This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.
Paul tells the Romans that he has been delayed to see them while collecting an offering from the eastern European churches to aid in the poverty among the church members are Jerusalem. This collection is the same one mentioned in I Corinthians 16, which is often (wrongly) taken to be a tithe but which is actually a special offering to assist those in need in Jerusalem. He says that it is right for the Gentile churches to help support the Jewish churches, since the Jews are the root of our spiritual blessings.
Paul’s intention is to go to Rome and then on to Spain. There is considerable disagreement among scholars as to whether that trip was completed. Some believe that Paul was executed before leaving Rome; others believe he went to Spain and perhaps even further north (some same to Britannica) before being captured, returned to Rome, and executed.
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.
The letter to the Romans was sent by Phoebe’s hand, who is called a “servant” of the church at Cenchraea. Cenchraea was a seaport just outside of Corinth, indicating that this letter was most likely written during his travels to Corinth, sometime between 55 and 58 AD.
We learn quite a bit about Phoebe here. First, the term translated “servant” above is diakonos, a term meaning “servant” or “minister”. It is most properly translated deaconess, as the same word is translated ‘deacon’ several times in the Bible (e.g., Phl 1:1, 1 Ti 3:8, 1 Ti 3:12). In addition, we learn that she is a “patron” (prostasis)—that is, a woman of at least some independent means, who is placed in authority to care for the affairs of others with her means. I have written of the client-patron relationship before.
This passage is one you likely will not hear discussed much by fundamentalists. It is true that ancient Christians (coming from either the Jewish or Gentile molds) would not have allowed female presbyters (elders) and pastors (bishops). The primary teachers and leaders of the church were, definitely, men. But the deacon body—those who executed the will of the pastors, the “lay leaders” of the church, if you will—were as often women as they were men. And Phoebe is a great example (Lydia from Acts is another). Phoebe was wealthy and influential in the church, and thus held in a position of honor. The term of prostasis indicates that she was the deaconess responsible for overseeing the “women’s ministry” in the church, for lack of a better term. Male deacons saw to the needs of the men; female deaconesses saw to the needs of the women. So she was responsible for ensuring that the widows were looked after and cared for, and probably heavily involved in teaching the younger children as well (something which the women frequently did).
Let us move past the foolish sexism in the church, where we do not believe women can be a member of the deacons. It is not Biblical.
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.
Paul sends his greetings to those whom he knows. Prisca and Aquila are former travelers and evangelists with Paul, so they were quite good friends, and Paul mentions that they risked their lives to aid him. He then says, “Greet also the church in their house.” Recall that churches were relatively small at the time—basically neighborhoods would make up a church, some 30-70 people at the maximum, and often meeting in homes. These letters were meant to be circulated among the various churches. So when Paul writes to the “church at Rome”, he may well be writing to a hundred secret house-churches spread throughout the community, among whom the letter circulates.
Also interesting is Andronicus and Junia. Paul says that they are “well known to the apostles”, though some translate that as “well known among the apostles”—in which case, Junia (a female) would be one of the apostles. Though this is possible, the more convincing arguments seem to me to side with the above translation, that Andronicus and Junia are noteworthy for their actions, but not themselves apostles.
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen. I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.
This is good advice for any believer. If you hear someone teaching a doctrine, does it cause divisions among Christians? Does it disagree with the things Paul taught here? If so, be cautious. He also reminds us that God will crush Satan – we don’t have to. All we have to do is pay attention to the grace of Christ. Paul wrote this letter with his cousins Lucius and Jason and Sosipater being with him; Timothy his student was there as well. The scribe recording it was Tertius, and Gaius was the church member hosting Paul. The city treasurer of Corinth (Erastus), apparently was also a convert.
SUMMARY AND OUTLINE
Paul’s letter the Romans is (and few theologians would disagree) the most crucial giant of theology in the New Testament. Here is Christianity better and more comprehensively described than in any other existing work. Thus it is crucial that we understand it. And yet, we cannot understand it if we do not read it in its context.
As you study the book of Romans more on your own, try to read it in logical sections—not just by chapter divisions. The outline below should help you get a better scope of this amazing letter to Christians.
I. INTRODUCTION (Rom 1:1-17)
II. SIN AND THE LAW (Rom 1:18-3:20)
A. Unrighteousness and disbelief deserve God’s wrath (1:18-32)
B. We are all guilty of sin, and will be judged for it (2:1-3:8)
C. No one will ‘pass’ the judgment. All will receive God’s wrath for their sins (3:9-20)
III. JUSTIFICATION (Rom 3:21-5:21)
A. All Jews and Gentiles must have faith in Christ to be justified before God (3:21-31)
B. Abraham is proof that justification is by faith, not the Law (4:1-25)
C. Conclusion: Adam’s sin condemned all men; Jesus’ sacrifice regenerates all men (5:1-21)
IV. SIMULTANEOUSLY SINNER AND JUSTIFIED (Rom 6:1-8:39)
A. Grace frees us from sin but is not an excuse to sin (6:15-7:12)
B. Internal conflict will still exist between your sinful body and justified spirit (7:13-8:11)
C. This internal conflict will continue in this life, but the Holy Spirit will help you (8:12-39)
V. JEWS AND THE NEW COVENANT (Rom 9:1-11:12)
A. Answering objections by the Jews of how God chose to fulfill His promise (9:1-33)
B. The Jews cannot follow God without following the Christ He sent (10:1-13)
C. This is no surprise, as the evidence is in the Law and Prophets (10:14-11:6)
D. Summary and concluding statements to Jews (11:6-12)
VI. GENTILES AND THE NEW COVENANT (Rom 11:13-15:21)
A. The olive tree analogy—Jews, Gentiles, and salvation (11:13-36)
B. Introduction to Christian ethics for Gentiles (12:1-13:14)
C. Beware not to judge or tempt other believers (13:15-15:12)
D. Summary and concluding statements to Gentiles (15:12-21)
VII. CONCLUSIONS (Rom 15:22-16:27)