The Apostle Paul lived an interesting life. He lived the kind of life that results in having lots of great stories you can tell toward the end. While some people observe other people making changes, taking risks, and getting arrows shot at them, Paul was the kind of guy who wasn't content to sit around and observe. He was compelled with the kind of unction the Holy Spirit fuels, to boldly do what he had been called to do. Paul's letters and the book of Acts record many of these bold moments as Paul took risks to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to unbelieving people.
Paul spent his life on this earth attempting big things. He experienced great successes and painful failures, but I admire what he did, and I'm motivated by the example he gives us of the blessings of submitting our lives over to the Lord, and learning to listen to the Lord's voice when He speaks.
And I'm grateful that when Paul did the big things the Lord called him to do, that he was intentional about bringing other people along with him. He wasn't trying to bring the gospel to the world by himself. He partnered with men and women who became His family in Christ. They served together, and we are the beneficiaries of their sacrifices. We know Jesus, in part, because people like this partnered together to make Him known to us, and their example has been emulated by millions of people throughout the centuries.
So as we're getting close to the end of our study of Paul's letter to the Romans, let's take a look at why he appreciated those who partnered with him, and let's be inspired to do big things together.
I. Never be above serving someone else
Recently, I heard the story of a multi-millionaire who was walking with a few guests through a large complex he owned. As they were walking, one of the guests noticed something interesting about him. When he came across a piece of trash, he picked it up himself. He didn't demand someone else do it or call someone with the specific title of "trash removal" to come attend to it. He did it. It wasn't a task that he felt was beneath him.
I think it's a shame that some people get to a spot in life when they think they're above serving others. I've heard people say things like, "I've done my time. Let someone else do that now." I've also heard comments like, "I pay people to do that so I don't have to."
Consider Phoebe whom Paul mentions in these verses. He tells us a few interesting things about her. She's referred to as a "servant of the church". The word for servant in this passage is the same word that we also translate "deacon." Phoebe had a heart for service. Just as Christ took the form of a servant when He came to this earth, Phoebe didn't consider herself above serving others. She did this for Christ's glory and developed a reputation as an example of what genuine service should look like.
Paul also tells us that Phoebe was a "patron of many" including himself. It appears that the Lord had blessed Phoebe with wealth during the course of her earthly life. Is that something you'd like the Lord to bless you with?
Years ago, I bought an investment property that needed repair. While I was working on it, one of the neighbors came over to talk to me. In the midst of the conversation, he told me that he was about to become very wealthy because of something he invented. He also told me that he intended to build a local playground with the money he would be receiving. I didn't believe a word of what he was saying, but his fantasy certainly sounded nice to him.
So, what would you do if you had large sums of money? My guess is that you'd do the same exact things you already do. Money won't change the convictions and values of your heart. If you're already giving, and meeting the needs of others, you'll continue to be generous. If you're mostly focused on consumption and comfort at present, that's what you'll continue to focus on.
Phoebe was clearly someone who was generous with her time, her energy, and her resources. She rejoiced in her faith in Christ, was grateful for His service to her and the blessings He had bestowed upon her, and her heart was touched to go and do likewise. She may have been wealthy, but she wasn't above blessing others with her service, her time, and her resources. It's clear that some of the ministry that Paul and others did was funded by her generosity. Do we also have this kind of heart, or are we still above serving someone else other than ourselves?
II. Risk your neck at least once in your life
Recently, I forced my children to sit down and watch a lengthy documentary about D-Day and Word War II. I don't imagine they were highly interested in watching it when I first put it on, but by the end of the program, they seemed grateful for what they learned from it. One thing that you'll learn from those who have been off to war together is that the experience of serving in that perilous capacity forms a powerful bond of friendship and trust. I believe Paul experienced that kind of bond with Priscilla (Prisca) and Aquila.
Scripture tells us a few things about Priscilla and Aquila. We know they were fellow tent-makers like Paul. Paul met them in the city of Corinth, and while he was there, they allowed him to live with them and work alongside them. Scripture teaches us that they hosted church gatherings in their home. We're also told that this couple was actively involved in teaching, discipling, and mentoring other church leaders (like Apollos).
Priscilla and Aquila lived lives, and demonstrated forms of hospitality, that clearly displayed their deep commitment to the cause of Christ. And somewhere along the line, they apparently also risked their lives on behalf of Paul. We don't know specifically what they did, but in the era they lived in, Christians were frequently persecuted and executed. Paul was obviously making himself a target by openly proclaiming the need for faith in Christ, and at some point, Priscilla and Aquila must have either hid him, helped him escape harm, or offered him some form of protection that could have cost them their lives if their actions were exposed. I have to say, I like people like that.
Do you ever feel like sometimes we go though life, playing everything too safe? When I look back over the course of my life, I can see an interesting pattern. My favorite moments in my personal highlight reel are not the times when I played it safe. The best moments are when I took risks to be obedient to Jesus, no matter what it cost me. Some of those moments involved taking the risk to do something I wasn't sure I was good at, but it needed to get done. Some of those moments involved uprooting my life and my family. Some of those moments involved speaking hard truths, in love, but with the knowledge that I would pay a price for opening my mouth.
But here's the thing. Can we really say we're walking by faith and completely trusting Jesus if we're never willing to risk our neck to be radically obedient to Him? Priscilla and Aquila risked their necks to advance the gospel. Paul did as well. I hope you also get the chance to risk your neck at least once in your life.
III. Don't be afraid of hard work that pays you nothing
Even though some of the names Paul lists in this closing section of his letter are difficult to pronounce, I'm glad he included them. It's clear that Paul valued these brothers and sisters in Christ. In the midst of the thousands of people he spoke to and interacted with, he remembered these fellow workers.
In this passage, he speaks of people like a woman named Mary who had worked hard for the church. He mentions Andronicus and Junia who were his fellow prisoners for the cause of Christ. He speaks of Urbanus who was his fellow worker in Christ, and he lists other names of people who worked hard in the Lord.
What motivated this effort? Why did these people work? Did they do it for recognition? Did they do it for compensation? No, they worked for the Lord's glory. That was their supreme motivation. Since we walk in their steps, we should also be willing to work hard, even if there isn't an earthly reward connected to our labors.
IV. Express your affection for your Christian family
In the church I was blessed to grow up in, there was a godly woman named Joyce. Age wise, she was older than my parents, but not quite as old as my grandparents. She was one of the most affectionate people I ever met. Those who know me best, know that I tend to show affection through acts of service or words of encouragement. Joyce showed her affection to me, and just about everyone in our church on Sunday mornings, with a big kiss. And while I never grew fully used to that, I grew to appreciate the fact that this was her way of making it clear that her church family knew they were loved and appreciated. It mattered to her that we knew we were loved.
Paul understood that expressing affection is important for believers in Christ, so he encouraged it in these verses. Again, he named names, and encouraged the church to greet one another while showing genuine affection and appreciation. I'd like to think that's something we're also taking the time to show our church family, because it's certainly wonderful to be on the receiving end of genuine love.
Reading through a portion of Scripture like this that names a bunch of names can often seem tedious to us, and can sometimes result in us skipping a passage like this all-together. But I'm grateful for the privilege to pause for a moment and read though this portion of God's word. It's a portion of Scripture that motivates us to do big things, but we aren't called to do them alone. We can bravely, and radically be obedient to Christ, together.
© John Stange, 2019