This evening I want to think with you from what I shall refer to as "skip over" scriptures. "Skip over" scriptures, in these lessons, refer to scripture that occur near the end of New Testament book that we typically read through quickly so we can "skip over" them and get to something important to think about in scripture. Usually these passages contain a number of names that mean little or nothing to us in our reading or study, so our tendency is to salute them as we quickly pass by.

As we begin, there are some basic understandings I would like to stress. I challenge all of us to be encouraged to seek understanding without fear.

Understanding # 1: God's word is inspired. God was involved in revealing His thoughts and His will through the Bible writers.

Understanding # 2: Each New Testament epistle was written to a first century Christian community or individual. There was a human writer and human recipients who lived in specific situations.

Understanding # 3: The meaning of a scripture must include a knowledge of the people who received the letter and an understanding of the situation the writer addressed. No scripture is properly understood simply because "I always looked at in this way" or "I was always taught it meant this."

Understanding # 4: We have more tools, more insights to work with right now in understanding scripture than has existed in centuries.

Understanding # 5: We must be honest in seeking to understand scripture. No matter what "I always thought," I must be honest in my desire to understand scripture. We do not decide our convictions, and then go to scripture to "prove" them. We study scripture as completely and openly as possible, and then we determine our convictions.

Understanding # 6: When I use better tools to gain better insights into the meaning of scripture, I am not condemning honest seekers before me who did not have today's tools.

Take your Bible and turn to Romans 16. Much of Romans 16 is often treated as a "skip over" scripture.

  1. This chapter begins with Paul's personal commendation of a Christian woman named Phoebe.
    1. Evidently Phoebe lived in Cenchrea.
      1. Cenchrea was the sea port town/city about seven miles east of the city of Corinth. It allowed ships access through the Saronic Gulf to the Aegean Sea.
      2. Phoebe was a part of the Christian community in Cenchrea and was Paul's friend and helper.
        1. She was an important part of the Christian community in Cenchrea.
        2. Depending on the translation you use, this sister was considered a "servant" or "deaconess" in that Christian community.
        3. The Greek word here correctly can be translated with either servant or deaconess, though the root word is often translated as "deacon."
        4. Basically the function of a deacon was the function of a servant--a deacon served.
      3. I understand that the word "helper" in "the helper of many" is more accurately translated "patroness of many."
        1. In recent lessons we have focused on the role of patrons in Roman cities.
        2. This role would indicate that she was a wealthy person who used her money and position to help many people, and that included Christians.
        3. Paul included himself in those she helped; it is probable that, at times, she helped support Paul.
    2. It is concluded that Phoebe took Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome (there was no mail service available to the general population).
      1. She is a servant, a deaconess, in the Christian community of Cenchrea.
      2. She used her position and wealth as a patroness to assist many including Paul.
      3. So Paul asked the Christians in Rome to "receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints."
        1. He requested the Christians at Rome to be attentive to her needs while she was there.
        2. He asked Christians in Rome to help her in whatever manner she had need of them.
    3. Insights:
      1. In his personal closing to the letter to Christians in Rome, Paul commended a Christian woman who likely brought Paul's letter to those Christians.
      2. Paul affirmed this woman was wealthy, active, influential, and significantly involved in the local Christian community at Cenchrae and in his work.
      3. What she did for many Christians made her deserving of the consideration and help of the Christians at Rome could give.

  2. Next, from verse 3 through verse 15 Paul greeted some people he knew.
    1. Paul in this section is sending greetings to people in Rome that he likely has met at other places.
      1. Remember, Paul personally has not at this time visited the city of Rome (Romans 15:22-25)
      2. Though he has not been there, he knows some people there.
    2. How can Paul know people there if he has never been there? Let's illustrate that possibility with the first two people he greets, the husband and wife team of Prisca (Priscilla) and Aquila.
      1. Consider the circumstances of Priscilla and Aquila's situation.
        1. Acts 18:1,2 states Paul met this Christian husband and wife team in Corinth.
        2. They were in Corinth because the Roman Emperor Claudius had commanded all Jews to leave Rome.
        3. So Aquila and Priscilla are Christian Jews who had to leave Rome.
        4. Paul became close to them in Corinth (according to Acts 18:3) because all of them made their living in the same trade--making tents.
        5. The kind of edict that Claudius issued to make it necessary for Jews to leave Rome ended when Claudius died.
        6. Thus, when Claudius died, this husband and wife team of Christians returned to Rome and were in Rome when Paul sent his letter.
      2. In Romans 16:3-5 Paul stated this about this husband and wife:
        1. They were his fellow workers in Jesus Christ (remember that they that they heard the eloquent Apollos speaking about Jesus in the synagogue in Corinth and privately explained to him the way of God more accurately--Acts 18:26).
        2. They risked their lives for Paul--he did not say when or where.
        3. Paul was very grateful for them.
        4. The churches of the Gentiles were very grateful for them.
        5. A church met in their home, and Paul sent greetings to those Christians as well.
    3. Insights:
      1. A Christian husband and wife team were active among Christians in the city of Rome.
      2. Though these Christians were Jews, they were valued by Gentile churches.
        1. That was not always the case.
        2. To be reminded of the tensions between Jewish Christians and non-Jewish Christians, remember the situation in Acts 21:17-26.
        3. Also remember the Judaizing teachers in Galatians (note Galatians 1:6-10).
        4. Not all Jewish Christians were the loved friends of Gentile churches.
      3. A church met in their home.
      4. Her name is given before her husband's name.
        1. In most (but not all) references to this Christian husband and wife team, her named is listed first.
        2. That fact is significant, but it is difficult to attach the specific significance to it.
        3. To say the least, Priscilla served in significant ways in the team's efforts.

  3. I ask you to note three things in the two sections that begin in Romans 16:1 and continue through verse 15.
    1. Note the frequent coupling of a greeting from Paul with an emphasis on service, work, or labors.
      1. Phoebe was a deaconess who was a patron to many.
      2. Prisca and Aquila were Paul's fellow workers.
      3. Mary "worked hard for you" (verse 6)
      4. Andronicus and Junia (probably a woman) were "outstanding among the apostles" (verse 7).
      5. Urbanus was a "fellow worker" (verse 9).
      6. Tryphaena and Tryphosa were "workers in the Lord" (verse 12).
      7. Persis "worked hard in the Lord" (verse 12).
    2. Note there are Christian groups assembling who are Gentiles, "church of the Gentiles."
      1. In Rome there were churches that were Jewish, churches that were gentile, and churches that were mixed.
      2. If you lived in another country, would you feel more at ease in your worship if you worshipped with American Christians living in the same city?
        1. It happens commonly now in many countries with an American military presence--sometimes a regional congregation and an American congregation will use the same building at different times.
        2. It even happens here in Fort Smith--why does West-Ark have a Hispanic outreach on Johnson Street?
    3. I want you to note how prominent Christian women are in Paul's greetings.

"Why spend time examining these 'skip over' scriptures?" These scriptures often provide us windows into first century situations and relationships. Sometimes they challenge our assumptions and conclusions. That is good if our goal is to be honest and to let scripture be our guide.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 2 Febuary 2003
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