There were many differences among those gathered in Louisville this week, but all these differences paled in comparison to the one great truth around which we all united: the gospel!
There are many different competing models for unity in the church today. Some say that we should be united because of tolerance in spite of what we may believe. But true unity in the church must come as a result of a common belief in the gospel itself.
In the local church we have an even broader basis of agreement. We have agreement on many secondary matters. We are agreed, for example, in regard to the government and ordinances of the church. But at the heart of our unity is the message of the gospel itself.
When we examine this closing chapter of the book of Romans, we discover a large number of people whom Paul considered to be united with him in the gospel. As we look at this passage we see three components of what it means to be together for the gospel. If we are together for the gospel, we must recognize our diversity. Being together for the gospel requires our definition. Finally, being together for the gospel results in our doxology.
I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, 2 that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also. 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. 6 Greet Mary, who labored much for us. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys, my beloved. 10 Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my countryman. Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you. 17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. 19 For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. 20 And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. 21 Timothy, my fellow worker, and Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my countrymen, greet you. 22 I, Tertius, who wrote this epistle, greet you in the Lord. 23 Gaius, my host and the host of the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the treasurer of the city, greets you, and Quartus, a brother. 24 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. 25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began 26 but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith — 27 to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen. Romans 16:1-27
I. Being Together for the Gospel Means that We Must Recognize Our Diversity, vv. 1-16, 21-24.
Paul recognized that he was not alone in his ministry of the gospel. We often feel as if we are alone, but God has graciously given us partners in this ministry. Paul is writing this letter from Corinth and sending it to Rome. Phoebe, the lady commended in verses 1 and 2, was probably the one who delivered this letter to Rome. The individuals mentioned in verses 3-16 were people who Paul probably knew from their travels to other cities which Paul had visited during his missionary journeys. Although, Paul had never been to Rome, he still knew several people who were now present in Rome. One example of how this happened is found in the story of Aquila and Priscilla of verses 3 and 4. Though originally residents of Rome, they had been expelled from Rome along with all the Jews during the reign of Claudius. During this time they took up residence in Corinth where they met the apostle Paul. Now that the emperor Claudius was dead, Aquila and Priscilla had returned to Rome.
The individuals listed in verses 21-24 were Paul’s companions in Corinth. They sent their greetings to their counterparts in the church at Rome. Each name listed by the apostle Paul represents a different person with differing personalities and abilities, differing strengths and weaknesses, differing attitudes and aptitudes. Of those listed, only Priscilla and Aquila are known outside of this passage (unless Rufus is the son of Simon the Cyrene in Mark 15:21). This husband and wife team are mentioned also in both Acts 18 and 1 Corinthians 16.
Look at the list of Paul’s partners in the gospel listed in this passage. Of the 27 specific names given to whom Paul sends greetings, 10 were women. Some of the names were Jewish, others Latin, most were Greek. There are names common to both 1st Century slaves and nobility. These people probably didn’t all look, smell or sound the same, but they were united with Paul for the sake of the gospel!
Being together for the gospel does not mean that each person is a cookie-cutter replica of one another. Instead, there is great diversity in our unity. This is what the conference I attended this week was all about. But in a greater sense, this is what church fellowship is all about! We are partners together for the gospel!
What a beautiful picture this is of the local church! We are a group of people whose unity cannot be explained in any other way than the gospel. There are male and females, rich and poor, old and young. We are not necessarily united around common interests or hobbies. In other words, we’re not united around any of the things that the world unites around. What unites us is nothing less than the glorious gospel of Christ! This is what we each hold in common!
II. Being Together for the Gospel Requires Our Definition of the Gospel, vv. 17-20.
But not only must those who are together for the gospel recognize our diversity, being together for the gospel also requires our definition! In other words, the content of what defines us, the gospel, must be defined. This is why there can be diversity, as well as unity.
Here, Paul establishes fences around the gospel that serves to clearly identify who is in this unity in “the gospel” and who is outside this unity. He does this by telling us to “note” those who cause divisions “contrary to the doctrine which you learned”. This tells us that there is a definitive content of the gospel and that one can identify false teachers by their failure to affirm that content. What is the content of this doctrine? Well, here in the book of Romans Paul’s doctrine has included:
- The Doctrine of God (One who is righteous and has wrath against sin) Romans 1
- The Doctrine of Humanity (Both Jews and Gentiles in rebellion) Romans 2-3
- The Doctrine of Salvation (God has provided righteousness for us through the person and work of Jesus Christ) Romans 3-5
- The Doctrine of Justification (If we believe this righteousness will be given to us) Romans 3-5
- The Doctrine of Assurance (No condemnation, therefore no separation) Romans 8
- The Doctrine of Election (Chosen by God’s Sovereign grace) Romans 9-11
- The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Practical Christian Living) Romans 6-7 & 12-15
This is the teaching which the Romans had learned in which Paul urges them to continue.
Paul says that we should note “watch out for” the false teachers who cause divisions (note that it is not the one who points out the false teaching who is causing division, but the false teacher himself). This is especially the job of the pastor as Paul admonishes the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28-31,
Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (29) For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. (30) Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. (31) Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.
However, Paul here indicates that it is the responsibility of all believers who have learned doctrine. You have that responsibility (see Acts 17:11)! The clarity of the gospel is at stake!
In verse 20, Paul provides assurance of the triumph of the gospel. This verse provides an echo of the first gospel promise of Genesis 3:15. Here Paul says that believers will share in the ultimate victory of Christ. Christ has crushed Satan’s head already on the cross, but there is also a day of consummation when all Christ’s enemies will be put under His feet at His return (see 1 Corinthians 15:25). Then all the enemies of the cross of Christ will also be defeated! Paul says that the “God of peace” will accomplish this, thus making eternal peace!
Being Together for the gospel recognizes our diversity, requires our definition and finally . . .
III. Being Together for the Gospel Results in Our Doxology, vv. 25-27.
Here we come to the conclusion of this glorious letter. This great letter of theology fitting closes on the strong note of doxology (praise to God).
As J.I. Packer has noted, “Theology … is for doxology. … Theologies that cannot be sung … are certainly wrong at a deep level.”
Paul gives praise to God first because God alone is the one who makes the gospel effective. He is the one “who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.” All the glory goes to God and God alone.
There is also praise to God here for the unfolding of His plan of redemptive history. It is the mystery that has now been revealed. The mystery of a body made up of all nations (Jew and Gentile).
When we understand, believe and embrace the gospel, the result will be genuine heart-felt worship grounded on the truth of God’s Word!
Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began 26 but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith — 27 to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen. Romans 16:25-27
What a glorious note to end not only this message and this chapter, but this entire glorious letter to the Romans!!! May our own meditations on the truths of God result in similar expressions of praise to God!!!
Do you have this unity in the gospel? Are we “together for the gospel”? Do we respect our differences while rejoicing in our unity in the gospel? Do we understand the objective content to the gospel? Has this understanding resulted in both our unity with other believers and praise to God?