I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also. Romans 16:1-2
A large portion of the last chapter of the Book of Romans is dedicated to the Apostle Paul’s friends; thirty-three people that Paul mentions specifically by name. It’s one of those sections that some might wonder why is included in God’s word. I submit to you that as you pour through the chapter, God reveals both His character and the character of those who choose to follow Him.
Starting with Phoebe, Paul commends her because she is a precious servant of the Lord. I found it interesting that the word ‘servant’ in the Greek is ‘diakonos’ from which we get our contemporary word deacon or in this case deaconess. We find throughout scripture that these servants in the early church cared for the poor and the sick, took charge of and dispensed the collections, and specifically in the case of women, taught other women. We also see that women served in the early church.
Priscilla and Aquila were close friends of Paul and met because they shared the same tent-making craft. After Paul had led them to Christ, they in turn led many others to Christ, including Apollos! They also maintained Christian fellowships within their homes and put their own lives on the line in order to protect Paul. Already we see with these first three people, Paul is establishing the components of a faithful believer.
Paul remembers Epaenetus, the first person he led to Christ in Achaia and Mary, a saint who labored much for the evangelical mission. Again I am intrigued by Paul’s choice of words because the Greek word used here for labor means to toil with wearisome effort. Personally, I have trouble recalling the last time I toiled for Jesus.
He makes mention of Andronicus and Junia, two apostles who served with him in jail ministry. The valuable insight we can gain from this notation is that the Lord is still in the apostle-appointing business. Some believe that after Jesus appointed the original twelve there were no more—this entry destroys that myth.
Two of my personal favorites are Apelles and Philologus, whose name literally means, ‘lover of the Word’. Of Apelles, Paul wrote that he was ‘approved in Christ’. Of course that begs the questions, “What must one do to be approved in Christ?” That answer is implied here and confirmed later in Second Timothy.
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15
I prefer the King James Version of this particular verse because it plainly states, ‘Study to show yourself to be approved by God.’ Want to be approved? Be a ‘Philologus’—be a lover of God’s word.
Tertius and Quartus are two more favorites. Tertius we know was a secretary of sorts for Paul, recording much (if not all) of this letter for him. What I soaked in is that their titles are slave-names: Tertius means ‘Third’ and Quartus means ‘Fourth’. What a powerful reminder the next time I get the urge to make a name for myself.
“So What,” You Say
Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, And the Lord listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him For those who fear the Lord And who meditate on His name. Malachi 3:16
I tell you so what. Paul has illustrated in this Epistle to the Romans what God has been doing all along—recording in His Book of Remembrance the faithful acts of His saints. When a Christian serves and/or speaks-up on behalf of the Lord, He puts it in His memory book. It kind of reminds me how my wife puts all our kids’ masterpieces on the refrigerator, despite misspelled words and rough artwork. To Mom, it doesn’t matter—she’s showing off her children. It doesn’t matter to the Father either—if you love and serve the Lord, you are on His refrigerator.