Have you noticed what an amazing difference it makes for us when we feel like we fit in with a group of people and when we don’t feel like we fit? If we feel secure and sure that we fit in, we tend to be comfortable, as ease and without tension. But if we don’t feel as though we fit into a group, we are tense, uncomfortable, and anxious to get away from the group as quickly as possible. One reason why a person falls in love with another, is that they feel loved, accepted and part of the group. What was the name of the television series that was set in a bar and the opening song talks about it as a place where everyone knows our name, and people are glad we came? I’m not at all sure that a bar is such a place. But I know this, everyone wants to find that kind of place. The truth is that tons of people are looking for that kind of church, where people know their name and are always glad when they come.
Look in your Bible at the 16th chapter of Romans with this in mind. Paul was writing to a church where he had never been before. He planned to go there and spend some time with them. He wanted to build some anticipation for his coming and was hopeful that they would be a home church for him who helped him travel on to Spain to preach the gospel in a new area where the gospel message hadn’t been preached so far. He had written to them his most comprehensive letter, laying out the very nature of Christianity and how it fit into the whole scheme of God’s plan from the beginning. Of all his letters, this is the one which worked to show some connection with different members of the church more than any other. He wanted to demonstrate that even though he hadn’t been to Rome and had never met with the church there, he was connected to them, and admired lots of things about them and their work. As you look down this list of people he knew and was connected to, think about the church where you worship God. Think of the connections you have and if you could write a chapter like this about people in the church where you have been a member for years. Then consider Paul writing about these people in a church where he had never set foot. Did he do some research on the church to be able to talk about all these people? I suspect it was simply the reality of him having connections with them and when he began thinking about going there, these people naturally came to mind.
He began by introducing them to Phoebe, by whom he was sending this letter to them. She was a servant of the church in Cenchrea. The word for servant here is the same word that is translated “deacon” in Philippians 1:1 and I Timothy 3. I don’t know if it meant she was one of the deacons at Cenchrea or is just a way of saying she was a great servant of the church there. But Paul wanted to make certain that she was received well by the church in Rome. So, he pleads for them to “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.” If the church where you worship received a letter from a very well known preacher that you loved, introducing a woman just as Paul introduced Phoebe to them and asked of the church that they receive her, and help her in any need she has, what kind of response do you think she would get? I suspect people would be lined up to help her and to invite her into their home.
But notice as he turns to the people in the church in Rome with every mention, he not only tells their names, he laid out the work they were doing in Rome and how they had blessed his life in some way. Prisca and Aquila were presented as “My fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; also greet the church that is in their house.” Paul had met them back in Corinth when the Jews had been driven from Rome and worked alongside them as tentmakers. Wherever they have traveled since that time, there is a church meeting in their house. This was long before there were church buildings. There were no signs out front with the church’s name on it. Instead small groups met in different people’s homes to worship and grow.
After Prisca and Aquila he listed Epaenetus the first convert to Christ in Asia, Mary a hard worker, Andronicus and Junia, his kinfolk and fellow prisoners, who were outstanding among the apostles and were Christians before him. He told of Ampliatus as one he loved. Urbanus was a fellow worker along with Stachys his beloved. And the list goes on to tell of ones who worked hard in the Lord. I would guess that many of these people, when they received this letter were amazed that Paul knew their name, much less knew about their work in the church.
This whole segment shouts a message that I believe is desperately needed today. It is vital to know people, to know their names and to recognize what they are doing in the kingdom of Christ. They weren’t earning their way into heaven. But what they were doing mattered in the kingdom of God. Everybody needs encouragement and are blessed when someone recognizes what they are doing in service to God. You can bless the cause of Christ today and every day by recognizing what someone is doing in the church and telling others about it. It wasn’t that they were doing the work to be recognized. But it blessed them and the church for what they did to be told of by God’s man, Paul. I want to be like Paul in that regard and tell of the good deeds done by people I know, in Christ, don’t you. What if, instead of telling of good things we have done, we all took the time and energy to tell some good deed done by another person and we told the world of their deeds? I think it would make this whole world a better place to live in. Why not start today by telling of a good thing you have noticed someone doing?