A personal ending - Romans 15:14 - 16:27

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the Riverside Church service on 29th March 2009.

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If you were given the choice which one of these three books would you most like to read?

•    Watching the English
•    The Book of Useless Information
•    The Hull White Pages

Given the choice who would spend an evening working through a list of names and numbers?

Given the choice who would spend any time in chapter 16 of Romans?

Do you read the Bible on your own? What would you do if you came to this chapter in your daily bible notes? A shout of joy or a quiet sigh?

Initially I wasn’t looking forward to preaching on Romans chapter 16. Of all the parts of Romans I end up with a list of names I cannot pronounce. However, as I’m studied this chapter over the last few days I discovered why it is such a fitting end to this grand letter of the Bible and I want to share with you two lessons that I think we can learn from Paul’s concluding chapter.

•    The gospel works!
•    The people of God must work!

First of all, the gospel works.

I hope you have been encouraged as you have worked your way through the book of Romans. What a privilege to have spent so much time in this letter. There is so much rich teaching to discover on every page. Wonderful encouragements for us.

Paul says he has a message that can change any life. 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”

Why is this gospel needed? God is angry at human rebellion and we are all rebels. So everyone alive today needs to hear this message of rescue and put their faith in Jesus.

We hear of the benefits. When we put our faith in Jesus we are justified. Law court language. Although guilty we are declared innocent. Jesus has paid our penalty and now we are linked to someone who is truly righteous.

Given the power of the Holy Spirit to change. We are still waiting for the glorious resurrection of our bodies but in the here and now are being transformed day by day into the image of Jesus.

Paul goes into great detail about the place of Jew and Gentile in the people of God. All can be saved if they put their faith in the Lord Jesus who is the Jewish Messiah.

Then all those chapters about how the gospel should lead us to offer our lives as living sacrifices to God. Impacting the way we treat other people both inside and outside the church.

And then we get to chapter 16? Is it an anti-climax? Not at all! It’s a perfect chapter. Here is a chapter that shows us that this gospel really does work. It really does convert people and it really does transform people. And that is something I think we need to be reminded of. The gospel is not simply a very interesting message that we can spend hours trying to learn and understand. It is a message that changes real people. It is a message that rescues sinners and turns them into saints.

It’s easy to glance over the names but when we slow down and examine who Paul mentions and what he says about them we discover that this is a very diverse group of people.

What kind of people are mentioned?

•    Men and women
o    Load of men but let me focus on the women.
o    Starts off with Phoebe in verse 1. She is described as a servant of the church in Cenchrea. She may have been a deaconess. She was the one who actually brought the letter to Rome. Not post office box in the first century.
o    Lots of other women. In verse 2 there is Priscilla, mentioned alongside her husband Aquila. There is Mary in verse 6. Junia in verse 7. There is Tryphena and Tryphosa in verse 12 and Persis, another woman who worked very hard in the Lord. There is the mother of Rufus in verse 13. And there is Julia and the sister of Nereus in verse 15.
o    The church in Rome is composed of men and women.

•    Young and old
o    I do love what Paul says in verse 13. “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.”
o    In Mark’s Gospel we’re told that a certain man from Cyrene called Simon carried Jesus’ cross. We’re told that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus.
o    Many think that Mark’s Gospel was written in Rome and this detail was added (not in the Matthew and Luke) because Rufus was a member of the Roman Church.
o    It seems that the Rufus mentioned at the end of Romans is the same one!

•    Jew and Gentile
o    The majority of Christians in Rome seem to have been Gentiles. But when you look closely at the list of names we also see a few Jewish Christians.
o    Verse 3 there is Priscilla and Aquila. We read all about them in Acts 18.
o    You may also have noticed that twice Paul talks about his relatives.
o    In verse 7 Paul asks for his greetings to be passed on to Andronicus and Junia who he describes as his relatives.
o    Verse 11, “Greet Herodion, my relative.”
o    Then in verse 21 he informs the Roman church that Lucius, Jason and Sosipater send their greetings. He describes them as his relatives.
o    He means his ethic relatives. His fellow Jews.
o    This church in Roman and the Christians who sent their greetings to the church in Rome were made up of Jews and Gentiles.
o    This is exactly what Paul has been talking about in the letter so far.

•    Christians from across the social spectrum
o    Slaves
•    Middle of verse 10, “Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus.”
•    Aristobulus was the grandson of Herod the Great and he ended his days in Rome. His household is a reference to his slaves.
o    At the opposite end of the social pecking order is a high ranking public servant.
•    Look at the middle of verse 23, “Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings.”
o    Christians come from the opposite ends of the social classes

Men and women. Young and old. Jew and Gentile. Christians from across the social classes.

This is what we should expect. This is what Paul said the gospel would do. This is what we should long to see in our churches today. Not one social class or one type of person. What a delight to see the chav and the businessman singing the praises of God together.

We see signs already. Long to see more (CAP goes ahead we will!) but let’s be grateful for what we have. I think of my home group. What else but the gospel has brought them together!

It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. Here is the evidence that the gospel works!

How convinced are you that the gospel, the good news about Jesus, will convert and transform people right here in this very city? Do you still believe that the gospel works?

It is very easy to be discouraged. The UK is a very barren place at the moment. Many have not witnessed someone become a Christian in the last five years. Easy to feel safe in our holy huddle and not expect anyone to become a Christian. Then we stop bothering to pray for our non-Christian contacts. Or assume that they won’t be interested in hearing the gospel. Or right them and put them in the impossible category.
They’ll never ne interested – if they don’t accept the gospel then they are destined to face God’s judgement.

We need to have realistic expectations but let us not be defeatist. This gospel message does change lives today. 

Look around you. I don’t know if everyone is a Christian. I’m sure there are some people sitting here today who are not yet followers of Jesus. Many are Christians. Here is evidence that the gospel does work. It does make sense and it does lead to new spiritual life.

How many people in this congregations have become Christians in the last 10 years? In the last five?

What can we do? You could begin to pray for people again. You could invite them to church. You could invite them to Identity.You could invite them to the joint After 8/Time Out on the 20th April.

First of all, the gospel works!

Secondly, the people of God must also work.

It’s obvious from Romans that no one can do anything to earn their salvation. We are saved when we put our faith in Jesus. Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone. However, the genuine Christian is not someone who sits around all day waiting for heaven. They are so gripped by the gospel that as they wait for heaven they get involved in Christian service.

I was very struck by how often Paul speaks of the hard work of Christians in Romans 16. Let me show you a few examples.

•    We’ve already met Phoebe in verse 1 but notice again what Paul says about her. “She has been a great help to many people, including me.”
•    Verse 6, “Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.”
•    Verse 7, “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.”
•    Verse 12, “Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.”

At the end of chapter 15 you may have thought that the only reason for the gospel’s expansion was because of the apostle Paul. He speaks of his pioneer ministry whereby he does not want to build on another person’s foundation. Certainly the gospel expanded greatly because of Paul’s service to Christ. However, for the gospel to expand as it should what is required is not the work of one man but the whole people of God doing their part and working hard. And that’s one of the reasons why I love chapter 16. It reminds us that gospel work is a community project and we all need to be working hard in church life for the gospel to advance as it should.

If Paul wrote a letter St Faiths/Riverside and he were to greet the people here what would he say when he got to you? Would it be something like this? “Greet Lee, he turns up.” Or worse, “Greet Lee, he turns up when his name is on the rota.” “Or Greet Lee, he works hard in this church so that the work of the gospel can flourish.”

In every church there seems to be a few who do a lot and a lot who do very little. This is not the way it should be. We are given a variety of skills and gifting. These have been given so that they can be used.

Well done if you are working hard. It will be tiring but it’s worth it.

If not then all I can say is have a word with Malcolm. Every minister loves a conversation that goes something like this. “Malcolm, I’m not really sure what needs to be done but I want to serve. Can we have a chat sometime about how I can get more actively involved in this church?”

There is something of Romans 16.

•    An encouragement – the gospel works!
•    A challenge – the people of God must also work!

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