Verses 1-16: Greetings to those in Rome.
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church in Cenchreae. So you should welcome her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints and assist her in whatever matter she may require your help. For indeed she has been a benefactor of many—and of me also. Give my greetings to Prisca and Aquila, my coworkers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life. Not only do I thank them, but so do all the Gentile churches. Greet also the church that meets in their home. Greet my dear friend Epaenetus, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow countrymen and fellow prisoners. They are noteworthy in the eyes of the apostles, and they were also in Christ before me. Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our coworker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my fellow countryman. Greet those who belong to the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, who have worked hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, who has worked very hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother—and mine. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. Greet Philologus and 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 send you greetings.
We’ve learned a good bit about true brotherly love in this letter, and here we see evidence of one aspect of this characteristic of God’s people. Paul the apostle wants the saints in Rome, who he has not met, to embrace other saints they do not know because of their service to Christ and help to Paul in his ministry. Note the specifics of Paul’s description of each person – denoting a close personal relationship and a desire for those in Rome to accept them. Note also how each person contributed to equipping each other – benefactor, coworkers, servants, prisoners, worked very hard, risked their necks, approved in Christ; nobody along for the ride, merely showing up and being polite. This is the hallmark of a true church, saints serving one another, putting others first, knowing details about them and their service. This is a far cry from the superficial acquaintances that comprise most local churches. May it not be so with us!
Verses 17-18: Final warning.
Now I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause dissensions and obstacles contrary to the doctrine you have learned. Avoid them, for such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites. They deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting with smooth talk and flattering words. After a long paragraph describing a vibrant, Christ-focused group of people Paul gives a stern warning to the church at Rome. Unity in the truth is a critical trait for a local church – knowing the truth is essential. This warning comes after much teaching on gospel truths and Paul contrasts the unity and humility of the saints with the discord and selfishness of these enemies. They serve their own appetites, not caring for the best of others.
We see this same contrast, a little more clearly, in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi:
Philippians 3:13-21 Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. Therefore, all who are mature should think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this also to you. In any case, we should live up to whatever ⌊truth⌋ we have attained. Join in imitating me, brothers, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For I have often told you, and now say again with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction; their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. They are focused on earthly things, but our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subject everything to Himself.
Notice how the apostle starts off reminding us how he had not attained the end state; he pressed on and reached out for the prize and tells us all mature saints ought to be like minded. He then warns about enemies of the cross who serve their own sinful appetites, being focused on earthly things. The danger of this perspective we learned about in chapter 12 as Paul moved from theology to doctrine. He also taught us what we read in Philippians – our home is in heaven, from whence our Savior will come and on that day He will transform us from this miserable state to the likeness of Himself. We have confidence in this because Christ has the power to subject all things to Himself and on the day He comes to judge the nations and make the earth new, the consummation of all things will take place and He will make all of His enemies His footstool.
If we compare ourselves to these two groups Paul has described, here in Romans and in Philippians, we will see some of those bad traits (if we’re being honest) but we had better be seeing a growing and maturing trend in the good traits we’ve read about!