“Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.”- Romans 16:14–15
Today we come to the last set of greetings that Paul gives to particular believers in the ancient Roman church. As we prepare to consider this last set of names, it will be helpful for us to review the purposes of these greetings. The obvious reason for them is that the Apostle wanted to say hello to the Roman Christians whom he knew personally or through the testimony of other believers. Yet that is not the only purpose for the greetings.
We have easy access to paper and pens, but in the ancient world this was not so. Writing materials, including scrolls and sheets of papyrus, were expensive, and it was important to make the most of whatever space you had when you wrote to others. Paul fills the valuable space of Romans 16 with more than just names; he also notes and praises much of what these men and women did for the church. Frequently, he mentions that the people he greets were hard workers in the Lord (vv. 3, 9, 12), thereby holding them up as examples to the rest of the church in Rome. John Calvin states that this is purposeful, designed to inspire the other Roman Christians to work hard in the Lord as well. He writes, “The testimonies which [Paul] brings here in favor of some individuals, were partly intended for this end, that by honoring those who were faithful and worthy, faithfulness itself might be honored, and that they who could and would do more good than others.” By honoring those who had served the church well, the Apostle meant to encourage others to do the same.
We also find in this list of greetings a reminder of how the church is to function. The Apostles were key figures in laying the foundation for the church, but they did not labor alone. From day one, the work of Christ’s church has been done only through the contributions of all its members. No one person, not even an Apostle, can do all that is necessary for the church to function well. In fact, Paul’s greetings show us how the Apostle relied on the hospitality and labor of others to get his job done. Christians form one body that is healthy only when all members use their gifts to serve the Lord and one another (1 Cor. 12).
We do not know anything about the people Paul names in Romans 16:14-15 except that some of them were slaves or former slaves, and that some of them volunteered their homes for corporate worship, prayer, and fellowship. (“The saints who are with them” refers to Christian gatherings.) These believers took part in the church’s ministry according to their gifts and resources. May we always do the same.
Not everyone who works hard for Christ’s church receives honor and commendation from other people such as we see in Paul’s list of greetings. But even when no one else commends us for our work, the Lord sees what we are doing, and it is His evaluation that matters. Let us all serve the Lord in gratitude for our once-for-all salvation so that we will one day hear these words from God Himself: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Passages for Further Study
1 Corinthians 4:12
1 Thessalonians 5:12