[Commending a Friend]
1I have good things to say about Phoebe, who is a leader in the church at Cenchreae. 2 Welcome her in a way that is proper for someone who has faith in the Lord and is one of God’s own people. Help her in any way you can. After all, she has proved to be a respected leader for many others, including me.
[Greetings TO Friends]
3 Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila. They have not only served Christ Jesus together with me, 4 but they have even risked their lives for me. I am grateful for them and so are all the Gentile churches. 5 Greet the church that meets in their home.
Greet my dear friend Epaenetus, who was the first person in Asia to have faith in Christ.
6 Greet Mary, who has worked so hard for you.
7 Greet my relatives Andronicus and Junias, who were in jail with me. They are highly respected by the apostles and were followers of Christ before I was.
8 Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend whose faith is in the Lord.
9 Greet Urbanus, who serves Christ along with us.
Greet my dear friend Stachys.
10 Greet Apelles, a faithful servant of Christ.
Greet Aristobulus and his family.
11 Greet Herodion, who is a relative of mine.
Greet Narcissus and the others in his family, who have faith in the Lord.
12 Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, who work hard for the Lord.
Greet my dear friend Persis. She also works hard for the Lord.
13 Greet Rufus, that special servant of the Lord, and greet his mother, who has been like a mother to me.
14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, and Hermas, as well as our friends who are with them.
15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all of God’s people who are with them.
16 Be sure to give each other a warm greeting.
[Greetings From Others]
All of Christ’s churches greet you.
17 My friends, I beg you to watch out for anyone who causes trouble and divides the church by refusing to do what all of you were taught. Stay away from them! 18 They want to serve themselves and not Christ the Lord. Their flattery and fancy talk fool people who don’t know any better. 19 I am glad that everyone knows how well you obey the Lord. But still, I want you to understand what is good and not have anything to do with evil. 20 Then God, who gives peace, will soon crush Satan under your feet. I pray that our Lord Jesus will be kind to you.
21 Timothy, who works with me, sends his greetings, and so do my relatives, Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater.
22 I, Tertius, also send my greetings. I am a follower of the Lord, and I wrote this letter.
23-24 Gaius welcomes me and the whole church into his home, and he sends his greetings.
Erastus, the city treasurer, and our dear friend Quartus send their greetings too.
This summer we’ve spent our time noticing some of the ‘bit players’ of the Old Testament. Some of them get a mention by name. Others remain nameless – only the briefest incidental mention of their existence. Yet all of these nameless or barely named individuals are still here, in the pages of the Bible, for us to read about thousands of years later.
This is encouraging for me. So often I can feel like my average, everyday life is not really worth very much. That compared to the people who make headlines every day, there’s not much that I do that really matters. And I’m sure I’m not the only one in this position. I think we all strive for meaning in life, and our media inputs spend an awful lot of time telling us that we’re not making the cut. But if these everyday ‘nobodies’ can make a difference with their everyday actions thousands of years ago, then maybe so can I.
As the summer winds down, I want to take a look at one more passage of everyday folks. This time it isn’t embedded in a story. It’s at the end of a letter that a guy named Paul writes to some folks he knows in Rome. Paul is one of the first people to take the message of Jesus beyond Jerusalem and Judea – to the ‘ends of the earth’ as they knew it at the time. Over the course of a number of journeys he travels to places all around the Mediterranean Sea, and eventually makes it all the way to Rome.
Each place he travels to, he stops and tells people about Jesus. And every place he does that, some decide that the way Jesus lived and taught sounds pretty good. That the life Jesus died and rose again to make possible might be a life they’d like to live, too. And so little churches – little groups of Jesus-followers – begin in each of these communities.
But Paul is never able to stay in any one place for very long. He’s seen by authorities as a trouble maker. He ends up eventually being run out of town or thrown in jail wherever he goes, so he has to keep leaving these little churches to get on with following Jesus the best they know how.
Just because he leaves, though, doesn’t mean he stops caring about them. It would seem from the letters that have survived, that Paul exchanged letters regularly with all of the communities that he had started churches in. That he continued to try to teach them and shape them and encourage them to live lives that reflected the love of Jesus to each other and to the world.
This is one of those letters.
This particular letter is the letter to the church in Rome. And like so many of Paul’s letters, at the end of this letter, he takes the time to commend someone to them, to greet a whole bunch of his friends by name, and then to send greetings from the people who are with him.
First, he commends Phoebe. In other words, Phoebe probably brought them the letter. In the days before reliable postal service, letters only travelled when someone took them with them. So presumably she had a reason for travelling to Rome, and offered to take a letter from Paul to the church in Rome. Whatever the reason, Paul thinks incredibly highly of this woman. He counts her a leader, and asks that the group of believers in Rome do whatever they can to help.
Those Left Behind
Next he turns his attention to his friends that he’s left behind:
- Priscilla and Aquilla, Epaenetus, Mary, Andronicus and Junias.
- Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles, Aristobulus and his family, Herodion, Narcissus and his family.
- Tryphaena and Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus and his mother, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, and Hermas and the friends with them.
- Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all of God’s people who are with them.
Each of these names represents a friendship. A story. Memories of shared meals. Of late nights talking with each other. Of a warm place to spend the night, or a cool drink on a hot day. They are his friends, but they have become so much more than that. He counts these people as family.
A Bigger, Broader Network
And we have to be careful that we don’t miss something incredibly radical about this list! You see, it includes all sorts of interesting folks – men and women, slave and free, Jew and Gentile. In fact, it would seem that Paul’s list of friends that count as family includes all the different social levels of his day and age.
And not just his family – but Paul seems to indicate that all of these people, by virtue of being his friends, are part of the even broader network of family that he is a part of. Because he finishes with a list of all of the people with him who send their love to those in Rome: Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, Tertius, Gaius, Erastus and finally Quartus.
The Value of Friendship
We live in a world that can be very isolating. Our days can be so full with work and school and errands and housework that we end up all on our own. We forget that we are designed to be in community or that loneliness can be incredibly bad for our health.
In general, we humans have a tendency to connect mostly with people who are just like us. To have friends who all have the same interests, the same political perspectives, the same approaches to parenting or to money or to hobbies. Friends who talk like us and think like us, who earn about the same amount of money as us and whose days are very similar to ours.
And any time that isn’t the case, we can fall into fragmented lives. To silo our ‘work’ friends from our ‘church’ friends from our neighbours from our biological families. Authenticity and vulnerability are scary things to choose, but they are wildly necessary if we’re going to build the kind of interconnected webs of relationships that Paul is alluding to in his letter.
Because I may not be able to make the headlines, but it would seem that even deep friendships are something that can help bring the Kingdom in greater and greater measure – and that I can probably manage!
- Take a few moments and write down a list of your friends – your connections – your community. People who you are regularly touching base with, caring for, connected to. People who you are being open and honest with – people who know what you struggle with and what you are excited by.
- How long of a list is it?
- How diverse is it?
- How interconnected is it?
- As we go into a new season, is there anything you need to do differently to make sure that you have the kinds of deep, meaningful relationships in your life that you need to become all that God made you (and the rest of us!) to be?
- Do you need to set aside one evening a week and intentionally make that an evening to have someone over for dinner?
- Do you need to start asking people to join you while you eat lunch at work?
- Do you need to call up or text a friend and make plans for a coffee date?
- Do you need to intentionally limit your family’s extra-curricular engagements to make sure you have time to spend with community?
- Do you need to start going for a walk at 7 pm (or whatever time your neighbourhood walks their dogs) so that you can meet your neighbours and start connecting with them?
- Do you need to become intentional about always going to the gym/park/hockey rink/swimming pool/library/grocery store (whatever you do anyways) at the same time each week so that you have the chance to start connecting with people and building relationships over time?
- Do you need to join a club or group that would normally be outside of your comfort zone for the purpose of meeting people that are different from you?
- Or is the Holy Spirit calling you to something different? We’d love to hear your ideas about connecting, deepening friendships and growing community!
This is the last in our summer series looking at ‘stories you missed’ in the Bible. Feel free to check out the other stories in the series here.