Today is the last in our series through the book of Romans. You’ll see in your bulletin that it says “44 of 44 in a series through Romans.” I started this series in the middle of April a little over a year ago, and now nearly fifteen months later we’re finishing. I hope it’s been a beneficial study through this book over these many months. But I do have one concern as I look back over these forty-four messages. My concern is that you may well struggle with answering the question, “What is the book of Romans about?”
Now, the reason that’s a concern of mine is because that can be the effect of spending a little over a year looking at one book. If you get down and focus on each of the trees (or maybe a specific limb on a specific tree) you can sometimes miss what the forest—the broader picture—looks like. There are positives to this approach as well, of course. For one, we’ve been able to examine some parts of this book in great detail.
This is one reason why, over the years, I’ve preached through books at what I call “A, B, or C-level” outlines. You might think of an “A-level” outline as a high altitude approach to a book of the Bible. We look at the forest, examine the structure and layout of the book itself. I’ll begin an A-level outline through the book of Joshua next week, looking at this book that has twenty-four chapters and covering it in four sermons. My aim is the same if I’m preaching five verses or five chapters: I want to make the point and points of the text the point and points of my sermon, showing the connection along the way. And there are of course negatives to an A-level approach. You see the forest, but don’t sacrifice diving into some details you might focus on if you were doing a C-level outline. 1
So, of course, there are pros and cons to each approach, but my concern about covering Romans at such a slow pace that we miss the forest, if you will, is alleviated a bit because of Romans 16. The reason I say that is because in this last chapter of the book Paul sends a number of greetings, provides a warning, and ends with a doxology, but along the way he gives us some helpful reminders of what he’s discussed in much of the previous fifteen chapters. Thus, to some extent, our text this morning can serve as an overview or reminder of some of the issues we’ve seen in this book over the past several weeks and months. In other words, it reminds us of some of the broader themes of the book, letting us see the forest, if you will. Therefore, what I want to do this morning is provide some helpful reminders about the church, the gospel, our hope, and our responsibility. I hope, then, that you find that we are simply covering ground that you’re familiar with. First, then, let’s be reminded that:
Our faith in Christ makes us beloved family members through our union with Christ
Most of our text this morning is made up of a collection of greetings. Paul begins by encouraging the believers in Rome to welcome Phoebe (vv. 1-2), who was possibly delivering the letter to these Roman believers. Then, he spends the next fourteen verses (vv. 3-16) exhorting the believers to greet specific people that Paul knew well or had some knowledge of in Rome. He gives the command to greet certain people or churches meeting in homes. He actually uses the word “greet” as an exhortation to them fourteen times in those fourteen verses. It’s hard to miss his aim. And then, at the end of verse 16 and in verses 21-23, he notes that others send their greetings to them. “All church churches of Christ greet you,” he says in verse 16 before specifically noting a number of individuals who also send greetings in verses 21-23. So, what do we do with this?
Well, I think what we should gather is that as believers our faith in Christ makes us beloved family members through our union with Christ. Let me tell you why I use each of those elements in this point. First, notice that Paul uses the language of family right out of the gate. He says to them in verse 1, “I command to you our sister Phoebe.” And in the last verse of greetings Paul says, “Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you” (v. 26).
Now, this didn’t mean that Paul and all of the believers in Rome were biologically related to Phoebe and Quartus so that he can call them “our sister” and “our brother.” Rather, Paul was picking up on what Jesus had noted when a group came, telling him that his mother and brothers were wanting to speak to him, and he stretched out his hand toward his disciples and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matt 12:49-50). In other words, our shared faith in Christ makes us family.
But we can say more. We are family through our union with Christ. Notice throughout these verses how many times Paul speaks of our relationship as being “in Christ” or “in the Lord.” Phoebe is to be welcomed “in the Lord” (v. 2). Prisca and Aquila are fellow workers “in Christ Jesus” (v. 3). Adronicus and Junia were “in Christ” before me, Paul says (v. 7). And we find this phrase “in Christ” or “in the Lord” five other occasions throughout these greetings. Paul’s point is that the reason we are bound together with other believers, even as family, is because when each of us placed our faith in Christ, we were united with Christ, one with him, and consequently bound and one with one another. We are family through our union with Christ.
And one other adjective we can note. We are beloved family members of one another. Paul says to greet “my beloved Epanenetus” in verse 5, “my beloved Stachys” in verse 9, and Ampliatus who is “my beloved in the Lord” in verse 8. And all of that in addition to the exhortation in verse 16 to greet one another with a holy kiss, which would have been a sign of brotherly affection.
In other words, the minute we place our faith in Jesus Christ, we are no longer able to live merely as an individuals, saying, “You go live your life, and I’ll go live mine.” We are part of a family whom we are to love and who love us. And this is not any idea we’ve come up with but is woven throughout the Scripture itself, as you can see even in our text this morning.
For us this means that you can look around this room and say, “Behold, my fathers, my mothers, my brothers, my sisters, and my children.” And that’s not some fantasy. It’s real. In fact, it’s more lasting that mere biological family ties. Even our marriages are “till death do us part,” but our familial relationships with other believers will last into eternity (hopefully of course we’re related to our spouses through marriage and in the Lord!). This is why we’re often prone to say that baptismal waters are thicker than blood.
So, here’s what I want the widow, the orphan, the one who is barren or has lost children, the one who is single, the one distanced from parents or family, the one who simply feels alone to know: you are not without fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and children. Here they are. Jesus said that for those who left fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters for his sake would have a hundred-fold in this life, and here they are.
This means that we don’t have to run and hide when we’ve messed up or think that others might not understand our struggles. We can remember that we’re part of a family—a beloved part of a family because of our union with Christ. What a gift that God has given us when he gives us his church! Let us thank him for it and work to think in these terms as we continue to walk together as a church.
And a second reminder:
The gospel Paul preached and we believe has been the hope of many throughout history
Have you ever thought about facing death? You may well be thinking about it now as you’re dealing with some diagnosis or simply have a number of years behind you. And unless the Lord comes back we’ll all face it. And of course our hope as we face the enemy of death is that for the believer death is not the last word. Because we trust in Jesus Christ, who lived for us, died for us, and was raised for us, we believe that at the moment of death our souls will leave our bodies, and we will dwell with the Lord. And even better, we believe that at the moment of our Lord’s return, our bodies themselves will be resurrected, glorified, and united with our souls so that we can spend forever with our Lord in glorified, perfect, immortal bodies. That’s why as Christians we say Christ’s resurrection was the first of many to come as we look forward to our own resurrection.
But I doubt that the enemy ever wants us to rest in that thought. My guess is that in your life, as I felt in mine on occasion as well, the enemy tries to undermine our faith. Is it crazy to think that placing our hope is the crucified and risen Lord is sufficient to face death? Well, there are several things I could say to that in order to ground our hope, and I hope that some of them have been heard as we’ve spent the previous forty-three messages working through this glorious book of Romans. But one thing we can add as a weapon to strengthen our faith is that we are not the first or only people who have hoped (and do hope) in the gospel. Look at this list of names!
These names include Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, married and single, freemen and slaves, men and women, names that are easy to pronounce and names that I’ve tried to go over again and again before reading them out loud today. This list is a taste of many hundreds and thousands of thousands who have believed, found strength in Christ, faced death, and are now with the Lord.
A number of weeks ago I preached the funeral of my grandmother. I called her “Grannie.” She loved the Lord, and spent her life serving him by loving others. But in the last 6-7 years of her life, she dealt with Alzheimer’s and all of its effects. In the last couple of months of her life I’m not sure she recognized anyone (maybe my mom on occasion), often thought she was a child, couldn’t communicate well, and had to have someone caring for her and watching her nearly every hour of every day. But interestingly, in the last days of her life, when she really wasn’t communicating well, she said multiple times, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Those were actually her last words uttered in this life. And I believe it was the Lord giving the rest of us a glimpse into what he was doing. He was holding on to her.
In Isaiah 46 the Lord is speaking about his love for his children and his faithfulness to them, and he says, “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (v. 4). And when the Lord told my Grannie in that text that he would carry her and save her, even in her old age, to gray hairs, he knew what that meant. He knew that she would spend the last several years of her old age and gray hairs, no longer able to remember all kinds of things that she had held so dear. And he was saying to her with that promise in Isaiah, “You’ll forget so much, but I won’t forget you.” She is with the Lord because she took hold of Christ by faith—placing her faith in Jesus as her only hope for salvation—and more importantly because he took hold of her.
Now, I mention that because my grannie’s final days were a testimony and reminder that our gospel hope is sure and certain. She was a witness to me of Christ’s faithfulness, even in our weakness. Her name is Bettye. And alongside of her we could note Paul, Phoebe, Prisca, Aquila, Julia, Hermes, Patrobas, Tertius, Gaius, Philologus, and on and on. The point is, the gospel has proven to be the power of God for salvation for everyone who has believed, so don’t doubt it’s power in your life, even as we face death.
A third reminder:
There will always be enemies of this gospel until Satan is crushed under our feet
After reminding us that all who trust in the gospel are united as family and that these family members who came before us give witness to the sure hope of the gospel, Paul doesn’t want us to think that all is roses and lilies in the Christian life and that the gospel will have no enemies. Indeed it will, and Christians will have enemies until the day that Satan is crushed. In verses 17-19 Paul tells the Roman believers, “Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.”
In other words, Paul says that there will always be people who seek to subvert and overthrow the gospel. And these attacks will not always come from those who can easily be identified as enemies of the cross. Certainly, these will exist. Men like Diocletian in the early fourth century of the Roman Empire was an open and obvious enemy of Christ and the church, leveling terrible persecution against believers. But Paul notes that other enemies of Christ will bring “smooth talk and flattery” to deceive. Therefore, avoid those who would speak anything contrary to the gospel that Paul has presented in this letter, for this gospel alone is the power of God to salvation. And let’s also hold each other accountable to make sure that the gospel is primary and foremost in our worship, both privately and publicly in order to always be arming ourselves against those who would overthrow the gospel. We must be on alert because we will always be under attack.
Well always isn’t the right word to use. We will be under attack until the God of peace crushes Satan under our feet (v. 20). Isn’t that an encouraging reality? The first explicit promise of the gospel in Scripture comes immediately after Adam and Eve sin as the Lord tells the serpent that one from the woman would one day come and crush his head. And on the cross, Jesus dealt a fatal blow to the devil. But one day Jesus will come back to finish him off, casting him into the lake of fire. And Paul wants us to know that on that day Satan will have no effect on us either. His temptations will no longer be felt. His attacks will no longer cause us to struggle. Christ finally and fully crushing him under his feet will mean he is under our feet as well. But until then, let’s work to guard and contend for and proclaim the gospel as our only hope for salvation.
A fourth reminder:
Though we’re justified by faith alone, faith and obedience are always connected
Let me take you back quickly to where we began this study. It was actually the text we looked at in week 2 of our study. In Romans 1:8 Paul wrote to the Roman believers, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.” Notice, Paul says what is proclaimed in all the world. It is their faith.
But then note what Paul says in 16:19: “For your obedience is known to all …” So, which is it? Is it their faith or obedience that all know of and speak of outside of Rome? The answer of course is that it is both, and the reason it is both is because these two realities of faith and obedience are inseparable.
At the end of this book Paul writes a beautiful doxology—a word of praise and blessing unto the Lord. Here’s what he writes: “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” (vv. 25-27).
Did you notice it? Paul says that this gospel has come about in order to bring about the “obedience of faith.” In other words, when we really have saving faith it will show itself in obedience. Obedience is the fruit of faith. This was James’s point with Abraham. Yes, Abraham was justified by faith alone before God. That’s what Genesis 15:6 says. But when he obeyed and willingly took his only son to sacrifice him, his faith was vindicated (or justified). In other words, his obedience showed that he genuinely believed. If he didn’t believe God he would have never obeyed and sacrificed his son. But because he believed God and believed the promise that God would bless all nations through his son Isaac, Abraham obeyed, thinking, “Well, if God has to raise him from the dead, he will. Here we go.” Obedience is the fruit of faith.
This is why it isn’t hypocritical to stand up here week after week and preach that we are justified before God by faith alone and not by any works and then to tell someone that if they won’t repent and walk away from clear sin in their lives, they may well show themselves not to belong to Christ. It’s because though we’re justified by faith alone, justifying faith never comes alone. Faith shows itself in obedience.
Therefore, meditate on the gospel, remember what Christ has done for you. Remember he is your only hope for righteousness, and then in faith walk in obedience to his commands.
Finally, one last word:
Our hope of eternity is sure and certain
We’ve already touched on this a bit when talking about the cloud of witnesses, but Paul notes that the Lord will soon crush Satan under our feet. This wasn’t Paul being wrong, thinking that Jesus was coming back immediately, though he wrote these words nearly 2,000 years ago. No, Paul was saying by “soon” that it was imminent. Jesus could come any time, and when he comes, it will be the end of Satan, sin, and death. The God who fulfilled his promises and sent his Son is the same God who will strengthen us as we look forward to that sure and certain day when the struggles will all be gone. So, let’s give thanks to God, commit ourselves to radically obedient faith, and walk with our brothers and sisters, carrying out Christ commands until Jesus comes for us personally or comes for all of us at the resurrection. And as my Grannie said in her final days, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Amen.