The tone of this passage is strikingly personal and tender. Paul has just spent 15 chapters preaching his heart out. And now it as if he looks around the gathered room in his mind’s eye and speaks to each one personally.
He begins, “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…..” (Romans 16:1-2).
How often do we take the time to specifically encourage and thank our brothers and sisters in Christ? Do we ever? The inspired text records this lengthy blurb where Paul edifies these “normal” church members. These are not super star apostles but rather the brick and mortar of the church – individuals leading ordinary lives for an extraordinary God.
He continues “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…..” (Romans 16:3-5).
The courageous, zealous, and devoted Paul took the time to encourage and thank his brothers and sisters even when he was not with them. He remembered them by name (Adronicus, Junia, Stachys, Mary, and more!). He was unafraid to claim his own affection: he mentions his “beloved Epaenetus,” Ampliatus his beloved in the Lord,” and Rufus’s mother who “has been a mother to me as well.”
And what’s most striking was how specifically he encouraged their inner qualities and their spiritual work: they have “worked hard for you,” they are “fellow worker[s] in Christ,” and they are “servants of the Lord” (Romans 16:1-16). This was no mere “well you’re pretty cool” – Paul was encouraging them spiritually.
Perhaps today, we too could take the time to thoughtfully, intentionally build up our own church family. We don’t have to write an entire epistle – a simple heartfelt “thank you” or an encouraging note are two good places to start.