Loving the Brotherhood
* One day, as a minister sat in the office of his church to meet anyone who might have spiritual difficulties, only one person came. "What is your difficulty?" asked the minister. The man answered, "My difficulty is the ninth chapter of Romans, where it says, ’Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.’" "Yes," said the minister, "there is great difficulty in that verse; but which part of the verse is difficult for you?" "The latter part, of course," said the man. "I cannot understand why God should hate Esau." The minister replied, "The verse has often been difficult, but my difficulty has always been with the first part of the verse. I never could understand how God could love that wily, deceitful, supplanting scoundrel Jacob."
* What is more amazing to you, that God would hate Esau or could love a Jacob? When I think of Esau I think of one who is driven by his basic natural instincts and/or desires. When I think of Jacob I think of the one who always is working an angle, always has an agenda, and always is looking out for number one. Yet, in God’s love and grace to Jacob we find the foundation for the love Jesus demonstrated and challenged us to give. He said, “Love one another as I have loved you. And oh by the way, this is the way people will know that you are mine, if you have love for one another.” Jesus called us to be a loving people and nothing breaks His heart more than to hear a group of people who profess to be His bride (the Church) is anything less than loving.
* As Paul begins to close this letter, in his final words he demonstrates what it means to really love people. Loving people doesn’t mean superficial, insincere, and artificial affection which we so often confuse with love. Rather, it means a deep connection and appreciation at the level of the soul. It doesn’t mean unanimity or uniformity, but rather harmony. The beautiful part of a musical piece is measured by its harmony. Harmony is produced by everything moving together in the same direction towards the same end, but not at the same pitch. Harmony in life is produce by moving in the same direction but not in the same way. And it is in Christ that this harmony is produced among His people which results in the world hearing a beautiful song of love for one another.
* Now, let’s see how Paul demonstrates this with his important closing words to this wonderful letter;
1. He acknowledges the people – He calls names! There are no “they” or “them” in this writing, he calls everyone BY NAME. Let this be a lesson to us, just as Paul knows the name of all these brothers and sisters, God knows the name of every person who has ever lived. He knows your name. Do you want to be frightened? God knows much more than just your name, He knows you and I from the inside out. This is personal for Him. When God calls, He calls by name. When Paul called, he called by name.
a. The weakness they displayed – This is worth mentioning, but it is only a small portion of Paul’s words. At the end of verses 10 & 11 we see a greeting to those who “belong to the household of” Aristobulus and Narcissus. Why did Paul greet only those of the households? Possibly several reasons; 1) the two patriarchs were not associated with the church. In other words, they were unbelievers who had believers within their households. One suggests that it was family while another says it was their slaves. But I suggest to you that Paul is gently pointing out that these two men needed the Lord. He greeted them out of respect and yet out of their need. Know what this can teach us?
* It matters not who you are or what you are, you still have a deep need to know and follow Jesus. Whatever a person has in this world is a weakness compared to the strength in Christ. You can be retired and think you have your life in order, but in just one day that retirement can be gone. You can be a young person thinking you have all your life ahead of you, and in instance, it can all be gone. You can be married, have you career and family just like you dreamed of, and in one minute have it taken away.
b. The witness they gave – I argue that even though no one is greeted as a witness for Christ that we find several hints at these people’s strong connection and “hot hearts” for God thus resulting is an effective witness for Christ. We know them as Aquilla and Priscilla, a husband and wife team who started a church in their own house. Have you ever considered what a strong witness an in home Bible Study is? Done in the right spirit, it speaks to the community about a love which this world does not understand. In our text we see Epaenetus begin identified as the “first convert” from Asia and the question is, “how does Paul know this?” Could it be because she has told her story? Look at verse 10 and read about Apelles who is “approved” in the Lord? How do you get approved? You must be about making disciple and the work of the Kingdom.
c. The work they did – To read down this list of names is to know that Paul attributed some diligent, consistent, and even hard work to some of these. Instead of just listing the name, he gave an accompanying reason. He begins with Prisca and Aquilla who started a church meeting in their home at great risk to their lives. He calls one a “co-worker” and about others he writes, they worked “hard” or “very hard.” This work had to do with building the Kingdom, touching people, and changing lives. It was not merely an ‘academic’ process of learning about the Lord; rather it was an action-based commitment which motivated them to a task.
* Paul simply greeted the people who were involved in the “work” with him, not all the “members”. Personally, I never ceased to be amazed at the people who believe they should be recognized for showing up.
2. He Affirms his partner – Which partner am I pointing to? Is it Barnabas, Silas, or Timothy? No, Paul, the very one whom people say must have not liked women names none other than Phoebe as his partner. (In case someone ever says to you that what Paul wrote about women seems to say he didn’t like women, please remind them that Paul is one of the great advocates for women. However, Paul understood the order of God’s creation and how male and female were designed & place therein). Paul was more concerned about the gospel than gender, culture, or societal issues. Let’s reread what Paul says in verse 1 & 2.
a. He commends the individual – This commendation is just like when we receive a certificate of completion, approval, or acceptance. Paul is essentially saying, you may have some questions about Phoebe, but I don’t. She is for real. Giving recommendations should never be taken lightly. We should count it an honor to speak a word of affirmation on behalf of a fellow believer. And you know what? Thankfully Paul did not do what we seem to do. Had one of us written this, perhaps it might have said, “I commend Phoebe to you. Please understand she is not perfect. From time to time she talks too much. At other times she get a little controlling. At other times she just gets in the way. No, Paul didn’t do this (do you think he could have found something negative to say? Yet, He knew exactly how to “love his brothers & sisters in Christ.”
b. He communicates her Identification – What exactly was Phoebe’s position in the church? This is pretty interesting. The RSV along with a few of the weaker translations (I.E. World English, God’s Word, etc) call her a deacon or a deaconess and it is true that the Greek word here is a form of the word which is translated deacon, it is equally true that this word speaks for of function than a title. This is the same thing which I attempt to call us to every year at the time we select deacons. In the same way Paul couldn’t ELECT Phoebe to be a servant; we cannot ELECT men to become servants, because this is an issue of the heart. Phoebe is named because, her heart and hands lined up with the calling of God to serve. He commended her because she served.
c. He conveys her importance – Because of whose she is (the Lord’s) and what she does (serves), you should roll out the red carpet as you’ll be fortunate to get her. Welcome her like you do other saints because she’s “earned” the respect by a life well lived. She has helped (I.E. succourer, patron, etc) many people.
* Are you and I getting this? Paul’s way of loving the brotherhood is not like ours. He begins by acknowledging those who are actually growing, working, maturing, and helping, in the work of the Kingdom. He then points out one specific person who has risen above the rest.
* As he closes his final greeting, in verse 16, he reveals his spiritual inspiration in what he says.
3. He Appeals for peace – It always seems to me that this brilliant legal mind of Paul is always thinking about the “practical” parts of ministry. He has already seen (and perhaps been a part of) some conflict in God’s family. So He offers us some words which will help promote peace. Verse 16.
a. The proper approach – How do we approach one another? Today, we have adapted to our secular culture with “hello”, “hi”, or “how are you doing?” The last question is really revealing about the present day hypocrisy. Sadly, much of the time when we, without thinking, asked “how you are doing” we honestly don’t care. Paul says, “Greet one another”. I love checking translations and paraphrases. Most use the word ‘greet’ but in 2nd place is ‘salute’ while one says, “Holy Embraces”. Candidly, I love the old Hebrew word “Shalom” or better said, “Peace.” What a way to greet someone! This means that we should joyfully welcome our brothers and sisters in a way that is genuine and authentic in our love and appreciation of them.
b. The proper affection – Paul writes to greet one another with “a holy kiss (as opposed to an unholy kiss).” I never read this without thinking of the couple who left a church that I pastured. Their stated reason for leaving was that I “required” them to hold hands for our closing song (like we do here). Someone asked me would I change how we did things to keep the couple from leaving and my response (while Biblical, not very accommodating) was, “Surely I will. We don’t have to hold hands; we can do it the Bible way. We can greet with a kiss.” Remember this is a Holy (I.E. pure, morally blameless, ceremonial, etc) kiss. We have seen this many times particularly among those from the Eastern culture. The men will kiss dad on both jaw-cheeks as a sign of respect and love. There we, once again, loving the brotherhood.
c. The proper association – The last part of verse 16 says, “ALL the churches send you greetings.” What a huge statement! The Jewish churches care about the Gentiles? One church cares about another? How can this be? I suggest it is because of the Love and Grace of God. Today, we miss many blessings that the Kingdom of God has to offer to us by not enjoying the associations with other churches. We work not in competition but in cooperation. We cooperate with church in our community, country, and on every continent. Why? Because of the amazing grace of God. Through His love and grace we have common ground. God loves us, extends His grace to us, and asks that we love the brotherhood (that’s all the born again) in the same way HE LOVES US!! Will we?
(Finish with the Poem "The Dash"