It seems somewhat oxymoronic to suggest, as does Romans 16:20, the “God of Peace” has anything to do with shortly crushing Satan under the feet of the saints. The saints in the capitol of Rome well understood what CRUSHING was all about – and since Nero was then Emperor when Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans – well, let’s just put it this way, Satan was a very tangible commodity at the time . . . but why attach the “God of Peace” to such a stark contrast?
Better yet, why does Paul insert such a statement at the close of his otherwise brilliant and deeply enlightening overview of the entire Christian life, let alone link his insights “according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the PROPHETIC SCRIPTURES made known to all nations” (Romans 16:25).
Obviously, Paul did not disclose these revelations to these believers in Rome in a vacuum – he based his entire treatise, including crushing Satan under the feet of the saints in Rome by the God of Peace, upon the prophetic Scriptures which he recites vociferously throughout his letter.
We’ve examined Romans 16:1-27 at length on occasion through the insightful writings of Henry Hon, who suggests that Paul’s “greeting” of the saints was an “imperative” form of speech – not a suggestion as in: “Say ‘hi’ to Olympas, if you get a chance.” No, “You in Rome, go and greet Olympas.” Indeed, the “churches of Christ greet you” from a distance, “but you folks in Rome need to go on over and not only greet Olympas, but while you’re at it, ‘greet all the saints who are with them’” (Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, et al). In all – and it’s a bit difficult to calculate – however, I’ve identified some 36 individuals (even “his sister” – Romans 16:15) and found there are 9 women and 27 men who are identifiable for a total of 36 individuals – that’s a whole lot of greeting. But, and as Hon brings out, it’s far more than just saying “hi” on Paul’s behalf – and more than just going over and meeting Priscilla and Aquila, along with greeting the “ekklesia” in their house. It’s actually RECEIVING one another “in a manner worthy of the saints and assisting her in whatever business she (Phoebe) has need of you” (Romans 16:1-5). You’re getting involved – it’s one thing to say “hi” and a quick “goodbye” but altogether another matter when you begin RECEIVING one another.
Again, it behooves us to connect the dots. In Romans 15:7 it appears Paul was putting some finishing touches to his exposition by stating: “Therefore RECEIVE one another, just as Christ also RECEIVED us/you, to the glory of God.” Well, now, that kind of “receiving” is far and away beyond the pale of congeniality. How Christ receives us all to the glory of God wherein “that the Gentiles/Nations might glorify God for His mercy” (Read: Romans 15:7-13 to grasp the profundity of Christ receiving the Gentiles to the glory of God.) – this is a superlative expression of the mercy and grace of God to all who would believe!
Therefore, this receiving of Phoebe which Paul introduces at the commencement of Romans 16:1-27, strikes a tone far and beyond a superficial “say ‘hi’ from me” but is the very “receiving” Christ wrought on behalf of the Gentiles whereupon the nations would glorify God! All barriers were broken down – just as Paul announced to the Ephesian saints:
“For He Himself is our PEACE, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself ONE NEW MAN from the two, thus making PEACE . . . And He came and preached PEACE to you who were afar off and to those who were near” (Eph. 1:14-18).
So what Paul was saying: “Just as God for Christ’s sake has received us Gentiles to the glory of God and to glorify God, you do the same—start RECEIVING one another, it will glorify God!” Not to put words into Paul’s mouth – no need – however, that’s the gist of what he was saying and that’s what he meant by meeting and greeting one another in Rome! Unconditional, all barriers having been abolished by His cross – it’s a “no holds bar” receiving, meeting and greeting one another, just as God, for Christ’s sake, has received us!
FRIENDS, ROMANS, COUNTRYMEN, LEND ME YOUR EARS
William Shakespeare in his “Julius Caesar” captures some of the diverse population in Rome spoken by Marc Antony, who concluded his salutation with: “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” Now, Rome was indeed a hodgepodge of nationalities – primarily, however, and in accordance with the names so mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:1-27, she (Rome) consisted of Roman citizens, Jews, Greeks, and a rather nameless bunch of swarthy barbarians – you know, the obscure worker bees (aka slaves, some of whom had gained a degree of freedom and could actually own property – Alas! What gratuity for their indentured efforts!). In the film, The Gladiator, these, in the main, barbarians kept the masses at bay by “entertaining them to death.” Trafficking in the bodies and souls of men is really nothing new—we humans have been at it for millennia.
We have no record any apostle had physically been to Rome prior to Paul’s letter, which appears to have been written cir. A.D. 56 (Paul was converted cir. A.D. 35) – no doubt “visitors from Rome” (Acts 2:10) became believers in Jesus and carried back to Rome the “good news” of salvation . . . that’s how the faith spread to Rome. Therefore, when Paul writes in Romans 1:7 “To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints” he does not address his letter to any leadership among them but directly TO ALL WHO ARE IN ROME – CALLED TO BE SAINTS. This is as “general” as it gets – Paul lumps all those in Rome who were “called to be saints” into one group. It appears Paul was beheaded under the reign of Emperor Nero (who reigned from 54 A.D. to 68 A.D. – 13 years); so, when Paul wrote Romans (especially, Romans 13:1-14 regarding the believers’ relationship to civil authorities) Nero was in full sway. Paul’s beheading, as a Roman citizen, took place in 64 A.D.
Paul’s generality stops there. What we can ascertain from his writing of Romans 1-8 is the “Romans Road” where he, after formally greeting the saints in Rome, moves from man’s sinful state of affairs, and under God’s wrath through to justification by faith, unto sanctification of the believer, and thence to the believer’s ultimate glorification of the body; in other words, from divine hostility to Peace with God (individual). Indeed, Romans 8 concludes with this divinely sweeping generosity:
“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).
That should have wrapped things up – but, no, now that YOU have Peace with God – how about you having peace with your brethren? That’s where the latter half of Romans comes in: Chapters 9 through 16. Paul spends, quite frankly, an extraordinary effort in disclosing the GOSPEL OF PEACE (Romans 9-16) after revealing the Gospel of the Grace of God in Romans 1-8. There is absolutely no question this “divine disparity” is illuminated in the book of Romans – if so, then why have so very few declared its demarcation—especially, having anything to do with the FULL MESSAGE OF THE GOSPEL?
Could it be that we Christians have simply compartmentalized Romans 9-11 as having to deal with the “Jewish issue” and then moved on to further disclosures of “sanctification” as we present our bodies a living sacrifice by not allowing the world to squeeze us into its own mold (Romans 12). Having accomplished the fete in Romans 12 we somehow need, now, to rise above political entanglement by heeding Paul’s injunctions in Romans 13 and from there move on to “body life” as per Romans 14-15 and then consider Paul’s final chapter as little more than, as Hon says, “credits at the end of a movie” (you know, that’s where you get up and begin to walk out the door).
This treatment of Romans 9-16 is, sadly, how most of us have viewed Romans—hardly a stereoscopic overview of what Paul was really trying to illuminate via the Holy Spirit through the PROPHETIC SCRIPTURES (Rom. 16:26).
So, let’s get a bit real here. Rome’s diverse population, again, could clustered by nationality; by ethnic persuasion – mainly, Roman citizenry, Greeks, Jews and the ubiquitous barbarians pouring into the capitol via conquest and consequent labor exploitation (slavery). The most profound problem facing the “saints in Rome” would have been their predisposition to “keep to themselves” in these various groupings.
FOUR OBVIOUS FACTIONS
Let’s take it from the top: ROMANS. These were the conquerors – the guys in control, the management, the bureaucrats, the architects, the law givers. If philosophers came from the Greeks, and the Prophets came from the Hebrews, the law givers came from the Romans. The Romans were allegedly founded by Romulus in 753 B.C. and persisted from the monarchy, through the Republic, unto some form of Empire (West and East) until the Fall of Trebizond in the summer of 1461 A.D. – over 2,100 years – these guys weren’t fooling around when it came to controlling things. In comparison, we in the USA may have the oldest Constitution (232 years – 1787 A.D. until 2019 A.D.) but Rome’s ability to manage affairs far exceeds our own—and in point of fact, our entire system of law and a host of other bureaucratic and general civilization is permeated by Roman influence.
GREEKS: This group in the Roman capitol was undoubtedly connected to Greek culture. Actually, the Greeks greatly influenced the Romans . . . and they were quite proud of that fact . . . everything from architecture to ekklesia. Likewise, being philosophers, they were the studious bunch – Paul said it this way: “The Jews demand a sign and the Greeks seek after wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:22). When Paul proclaimed the gospel on Mars Hill in Athens, most responded in this manner:
“And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter.’” (Acts 17:32). And, why not hear more of this matter? “And they took him (Paul) and brought him to Areopagus (Mars Hill), saying, ‘May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean” (Acts 17:19-20).
Yes, we want to KNOW – for the Greeks seek after wisdom . . . “For ALL THE ATHENIANS and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21).
JEWS: In sum, “the Jews demand (not just “require”) a sign” (1 Cor. 1:22). Matthew 12:38 and John 2:18 echo this persistent characteristic: “What SIGN do You show us, since You do these things?” Or: “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, ‘Teacher, we want to see a SIGN from You” (Matt. 12:38). Something miraculous akin to the opening of the Red Sea will do – or raising someone from the dead, “tongues of fire” atop some heads might do in a pinch – but it must be supernatural, beyond any knowledge these Greeks contemplate – that’s for sure!
BARBARIANS: This motley crew found itself in Rome under some degree of protest—as in “I’ve been conquered and now must work for virtually nothing.” This hapless lot was, in the main, slightly disrespected, not only by their Roman conquerors, but most certainly by the cultured Greeks and enlightened Jews. Their clothing (virtually rags and animal skins, furs, and what not) and their eating habits—atrocious! If they didn’t camp out in their servants’ quarters, they wondered the streets and alleys of Rome being exploited at every level of debauchery. What an awful subjugation was theirs! They were hardly able to communicate in a society which deem language (Latin, Greek or Hebrew/Aramaic) to be a mandatory expression of a civilized individual. Alas! Barbarians befit their breed! It’s not that this sector of Roman society kept to themselves—nobody wanted them around in the first place—they bordered on the leprous and their habits, well, in a nutshell: uncouth and, besides, they stank! But, they’re needed to keep “our well-oiled machine” trucking—but it’s not easy to train them aside from tearing down things and carving out highways and the like; you know, menial tasks that don’t require much intelligence nor skill—just good ole hard labor stuff will do.
PAUL KNEW WHAT WAS GOING ON AMONG THE SAINTS IN ROME
Paul knew from his statement in Romans 15:29:
“But I know that when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness (lit. “completion”) of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.”
You see, Paul was preaching a COMPLETION GOSPEL – not just the Gospel of the Grace of God (Acts 20:24; Rom 1:1, 9, 15-16; 2:16) – it was the Gospel of Peace (Romans 10:15-16; 15:16, 19-20, 29; 16:25). Paul wanted to eventually come to Rome but in a way whereby the “completion of the blessing of the gospel of Christ” would be manifested among the saints - wherein they would “strive together” and whereby when he did arrive, he would “be refreshed together with you . . . now the GOD OF PEACE be with you all. Amen” (Romans 15:29-33 – excerpts).
Paul was intentional – yes, he had an agenda for this “receiving, meeting and greeting” of the saints in Rome. These cultural groups were more than obvious obstacles to the unity of the Body of Christ in Rome. Yes, these were factions of the most profound order – then again, as Hon states: FACTIONS ARE NECESSARY in the assembly, the ekklesia as per 1 Corinthians 11:19: “For there must also be factions among you.” But why? “. . . that those who are approved [lit. “genuine”] may be recognized [lit. manifest, evident] among you” (1 Cor. 11:19b). How are you Romans going to have such factions if you persist in your exclusive Jewish believers only demanding SIGNS & WONDERS – studious Greeks who “rightly divide the Word of Truth” – Roman bureaucratic “decently and in order” group – ANYTHING GOES Barbarian group? Factions are necessary (Note: I didn’t say being “factious” or “divisive” was necessary – it’s NOT.).
PECULIAR FOLKS - THESE FOUR GROUPS!
Have you ever noticed how today’s Romans in an assembly are normally the ones who, after a “meeting goes south,” are the ones who blame its demise on “poor organization” – to wit: “Well, Ann, the reason why we’re not seeing any improvement around here has everything to do with a lack of organization—things just don’t happen spontaneously, you know, you have to plan things out and do so methodically, like an engineer” – well, let’s cut the chase here—like ROMANS are wont to do. “So, get out of my way, Ann, and let me handle this thing!”
The Greeks, on the other hand, when whatever is stressed out in the assembly, simply wish to STUDY THE PROBLEM – sometimes “to death.” They border on bureaucracy, like the Romans, but if the “thing” is never resolved, they’ll just keep on researching and studying the problem – and are quite happy in doing so; although, everyone else is utterly frustrated by their “ever learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth of the matter.” Something sounds a bit “out of alignment” (doctrinally) – thus, the discerning Greeks will “hear more of this later” and continue to “rightly divide the Word of Truth” until it’s virtually in shreds! Everything has been deciphered to the uttermost. Not much gets done (Romans) but we sure figured it out!
Meanwhile, the Jews – somewhat Pentecostal, one might presume – have little flare for organization (that took place centuries ago on the Mount – besides we have the entire Law) – further study, however, will do . . . but that’s why SIGNS, WONDERS and SUPERNATURAL gifts are desperately needed to get the saints excited about true Christianity or a little Messianic movement here and there. “You can study your Scripture all you want (Greeks) but you ought to show up at a DELIVERANCE MEETING where the “real gospel” is preached and folks are delivered, healed, are, in general, being struck by the Spirit until they’re laid out on the floor! Get out of your brain (aka mind) – and get into the signs and wonders – that’s where the real action is!”
Barbarians: The name alone ought to tell you what these guys are up to! If you want to destroy the equilibrium of a meeting—just invite a bunch of barbarians. Given an inch, they’ll take a mile. Off goes the mouth to announce “the whole thing needs to be buried” – let’s just allow the “spirit” to move. The question is: What “spirit?” Barbarians are apt to just get up and wander around—you’re lucky if they even found where the meeting was in the first place – and, when there – if there are not enough “bells and whistles” – consider their wanderings an expression of the failure of your gathering and/or of the preacher’s boring sermon. They may have “never heard this before” but that doesn’t matter—they would rather be heard and seen, than to hear and see anyone. You might think they’re “high maintenance” – they are, but they have no idea they are and could care less if you think they are! Oddly enough, they get along fine together—why? Because there’s no rules and regulations—when you get tired of whatever, just move on and set up a new camp to keep the nomadic flavor of the group alive. Don’t dare try to pin them down—Romans have tried; but duly noted, it was the Barbarian hoards who conquered Rome! So, who knew?
Now, with that somewhat humorous elucidation – can you even fathom what Paul knew what was happening in Rome. Not only was there this immense schism between Jew and Gentile (Romans 9-11) but these little cultural clusters were unhinged in the natural—believe me, Paul needed an additional eight chapters to deal with this quagmire of conflicting souls.
Therefore, it was not out of the ordinary to see Jews desiring to “hang out” with Jews; Romans with Romans, Greeks with Greeks and Barbarians just hanging out wherever they could. Now, here comes upbeat and fully confident Paul celebrating when he arrives that he’ll be witnessing the COMPLETION GOSPEL – the GOSPEL OF PEACE – in which not only are all kinds of folks in Rome receiving the Gospel of the Grace of God—but the nations (Grk. ethnos) in Rome are now witnessing how Christ alone is bringing all these disparate groups together in Him alone! How? By going on over to the ekklesia which meets in the home of Aquila and Priscilla—not at the mega St. Peter’s Basilica.
It’s time for some Pentecostals to meet some hard-shell Baptists and for some sedate Anglicans to meet up with some Redeemer Church of God folks (you brethren in Nigeria know who I’m talking about). No, your little “comfort zone” comprised of studious Greeks are really not all that comfortable hanging out with a bunch of Barbarians—and the combinations ad nausea, ad infinitude. You have to ask yourself – how is it that in 56 A.D. – six years before Paul found himself in Rome – that he knew by name so many brothers and sisters in Rome? Stop wondering. Paul probably met a whole lot of these folks during his travels—he kept tabs on folks. Paul, himself, ceaselessly met and greeted saints all the time—so should we—that’s what the ekklesia is all about.
Furthermore, these factions should find themselves together lifting up the Lord Jesus, giving opportunity for sundry differences to be resolved by the God of Peace by those GENUINE brethren who rise up in their midst to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace. I know, it’s just so nice to be with “brethren who see things as you see ‘um” – but, guess what, that is NOT the “Normal Christian Ekklesia Life.” It is necessary, yea mandatory, for scholarly types to gather together with ditch diggers – for the poor to be with the rich – for the college educated to be with those who never completed high school – for we are ALL ONE IN CHRIST.
This Gospel of Peace has everything to do with Romans 14; to wit:
“For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and PEACE and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved (same word as “genuine” as found in 1 Cor. 11:19—“they that are approved”) by men. Therefore let us pursue the things which MAKE FOR PEACE and the things by which one may edify another . . . Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with ONE MIND and ONE MOUTH glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 14:17-19; 15:5-6).
I know, we all like our “associations” – as in “Bikers for Christ” or Mensa International types with high IQs – you’re right, these people need to find salvation – but only the Spirit of God can make them of one mind and one mouth glorifying God!
And remember this: Even a turtle must stick out his neck to make a move!
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus . . . where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all . . . for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him . . . for by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit… (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11; Rom. 10:12;
1 Corinthians 12:13
Oh, and by the way, the Barbarians will be pleased to know this is how the GOD OF PEACE will CRUSH SATAN under our feet shortly! (THE COMPLETION GOSPEL is available @ https://www.amazon.com/Completion-Gospel-Crushing-Satan-Glorifying/dp/1092419586