It seems typical of all people to sink instead of rise. That is true in the church as well as out of the church. Let me illustrate what I am talking about. It is easier to expect the worst from people than to expect the best from them. It is easier to surrender to bad motives than it is to develop good motives. It is easier to be critical than to be encouraging. It is easier to judge than it is to be compassionate. It is easier to resent than it is to praise. It is easier to condemn than it is to forgive. It is easier to be selfish than it is to be unselfish.

Jesus expects the best from us. If people expect the worst from us, Jesus still expects the best from us. If we expect the worst from ourselves, Jesus still expects the best from us. Everyday he challenges us to find the strength and guidance in him to be the best person we can be.

It is in that expectation that lies the conflict and challenge. All of us enter Christ leaving an ungodly existence. Even if we enter Christ from the environment of a Christian home, we all still leave environments that are less than perfect, environments that have degrees of ungodliness. When we enter Christ, Jesus says to us, "I want you to find the strength and guidance in me to become what I can make you."

Then the struggle begins. It is easy not to grow. It is easy to be content with who and what you are. It is easy to compare yourself to people who do not even try to be godly to feel good about who you are. It is easy to compare yourself to Christians who made mistakes to feel good about who you are.

It is hard to accept Christians who are different as being Christians also. If they have a different culture, if they come from a different social level, if they have a different background, if they have different traditions, it is difficult to accept and relate to them in Jesus Christ. It is hard to build a sense of community, a sense of belonging.

  1. Building this sense of community, this sense of belonging is a significant concern in Romans, as it is in Galatians.
    1. It is hard to build an entirely new sense of belonging among people who never associated with each other in the past.
      1. Many Jewish people who became Christians had serious problems accepting and relating to non-Jewish people who became Christians.
        1. Depending on where the Jewish converts lived (almost always in Jewish communities), they lived in various degrees of isolation from non-Jewish people.
          1. In Palestine they lived in near complete isolation, maintaining as little interaction as possible with non-Jews.
          2. Outside of Palestine (in the Diaspora), they had higher levels of interaction with non-Jewish people which depended on (a) where they lived and (b) how large the Jewish community was in that city, town, or area.
      2. Early, accepting Jesus as the Christ was largely a Jewish issue in Jewish communities.
      3. Suddenly when non-Jewish people heard about and began to accept the resurrected Jesus Christ, Jewish believers faced the problem of how to relate to and accept believers who had a idolatrous background.
    2. It created a huge problem in the Christian community.
      1. Jews and idolatrous people came from very different religious backgrounds--as examples, Jews believed in the existence of one, exclusive God and idolatrous people believed in the existence of many gods, many of whom were not exclusive; the Jews had one temple that was the one place for sacrificial worship, but most idols had numerous temples and numerous places for sacrificial worship.
      2. Cultures were different.
      3. Traditions were different.
      4. Life styles were different.
      5. Diets were different.
      6. Even clothing often had differences.
    3. If converted idol worshippers did things the way converted Jews did them, that was tolerable.
      1. That commonly was the situation when converted Jews were the larger number.
      2. But when converted idol worshippers equaled or outnumbered converted Jews in a city, town, or area, the converted idol worshippers often saw no need to do things the ways Jews did them (follow Jewish traditions).
    4. The situation became more complex.
      1. As time passed, converted Jews were ostracized from the synagogue (a Jewish institution) and from the activities of the Jewish community.
      2. Converted idol worshippers were no longer welcome in what were known as "associations" in many Roman cities.
      3. The Roman empire and local governments became increasingly suspicious of people who would not call Caesar god, who would not worship in temples dedicated to the Roman Caesars, and who would not honor the gods that protected the empire.
      4. Increasingly, it became essential that those who believed in the resurrected Jesus Christ accept each other and form a strong sense of community.
      5. Christians of radically different backgrounds did not need to fight one another or ostracize one another.
    5. The comments Paul made in Romans 16:16 to the end of the chapter need to be understood from the perspective of this widespread, very real problem.
      1. In the early church Christians ate together frequently.
        1. One of the first activities of the very first Christians (who were Jewish Christians) was eating together.
          Acts 2:46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.
        2. Well into the first century, Christians eating together was still a common, important activity. Jude spoke of ungodly Christians who abused this practice:
          Jude 12 These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted.
      2. Paul mentioned both the practice of Christians eating together and the very real problem Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians often faced when they ate together.
        Galatians 2:11,12 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.
      3. This eating together played a powerful, important role in Christians bonding with each other as the community of Christ.

  2. First, I want to call to your attention the holy kiss mentioned in Romans 16:16.
    Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
    1. We likely would be very uncomfortable doing things as the early church did them.
      1. As I understand it, three things were commonly a part of the early Christians assemblies (I am not implying that other things were not a part of their worship):
        1. One was the meal, the love feast, the eating together.
          1. It served several purposes; consider two.
          2. It declared to poor Christians who struggled to survive, "You are a real part of the Christian community."
          3. It built or sustained this sense of community.
          4. The motive for this meal was not having a feast, but affirming a sense of togetherness.
          5. Remember: eating a meal was a common part of sacrificial worship, and they understood Christian worship to be sacrificial worship--Jesus as their sacrifice, and eating a memorial meal was an appropriate expression of worship.
        2. One was the holy kiss.
          1. I know nothing of how it was done.
          2. A common conclusion: men kissed men and women kissed women, and they likely kissed each other's cheeks.
          3. I understand, "Greet one another with a holy kiss," is in the form of a command, not a suggestion.
          4. Instead of a sensual kiss (which was quite common in their world in which fornication, adultery, and homosexuality were more common than they are today in our society), they shared a holy kiss.
          5. The purpose was basically the same purpose of the meal--to affirm community and togetherness.
        3. One was communion or the Lord's supper.
          1. Remember that Jesus instituted this at a meal.
          2. The fact that it is referred to as the Lord's "supper" would indicate a meal.
          3. Also remember again that meals were a common part of worship both in the Jewish world and the idolatrous world.
    2. To the best of my understanding, this occurred when Christians assembled for worship:
      1. At some point there was a meal that affirmed their love for each other.
      2. At some point there was a holy kiss that declared, "We accept each other, we belong to each other."
      3. At some point there was communion or the Lord's supper that affirmed that they could belong to each other and to God because of the sacrifice Jesus made for them.
      4. These are not the only three things that occurred, but there is evidence that these three things occurred.

  3. In Romans 16:16 I also call your attention to the statement, "All the churches of Christ salute you."
    1. My conclusion: the words, "the churches of Christ," were not a name and were not used by Paul as a name.
      1. I understand that the references to the church in the New Testament other than just the words "the church" are all possessives: "the church of ...".
      2. The possessives are not names, were not intended as names, were only used to show relationship.
        1. These possessives include:
          1. Matthew 16:18--My church, or the church belonging to Me (Jesus).
          2. Acts 20:28--the church of God, or the church that belongs to God.
          3. Romans 16:16--the churches of Christ, or the churches belonging to Christ.
          4. 1 Corinthians l:2 ;11:22; 15:9--the church of God, or belonging to God.
          5. 2 Corinthians 1:1--the church of God, or belonging to God.
          6. Galatians 1:13--the church of God, or belonging to God
          7. 1 Thessalonians 2:14--the churches of God in Christ Jesus, or the church belonging to God because of what He accomplished in Christ Jesus.
          8. 2 Thessalonians 1:4--the churches of God, or the churches belonging to God.
          9. 1 Timothy 3:5--the church of God, or belonging to God.
          10. 1 Timothy 3;15--the church of the living God, or belonging to the living God.
        2. This same form of possessive is used in reference to a church or churches existing in a geographical area or among a people.
          1. Romans 16:4--the churches of the Gentiles
          2. 1 Corinthians 14:33--the churches of the saints
          3. 1 Corinthians 16:1 and 19--the churches of Asia
          4. 2 Corinthians 8:1--the churches of Macedonian
          5. Galatians 1:2--the churches of Galatia
          6. Galatians 1:22--the churches of Judea
          7. Colossians 4:16--the church of the Laodiceans
          8. 1 Thessalonians 1:1--the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
          9. 2 Thessalonians 1:1--the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

Consistent with the context of the book--the enormous problem between Jewish Christians and gentile Christians--Paul said to greet each other as genuine members of the Christian community in Rome, AND at the same time remember that you are a part of the community of Christians everywhere (they send their greetings).

David Chadwell

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