Because I have had the opportunity to travel a great deal in my life, I have discovered that each place holds its own little joy. One of my personal favorites is the “Eternal City” of Rome. There are many things I enjoy about that city, but perhaps one of my favorite is sitting in a café along her lighted streets and outdoor restaurants on a cool evening. The food is incredible. The people come out in droves for an evening stroll, and there is often laughter echoing in the alleys from people enjoying one another at the small eateries all over the city. There is something that takes away from the experience and really makes me crazy however…Have you ever eaten in a restaurant where the table tips back and forth either because the floor beneath or the table legs are not leveled?
Since many Roman pavements have been in place for decades (and in many cases centuries!) the paving stone isn’t usually very even, and the tables moves every time you put any pressure on them. It can be very annoying watching the bread basket jump every time you forget and lean a bit on the edge of the table. I know it isn’t a life and death matter – but it is annoying. Sometimes, it seems to me, the problem is NOT the pavement, but the table itself! I don’t know a lot about making furniture, but I do know that making and assembling the legs on a table or chair can be the most difficult part – and getting the lengths exact is critical if you don’t want constant rocking effect of a playground see-saw. I have watched people put things beneath the leg of the table to keep it steady. I have even seen people get up and move the table to an different location to entirely to settle it – or maybe they think the server in the other section is more attentive, I am not sure.
I have admitted to not having much experience in furniture making, but I know this: the minimum number of legs for a stool is three. Less than that number and the stool will fall down. A mono-pod can help steady the photographer’s camera, but it won’t stand up unassisted. A tripod utilizes the irreducibly minimal number of legs to hold up a camera. It takes at least three. Four or more is not better – it is a problem, because the leveling is much harder and adds to the difficulty. A tripod is perfect for the job. In the final chapter in the Epistle to the Romans, Paul closes the letter to the church, but also offers us a window to understanding three “legs” on which ministry is rested. He didn’t do it by way of instruction per se, but if you look closely, you will not three truths that balance a church, or eve an individual follower of Jesus, that flow out of the narrative he wrote.
Key Principle: Thriving believers have three priorities that hold up their message: relationship, truth and worship.
On first impression, Paul’s letters often close with a “shopping list of greetings” and some closing random thoughts and instructions that many skip over when they read. Wading through a long list of people we don’t know isn’t particularly helpful, so we may want to ask: “Why would God include these in His Word?” There are, no doubt, several answers to this question. It isn’t nearly as obscure as you may think.
For example, the last chapter of Romans can easily be divided into three sections that highlight each of the three “legs” upon which ministry (and the Christian life for that matter) get their stand. First, part of the passage indicates what should be at the heart of ministry work – relationships. Second, they explain the church’s largest concern – the propagation of the truth. Finally, they remind us of our goal this side of Heaven, that is to begin the worship of God that will characterize our eternal life – but do it on a fallen and rebellious planet right now! Each of these three legs holds up the message of the church. Each exalts Jesus. Each needs to be in balance with the other. Perhaps the best way to show how they work together is to offer a thought of what they look like “out of balance”:
• In some circles the FAMILY is so emphasized that the body of Christ becomes the local manifestation of a CLUB of FRIENDS – more keen on fellowship than any instruction or outreach. In extreme cases, like at first century Corinth, the relationships even trumped a commitment to truth – until Paul corrected them. You see this in cases where church leaders fail to take a stand on the Word because they feel it would hurt their popularity or reduce their mass appeal. They forget the church is not ours, the message is not ours and changes are not up to us. If it is truly God’s church – careful study of His Word on things is what would be appropriate. We are FOR what He is FOR; against what He has stated He is against – no matter the popularity of that message.
• In some churches the TRUTH is all there is that seems to bring the body together. That may seem fine on first glance, but if you look more closely, they don’t demonstrate that they like each other much at all. Each comes for what they GET, not to CONNECT with other believers. They emphasize preaching and teaching, but there is little or no body life. Sadly, I have been a part of some of these kinds of churches in my life. They don’t laugh together. They are gone minutes after the end of the service. There is no reason to “hang around”. Something is obviously missing from the DNA strand of such a place. Commitment to truth cannot dismiss commitment to community and outreach – or part of the truth is not actually being grasped.
• Finally, some churches are out of balance when it comes to their notions of WORSHIP. They equate style with substance, emotion with Spirit, and they appear deeply in love with a Jesus they barely know. The truth is not well explained. They have zeal, but little knowledge. They sing and cry out desperately for a Christ Who has been carefully revealed in the pages of a Bible – but the text is wholly unfamiliar to them. They draw people by the band, but not by the Savior. The emotion and zeal is high In such places, where the Spirit is exchanged for soul – and all done in sincerity.
Body Life: We must guard relationships as something incredibly special (16:1-16, 21-24):
Let’s take some time to look at each leg of ministry God outlined, beginning where the text does, in relationship. There are two parts of the narrative that exemplify relationship in Romans 16. The first sixteen verses, and then a small section in verses 21-24 near the end of the text. Opening the last part of the letter, Paul noted things believers do for one another as though they were natural.
1) They give Recognition: They commend those who serve well:
16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea…10 Greet Apelles, the approved in Christ.
The common discussion about verse one is the fact that Phoebe’s position in the church was either a “deaconess” – that is a woman of the commission of the Deaconate, or the generic term for servant. The grammar doesn’t help, so some churches believe she served in a position, and others think he wasn’t saying that at all. I believe there is sufficient evidence that she was, in fact, a holder of position, and I have taught and accepted both men and women as part of the serving commission called the Deaconate.
Founded out of a need to “wait on tables” in Acts 6, the initial band of men chosen to meet the practical needs of the fellowship appears to have expanded to include women a few years later. Early church evidence suggests that women were needed to fill this role because men were not adequate to care for the specific range of needs that single and elderly women had.
I am less concerned about that issue here, than about the understanding of RECOGNIZING the work people who are busy in ministry. I want to be frank with you. I am up front. I teach and lead and as a result, I get affirmed by many in the rooms where I serve. Yet, the longer I serve, the more I realize that there are many who need to be recognized as vital or my work will not continue.
In my case, my wife first comes to mind. Many see me, but few see how I am able to accomplish things on three continents – writing, leading and teaching – and keep the schedule together. The secret is that Dottie pays the bills. She tracks all the accounting. She keeps a thousand details working and tries to keep them off my desk.
Behind my wife, there is also the team in ministry that helps keep things flowing around me without telling me what I don’t need to know. Matt and his wife, Ben and his wife, David and his wife, Pat and the wife he wishes he had, elders that catch many of the financial dealings and legal matters, deacons that work to care for practical issues of church families – all these work to make what happens on Sunday only the storefront of the actual work. I get concerned when we forget that often leaders only hear when things AREN’T what people want. Let me say it clearly: NEVER underestimate the power of a kind word of recognition to the leader and servant who is oft behind the scenes.
2) They offer Respect: The give reception to those who walk well:
16:2 that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints.
Another form of this is the way they greet one another:
16:3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus…6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you…10b “Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus… 11b “Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord…15 Greet Philologus and 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.
Paul didn’t only ask them to greet people. Later in the passage, Paul sends greetings…Romans 16:21 Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen. 22 I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord. 23 Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, the brother. 24 [The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.]
It is funny to hear the team of ministry had their own greeting. They kissed, expressed love and care, and built practical ways to show they needed and wanted to be a team.
3) They extend Relief: They help those called to do the work:
16:2b “…and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.
Leaders need help. Servants need help. It is easy to think that someone else has ‘more time on their hands’ than you do. Here is what I know – we all have twenty-four hours in a day, but some are pressed to care for the needs of many others beside themselves. That’s why summer seemed long when you were a child, but flies by now that you are an adult, responsible for bills, people and projects. We need to remember not to spend all we make, nor expends all the energy we have – so that there is something we can do to help when needs arise.
4) They take Risks: They endure hazards for one another:
16:4 who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles…16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
In the days ahead, I suspect I will have to say less and less about this. What happens when it is no longer possible to teach in a public university if you won’t openly align yourself with ungodly teaching and character? More of us will risk career and financial security to stand in the front lines of our cultures clash with our faith. We need to understand that is just the beginning of risks…
Last year our online teaching was systematically taken apart by a group in the Near East that threatened us and hacked our systems, time after time. Several people, including Bill Daly worked around the clock to get our systems secured – and the fight continues. The threats were real and personal – and this has only just begun. I deeply appreciated those who worked to keep us going, and others who encouraged the team through the constant disruptions.
5) They Relish time together: They love one another:
16:5b “…Greet Epaenetus, my beloved who is the first convert to Christ from Asia, also greet the church that is in their house.. … 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. 12b Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord.
Look at the number of people they addressed with the term “beloved” and you will get the impression that they actually cared for one another. Let me cut to the point: Before you waste another week enraged about politics and upset about a decline of our culture, try asking the question: “Who can I invite over this week from my church? Who can I write a note of encouragement to? What problem can I solve or burden can I lighten for someone else? Cook a meal and deliver it finished and ready. Offer to clean the house of someone you know is physically struggling. You will be surprised how practical love for one another will build strength no sermon can deliver.
6) They Relate to one another as family:
16:11 Greet Herodion, my kinsman…13 Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them.
Believers have to understand that we are connected. Let me offer an example: “Some missionaries in the Philippines set up a croquet game in their front yard. Several of their neighbors became interested and wanted to join the fun. The missionaries explained the game and started them out, each with a mallet and ball. As the game progressed, opportunity came for one of the players to take advantage of another by knocking that person’s ball out of the court. A missionary explained the procedure, but his advice only puzzled the friend. “Why would I want to knock his ball out of the court?” he asked. “So you will be the one to win!” a missionary said. The short-statured man, clad only in a loincloth, shook his head in bewilderment. Competition is generally ruled out in a hunting and gathering society, where people survive not by competing but by sharing equally in every activity. The game continued, but no one followed the missionaries’ advice. When a player successfully got through all the wickets, the game was not over for him. He went back and gave aid and advice to his fellows. As the final player moved toward the last wicket, the affair was still very much a team effort. And finally, when the last wicket was played, the “team” shouted happily, “We won! We won!” That is how the Church, the body of Christ, should be. We’re a team. We all win together.” (adapted from A-Z Preaching illustrator).
We hurt ourselves when we fight, rather than trying to aid one another. We must be found ACTIVELY BINDING ourselves together in relationships of practical love for one another. The early church spread more by caring for each others’ needs and then using that as the platform to get people to hear of Jesus than any sophisticated concert, program or brochure. The way we treat each other is FAMILY, but we mean that in the positive Biblical model – not the modern family.
Abraham Lincoln was once being criticized for his attitude towards his opponents. “Why do you try to make friends with them?” a colleague asked. “You should try to destroy them.” Am I not destroying my enemies,” the President asked gently, “when I make them my friends?”
Remember, it is not the job of a Christian to SEEK recognition, but it is the job of the body to offer it!
Paul’s example showed clearly the first LEG of the PLATFORM THAT EXALTS JESUS AND THE GOSPEL is CONNECTED BODY LIFE.
In addition to such “body life”, we must remember that love is only real when based on truth. Love based on a lie is the emotional fluff of infatuation. We must, therefore, remember that relationship is tied to a second leg…
Truth: We must guard the foundation as something incredibly precious (16:17-20):
Romans 16:17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. 19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
Relationship alone (CONNECTED BODY LIFE) will not exalt Christ completely, though it is a good start. Paul added a priority holding fast to the truths that provided CAREFUL BODY GUARDS. We must be vigilant stewards of truth (16:17-24). We are about FAMILY, but we are also very much about TRUTH. Guarding includes:
• Keeping an eye on (v. 17, skopeo: to scope out; mark and identify) those who seem to be raising divisions (dichostasia: “to stand apart”) and setting up people to walk away from the Biblical teachings (“hindrances” is skandalon: from “the stick trigger of a trap” – 16:17a). We must guard the church to be a “safe place” for the young believer – who is easy prey when no one is watching over them.
• Individually keeping away from (ekleeno: deviate away from them) those who divert people into false teaching. They are slaves to their own bellies (koleia: related to the idea of colon- 16:17b-18a). Each of us need to measure the fruit of leaders before we follow them. We need to ask – “Are they leading people to the Mastery of Jesus, or into license and self-will?”
• Individually stepping away from those who would lead away by cunning (“smooth”: craestologia: plausible though untrue words and “flattering speech”: eulogia – false praise) the innocent (akakos: “unsuspecting” are those without suspicion through innocent nature -16:18b). Do you see an agenda that is not holy in their words? Back away.
• Individually making wise choices between things that are “good” (agathos: generous and good natured) and “innocent: (akherias: wine term for unmixed, pure) and evil (kakos: of defiled nature – 16:19). Satan is behind this destructive work, but he will be defeated (16:20).
I love the translation by JB Phillips: “I want to see you experts in good and not even beginners in evil”
The Enemy’s strategy is sowing tares among the wheat, inhibiting the sharing of the Gospel, enticing believers to fall into sin that will negate their credibility, distracting churches and Christians from their true mission by focusing on side-issues, creating societies and cultures that make the Gospel sound absurd or make it difficult for Christians to live Christ-like lives, breaking up families….doing whatever he can to distract from God’s glory….
From time to time I hear believers explain why their kids need to be socially balanced and educated in the sin sickness of the world system. I don’t buy it. They’ll catch on to sin soon enough – it comes naturally! There is a third leg we should talk about…
Celebration: Guard our purpose (to bring Him glory) as something prized:
Romans 16:25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.
We are about FAMILY (CONNECTED BODY LIFE) and TRUTH (CAREFUL BODY GUARDS), but we have another leg to the platform that elevates Jesus: CONTINUOUS BODY CELEBRATION: Blessing God for body life worship (16:25-27). Worship includes:
A proclamation that God is able (dunamis: He has the power) to bring stability (“establish” is sterizo: probably from a nautical term to lash down for a storm – firm, bring stable foundation to) in accordance with the message of the Gospel. God, who began the with bringing the world salvation through sending His Son (Gospel = euangellion), and then guided the message to our ears is able to take my wobbly faith and inconsistent behaviors and lead us to our redemption (kerugma= proclamation). We praise Him for what the Gospel does, and for Who He is! (16:25a)
Paul told a young Pastor: 2 Timothy 1:12 “I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.
Paul wrote to a young church: Philippians 1:3-6 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
A proclamation that God’s plan is made known (PHANEROO – clarified, displayed) in His Word, revealed by the move of the Spirit, not “cleverly devised myths of men” (16:25b-26). The verses offer five details:
Romans 16:26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.”
God’s plan is in writing (graphic). God’s plan came by prophets. God’s plan was according to His command. God’s plan was open to all. God’s plan leads to heeding to the Master’s voice.
Peter also testified to this:
2 Peter 1:16 “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 19 So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
We offer a proclamation that God knows what He is doing (“wise” – 16:27). We need to sing and praise, pray and proclaim that we might remember that God is always good, always working and always doing things right! God ALONE (monos) is WISE (sophos is skilled and knowledgeable). OUR WORSHIP MUST SHOW CONFIDENCE THAT GOD KNOWS WHAT HE IS DOING!
Our proclamation must be to glorify (reflect the after image) God (16:27). We reflect God’s attributes to honor Him with a mirror of Himself.
Honor, praise, renown, distinction – all are words synonymous with glory. As a manifestation of the work of His hands, all creation brings glory to God. In Genesis 1:31 we read, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning-the sixth day.” Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” God’s very work praises Him and brings Him glory. Glory to God is displayed through His mighty actions. Psalm 111:3, “Glorious and majestic are his deeds, and his righteousness endures forever.” In Psalm 138:5 we read, “May they sing of the ways of the LORD, for the glory of the LORD is great.” Exodus 15:11 says, “Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” No one can accomplish what God can. He is above and beyond our comprehension. (allaboutGod.com)
There are three “legs” that elevate the Gospel on a platform to be seen by those who are without – family ties in which believers were connected, carefully recognized and guarded truths around which the core values of the believers are founded and a celebrative and vibrant worship that proclaimed God’s character and majesty. It is TOUGH to level the legs of a table. Family, Truth and Worship must be balanced and used to exalt Jesus – not our church. It isn’t about OUR FAME, but about HIS STORY!
Thriving believers have three priorities that hold up their message: relationship, truth and worship.
Walt Disney was a dreamer. His crowning vision was EPCOT; Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. He envisioned the perfect city of 20,000 using all of the most modern advances technology. One problem, Walt Disney died before his dream was ever realized. It was so big and complex and outside the box that no one else in the Disney company ever fully grasped the dream and had little idea how to make it work after he was gone. What Walt Disney intended as a living breathing perfect city turned out only to be an entertainment center.
Jesus left a blueprint for His church so vast, so marvelous, and so innovative – a living, breathing, expanding organism that would permeate and transform people around the world. As time went on, some of His followers lost the vision and couldn’t wrap their minds around such a magnificent plan. Rather than a community of loving, passionate follower of Christ dedicated to demonstrating the power of the Christ-transformed life in a dark world, they began to do what they knew best, build buildings and run organizations and develop entertainment centers that would hopefully draw the crowds to hear the story but miss the transforming power of Christ. (Adapted from a sermon by David Welch, Life Signs of a Healthy Church, 10/19/2009).