Scripture: Romans 16:1–4
Sunday, October 25, 2020
Pastor Randy Smith
George Mueller was born and raised in Prussia and lived a life of sin and crime even while studying for the ministry of the State Church. He was converted at a prayer meeting in a private home and from that time on his life was changed.
He moved to England and there sought acceptance by the London Missionary Society as a missionary to the Orient. Upon being rejected, he began to preach and minister wherever the Lord opened the door. This led him to Bristol, where, in 1834, he founded the Scriptural Knowledge Institution for Home and Abroad. One year later, he opened his first orphans’ home for 26 girls with no financial assistance. By 1870 he had built five orphans’ homes, and by prayer and faith in God was feeding 2100 orphans daily. He solicited no one and told only the Lord of the daily needs. Only born-again Christians were accepted for service in the Institution, and their care of the orphans was spiritual as well as material. Many of the children were won to Christ each year.
The Scriptural Knowledge Institution also was instrumental in sending missionaries, Bibles, and Gospel literature around the world. The various schools operated by the Institution enrolled over 121,000 students with thousands of them receiving Christ while there. The Institution distributed almost 300,000 Bibles in many different languages. In addition to one and a half million New Testaments, 163 missionaries were sent out and/or supported, and over 111,000,000 tracts were distributed. In all, God poured out in response to the faith and prayers of George Mueller in a period of 63 years over $7,500,000.00, which he wisely and prayerfully distributed in the spreading of the Gospel.
Mueller read the Bible through over 200 times, half of that on his knees, where he claimed the promise, “Open wide thy mouth, and I will fill it.” He spent his last 17 years touring the world, telling of the blessing of a life of faith. He died at the age of 93, leaving an estate valued at less than one thousand dollars, for he had given back to the Institute almost one-half million dollars of the personal gifts he had received during 70 years of ministry.
There is something about ordinary people doing extraordinary things: An American hockey team comprised of college students that defeated a Russian powerhouse in 1980. Or how about a small boy that crushed a 9-foot giant named Goliath.
When it comes to the church, we often think that only the great men and women of the faith are making an impact for the kingdom: Peter, John, Mary, Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, Elliot, Boice, MacArthur. We forget about the George Muellers. We forget about the countless unsung heroes, know only by the Lord, for their faithful service to Christ.
Can you even identify the people who watch and teach our children each week? Or the individuals who keep this church clean? They are faces that may never be recorded in the annals of church history, but precious nevertheless for their faithful impact. People like Andronicus and Amphilatus, Junias, Urbanus and Stachys, Apelles and the household of Aristobulus and the 22 others Paul chose to list in the final chapter of the greatest letter ever composed. Though the world sees these folks as dispensable, our Lord sees them as an essential part of His church.
Our message this morning is entitled “Team Players.” As we begin to prepare to get back to normalcy after the shut-down, I would like to encourage you and inspire you to use your spiritual gifts in the body of Christ. This morning we will see how God uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary work for His kingdom.
Please follow along as I read Romans 16:1-4. “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well. Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.”
It’s amazing to think that Paul would take the time to greet (the word is used 17 times by Paul in this chapter) 29 common individuals (like you or I) in Rome as he closed this monumental epistle. Remarkably, Paul had neither planted the Roman church nor visited the city prior to the writing of Romans. But Paul, as a loving shepherd, was aware of these saints and their contribution to the kingdom.
Last week we spoke about the Lord and how He is building His invincible church, and yes, even during a COVID pandemic. He accomplishes His purposes through the use of His spiritual body on earth, the church. More specifically, the Scriptures say Christians are individual parts of that Body. And as parts of the body, we have been given a responsibility, a calling to function as those body parts of our Lord. Whatx happens when one doesn’t serve? The work cannot be done, and the rest of the body is adversely affected.
In continuing with the analogy of His body, Paul made the need for us to serve very clear with his illustration in 1 Corinthians 12. “For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness, whereas our seemly members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:14-27).
Think about it this way, if God’s goal was only to save people, why not rapture the elect at their moment of regeneration? Certainly, we could both learn and worship better up there in a glorified state than we can here on earth! Rather we are left on this planet. We are called to labor for His glory as He uses us to accomplish His divine purposes. We do that through the power of the Holy Spirit that mightily works within us (Col. 1:29), and the spiritual gifts bestowed upon us at the moment of salvation (Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12).
The Lord desires to get us to the point when we are no longer living for ourselves, but rather for Him and the needs of others. He wishes to see our mind so caught up in serving Him both formally and informally whereby ministry becomes a way of life, a joy.
This morning I’d like to look briefly at three unseemly members of the Roman church who made ministry a way of life. They were unnoticed by most, but their service was precious in the sight of God!
1. The Sweet Sister (16:1–2)
Beginning in Romans 16, verse 1, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.”
When we think of the great saints of the faith, how many of us if any would include Phoebe in our “top 10 list?” Paul would respond to the contrary. Of all the people he chose to mention in chapter 16, this beloved saint in the Lord was mentioned first.
Notice how Paul first addresses her with the endearing term, “sister.” Think about that. She was a spiritual sister of the Apostle Paul! And all those in Christ compose one spiritual family with God as their Father. Notice how her inclusion in the family of God was not identified by a decision for Christ she made when she was three, but rather the work that typified and verified her new birth. She was a fellow believer who demonstrated her faith by her good deeds.
James says faith without works is dead! In other words, talk is cheap! Anyone can talk the talk, but few can walk the walk. She showed herself to be a part of God’s family not only by what she said, but also by what she did. Remember, salvation is by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.
In addition to “sister,” Paul also refers to her in verse 1 as a “servant of the church.” This woman was noted as a servant of the church. In an age of nicknames and various hats that identify our lifestyle (fisherman, mother, businessman, surfer, husband, party animal), Phoebe’s love to serve was a reputation that preceded her. She was known simply as a servant.
How would you like to be remembered? A good athlete? A wealthy individual? An attractive beauty queen? An intellectual? Phoebe was identified by none of the above. Rather, this obscure woman, mentioned only here in the Scriptures, will only be remembered throughout history as a servant.
Is that degrading? If you live for the values of the world, the answer is yes. But if you live for the values of God, Paul couldn’t have given her a greater compliment! Is that a tough pill for you to swallow? It was for the disciples.
Twice in the book of Mark the disciples are recorded as arguing as to who would be the greatest in the Kingdom. “But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest. And sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all’” (Mk. 9:34-35). “And calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, ‘You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:42).
And I can remember that same Son of Man donning the towel just hours before His crucifixion and washing the disciples’ feet. That was a task so degrading that it was assigned to the lowest slave of the day.
Phoebe played such a humbling role. Great will her name be in heaven and among those who appreciate godly behavior. Paul concluded his commendation of this sweet sister by including his personal gratitude. “For she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.” Phoebe represents all of the unsung heroes out there.
It’s interesting to note that this woman was so committed to the ministry and so faithful with the small things, that Paul could entrust her with a daunting task. Most commentators are of the opinion that she delivered this letter to Rome from Paul’s place of writing in Corinth. The original copy, this priceless manuscript, was given to her care as she battled the rigors of land and sea travel to see it reach its proper destination. No doubt this was a task only entrusted to a faithful sister and servant of the Lord.
From the Sweet Sister I take you to the Committed Couple.
2. The Committed Couple (16:3–4)
Verse 3, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles” (Rom. 16:3).
By way of footnote, I want you to notice how 2 out of 3 individuals we are looking at today and half of the individuals mentioned in chapter 16 are women. That was many more than would be included in the typical literature of the day. Paul is not chauvinistic! Women played a valuable role in the church then as they do now.
Prisca (or Priscilla as she is referred to by Luke) and Aquila came on the scene in Acts 18. They were forced to leave Rome because Claudius’ edict expelled the Jews in A.D. 49. Paul met this committed couple in Corinth on his second missionary journey. Luke records the account in Acts 18:3. “And because he [Paul] was of the same trade, he stayed with them [P&A] and they were working; for by trade they were tent-makers.”
The committed couple provided lodging for Paul, and they shared the work of ministry. Probably for the sake of the Gospel, Priscilla and Aquila uprooted and went with Paul to Ephesus. In Ephesus they are recorded as disciplining Apollos, a man who would develop into one of the great leaders of the early church. And then by the time Romans was written (and the death of Emperor Claudius), Priscilla and Aquila returned to Rome. According to Romans 16:5, they were hosting a church in their home. Priscilla and Aquila are finally mentioned in Paul’s last letter of 2 Timothy. While in Ephesus, Timothy was instructed to greet the committed couple, apparently after their move to Ephesus again.
Priscilla and Aquila are initially identified as “fellow workers.” They were not apostles or prophets; they were an ordinary couple that loved the Lord. They were people committed to the work of the gospel, even if it meant humble, behind-the-scenes service.
The great commentator William Hendrickson once said, “During his missionary career, Paul had colleagues and fellow-workers. But he deemed it necessary to oppose Peter to his face. With Barnabas he had a sharp disagreement that the two parted company. There was a time when Paul refused to allow Mark to remain one of his companions… And Demas was going to desert him. But even though Priscilla and Aquila in a sense stood closer to him than any others (for they were his companions both in trade and in faith) as far as the record shows, between Paul on the one hand, and Priscilla and Aquila on the other. There was always perfect harmony!”
Though the Apostle Paul gets much of the attention, yet His God-given work could never have been accomplished had it not been for the efforts of his fellow workers. They were workers not inferior to Paul, but mutually as important in the sight of both Paul and God. They were co-equals; they were fellow workers in the gospel, all equally as important. There is no such thing as prominent service and obscure service; it is all the same with God when it is done for His glory. D.L. Moody once said, “A good many are kept out of the service of Christ, deprived of the luxury of working for God, because they are trying to do some great thing. Let us be willing to do little things. And let us remember that nothing is small in which God is the source.”
You might say, work in the church? I thought that’s what we are paying you for, Pastor? My ultimate responsibility according to the Bible is to be committed to prayer and the Word (Ac. 6:4) and train you for the work of service (Eph. 4:12)! Could you imagine me: making the coffee, setting up the tables, cleaning the bathrooms, mowing the lawn, passing out bulletins, greeting every visitor, teaching the children, playing the piano, etc. Everybody is needed in the Body! Though my name may appear in the bulletin, all of you are nevertheless equally as valuable. Paul was thankful for his co-workers; I am thankful for mine.
When the Super Bowl rings are passed out, every member of the team receives the honor. The quarterback’s ring is not larger, nor is the equipment manager’s ring any smaller. Every individual was a necessary component that brought the team success. However, the greatest and most committed fan is excluded, for he was only a spectator.
God isn’t looking for an audience in the church. Neither is He interested in spectators. He’s looking for workers, fellow workers committed to the ministry of the gospel, fellow workers, like Priscilla and Aquila, who make the ministry a priority despite any financial, emotional or physical sacrifice.
Verse 4, “Who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.”
The particular episode spoken of here is unknown. Possibly it was interceding for Paul during the riot in Ephesus. Possibly it was more than one time when they put their lives in jeopardy for the great Apostle. Nevertheless, the committed couple served to the point of death, not unlike our Savior. And for that, Paul was grateful.
Priscilla and Aquila were certainly a model of what a couple can do for Christ. Does your home and family serve Him in similar fashion?
Church in America for some has become nothing more than attending a Sunday morning service and then throwing some spare change in the collection plate when it comes by. Others see church for what it can do for me. For instance, I only want to be fed. Why aren’t others reaching out to me? Rather, the Scriptures call the New Testament church to be one that is characterized by serving God through our spiritual ministry to others. If I can coin the popular saying, “Ask not what your church can do for you, ask what you can do for your church.” Or better, how about the Gospel-centered approach of Christ? “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Ac. 20:35).
I’ve been to the Great Salt Lake in Utah, though I hear the Dead Sea in Israel is a better illustration. The Dead Sea is so salty that it contains no fish or plant life. What accounts for this unusual condition? There are absolutely no outlets. A great volume of water pours into this area, but nothing flows out. Many inlets plus no outlets equal a dead sea.
This law of nature may also be applied to the child of God, and it explains why many believers are so unfruitful and lacking in spiritual vitality. It’s possible for some people to attend Bible conferences, listen to religious broadcasts, study the Scriptures, and continually take in the Word as it is preached from the pulpit, and yet seem lifeless and unproductive in their Christian lives. Such individuals are like the Dead Sea. They have several “inlets” but no “outlets.” They leech onto others, always taking in, but never giving out.
To be vibrant and useful believers, we must not only “take in” all we can, but we must also “give out” in service to others! We should find great joy in that ministry. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, “Therefore, my beloved brethren be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” Do we really believe that? Are we a New Testament church? Is this church committed to service?
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