Most Christians are familiar with the list of heroes of the faith found in Hebrews 11. There they read about commendations of several Old Testament believers. Perhaps, as they read, they wonder if there is a similar list of New Testament followers and here we have one in Romans 16.
The first detail that we can note about the list is that the members of the church in Rome were identified with certain houses. It may have been the case that these groups came from different parts of the city of Rome and members attended the one in their geographical location. We do not know how easy it would have been for all of them to meet together each Lord’s Day, so perhaps they had made this arrangement of being connected to a particular group. I suppose it is worth asking why they made this arrangement. We are not told, but I do not think the question is difficult to answer. They would have met for fellowship.
A second feature of the list is the variety of ways in which Paul describes fellow Christians. He calls several of them ‘beloved’. We can see from the frequency of its usage that Paul obviously was a man marked by brotherly love. Moreover, Paul describes several of them as working hard for the kingdom. It is evident that Paul was delighted with the work that those individuals did. In addition, Paul valued faithfulness, and we have an example of this in Andronicus and Junia, a missionary couple for about thirty years. And Paul appreciated the way that Apelles had come through a fiery trial and shown that a believer could commend Jesus in the worst of circumstances.
Those four details – beloved, hard-working, faithful and approved – should mark all those who trust in Jesus. It marked the members of the church in Rome and it can mark members of all churches wherever they are.
Paul also mentions two striking conversions. The first is ‘my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia’ (v. 5). Paul took the gospel to the province of Asia when he went to Ephesus along with Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18). There they met Epaenetus and he was converted. Paul saw him as a sample of more converts to come, and so it proved.
The second amazing conversion is Rufus, mentioned in verse 13. He is probably the son of Simon of Cyrene, who was forced to carry the cross of Jesus. I wonder what Simon thought when he was forced to carry it. And I wonder what he thought when he was converted, and when his wife was converted, and when his sons were converted!
Paul obviously met the wife of Simon and mentions that she was like a mother to him. We are not told where that was, but it is amazing how the cross brought them together. Of course, the cross brought together all the names in this chapter.
After reading this passage, two questions arise. First, do we remember those who helped us in the faith? Perhaps it would be useful to think round our congregations and note how others have helped us this year. And then we can extend it to thinking about those who helped us in the past.
Second, how do we become like Paul, so focussed on other people? I suppose the answer is that he stopped regarding himself as Number 1. He learned that primarily from Jesus and then, later, from followers of Jesus whom he met in his travels, some of whom he took time to mention in this passage of Romans.
(Lessons from a sermon preached today)