Summary: It is not always convenient to be a Christian, as is revealed by the character of the people whom Paul greets at the end of his letter to the Romans.
An Inconvenient Truth
A Sermon on Romans 16:3-16
Zig Ziglar once visited the Washington Monument on a trip to DC. As he arrived with some friends, he heard a guide announce, “Ladies and gentlemen, there is currently a two-hour wait to ride the elevator to the top of the monument.”
The guide then paused a moment, smiled, and added, “However, there is no wait should you desire to take the stairs.”
The truth is - most of life doesn’t have an elevator to the top. If we want to reach our goals, steps are required. How high we get will depend on how many steps we are willing to take, and how long we are willing to climb.
As we look at the beginning of Chapter 16 of Romans today, concluding our series, many of us would see no more than a list of names. It’s easy to skip over this section, thinking there is not much there. And I’ll admit, at first, I was tempted to pass over this section.
But as I was spurred on by some very good commentaries, I decided to take the stairs. After all, as I discovered, the early church in Rome was full of people who were willing to take the stairs. The life of the Christian was – and is – a life that does not follow the convenient path. (Thus the name of the sermon: An Inconvenient Truth.)
If you have your Bibles with you, why don’t you take them out and turn to the 16th chapter of the Book of Romans. We’ll be looking at verses 3 through 16.
Paul is now completing a long letter to the church in Rome. He has taken 11 chapters to remind us of God’s mercies in Christ, and another 4 chapters encouraging us to submit to His will for the church – as individuals and in society.
And now he turns to greetings. Many look at the lengthy list, somewhat atypical of Paul, and think he is just name-dropping. He greets 26 individuals, and possibly five house churches. It is the longest list of greetings in any of Paul’s letters. Some of these people Paul had met on his travels elsewhere. Some it is possible he only knew by reputation.
Certainly Paul intends to come to Rome seeking support for his mission to Spain (15:24), and reminding them of his supporters there couldn’t hurt in that regard. But as we look at the list, we will see that for the most part, the names are not entirely those of people with power and influence.
It was common in the ancient world to give certain names to certain kinds of people. Quite a number of the names are Greek, which reinforces Paul’s desire to get to Rome as an apostle to the Gentiles. At least 8 are likely to be slaves or freedmen, and 8 are women. So certainly not all of his list is an attempt to butter up the rich and powerful.
But what can we learn about the early church from this list of greetings? And does that have anything to do with us today? I mentioned earlier that sometimes you have to take the stairs to reach your goal. The early Christians certainly knew nothing of elevators – literally or figuratively. Paul reminds us with this list how inconvenient Christianity really is.
Christianity is Inconvenient: It Demands Hard Work
Paul begins by introducing Phoebe to the church in Rome. She is likely the one who carried the letter, and based on her Greek name, probably a pagan convert to Christianity. When her commendation is complete, Paul launches into his extensive greetings to the church in Rome.
As we dig in at verse 3, the first thing we see in this list of names are many people who Paul calls ‘fellow workers’ or ‘those who work hard.’ The list includes Priscilla and Aquila, whom according to the book of Acts Paul met in Corinth (Acts 18:1), as well as 5 others whose names we see only here.
These were all people who worked hard for the sake of the Gospel. Priscilla and Aquila had to leave Rome earlier because Claudius had decreed that all Jews must leave. But they just took that as an opportunity to spread the gospel in other parts of the world. No matter where they were, they were found sharing the gospel with those they met, even when it wasn’t convenient.
Mary is said to have worked hard for “you” – so she probably gave most of her service to those in Rome.
Urbanus, in verse 9, as well as Tryphana, Tryphosa, and Persis, found in verse 12, simply worked hard in Christ or in the Lord. We don’t know any details of their work as we do for Priscilla and Aquila. But we know they worked hard enough to be recognized for their persistence.