Text: Romans 16:1-16
Nowhere in Paul’s epistles do we find such a long list of names. There are 29 names in all; but the number of persons mentioned are much more. Further, Paul had not visited the church or churches in Rome, but he seems to have known many of the saints there very well.
In that list of 29 names, we find Paul’s assessment of the believers he knew in Rome. There are six names which have special mention; they are at the top of the list – Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchrae; Prisca and Aquila, who risked their lives for Paul and were a blessing to many churches; Epaenetus, the first convert to Christ in Asia; and Andronicus and Junia, well known to the apostles and who came to Christ even before Paul.
Thereafter we can categorize two groups of saints – those beloved to Paul, and those who worked for the Lord. Notice how Paul reserves the word ‘beloved’ for a few – Ampliatus, Stachys, Persis and Epaenetus. Surely these four were very close to the heart of Paul. But in other cases, Paul speaks of those who worked for Christ – Mary, Urbanus, Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis. But again, Paul makes a distinction between those who worked and those who worked hard. Notice, he says, “Mary worked hard for you.” Again he speaks of the beloved Persis who worked hard in the Lord. In the case of Persis, she not only worked hard, but she was beloved to Paul. Certainly Persis is ranked a notch higher than Mary, and much higher than Tryphena and Tryphosa.
What is the conclusion we are drawing from these personal greetings of Paul to the saints in Rome? Obviously the great apostle has assessed the love and the labour of these saints for the Lord. And he is careful to make the necessary grading. Similarly we will be assessed at the Judgment Seat of Christ. The Lord looks at our heart (whether we truly love Him) and he also assesses our work for the church. I think this word ‘beloved’ is very precious.
That brings us to Paul’s description of two other saints at Rome. He says Apelles has been approved in Christ, thereby implying that in some way Apelles has been tested and proved in the matter of faithfulness to the Lord. (Read James 1.12 and 2 Tim 2.15. We all are being tested and proved by God – are we totally devoted to the Lord and His work? Or does selfishness lurk very large in our lives? Again, we notice that Rufus is ‘chosen in the Lord’ – which means that he is an outstanding saint. Chosen means ‘choice’ – hand-picked and chosen! God watches us all very carefully and he selects his ‘chosen vessels’ out of the large body of the saints.
Finally, we have Paul mentioning the names of nine saints in Romans 16.14, 15. He has nothing to say about any of them, only he knows them by name. There are also the nameless ones – Paul refers to ‘brethren’ and ‘saints’ in Romans 16.14, 15. He doesn’t know their names.
To me it seems that Paul, consciously or unconsciously, has been making an assessment of all these believers. And it is clear there are at least four grades: i. the top four; ii. the beloved; iii. those who worked for the Lord; iv. mere names. All I can say is that at the Tribunal of Christ, let us not appear in the list of mere names, or even in the category of nameless ones. How wonderful to be in the first three categories – to be specially mentioned by the Lord, to be beloved to the Lord, to be among those who worked and worked hard for the Lord.
May the Lord bless this meditation on Romans 16.