July 12, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Romans 16)

Submitted by Cynthia P. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 16:1-16

  • What can be surmised about the life of the early Christian community from the fact that though Apostle Paul had never been to the church at Rome, he had so many people there whom he could greet with such personal references?

From the fact that Apostle Paul had never been to the church at Rome, he had so many people there whom he could greet with such personal references show me that the life of the early Christian community was really warm and relational and well-connected.  The letters of the apostles must have been circulated all over and there must have been this mutual desire to find out about one another and see how others are doing at different churches through the different people that traveled from church to church.  It didn’t seem like the early church was just focused on their own local church but they were all well-connected, through the people that they sent back and forth, like how Priscilla and Aquila went from the church in Rome, to Corinth, to Ephesus, to Rome and back to Ephesus.  So the people that Paul lists here he might have never met but just heard about through Priscilla and Aquila and others or he might have just met them in passing, for short pockets of time before he moved on in his missionary travels.

This also tells me that deep, affectionate Christian relationships don’t have to depend on actual amount of time spent or being physically together all the time.  There is something about mutually striving to serve God and seeing others working hard and risking their lives for God that really encourages you and draws you close to one another.

I remember when I was out in Taiwan serving, how even though I was physically far from most of our church members, I felt this camaraderie with everybody because we were all trying to serve God.  I felt closer to my leaders because I got a taste of what it must be like in their shoes because of the added responsibilities and burdens that I had to take on.  I remember on one of the visits back to the US, we had a time of Bible teaching training and I got to hear different people share about how they felt like David before Goliath often in their ministry.  It was one of the most encouraging moments for me hearing their Bible studies because it encouraged me to know that I am not alone and that we were all trying to serve God and felt beyond our capacities, and it was a sweet place to be.

Even in something short like a short-term mission trip, because we mutually serve and work hard for the 2 weeks or so, there is such fondness and affection.  Each time I see someone that I was on a mission trip with or that had gone to Taiwan for a mission trip while I was there, I still feel that kind of fondness and affection toward them, recalling the ways in which we had experienced God together.  And definitely this is how I feel toward our church plant members the few times that we get to see them through the year.  There is mutual encouragement knowing that they are serving God hard out in their respective campuses.

  • As Apostle Paul comes to the end of his dense and packed epistle, he lists people he loves—those who had been “a great help … to me,” a couple who “risked their lives for me,” three he calls “dear friend,” many who “worked hard,” those who “have been in prison with me,” and a woman who “has been a mother to me.”  Think about how he must have felt as he recollected each of these brothers and sisters, and the shared experiences and stories of serving God together surrounding each of them.  Reflect on the richness of Apostle Paul’s life.  Do I recognize such a life as the best and highest life?  Who might be the ones who remember me with this kind of fondness, and whom can I recollect with a similar fondness in Christ?  If I have none, or only a few such people in my life, what is the reason, and how can this change?

As I read this chapter, there is a part of me that wishes I knew the full story of each of them.  I want to hear how Rufus’ mom was a mother to Paul, I want to hear about how she always told him to put on a jacket when he went on his travels so that he doesn’t get sick.  I am curious if Rufus really is Simon of Cyrene’s son and the stories he would be able to tell about how his father was converted after carrying Jesus’ cross.   If Andronicus and Junias were Paul’s relatives who “were in Christ before [Paul] was,” maybe they’d have stories of how they really prayed for Paul before he was converted and the joy they experienced when they heard about Paul after that Road to Damascus experience.  I can imagine the kind of encouragement Epenetus must have been to Paul being “the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.”  This chapter was a succinct greeting to all of these people but there must have been so many stories behind the scenes that we don’t know about and it shows me a glimpse of the richness of Apostle Paul’s life.  I look forward to asking Apostle Paul and each of these people when I see them in heaven so that I can find out.

As I think about this life, I do see that this is the best and highest life.  I’ve tasted it for the last 17 years and I can testify that this life has brought me joy and richness like I had never known.  And yet, it is a sobering question to ask myself who will remember me with this kind of fondness.  I would like to think that many can do so, those that I co-labor with—my leaders, my fellow staff members, our church plant members, our staff and students in Taiwan, etc.  These are some of the people that I feel fondness toward and so as I strive to serve God hard in my current assignment here in Berkeley, it is my prayer that there is this kind of mutual fondness.  But I know that I can and need to add to the number of people I can feel this toward.  One reason for the limit in number is my own sense of my limitations and just my selfishness.  There are many times when I feel like I have enough burdens already with the people entrusted to me and so I find my heart not wanting to make more room for other people.  I think this can change through prayer and if I take the burdens that I feel and bring them before the cross and lay it at Jesus’ feet and also share it with other co-laborers so that we can strengthen one another in prayer so that it’s not me trying to carry these ministry burdens alone.  When I do that, then I think I can make more room for people in my own heart and add to the number of people I can feel fondness toward.


Submitted by Albert L. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 16:1-16

  • List the characteristics of the people Apostle Paul greets here.  What picture of Christian discipleship and relationships do these qualities paint?

The people Apostle Paul greets are listed as servants, a great help to Apostle Paul and others, fellow workers, hard workers, outstanding among the apostles, people who risked their lives for Paul, dear friends, tested and approved in Christ, and people like mothers, brothers, and sisters to Paul.  These qualities paint a picture of deep commitment to God to work hard and serve others out of love that goes beyond family lines and worldly values.  The depth of relationship among all of these people is also amazing as they genuinely care for the wellbeing of others, they sacrifice for each other, and they serve God side by side in good times and bad.  Christian discipleship isn’t just about training up one person to be a preacher, but it involves working with others in close connection, supporting and supported by the church as one body.

  • What were the conditions that created the depth of relationships pictured here?  What should be the basis of relationships in the church?

The conditions that created this depth of relationships were: a lot of hard work for Paul and other missionaries to do, the threat of persecution by the Roman government leading to prison or death, and the meeting and fellowship of believers in people’s homes.  This shared mission and work, the common dangers they faced, and the enjoyment of unselfish closeness and love were what cemented the early Church together and should continue to be the basis of relationships within the church.  Our relationships should not be based on things like how much money we earn, what hobbies we have on the weekends, which neighborhood we live in, and how emotional a preacher can make us feel on Sundays but Christian discipleship is a full-life commitment to Godly living every day that needs to be done in a community of like-minded believers.  As we explore our purpose as ambassadors of Christ and God’s servants in every way, we will grow to be more like Apostle Paul as he did his missionary work, growing closer to those with shared purpose and dangers who were closer than family to him.

  • What can be surmised about the life of the early Christian community from the fact that though Apostle Paul had never been to the church at Rome, he had so many people there whom he could greet with such personal references?

The early Christian community was closely interconnected and it wasn’t just because they were few in the world, but because they made the effort to work closely together and have close fellowship in God.  They gave generously to those who they had not met or visited before, they wrote letters like Apostle Paul to distant churches to encourage and teach each other, there were traveling ministers and apostles who raised up other disciples to plant churches that they were all personally concerned for, and when they did meet there weren’t the give-and-take relationships of the world, but the pure and deep relationships of brothers and sisters and spiritual mothers and fathers in Christ.

  • Note the many names of women that appear in this list (e.g., Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Junias, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’ mother, Julia, Nereus’ sister.)  What does the fact that Apostle Paul referred to so many women with deep personal appreciation, respect, and high commendation show about gender roles in the early church?

In the early Church, women held important roles as well as men, counted equally as important in the mission work that they did rather than being judged by their gender.  Apostle Paul was appreciative of those who worked hard and served, probably in both important and humble positions as well as leading other men and women and their husbands and families to Christ.  There was no discrimination over gender because the early Church wasn’t into personal advancement over others and women are just as capable of helping in ministry by being strong spiritual mothers and godly sisters to men like Apostle Paul.

  • As Apostle Paul comes to the end of his dense and packed epistle, he lists people he loves—those who had been “a great help … to me,” a couple who “risked their lives for me,” three he calls “dear friend,” many who “worked hard,” those who “have been in prison with me,” and a woman who “has been a mother to me.”  Think about how he must have felt as he recollected each of these brothers and sisters, and the shared experiences and stories of serving God together surrounding each of them.  Reflect on the richness of Apostle Paul’s life.  Do I recognize such a life as the best and highest life?  Who might be the ones who remember me with this kind of fondness, and whom can I recollect with a similar fondness in Christ?  If I have none, or only a few such people in my life, what is the reason, and how can this change?

Apostle Paul’s life was rich with people, not with money or material things.  Even though he had considerable influence throughout the early Church, this is not what is important to him as he greets his friends and coworkers for the Gospel warmly and with genuine love and concern.  Such a life of shared experiences, working together for a higher purpose, genuine fellowship, purity of motives, generosity, and loyalty between Apostle Paul and his friends is truly the richest life that a person can have.  This is a full life although certainly not the most comfortable or easiest, but this is what God designed us for and this is the best thing that we can invest in, people with whom we will have eternal relationship with rather than things that we cannot take with us when we die.  I think of the people who I can call my dearest friends, those who I would drop everything to help, those who I labor alongside in my daily life as a minister, those who have suffered and grown in character and spiritual life with me, and those who could say the same of me, and they are largely my leaders, peers, and co-ministers.  I see that it is through the love and patience and guidance of many leaders who have acted as my spiritual parents in big commitments as well as small everyday decisions that have shaped me into the Christian that I am today, and I remember each of them fondly along with the life that they modeled for me and the concern they’ve expressed for me.  It is my peers who have challenged me at times and encouraged me at others, as we have fought against our sins together, shared years of experiences together, lived together in close proximity, prayed together, laughed together, and served together in a variety of ministry settings and mission trips.  As many of my peers have gone to join different church plants, I think back on how precious those times of working together and sharing in life together were, and as we continue to strive to do ministry in different cities, we can still be connected and close thanks to our common mission and putting in the effort to continue communicating and building up our relationships.  These are the people who will be with me in heaven, and it is an ever-expanding circle that stretches to include our whole church and other Christians on other campuses as we strive to live out the vision of the Acts 2 church in every college town together.  Sometimes though, I feel like I’ve got enough on my plate and on my mind and don’t want to add any more people to my sphere of concern and closeness, so that I don’t have to worry or think about them.  But it would be tragic to go through life trying to protect myself from opening up to others and keeping my sphere of concern small just because I don’t want to be bothered in whatever other ambitions I’m trying to pursue or get uncomfortable at being vulnerable when people know too much about me.  By learning to serve God with the humble and hardworking heart that we see in Apostle Paul and his friends as well as the desire to accomplish great things together for God, I can grow closer to the people around me who are doing the same and the shared stories and experiences we will have through the years and the depth of relationship that we share will be much richer no matter how much time we’ve spent together or how far away we are.

Romans 16:17-20

  • How does Apostle Paul exhort the church to deal with those who cause divisions in the church?

Apostle Paul exhorts the church to watch out for and keep away from those who cause divisions in the church.  They are not serving God but themselves and in this way deceive and corrupt others for their own gain and are not in obedience to God.  Those who cause divisions in the church employ smooth talk and flattery in order to advance their own social position or their own selfish agendas.

  • What can I learn about the nature of divisiveness within the church from Apostle Paul’s directive?

Divisiveness is subtle and can come from within the church because of human sinfulness.  It needs to be watched out for because it can come from those with authority in the church or those who are more vocal who can appear to be spiritually rooted but still cause conflicts in their disagreements with others or think that their way of doing things is best without working from the Bible or in agreement with other leaders.  Divisiveness is also a threat from within that distorts what we’ve been taught and this kind of compromising between the word of God and the personal agendas of people must not be allowed if the church is to survive and carry on its greater mission of bringing salvation to the world.  I have to be careful about which voices I listen to: Are they spiritually grounded in godly living and character?  Is what they are exhorting Biblical and good for advancing God’s work?  I also have to make sure that when I disagree with something that has been said or done in the church, I should ask proper questions and try to reason out whether the decision was Biblical or not.  A lot of times this can clear up simple misunderstandings instead of blowing things out of proportion and creating rifts between members of the same church.

  • Why is divisiveness within the church such a serious issue?

Divisiveness within the church is such a serious issue because this is not just a human institution, but this is the body of God that cannot be divided in mind or heart or mission as it is written in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12.  The harm and personal hurt that church splits in modern day America and other churches in the past are apparent for those who have experienced it and studied it, and it repels people from coming to the church to find answers to their spiritual hunger and godly living.  When the leaders or members of a church are squabbling over petty and worldly issues, looking down on each other, and disagreeing over personal agendas they want to promote rather than the wellbeing of their congregation, then they are not doing their duty and the body of Christ is crippled in its ability to attract and reach out to those who need to hear the Gospel and experience God’s unconditional love through Christians.

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