The Church is People

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. 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. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you” (Romans 16:1–16 ESV).

The Church Spans All Classes and Categories of Society: The Gospel is For Everyone!

There are 26 individuals listed here. Two families. At least five house churches. One set of twins, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greek names. Latin names. Roman names. Jewish names. Gentile names. Wealthy people. Slaves and freed men and women. Eight of the names are female names. There are very highly connected people in Roman society and even some from the imperial Roman house.[1]

You look at the membership list for the church at Rome and it’s a melting pot of every class, gender, race, social status, rich and poor, the famous, the never-heard-of-‘em, and everyone in between.

If all you had was the book of Romans, not only could you have a deep theology of the gospel (chapters 1-11), you get to chapter 16, and you must conclude that the gospel is for everyone and the church is for everyone! There’s arguably no category NOT mentioned here.

This is a tremendous truth that must be repeated over and over. The gospel is not a gospel merely for the rich, the poor, the powerful, the helpless, the well placed or the untouchables, it is a gospel for everyone. No matter who you are, your skin color, your story, your status, Jesus died for you. The Roman church reflects the cosmopolitan makeup of its city.

Now you know where I am going. If I have said it once, I have said it a hundred times, we can know the vitality of our church by whether it looks like our community. And since we are in this incredibly diverse community, we should celebrate the gospel’s diverse effectiveness and appeal as we see that diversity in our congregation. All are welcome to the gospel of Jesus. Paul celebrates this diversity by greeting everyone in every category! So must we.

God Sees Us Corporately and Individually

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this one but a reminder of the glorious doctrine of union with Christ. This key doctrine of Romans is how God saved us. When Adam sinned, we all sinned with him. But by union with Jesus, when Jesus died and rose again, we died and rose with him. This language is corporate. We’re all in this together.

This may seem a bit impersonal, like we are just a number to God; one of the masses of people he saved. But then you get to Romans 16 and when God wrote his book, he included individuals by name. In the Old Testament, genealogies. In the New Testament, Romans 16. This echoes the parable of Jesus describing the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to find and care for the one. Each of these names represents a person. A life. Jesus loves “the church,” and he loves each person in the church. Jesus is not a rancher, he’s a shepherd. He knows and loves you by name.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2021 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

[1] See Thomas R. Schreiner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Romans (Ada, MI: Baker Publishing House, 1998), 792, 797.

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