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(Romans 16:1–2) Make Room for My Sister!

(Romans 16:1–2) Make Room for My Sister!

Ref: Romans 16:1–2

God knows Your name and He knows everything about you. You might walk down the street or walk down the aisle of your Church and feel like just a face in the crowd. But there is coming a day when God will call you by name. He will embrace you as His child . . . and He will reward you for all the things you did for his glory that no one else saw. What a day that will be!

Additional messages in this series are available here: When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder


“Make Room for My Sister!”

Romans 16:1-2

With great anticipation and joy I invite you to take your Bibles and turn to the last chapter in the Book of Romans.

If you’re visiting, I can assure you that people are cheering because I’ve invited them back to the book of Romans – it has nothing to do with the fact that I said, “the last chapter.”

You’re here just in time to catch the last chapter.  By the way, I plan to complete our exposition of Romans by the end of the Fall – 2006. 

We will then continue to alternate between Old and New Testament books as we’ve been doing now for some 15 years and we will travel back to the Old Testament and pick up where we left off and begin a study of the Book of Job. 

Then, the Lord willing, I want to come back to the New Testament and, instead of picking up with the next book in line, which would be I Corinthians, I want to skip ahead to the Book of Revelation.

Such a critically needed study today; I also want to disprove many of you who are convinced you would not live long enough to see us ever get there. 


A few months ago I received this email from a radio listener living in Louisiana.  He wrote – you’ve got to read this story, entitled Pecans in the Cemetery.

On the outskirts of a small town, there was cemetery up on a little hill.  A rod iron fence surrounded the cemetery and thick bushes skirted the fence all around the graveyard.

The land rose gently from the fence up the hill and a big, old pecan tree sat right in the middle of the cemetery.  One day, two young men filled up a bucketful of nuts and sat down by the tree and began dividing them up between them.

“One for you, one for me; one for you, one for me,” said one of the young men.  As they counted them out, several of the nuts rolled down toward the fence.

A boy was riding along the road on his bicycle and just as he passed the cemetery, he thought he heard voices from inside.  He slowed down and then got off his bike to investigate.  Sure enough, he clearly heard, “One for you, one for me; one for you and one for me.”  He knew exactly what was happening, and the terrified boy jumped on his bike and rode off toward town.

Just around one corner he nearly ran into an elderly man hobbling along with his cane.

The boy yelled, “Come quick . . . you won’t believe what I just heard!  The devil and the Lord are down at the cemetery dividing up all the souls.”

The old man said, “Beat it, kid . . . you’re hearing things.”  But the young lad insisted until the old man agreed to go with him, if for anything, to get the kid to leave him alone.

When they arrived at the fence they both heard, “One for you, one for me; one for you, one for me.  The old man whispered, “Boy, you’ve been tellin’ me the truth.  Let’s see if we can get a look at ‘em.”

Shaking with fear, they peered through the bushes, but were unable to see clearly enough to get a glimpse of either the devil or the Lord.

But just then they heard up by the tree, “One for you and one for me.  That’s it.  Now, let’s go get those nuts by the fence and we’ll be done.”

They say the old man outran the boy on the bike.

Fortunately, the Lord doesn’t make deals with the devil.  And He doesn’t do any dividing up of souls in cemeteries.

But there is something disconcerting about the idea of the devil trying to make a deal with the Lord.  In fact, it’s a little discomforting in the thought that the devil would know your name, isn’t it?

We’d rather remain anonymous with him.

But for the Lord to know our name, on the other hand, is encouraging.

And it’s true; in fact, according to Revelation 20:15, all those who’ve been redeemed by faith in Christ alone have had our names written in the Lamb’s book of Life.

What’s also intriguing of course is that not only will our names be known, but every service for Christ – every deed done in His honor – rewarded by God who knew every detail.

The writer of Hebrews encouraged the saints by reminding, “God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.” (Hebrews 6:10)

God knows who you are . . .  He knows your name . . . and He will remember every good work in His name. 

Nothing . . . no matter how small or unimpressive . . . nothing slips through unnoticed by God.

No one gets lost in the shuffle.

Some of that truth spills over into the final chapter of Romans.

As the great leader of the gospel of grace comes to the close of undoubtedly the chief document of our faith, he begins to pour out his heart in gratitude and love toward the saints.

He refers to the names of some 35 people in all! 

It’s as if he opens his address book and shows us the names of people he knows and loves and prays for in Rome; which is all the more remarkable, given the fact that Paul has never been to Rome.

These are people he’s met on his journeys . . . people he’s led to faith in other areas who now live in Rome – that he has evidently kept track of and is aware of their standing and service.

And this is before telephones and email.

One author said that Paul must have been energetic in gleaning whatever he could about these people . . . he had a deep love and concern for the saints of God.

You can imagine him down at the port on some ship, in conversation with travelers, “So you’ve just come from Ephesus?  You were in Troas?  Do you know of the believers in Jerusalem?  You’re a sailor . . . tell me, do you know a sail maker named Aquila?”

Adapted from John Phillips, Exploring Romans (Moody Press, 1969), p. 261

Paul knew so many people by name . . . perhaps they were on a prayer list he kept with his parchments and books . . . perhaps he drew it out and referred to it as he closed out his letter.


Paul will greet 17 men by name and 9 women.  He will greet 2 couples and 5 converted slaves.  He will greet 5 groups at large along with 2 specific households.

If you surveyed the entire group of people you quickly discover that Paul didn’t play favorites.

He greets men, women, freedmen, Jews, well-to-do and the well thought of as well as Gentiles and slaves.

Paul makes personal comments that include praise and gratitude.  He speaks of four women and commends them all specifically for working hard for the cause. 

He commends one couple for risking their lives for him, and applauds several house churches.  He specifically remembers and greets by name the first person he led to Christ. 

He refers to them as brothers and sisters, beloved, fellow workers and outstanding Christians. 

Then he encouraged them all to give each other a round of hugs and kisses on his behalf.

This is not some stodgy theologian who is best left alone.  This is not some bookworm who cared more about principle than he did about people.

Romans 16 is the declaration of God through the dynamic personality of Paul that God knew who they were and He knew where they were and He knows who and where you are too! 

Chapter 16 is God’s way of saying, “People mattered . . . and so do you!  I know your name.  I see what you’re doing for my cause.  You are my fellow-laborers and my beloved.  I’ve got you in my divine name and address book . . . no matter how often you’ve moved I know exactly where you are.”

No one slips through the cracks with God. 

James Black was calling the roll in his Sunday school class one Sunday morning in 1880.  The students answered the roll call by quoting the verse for the day.

One of his 14 year old students didn’t respond when her name was called.  She had fallen ill and, as things would turn out, she would die from pneumonia 10 days later.

He made the comment in class that it was one thing to miss the roll call of Sunday school, but he hoped and prayed that all of his students would answer the roll call when it came from heaven.

That afternoon, with this thought in mind, he sat down and wrote these lyrics

On that bright and cloudless morning,

When the dead in Christ shall rise,

And the glory of His resurrection share;

When His chosen ones shall gather

To their home beyond the skies,

And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

When the roll is called up yonder,

When the roll is called up yonder,

When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

Adapted from Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 More Hymn Stories (Kregel Publications, 1985), p. 310

Romans chapter 16 is a microcosm of the roll . . . it is a sermon in itself that the names of the beloved, sisters and brothers in Christ will never be lost . . . God knows . . . God sees . . . God cares.

Well, that’s enough of an introduction . . . with the opening words of chapter 16 you’ll notice that Paul begins with a very special commendation.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; 2. 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.

The name Phoebe tells us several things about her. 

Her name is the feminine form of Phoebus, one of the names given to god Apollo.  It would have been a mark of honor for pagan parents to so name their daughter after one of the chief gods of the Greek pantheon. 

Apollo was supposedly the twin son of Zeus and was regarded as the god of music and poetry. He was also a god of light, known as "Phoebus" – which meant radiant.  The feminine form translated here Phoebe.

The parents of Phoebe were evidently thrilled with the birth of their daughter and considered her birth the giver of music and mirth and light and so named her in honor of their pagan god.

Since loyal Jews normally avoided the names of pagan deities, we can also assume that her parents were Gentiles.

We have no record of her conversion to Christ – but given the fact that she was connected to the church in Cenchrea, the eastern port of Corinth.  The church at Cenchrea would have been a daughter church of the believing assembly in Corinth.   

It’s very likely that Phoebe heard the gospel from Paul himself as he served in Corinth during a year and ½ of ministry. 

Paul certainly knows a lot about her and it seems likely that they knew one another and had worked together.  He mentions at the end of verse 2 that she had personally helped him in some way.

What’s especially interesting is the way Paul introduces her with a special commendation.  “I commend to your our sister Phoebe.”

Because of the way verses 1 and 2 stand out, separating Phoebe from those who are to be greeted and those from Corinth who are greeting the Roman believers, it is almost sure, without ever having to say it, that Phoebe was the one who actually delivered this letter from Paul to the Roman believers.

Phoebe is traveling to Rome and is to be received by them.  She would have had to have been a woman of wealth to travel from place to place.  She more than likely had attendants traveling with her, since a female traveling alone in this century would have been unheard of.  And only the wealthy could afford to do so.  It’s quite possible that Phoebe was either widowed or single.

If we put the clues together, Paul is finished with his letter and Phoebe has business in Rome and Paul sends the letter along with her, and embedded into this letter is this special commendation for the church to help her, show hospitality to her and warmly welcome her.

This converted Gentile, raised in the luxury of a pagan Greek culture by devoted idolaters is now Paul’s emissary to Rome.

One author wrote, “She [carried] – the future of Christian theology.”

D. Edmond Hiebert, Personalities Around Paul (Moody Press, 1973), p. 196

Donald Grey Barnhouse adds to that thought be writing, “Never was there a greater burden carried by such tender hands.  The theological history of the church through the centuries was in the manuscript which she brought with her.  The Reformation was in her luggage.

Donald Barnhouse, Romans: Volume 4 (Eerdmans, 1964), p. 124

You might note that Paul refers to Phoebe with three different descriptive words.

1)  The first is the word, “sister.”

Paul is reminding the church in Rome that while we might come from many fathers in the flesh, we have one Father in the faith.

There should be no strangers in the family of Christ.  Since we are sons and daughters of God the Father, we are brothers and sisters of each other.

He told Timothy to, “Respond to older men as fathers; treat younger men as brothers; treat the older women as mothers and act in purity toward the younger women as your own sisters.” (I Timothy 5:1 paraphrased)

Has it ever occurred to you that your biological family is temporary, but your spiritual family is eternal?

That should have an impact on the way we treat each other in the meantime. 

The trouble is the church can become a little closed society where people who come in from the outside get the definite impression that they’re not wanted . . . they’re not welcome.

Adapted from William Barclay, Romans (Westminster Press, 1975), p. 208

Don’t dare park in my spot or take my seat.

A pastor called me a few weeks ago, telling me that his church was finally beginning to grow.  He had been there a couple of years and had been teaching he Bible and making plans to accommodate people . . . people were beginning to come – strangers sitting in the pews with the long standing members; babies in the nursery, children running in the hallways.  This pastor went on a brief vacation with his family and when he returned, found that the deacons had voted him out because he was bringing too much upheaval into the church with too many new people.

What are those deacons going to do in heaven?  If they should get there?  It makes you wonder what kind of orientation class there will be for the remedial saint who never quite picked any of it up on earth. 

Paul is effectively saying, “Make room in your assembly and in your hearts for one more!”

You can’t imagine how proud I was of this one mom – I was copied on an email to one of our teaching staff.  What an incredible spirit this mother has of welcome to others, even when other people crowd them out at times.

The mother wrote, “I am one of the parents who gets to church earlier and earlier each Sunday to stand in line at the Butterflies class and I just wanted to thank you for making it worth the wait.”

I would expect her to write, “I can’t believe you are making us wait . . . instead, ‘thank you for making it worth the wait.’   She goes on to write, “Two weeks ago we were unable to get our son into the class and I realized how much my son, loved being there.  As I told him that his class was full, he began to cry; I was kicking myself for not arriving earlier.  My son is 2 ½ years old and this week as we pulled into the parking lot, he said, “Hurry, Mommy, hurry, I don’t want my class to be full!”  I think I saw this lady racing through the parking lot this morning.

She wrote, “I just wanted to encourage you all and thank you and praise our Lord for all the wonderful things that you are doing in tiny hearts.” Isn’t that great?!

She has the perspective that this body is family.  May her tribe increase!

I personally think Paul is a little concerned that Phoebe doesn’t get the hospitality she needs.  Paul doesn’t know first-hand the intangible temperature and personality of the church in Rome – he does know that they are having some trouble with Jews and Gentiles getting along.

And now this woman is going to show up, carrying a letter from Paul, wearing the clothing of wealth and bearing the name of a pagan god.

All heads are going to turn and everybody is going to check her out . . . the tongues might start to wag and the heads nod.

So Paul says, “Let me introduce to you my little sister and yours too!”  She’s part of the family . . . notice his strong words in verse 2. You receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints and help her in whatever matter she may have need of you.”

You write that because you’re not sure that will automatically happen.

So Paul says in affect, “I want you to make room for my sister Phoebe . . . she’s your sister in the faith too!”

2)  The second word he uses to describe Phoebe is the word servant.

Paul writes back in verse 1, I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea. 

The word servant comes from the Greek word, diakonos – the word is neuter here as a general term for servant. 

  • The word is used of the household servants who drew the water that Jesus turned into wine (John 2:5-9);
  • diakonos is used earlier in Romans 13 for secular government officials who serve as “ministers of God to you for good;” literally who serves as deacons . . .”  Obviously they aren’t deacons in the ecclesiastical sense of the word.  In fact, they aren’t even saved in the context of Romans 13. 
  • The word is also used of Jesus Christ who came as a diakonos – a servant to the Jews (Romans 15:8).

During the first few centuries of the church, the role of deaconess developed out of a practical need more than a biblical mandate.  Women were appointed as deaconesses to specifically care for the sick, for the poor, to provide hospitality to strangers passing through and even for the imprisoned.  They were also responsible to help with the baptism of women and also the discipling of new women converts to Christianity.

Adapted from John MacArthur, Romans: Volume 2 (Moody Press, 1994), p. 360

The question as to some ongoing officially elected position of deaconess is difficult to define since diakonos has no feminine form and the word is used in a variety of ways.

However, in a Biblical church that has men serving as elders – as pastors and overseers and men serving as deacons in their role of serving the body, to add the role of deaconess to serve alongside and to use that term for women serving the body in a variety of ways would not violate any scripture which entrusts authority in the office of elder and service in the office of deacon.

I am aware of some good churches who have chosen to establish the office of deaconess, even though scripture doesn’t mandate the office or even define the office.

But whether any good church officially mandates the office of deaconess or not, every effective, progressing, advancing church understands that without women serving Christ in the church, the church wouldn’t last a weekend as we know it. 

Is it any wonder that the majority role in every assembly is serving.

In fact, the Apostle Peter told the entire assembly of men and women to serve – diakonountes – same word in verb form – be servants toward one another with the gifts you have all received.  (1 Peter 4:10)

The church works and advances and progresses when everyone is a servant – no matter what your title is.

The church is not advanced by a few mighty pushes of great people; but by many little pushes of ordinary servants of God.

Phoebe was a remarkable servant in her home-church. We don’t even know what she did.  But we do know she served the body at Cenchrea; humbly meeting the needs of her spiritual family. 

On one occasion, Hudson Taylor, the world renowned missionary to China, was being introduced to speak at a large church in Australia.  The moderator of the service introduced the missionary in eloquent and glowing terms.  He told the large congregation all that Taylor had accomplished in China, and then presented him as “our illustrious guest.”  Taylor stood quietly for a moment and then said, “Dear Friends, I am the servant of an illustrious Master.”

Robert Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Illustrations, (Thomas Nelson, 2000), p. 458


There’s one more word Paul uses to describe his sister in the faith.

Notice verse 2b, “for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well”

3)  Phoebe is sister, servant and supporter.

The word used by Paul, translated helper, is the word prostatis which corresponds to the Latin word patronus or patron. 

The word in both Greek and Latin refer to someone who was a patroness – a financial supporter of another.  

Paul effectively says that Phoebe has given financial support to many, and to myself as well.

Imagine that . . . Phoebe used her wealth to help the church and support this traveling missionary named Paul.  She slipped him an envelope with money in it after church . . . she mailed him a card and included a check to help him along. 

No fanfare . . . without ever expecting anything in return, Phoebe served and supported the cause of Jesus Christ.

And to her surprise, I’m sure . . . Paul mentioned her by name!

As if to pull back the curtain of time and give us a little breath of that day with every sister and every servant and every supporter of Christ and His cause will be called by name and recognized by none other than Jesus Christ Himself.

Our greatest encouragement might just be at times to remember that God will not forget.

The poet asked,
Father, where shall I work today?”

And my love flowed warm and free.

Then He pointed me out a tiny spot,

And said, “Tend that for me.”

I answered quickly, “Oh, no, not that.

Why, no one would ever see, no matter how well

My work was done.  Not that little place for me!”

And the word He spoke, it was not stern,

He answered me tenderly,

“Ah, little one, search that heart of thine;

Art thou working for them or me?

Nazareth was a little place,

And so was Galilee.”
Ibid, p. 459

Ladies and Gentlemen, Romans 16 will reveal the truth that your support beloved . . . your deeds, servants of God . . . your patronage dear friends . . . will never be erased, nor will it ever fade from Divine recognition – no matter if it was in a big place or a small place, like Galilee . . . or Cenchrea or Cary.

One day, when the roll is called up yonder, the Savior will say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

As James Black finished writing the lyrics to that hymn, now sung by millions of people, he wrote this final stanza – I couldn’t help but think of Phoebe and Paul’s challenge to all of us, when I read the words:

Let us labor for the master from the dawn till setting sun,

Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care:

Then when all of life is over and our work on earth is done,

And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

Sing the chorus with me:

When the roll is called up yonder,

When the roll is called up yonder,

When the roll is called up yonder,

When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

Osborn, p. 309

You’d think that hymn was written by a southerner, because the roll is called up yonder; where’s yonder?

James Black was born in New York and raised in Pennsylvania.

I went on the internet to find the history of the word “yonder” and never did find it although I ended up on a web sight that gave definitions for words like younguns and tarnation and tuckered out.

I guess yonder stands for some place far away you can’t imagine how far exactly, but you want to get there.

Well, that’s it . . . when the roll is called up yonder, that’s exactly where you’re gonna want to be. 

Stand and sing . . .

When the roll is called up yonder,

When the roll is called up yonder,

When the roll is called up yonder,

When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

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