Romans Lesson 156 - The Hall of Faith
There's a hall of fame for just about everything nowadays. There's a basketball hall of fame, a bicycling hall of fame, a nurses hall of fame, an aviation hall of fame, a quilters hall of fame; and the list goes on and on! In Romans chapter 16, however, we discover that God has a hall of fame as well. But unlike our worldly displays, the heroes in God's hall are not praised for great feats of strength, brilliance, or artistry. They are honored for their service and humility. So let's join Stephen now as he shows us a few of the people on display.
“The Hall of Faith”
Webster defined “fame” as the state of being well known or much talked about.
Webster’s New World Dictionary (Southwestern Company, Nashville, 1964), p. 272
It can be for something good or for something bad.
Fame has to do with being remembered.
I like the way one anonymous writer put it when he wrote, “You will know that you are truly famous when a crazy person imagines he is you.”
The truth is, the desire to be remembered is something every person has . . . to one degree or another.
Whether it’s to be remembered by your company, or your peers, or your class mates or your parents or even by your children who are away at college and you hope they remember to call you and their mother . . . don’t know why that one comes to mind.
The truth is, none of us want to be forgotten . . . at least while we’re alive, right?
I can still remember being sent to the corner of my 3rd grade classroom and while I was back there serving my sentence, I took out my penknife and carved tiny initials into the block wall, vowing my teacher and this school would remember me. They evidently didn’t.
Just before the Civil War, a wealthy farmer named Worthy Taylor hired a young man named James to do his chores for the summer. He milked the cows and chopped the kindling and slept in the hayloft but was able to eat with the family. Over the course of the summer, James fell in love with Taylor's daughter and eventually asked for her hand in marriage. This prosperous farmer replied, “C’mon, you have no money and no prospects. You're an ordinary farm hand . . . I can't let you marry my daughter!”
When the summer ended, James packed his little bag and disappeared forever. The years passed and in that time Worthy Taylor prospered even more. He decided to tear down his old barn and build a new one on the same site. In the process of doing so, he saw that James had carved his full name into one of the rafters over the hayloft where he had slept that summer 35 years earlier . . . James A. Garfield, who, at that very moment, was the President of the United States.
No doubt in that hayloft he said, “I will be remembered.”
The desire to be remembered and have the facts to back up why anyone should ever remember as well as the desire to remember other people worth remembering is the human impetus behind the Hall of Fame.
Question is, which one?
Well, if you research the subject you’ll discover that the hall of fame that comes to your mind is probably the hall of fame related to something or someone you care about.
In my research, I came across one Hall of Fame after another.
The National Soccer Hall of Fame
The National Baseball Hall of Fame
The National Basketball Hall of Fame – for men and one for women.
The National Hockey Hall of Fame
There are National Halls of Fame for
Boxing . . . College Football . . . Swimming . . . Bowling Volleyball . . . Distance Running . . . Wrestling . . . Golf and Bicycling
There are more to remember and honor . . .
The U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame
The American Nurses Hall of Fame
The National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame
The National Aviation Hall of Fame
The Kennedy Astronaut Hall of Fame
The Quilter’s Hall of Fame – housed in Maria Webster’s historic home.
Then there’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame
I discovered that there is even a Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame. And some of you guys are thinking . . . as well there should be!
I came across the Advertising Slogan Hall of Fame:
Three of the winners in 2002 were . . . see if you can guess the company behind the slogan when they were first announced:
- Finger Lickin’ Good – KFC
- Let Your Fingers do the Walking – The Yellow Pages
- Have It Your Way – Burger King
- The Ultimate Driving Machine – BMW (actually it’s an F150 – but BMW is in denial).
In my research I found the National Toy Hall of Fame and a National Inventor’s Hall of Fame; a Science and Technology Hall of Fame and a Teachers’ Hall of Fame.
I even found the International Clown Fall of Fame – with Red Skelton as the first official inductee.
Then I came across the Jewish American Hall of Fame where I paused in my reading long enough to note some of the names –Irving Berlin, Harry Houdini and Albert Enstein.
One special inductee into the Jewish American Hall of Fame that caught my eye was Uriah Levy who died in 1862. He believed that Thomas Jefferson was a great man for molding a Republic where men could worship any way they wanted to worship. It was 10 years after Thomas Jefferson died that Uriah Levy purchased Jefferson’s run down estate that was virtually in ruin and poured money and time into renovating and restoring it – he even purchased an additional 2,000 acres around the home site. When Uriah Levy died his will directed that the property known as Monticello be left to the people of the United States.
He wanted to preserve the house and property of Thomas Jefferson – and so far, it seems he did.
When you arrive at Romans chapter 16 you discover nothing less than a microcosm of God’s Hall of fame . . . we could call it The Hall of Faithful Servants.
One name after another was inducted into this esteemed Hall however, for different reasons than the world would ever recognize.
The Spirit of God prompted His servant Paul to recognize several dozen people – immortalizing their names – not because they were brilliant or strong or funny or talented or creative . . . but because they sought to preserve the house – the property – the possession of God – His church which was purchased by the blood of His Son.
And so Paul names one after another – most are of common stock – some noble – some slaves. Their names are carved into the pages of scripture with barely more than their initials . . . a comment or two, but enough to teach deep and profound and encouraging truths for all us.
Let’s rejoin our study through this Hall of Faithful Servants.
And you might notice that one phrase keeps coming up – it appeared in verse 2 – it’s the phrase, “in the Lord”. It appears again:
in Christ Jesus (v. 3)
in Christ (v. 7)
in the Lord (v. 8)
in Christ (v. 10)
in the Lord (v. 11)
in the Lord (v. 12)
in the Lord (v. 13)
These people are worth remembering because they are in the family of faith, first and foremost.
They were citizens of Rome but they belonged to Jesus Christ.
Their sphere of life was not Rome but Christ.
The book of Romans began with showing us men and women living in condemnation; the last chapter shows us individuals living in Christ.
Adapted from Roy L. Laurin, Romans: Where Life Begins (Kregel, 1988), p. 499
Now, let’s pick our study back up with verse 5.
Notice the middle part of the verse; Greet Epaenetus (EpainetoV), my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia.
You cannot imagine the thousands of converts to Christ in Asia – in cities like Philadelphia, Colossae, Pergamos and Ephesus.
But Paul remembered the very first person who told him, “I will accept this Jesus as my Savior and my Lord – I do believe that he has risen from the dead and is the very Son of God and I accept His sacrifice alone as payment for the guilt of my sin.”
EpainetoV was the first . . . and perhaps it was the irony of God’s providence that this man’s name would mean “praiseworthy.” Without a doubt, this man would signal the gospel reception which would bring praise to God from the lips of millions of believer’s the world over who would discover in Christ their redemption and give Him praise.
Epaenetus would be the first . . . but he was only the beginning.
Paul goes on in verse 6 to “Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.”
We don’t know exactly which Mary this was. There are at least 5 Mary’s mentioned in the New Testament:
Mary the mother of the Lord,
Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus
Mary, the wife of Clopas
Mary, the mother of John Mark who wrote the Gospel
And now this believer in Rome.
Whoever she happened to be, she was a tireless worker who may very well have been worn out.
The word Paul used, kopiaw, can be translated worn out – to grow weary – to work with great effort.
Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Regency, 1976), p. 384
The same word is used by John the Apostle in chapter 4 verse 6 where he writes that “Jesus was wearied from His journey, and was sitting by the well.” (Paraphrased)
He was weary – same verb.
It is the same word used by Peter after the Lord told him and the other with him to drop their nets one more time into the water and they would catch some fish. And Peter responded, “Master, we haven’t caught anything all night even though we have worked hard.” (Paraphrased, Luke 5:5)
Again, the same Greek verb is used that Paul used in Romans 16:6
We don’t know anything about Mary except that she received her induction into the Hall of the Faithful, not because she accomplished some great deed, in fact, we’re not even told what it was she did; we’re only told that she worked hard at doing it.
The verb refers to physical exertion . . . she came early and left late. Perhaps she set up, cleaned up and then locked up.
The spirit and pluck and determination of Mary is behind most things that happen in church – even 2,000 years later.
Paul goes on in verse 7 to Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who were in Christ before me.
Unfortunately it is difficult to determine if the second person’s name mentioned here is masculine or feminine. The word Jounia – found here in the accusative singular form (Jounian) and it can either be the female name, Junia or a contracted form of the male name Junias.
Some believe they are husband and wife, others believe they are an evangelistic team.
What we do know is four things about them based on what Paul wrote;
- If we work back words in the text, Paul said that they “were in Christ before me;” that is, they were saved some time before Paul was saved.
- Secondly, Paul wrote that they “were outstanding among the Apostles”. The term Apostle was used generically – in fact, Barnabas was called an apostle in Acts 14:4, even though he wasn’t considered part of the 12 Apostles. The office of Apostle was closed by this time – it’s time had come and gone.
Now, the generic usage of the word occurs to refer to faithful evangelists/missionaries. The Greek word “apostolos” simply means “sent one” or “commissioned messenger.”
This could refer to anyone sent or commissioned by the church to unreached places such as modern day missionaries or evangelists. This was either a husband and wife missionary team or a couple of men who formed a missionary team and advanced the gospel. In fact, Paul wrote that they were outstanding! They excelled in their ministry.
- The third thing Paul says about them was that it wasn’t always easy. Paul calls them fellow prisoners of his. You could literally render this word, “war captives” or even “prisoners of war.”
Since the Apostle Paul spent a lot of time in jail, it’s impossible to know which prison term they shared with him. But evidently, they had a special bond that evidently developed while spending time in a cell for Paul and these men knew it was nothing less than war and thus would refer to them as his fellow prisoners of war. And Paul never forgot them.
- The final thing Paul said about them was that they were his kinsmen . . . probably a reference to the fact that they were Jews – perhaps from his own tribe of Benjamin.
Paul goes on to write in verse 8, “Greet Ampliatus (AmpliatoV) my beloved in the Lord.
The word “beloved” first appears in the Greek translation of Genesis 22 when Abraham was told by the Lord to go and sacrifice “your son, your only son, whom you love.”
This is the same word that came from heaven after Jesus was baptized by John the prophet, where God the Father thundered, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Same word used by Paul here in reference to Ampliatus.
I have a commentary on the Jewish roots of Romans by a believing Jewish scholar named Joseph Shulam. He includes in his commentary on this verse the fact that Ampliatus was a common name for slaves in first century records. In fact, the name appears on an ancient catacomb in the cemetery of the Domitilla family. The inscriptions clearly indicate that members of this prominent Roman family were followers of Christ.
Joseph Shulam, A Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Romans (Lederer Books, 1997), p. 516
And it seems that Ampliatus was one of the servants belonging to his household.
There in the catacombs is an unusual sight – a higly decoraged tomb with the single name Ampliatus – carved in bold and decorative lettering. The fact that Romans had first, middle and last names like most Americans who continue the custom, slaves only had one. But the elaborate tomb and the bold lettering would indicate that he was a man of high rank and respect in the church as well as within this family.
I’d love to be able to read the biography of Ampliatus – but one thing is certain. From the early days of the church, one author wrote, “distinctions of rank were so completely wiped out that it was possible for a man on one and the same time to be a slave in some household, but a leader in the church.”
Adapted from William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans (Westminster Press, 1975), p. 212
Paul goes on in verse 9 to “Greet Urbanus (OurbanoV)”
His name means “polite” . . . it gives us our English word “urbane” which means to be “smooth and polished in manners.”
Webster, p. 816
This is every parents fantasy for their kid’s behavior whenever company comes over. That they will miraculously be smooth and polished in manners. And so just before you go over someone’s house or open the front door you whisper to your kids . . . “Now, be polite . . . watch your manners.”
Some of you say, “I don’t tell my kids that.” Yea, we know! You ought to try it sometime!
Now it’s possible that Urbanus was a man of rank and social standing. But what Paul specifically mentions about him is not his social standing but his servanthood.
He writes, he is our “fellow worker in Christ.” Same word used of Priscilla and Aquilla – my fellow workers.
What lands Urbanus in chapter 16 is not his rank or standing, but that he came alongside and helped. He loved to help! He was known for being a helper.
And I can see him grinning ear to ear like that little girl in the old commercial who worked with her mother on Daddy’s dinner using shake and bake – you remember that Hall of Fame slogan. “It’s shake and bake,” she said, “and I . . . helped.”
What did you do today, Urbanus? “I helped the church body.” What do you normally do? “I look around for things that need doing and I pitch in.”
Here was a man who was inducted into the Hall of Faith simply because . . . he helped!
Paul goes on in verse 9b. to greet Stachys (StacuV) next, again referring to him with this wonderfully tender word, my beloved.
Further in verse 10 Paul writes, “Greet Apelles (ApellhV), the approved in Christ.
Apelles is approved!
Paul used that word in Romans 14 to refer to the mature believer who was sensitive about the conscience of his weaker brother, willingly giving up something in order to protect the weaker believer from sinning.
Perhaps Apelles was one who took the lead in the difficulty of grey matters.
Paul used the word again in I Corinthians 11:19 where he said, “I hear there are divisions among you . . . they must be so that those who are approved will be made evident.”
Perhaps Apelles was one of those mature men who responded with wisdom and maturity in the midst of a church conflict. Something was causing division and unrest in the Corinthian church and Paul said, “That’s a wonderful time to identify new leaders – those who are mature believers – they will respond to the conflict with grace and tact and insight, where the immature believer will only add fuel to the fire of division.”
Perhaps Apelles was one of the men who rose to the surface as the Roman church struggled with the division between Jews and Gentiles in the assembly.
Apelles distinguished himself perhaps as a new leader, with his wise counsel and humble spirit. He was thus approved.
There’s one other use of this word by Paul that I’ll mention – it’s found in his letter to Timothy where he wrote, “Study to show yourself, (what?) approved unto God, rightly interpreting – that is, handling accurately the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Perhaps it was this mark of Apelles that impressed the Apostle Paul – this man loved to study and interpret the scriptures.
Perhaps it was all of them – he might have been an elder in the church, given the fact that he dealt wisely with conflict in the church, interpreted the scriptures with diligence and led the way with regard to the younger believers in the congregation who were struggling with what was right and what was wrong.
In the last part of verse 10, Paul greets “those who are of the household of Aristobulus.”
This phrase could refer not only to the family of Aristobulus, but his servants, which seems to be the case here.
You could correctly interpret this phrase, “Greet those belonging to Aristobulus.” You need to note that Paul does not greet Aristobulus but those who belong to him.
We’re helped in regards to this wealthy man’s identity by historical accounts of the well known Roman citizen, Aristobulus. He was the grandson of Herod the Great – that same Herod who ordered the killing all the Jewish boys 2 years and under in and around Bethlehem in his attempt to kill Christ.
Aristobulus lived as a private citizen of Rome and was later a personal friend of Claudius, the emperor who expelled the Jews from Rome.
When he died his servants and property became of the property of the Emperor, but retained his name, as was the custom of that day.
Adapted from Barclay, p. 213
This would also explain how Herodian, mentioned next in verse 11. was specifically referred to by Paul as my kinsman – that is, my Jewish brother – how a Jewish man would have taken on the name of Herod, unless he was a member of Caesar’s household as one of the servants.
Paul goes on to write, in verse 11, Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord.
Literally, “greet those belonging to the household of Narcissus, those servants who are believers in the Lord.” Evidently not all the servants were believers and Paul specifically addresses those who were.
Once again, the name Narcissus was certainly a common name in Rome during the days of Paul. However, you have the implication of the household – the properties of Narcissus – which imply a transference to the royal family upon the death of Narcissus – whom Paul doesn’t address.
It is likely that this was the powerful personal secretary to the emperor Claudius. He amassed a private fortune of several million dollars (in our current equation) by his notorious influence over the Roman emperor. His power resided in the fact that all correspondence addressed to the Emperor had to pass through his hands and never reached Claudius unless Narcissus allowed it to do so.
So he made his fortune from the bribes that people paid him to ensure that their petitions were sent on to the Emperor. It was a great system, and this man built his fortune and his possessions increased as did his household of servants.
It was short-lived. When Claudius was murdered and Nero ascended the throne, Narcissus was exposed for his corruption and put to death. His household became the possession of Nero.
R. C. H. Lenski, Interpretation of Romans (Augsburg Publishing, 1936), p. 909
This seems to be the answer to the question, how did the gospel of Christ come into the highest reaches of political power – so that Paul could write later to the Philippians while he was in Rome, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.”
Who were the saints in Caesar’s palace? They were the converted slaves of Aristobulus and Narcissus – they were the royal sons and daughters of Christ – written into the Hall of Faith . . . though serving in the palace of a temporary and brutal king, they were members of the immortal Household of Faith, belonging ultimately to the King of Kings.
Paul isn’t finished yet and neither am I.
In verse 12, Paul greets, “Tryphaena (Trufaina) and
Many language scholars believe these are twin sisters – given the poetic nature of their feminine names. It was common in Paul’s day – as it is to this day – to name twins using the same root word for both names.
Woodrow Kroll, Romans: Righteousness in Christ (AMG Publishers, 2002), p. 240
The little twist in their names adds a different nuance of meaning. Trufaina could be rendered “dainty” and Trufwsa
could be translated “delicate.”
Adapted from Lenski, p. 910
But Paul uses the same word for “work” as he did earlier for Mary. They may have been named dainty and delicate, but they labored hard for the work of the Lord.
Most believe Persis, mentioned next, was their older sister – but in her case Paul writes in the past tense, she has worked hard in the Lord. An implication that she has already died, but her testimony of labor for the Lord was still worthy of commendation.
After all, this is the Hall of Faith.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing inductees into this Hall of Faith is next.
Paul writes in verse 13, “Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord; also his mother and mine.
Although Rufus was a common name, there is evidence that this Rufus was one of the two sons of Simon, the Cyrenian, who was compelled to carry the cross beam of Christ up Golgotha.
Mark wrote his gospel account a few years after Paul wrote this letter to the Romans believers. Mark’s gospel would also be directed primarily to the Roman world.
It is fascinating and not ironic that Mark would be the only gospel writer who would give one detail that the other gospel accounts would leave out. Matthew records that Simon was compelled to carry Christ’s cross. Luke also mentions that Simon was forced to carry the crossbeam. When Mark tells that particular part of the account he adds this aside – this commentary, that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.
In fact, Mark puts it in parenthesis. Why? Because the believers in Rome knew about Simon, and they knew who Rufus was, but they might not have known that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus – who was at that very moment a leader in the church in Rome.
We also have mention of Simon of Cyrene serving in the early church in Antioch.
There is little doubt in any commentator or Bible historian that I researched that Simon did become a believer in this Lamb of God, whose cross beam he carried up that hill. And there is also little doubt that his son Rufus also became a believer and served in the church at Rome.
How do you like that?! Isn’t God’s plan amazing?!
Paul writes, “Tell Rufus and his mother hello!” In fact, Paul affectionately refers to that woman as his own mother – a reference to the fact that Paul knew her and had been ministered to by her.
Paul crams 10 more people into his Hall of Faith without any description of them whatsoever. They are listed in 2 groups of 5 people.
They appear in verses 14-16. I could pronounce their names if I had time . . . well, for the record let’s finish the list:
Verse 14. Greet Asyncritus (AsugkritoV) - which is the Greek pronunciation
then Hermes (HermhV)
Patrobas, and finally
Hermas and the brethren with them.
Evidently a house church gathered together.
In verse 15, Paul greets Philologus & Julia, (more than likely a husband and wife – and their children Nereus (NhreuV) and his sister, and Olympas (most believe a member of their household) and all the saints who are with them.
In other words, all the believers who are gathered in their home.
With this, Paul closes his personal greetings of warmth and affection.
He then commands all of them to show affection and love to one another as he writes in verse 16. Greet one another with a holy kiss . . . all the churches of Christ greet you.
This was a holy kiss – set apart from anything sensual or intimate, but warm and affectionate.
It would be comparable to a hug in our culture or a handshake.
If you’ve traveled abroad you’ve encountered this custom still taking place, in one form or another. I remember visiting the church in Toulon, France. They kiss on both cheeks – really more kissing the air than cheeks, which I appreciated. I stayed a shade of red when I was greeted by the men and women who kissed my on both cheeks and I returned the greeting.
Our friend and missionary to Russia and beyond, Duane Early told me that in Russia the men in the church do not greet the women with a kiss – that would be improper. Instead they greet one another in the church with a kiss on the lips. I said, “Really?” He said, “Oh yea . . . those big Russian men with their full beards . . . it’s their custom in the church – they give all the brothers a quick smack on the lips.” I said, “I am never visiting the church in Russia . . . I’ll wait until heaven to greet them.”
Three truths emerged in my mind and spirit from visiting this Hall of Faith. Let me quickly give them to you:
1. Being inducted into the Hall of Faith did not require great ability, but availability . . . which someone once said was the greatest ability one could have.
2. Being inducted in the Hall of Faith did not require some dramatic act of service, but dependable acts of service.
For some of these in the latter verses, it just meant showing up! Being counted as one of the children of God.
3. Being inducted into the Hall of Faith did not require being honored by men, but being humble before God.
As we already learned, many of these people were slaves who had accepted the Savior.
Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote that “Fame usually comes to those who are thinking of something else.”
Bob Phillips, Phillips’ Book of Great Thoughts, (Tyndale House, 1993), p. 122.
Well then, these people qualified . . . the truth is, they were thinking of anyone other than themselves. Most importantly, they were thinking of Someone else – the Chief Shepherd of the Church who came and took upon Himself the form of a servant and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
Being inducted into the Hall of Faith means being conformed into the image of our Great Servant-Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below;
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts,
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost;
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