Big Idea: God’s Church is united in one Eclectic Family
Intro: Well Morning friends and visitors. My name is Matt Johnson and today we reach the end of – Paul’s letter to the Romans. We started this journey through Romans in June 2016. And now – 72 sermons later we get to the end of this great book. Personally, I have been blessed studying Romans at this level of detail and I hope it’s been a blessing to you too. This really is one of the great books in the Bible.
PRAYER: Well friends, last week, continuing to build bridges between Jew and Gentile we saw Paul write; (Slide 2; Rom.15:27). So Paul makes it clear – Gentile Christians should have some sort of special concern or responsibility towards the Jews. But do we? Has this ever been practically evident in the church. Historically, I would say the Protestant Gentile Church – has lacked empathy, lacked grace and quite regularly danced on the edge of antisemitism.
This week I was speaking with a Jewish woman about antisemitism. She is not a Christian. But she is a God-fearer. She works with Jewish students in Australian and New Zealand Universities. And sadly, she told me that antisemitism is becoming more prevalent and even accepted. For example, there was a significant furore recently in Adelaide University because the student union newspaper “On Dit” – published an article called “For Palestine there is no Ceasefire.” In the article the writer called for “Death to Israel”, “death to the Jews” and “Glory to Intifada”. That is victory for Palestine. The basic premise is that the Jews are evil. The Palestinians are all victims – and therefore death to Israel is valid and right. When Jewish students protested about the article to Adelaide University – it led to some quite hostile, anti-Semitic behaviour on campus, and the university board was very slow to censure the author or remove the article from the website. But why was the University so slow to act when the article was so obviously inciting hatred?
The Australian Media group “the Conversation” (in partnership with Deakin University) did an in-depth analysis of antisemitic activity in Australia between 2014-2017. They determined that there had been a sharp increase in Jewish hate during these years. Deakin University said; (Slide 3). Again, why is Antisemitism (and hatred of Jews) a growing and even accepted thing in modern Australia?
Well there are probably numerous factors. But I suspect that the same critical race theory that is driving Black Lives Matter in the US, and the Voice Referendum in Australia – is now also beginning to make anti-Semitism acceptable in some circles. Remember the main premise in Critical Race Theory (and cultural Marxism) is that the world is made up of oppressors and the oppressed. In America – African American people are the oppressed and Anglo-saxon heterosexual, Judaeo-Christian Conservatives have been identified by humanist academics as the oppressor. So the Judaeo-Christian conservative voice MUST now be silenced or cancelled. It is ok to hate and cancel the oppressor. It is righteous. In Australia, LGBTQI people and Aboriginal people are also being identified as the oppressed and through a process of “truth-telling”, we will soon establish who the oppressor is. (Don’t be surprised if it turns out to be the same as America – anglo-saxon, heterosexual, Judaeo-Christian Conservatives). The oppressor must then be stripped of power. But in the Middle-East the United Nations, the Media and some parts of the Christian Church are now painting the picture that Palestine is the innocent oppressed and Israel is the evil oppressor. I just caution that people are not naïve to the humanistic narrative….
And who is to say we can trust this humanistic saviour. Increasingly humanism (the unofficial religion of the United Nations and woke ideology) is identifying Judaeo-Christian anything as the enemy. So it’s becoming increasingly acceptable to slander and cancel anyone with conservative Christian views because we are the oppressor (or as Stephen MacAlpine says – we are now the bad guys). So it is also acceptable to slur and cancel anyone who is Jewish or Zionist (because they too are an oppressor). But in Jesus there should be no oppressor and no oppressed. We are meant to be one in Chris
Point 1: The Church Family must be United in the Work of the Gospel
Show: Rom.16:1-5 (READ)
Explain: Well as I said last week, many scholars speak like Romans 15-16 is just an epilogue to this book. It is often said Paul is simply trying to win friends and gain support – for his missionary trip to Spain. But I think Paul is still break down walls and prejudices that often divide God’s church. This concluding list of who’s who in God’s zoo – shows that there really is no room for prejudice whatsoever. Paul speaks about great Christian women, just as highly as he speaks about great Christian men. He speaks about great slaves in God’s kingdom with just as much honor as he speaks about wealthy Christian politicians. But the Jew-Gentile leitmotif or concept still remains central to Paul’s thought
So before we zoom in on the detail, please note the Jew-Gentile focus still continues. In Rom.16:3 – you’ll see Paul tells the Romans – (Slide 3; 16:3). Paul specifically identifies the Gentile churches are grateful for a Jewish couple named Priscilla and Aquila. Then in chapter 16:26 closes with a similar statement (ENTER; 16:27). This final chapter of Romans still has a particular focus on Gentiles acting appropriately as Christians. Ethnicity is still in focus. Similarly, Paul draws attention to certain people’s Jewish ethnicity. Although many people listed in chapter 16 are Jewish – Paul specifically draws attention to people’s Jewish ethnicity in 3 places (Slide 4; 16:7; 16:11 & 16:21). The word “fellow Jews” could be translated kinsman, or of my race The point is that these specific people are Jews like Paul. But why make it clear that certain people are Jews? Paul is still breaking down the wall between Jews and Gentiles that existed in the early church and was most probably exasperated in Rome by Claudius’ eviction of the Jews.
But here in Romans 16 – Paul is addressing more than just the Jew-Gentile divide. Now we don’t have time to look at every single person in Pauls greeting. So let me just pull out a few significant stories. First of all, Paul commends a woman named Phoebe. Phoebe is most probably a Gentile, named after a Greek Titan god.
She is from Cenchrea, the port city of Corinth where Paul wrote Romans. So Phoebe is most probably the person who took this letter from Paul and personally carried it to the church in Rome. That is a huge responsibility given 1) the significance of this book, 2) the significance of the church at the centre of the Roman Empire and 3) Paul’s planned missionary journey to Spain. Yet, Paul has no concerns entrusting this very important task to Phoebe. She is a deaconess in the church in Cenchrea and Paul asks the church in Rome to extend to her the same respect and honor. Paul is not sexist.
This may seem like a small thing – but in the first century – entrusting this task to a woman is NOT insignificant. The theme of weak and strong in the church – still sits in the background from Romans 14. And in 9 out 10 cases women are physically weaker, and men are physically stronger. Consequently, in the history of the world men have used their strength advantage to subjugate and oppress women. Sadly, that is a fact of sinful life. That’s why there is a Berlin wall of sexism, not just racism. Yet, following in the footsteps of Jesus who regularly elevated women – Paul works alongside Phoebe as a woman who is equal, but different to him. Yes, the Bible still tells men and women how to relate to one another in the church and in marriage in a way that is very different to feminism. I’d say what the Bible offers women is far better than feminism. The Bible teaches that men and women are not the same, but they are equal. Just as Jews and Gentiles are equal, so man and woman are now equals in Christ. This means there is no room in the Christian church for men to treat women as inferiors or as possessions. That is NOT biblical headship. Men and women are equal, but different.
Then, Paul speaks about Priscilla & Aquila and the church that meets in their home. This Jewish Christian couple regularly shared ministry with the Apostle Paul. And as we saw last week in Acts 18 – Priscilla and Aquila were kicked out of Rome – when Claudius expelled all the Jews. My thesis on Romans is that as the Jewish Christians came back to Rome after 54AD – the Gentile Christians were not being hospitable.
But as we can see Priscilla & Aquilla are now back in Rome and Paul reminds the Roman (predominantly Gentile Church) – this couple are highly esteemed among the Gentile churches. Paul is making a point that most genuine Gentile Churches respect this Jewish couple (and the church in Rome should as well). Paul tells them to greet them and the church that meets in their home. Hang on? The church that meets in their home. So there is at least two Roman churches and this letter of Romans is addressed to one, not the other. Paul doesn’t tell the church in Rome to share this letter with the church in their house. He simply tells them to greet the church in their house. Was their a predominantly Gentile Church meeting in one place and a predominantly Jewish Church meeting at Priscilla and Aquila’s house.
Again, most scholars hypothesise that in Rome in 55-56AD there were possibly many house churches. Its possible. But the only two churches that are identified in this book is 1) the predominantly Gentile church to whom this letter is addressed and 2) another church being led by a mature Jewish Christian couple. And the Gentile church is being told to greet with a holy kiss (verse 16) not only Priscilla and Aquila, but the church that meets in their home. Although, I can NOT definitively prove my thesis – I suspect this is where the rubber hits the road – for the book of Romans. Will the Roman Gentile church stop being proud, conceited and arrogant and actually extend real Christian fellowship to what I suspect is a predominantly Jewish church meeting in Priscilla & Aqulla’s home? Will they at least recognize each other and work together for Jesus’ glory in Rome. This wall of racism must come down.
Now Paul goes on and lists various Jews and Gentiles – he wants the church to greet. But the last big prejudicial divide – that Paul begins to attack with the sledgehammer is slave and free OR poor and rich. There are various people in the list like Urbanus (in verse 9), and the household of Aristobulus (verse 10) and the household of Narcissus (verse 11) that are obviously slaves. Yet, Paul extends fellowship and greetings to them in the exact same way as he does with Phoebe who is obviously rich.
She has helped or been a patron to many people. Or even Gaius and Erastus (in verse 23) who are significant public officials back in Corinth. In God’s church – the freeman is no more important than the slave; the rich man no more significant than the poor man. The prejudice the rich often have towards the poor AND the prejudice the poor often have towards the rich – must come down. The precious blood of Jesus was shed for all, and so all should be shown the same dignity and respect – as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Apply: Now as Paul finishes his instruction about greeting one another – Paul adds in verse 16 – “greet one another – with a holy kiss”. Now this again, has a slight Jewish bent. Rome and the Gentiles had quite different rules about kissing, to the Jews. The holy kiss (mentioned four times in the N.T.) was a particularly Jewish (or Middle Eastern) way of welcoming someone into your home. It was part and parcel of rich hospitality. As someone came into your house – you would greet them with a kiss on each cheek and it was a statement that you are family. My home is your home. Of course, culturally this was foreign to the Gentiles and they might have found it uncomfortable. But if Gentile Christians snubbed the holy kiss of Jewish brothers and sisters or pulled away – what was that then communicating? I suspect that as Paul instructed the Gentile churches to greet one another with a holy kiss – he was again tearing down the walls between Jew and Gentile. I suspect that the application – is not only should we greet one another warmly as brothers and sisters in Christ (whether that be with a kiss, a handshake or hug), but that we should be culturally sensitive to one another’s different ways
But Paul frames the greetings drawing attention – What Paul is continuing to do is break down the walls. Paul speaks about Gentile believers with the same high regard as Jews. Sadly, she was explaining that it was on the rise again in Australia.