8 May 2021Romans 16:3-27
I want you to be wise in what is good, and guileless in what is evil (v. 19)
Imagine! Paul has been a Christian apostle for 20 years or so. He is currently lodging in Corinth, in the house of Gaius. He is surrounded by his close team (named in verses 21-23). He has just completed his long tract for the church in Rome (which finished at Romans 15.33). Paul’s next task is to send a short note to the church in Ephesus (which is what Romans 16 is); and he decides also to include with it a copy of what he has composed for Rome. (We wonder what his scribe Tertius thought about that.)
Paul is a brilliant pastor. He remembers so many names in the church in Ephesus; and affirms each of them warmly (verses 3-16). They had shared so much together. Epaenetus, for example, was Paul’s first convert in Asia. And Andronicus and Junia, a married couple, were Jews who had become Christians within a year or two of Jesus’s death and resurrection - before Paul himself. They had shared time in prison with Paul. They were both apostles (meaning, in their case, people authorised to preach in their own congregation and in houses and nearby villages where groups of Christians gathered).
Paul was jealous for the reputation of his beloved Ephesians ("Your obedience is known to all" verse 19). His deep love for them entitled him to be furious about a threat to their wellbeing. Some visiting Christian teachers, smooth-talkers all, had peddled ideas contrary to Paul’s teaching. With their flattery they were unsettling some of the simple souls. Divisions were appearing. That was totally unacceptable. The self-serving visitors must be ostracised. Paul’s prayer for the whole congregation is that they be expert (‘wise’) in goodness and innocent of evil. Their struggle was not about legitimate differing opinions in the Church: it was a struggle between God and Satan. But Paul’s faith and hope are strong. The God of peace (building in Ephesus a united and harmonious fellowship in Christ) will swiftly win this battle (verse 20).
Verses 25-27 are a doxology that may originally have been added to the letter to Rome or to Ephesus or both.
- The modern Church wants to be hospitable to all and inclusive. On the one hand there are authentic differences of opinion between faithful Christians in each congregation. Struggle as contemporary Christians do to achieve this, it is essential to talk and listen to one another patiently, courteously and with open minds and hearts. On the other hand the Church can be subverted by ideas and values that contradict the gospel itself. How does your congregation identify these? And what responses are appropriate?