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ had found its way into every level of the Roman Empire, and that the Christian faith was able to thrive even in conditions of slavery.
Tryphaena and Tryphosa, mentioned in verse 12, were probably sisters and maybe twins, based on the fact that the Apostle coupled their similar names together. Their names mean “luxurious” and “delicate” and may indicate the kind of lifestyle from which these women came.
In verse 12, Persis’ name indicates a Persian origin; she may have been brought to Rome as a slave. Little is known about her beyond the Apostle’s comment that she “labored much in the Lord.” The word “labored” is translated as “wearied” in the description of Jesus sitting by the well in Samaria. It is translated “toiled” in the account of the fishermen by the Sea of Galilee who toiled all night but caught nothing. The three words combined present a descriptive picture of a woman who worked with dedication to the limit of her power.
The “holy kiss” mentioned in verse 16 was a customary way of greeting fellow Christians. The descriptive adjective “holy” established that this kiss was different than the common signal of affection between friends, and also set it apart from the evil kiss of betrayal that Judas gave Jesus (see Luke 22:48).
Paul gave a final warning against those who would cause divisions between Christian brethren, for above all else, the Apostle wanted to ensure the Roman Christians’ continued obedience in the Lord (verses 17-20). Paul’s companions at Corinth added their greetings in verses 21-24. Then Paul closed his epistle with praise to God for the revelation of the Gospel which was leading to the obedience of faith among all nations (verses 25-27).
(Hannah's Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
C. Greetings to friends in Rome (16:1-16)
D. Warnings (16:17-20)
E. Greetings from believers in Corinth (16:21-23)
F. Final benediction (16:24-27)
As members of God’s Church, we want to faithfully do our part, whatever that may be. It may seem small or unimportant to us, but God notes those who reach out and assist others.