A Church Is More Than the Total Number of Its Converts
Print This Sermon
Sunday, January 10, 2010 - 6:00 p.m.  Sermon #: 1337
Pastor Don Horban

Romans 16:1-16 - “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, [2] 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. [3] Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, [4] 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. [5] Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. [6] Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. [7] Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. [8] Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. [9] Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. [10] Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. [11] Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. [12] Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. [13] Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. [14] Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. [15] Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. [16] Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.”

It would be hard for us to imagine how painstakingly labor intensive it would have been for Paul (or his scribe) to list out all of these names. There are 27 of them listed in these sixteen verses. And I think we should see something significant in the fact that, without any word processing, or even a pencil or ball-point pen, all of these names are scratched out.

I went down to see the Dead Sea scrolls at the Royal Ontario Museum a few weeks ago. I said to those with us it is humbling to see the sheer effort that has been expended to get you and me the Bibles we carry to church. These old manuscripts are tiny and detailed. There were written with steady hands in very poor light. It would have taken hours for Paul to list these 27 individuals. It makes we wonder, why Paul didn’t just say “Greet the Saints in Rome for me?”


There is something going on in this text that you might not notice if you race over the list with a quick glance. Actually, you have to go back to Romans 1:7 - “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The letter is addressed - intended for - all the Christians in all the churches in Rome. Remember that as you read.

In chapter sixteen Paul takes the time to single out specific individuals and congregations: Romans 16:3-5 - “[3] Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, [4] 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. [5] Greet also the church in their house....”

Then look at Romans 16:14-15 - “[14] Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them [15] Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.” So Paul sends out greetings to other specific Christians and groups of Christians after already saying his letter was for all the Christians in Rome.

What’s that all about? If I am talking to Kent Griffin I don’t say, “Greet Kent Griffin!” So when Paul writes about passing on greetings to specific people, after already telling us this letter was for “all the saints in Rome” it means it’s important to him that other Christians in the churches in Rome know he is passing on greetings to those he specifically names. So when he writes “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord....”(13) it means he’s not primarily saying that for Rufus, but for all the other saints who will hear about Rufus when this letter was read. Apparently they need to hear Paul’s mention of greetings to Rufus.

And all of this makes me ask “Why?” Why is it important for all the churches to hear about Paul’s greetings to Rufus? And I think it’s important because Paul wants all the other Christians - the ones he doesn’t name - to know what’s going on in the rest of the church. Paul wants to create a big picture for these unnamed Christians he’s not yet met. He doesn’t know what they may be going through. We know that Rome wasn’t a friendly place for Christians at this time. So Paul wants these Christians to know they are part of something bigger than themselves. They experience Christ individually, yes, but they’re also involved in a movement. There’s a flow of history that is sweeping the whole world. Each individual Christian is part of something much bigger than himself or herself.

This is the whole reason for Romans chapter sixteen. When Paul includes little details about people - like that fact that Persis “has worked hard in the Lord”(12), or that Prisca and Aquila “risked their necks for my life”(4), he’s not telling Persis and Prisca and Aquila anything they don’t already know about themselves. He wants the other Christians to know that they too can keep working hard for the Lord. And that it matters greatly that they do. He wants these other Christians to know that there are those who, because their faith is more precious than life itself, risk their necks for the spread of the gospel. Paul’s reminding all of the Christians at Rome that all sorts of credible, intelligent people, find Christ so real and compelling that they are willing to risk their necks for the gospel. And Paul wants to inspire the unnamed Christians to spill out their hearts in the same way!

So get the names of Christians who live life flat out for Christ. Read their biographies. Learn their secrets. Spread their fame. Follow their example.


To me, this is unavoidably emphasized. Just take note of the words Paul uses in most of the introductions of the names he lists: “Welcome her in the Lord”(2). “My fellow workers in Christ”(3). “The first convert to Christ”(5). “They were in Christ before me”(7). “My beloved in the Lord”(8). “My fellow worker in Christ”(9). “Apelles, who is approved in Christ”(10). “Great those in the Lord”(11). “Great those workers in the Lord”(12). “Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord”(13).

This isn’t just a list of names. This is the way a person saturated with Christ comes to see relationships. This is Paul’s way of reminding these Christians that Christ didn’t just change them. He changed the way they relate to everyone else. Jesus didn’t just die to forgive you. And He didn’t just die to forgive me. He died to transform the relationship between you and me. He didn’t just make you new and me new. He made us new.

Does this Christ-soaked relational element get reflected in all your emails? Is it in the text messages you bang off in such a hurray? Is Christ in your talk and your phone calls? Remember, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth - or email or cell phone - speaks.


Romans 16:3-4 - “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, [4] 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.”

I’m so pleased that the ESV goes with the very literal translation, including the idea of risking the neck, which is surely carried in the original language. In fact, to this day, we still talk about someone “sticking his neck out.” We mean he’s taking a huge chance. He’s committed to the point that someone can chop his head off. He’s at a point where he’s in with both feet - and his neck! He’s created his own vulnerability rather than sit on the fence over some issue or cause.

I fear we have fewer and fewer Christians who have found in Christ Jesus something bigger than their own life. We have more and more people talking about how great Jesus is, but fewer and fewer sticking their necks out for Him. North American Christianity is becoming far too pre-occupied with personal satisfaction. It’s too boring.

Paul would have us all know that Christ is really only taking on the adventurous. He wants to create his own militia in this fallen world. We don’t know for sure just what Prisca and Aquila did for Paul. We do know that they were used to living life on the edge for Christ. We’re told they were at one time Roman citizens, but were forced to flee when Emperor Claudius drove Christians out of Rome (Acts 18:2). And we do know that they were probably involved in helping Paul escape from certain death in a huge riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41). This is likely the incident to which Paul refers when they “risked their necks” for him.

And Paul sang their praises. He lived to see people whose devotion to Christ wasn’t keep secret. He loved to see people not saving their lives somewhere on the shelf.

And I want to close with this question. When did you last really risk something for Christ? When was the last time following Jesus gave you the same adrenalin rush you get from downhill skiing or hang-gliding or playing your best round of golf or game of hockey? When was the last time you felt like your commitment to Christ mattered?

Get out into the deep end of following Christ. Jump off the edge sometime soon. Let your friends know - finally let them know - it’s just too boring to live life as small as they do. Prove that Jesus is Lord of all. Prove you don’t just belong to a church, but that you’re sold out eternally to Christ Jesus. And prove that they’re missing the greatest adventure of all!