A STUDY OF ROMANS 16: Relationship of Christians to One Another Demonstrated

Dr. Jerry A. Collins


Discipleship is an individual thing—a life on a life, leading toward greater Christlikeness. It is the missing word in the ministry of the church. Biblical discipleship is intentionally impacting the life of someone in the direction of Christlikeness. Romans ends with the evidence of the fruit of a discipleship ministry. The kind of ministry and fruit we should be striving for in our own lives.



A Commendation for Phoebe (16:1-2)

Verse 1: I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea. Paul described Phoebe as, (1) our sister, probably in the sense of a fellow believer, not personal family, and (2) as a (diakonon) a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea. Cenchrea is a seaport a few miles east of Corinth (Acts 18:18). The word (diakonon) is used for the office of deacon (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8, 10, 12), but more commonly as one who serves (Romans 15:8; 1 Corinthians 3:5). The context does not give us enough information to determine which is in mind here. Phoebe may be the one who delivered this letter to Rome.

Verse 2: That you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well. Paul wanted the church to welcome [or receive] her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints. That is, they were to house her, feed her, show her warm hospitality, and send her on her way with provisions. They were to assist her (lit. stand with her) in whatever matter she may need help from the believers in Rome. She deserves such treatment because she has proved to be a patroness [or, helper] to many and even to Paul.

An Application—So, there is a manner worthy that represents the Christian way. It involves receiving one another that looks like helping each other. It has to do with service that is superior in expression from believer to believer. This is a distinctive of the Christian way. Since God is intensely interested in my needs, I can then be entirely focused on addressing those of my Christian brethren. Am I available for such service? Don’t reverse this.

Special Greetings for Special Friends (16:3-16)

Paul greets fifteen distinct groups of believers in Rom 16:3-15. Each use of aspazomai (“greet”) distinguishes an autonomous assembly. The fifteen uses are Romans 16:3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 (2×), 11 (2×), 12 (2×), 13, 14, 15. Paul greets more people by name here than in any other epistle. Though he had not been to Rome, he was acquainted with a host of people there, having met (during his various missionary journeys) many of those he mentions.

Verse 3: For example, Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. Acts 18:2, 18, and 26 document Priscilla and Aquila’s prior association with Paul in Corinth and Ephesus. They traveled extensively and remained associated with him whether when accompanying Paul or when separated from him. Additionally, here in Rome, its said that people met in their house. This is not specifically stated of the others greeted. Possibly the other fourteen greeted were churches who met in tiny tenement rooms (about 10 feet by 10 feet) in contrast with the larger house churches. That may seem like only a small number of believers in the city. But four factors could expand this to a much larger group: 1. Paul seems only to greet leaders and sponsors (not congregants) of fifteen assemblies known to him. 2. Each leader (and sponsors) would meet with small congregations weekly. 3. Leaders may meet at different times and places with multiple groups a week. 4. The named leaders might not be exhaustive, but only those known to Paul. Because of the order of their names, it is likely that Priscilla was the most forthright in active ministry.

Verse 4: who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. At great risk to themselves they worked in ministry, discipled young Christians, and opened their home for the church to meet in. They risked their very lives in an effort to protect his life (cf. Acts 19:23-40 for a possible situation in which they did this). Paul indicates that not only is he thankful for them, but so also are all the churches of the gentiles since they would have benefited from Paul’s life being spared.

Verse 5: also greet the church that is in their house. The early church had no church buildings. All church meetings took place in homes or tenements until the third century or so. Since Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned first, and since he refers to the church that is in their house, their assembly of believers may have been a leading group of the churches in Rome.

PT A word about church. For the apostles, the assembly of the believers (church) was not an institution that needed a doctrinal statement or a mission statement, or its own belief statement. It was not an entity, an organization, a command post that needed to have a life of its own, defend itself, and grow. True believers are the real church, not the organization they may create. The solution to personal problems, like marriage, parenting, and disputes, is not a program of an organization. Personal problems are solved by people becoming more mature. What the apostles had in mind as the church, brought people to repentance and growth toward Christlikeness.

When people came to Christ in the first century, it was with the idea of glorifying God and serving Christ, often with only the promise of persecution in this life. It was God-oriented, not people-oriented. So it focused on bringing people to stronger faith, greater obedience, with a focus on Christlikeness (John 15:10). Most “local churches” today serve to keep believers out of chaos by promoting spiritual order and accountability. The church the apostles envisioned and ministered to was those moving beyond order to maturity. Christ and the apostles described a church of individual believers who were individually gifted, individually called, and individually judged and rewarded (Colossians 1:28).

Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. There was Paul's first convert in Asia—Epenetus. This figurative use of convert refers to Epenetus as the first Christian believer in the region. Achaia was the region in Greece next to Macedonia. The Roman province of Asia made up about one-third of modern Asia Minor and was on the western side of it.

PT—I had opportunity to meet the very first Christian believer in a Moslem city in Kosova. Very rare.

Verse 6-7: Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. She labored and exhausted herself on behalf of the Roman believers.   Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Note 4 things: (1) Andronicus and Junia were kinsman in the sense of fellow compatriots. (2) They were fellow prisoners which may mean that they were imprisoned together. (3) They were outstanding among the apostles in the sense of being well known by them and commended by them. If someone was well known to the apostles, they were also well known among the apostles. (4) They were born again before Paul was in Christ before me. Paul came to faith one to two years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection (i.e., in AD 34 or 35). They came to faith in Christ at an even earlier point, possibly even during Jesus’ earthly ministry,

Verse 8-9: Greet Ampliatus, my beloved [much loved] in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. Paul calls Amplias my beloved in the Lord and Stachys my beloved. These intimate designations suggest that they traveled outside of Rome and spent time with Paul. Urbanus is called by Paul his fellow worker in Christ, a term reserved for outstanding partnership with Paul in ministry. Such a commendation would require close association with Paul.

Verse 10-12: Greet Apelles, the approved in Christ. This is a new description of one who is in a current state of approval or accepted and pleasing in Christ. It’s possible for every believer to live with Chris’s approval in this life which will pay dividends at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Our works are imperfect and we also tend to be spiritually hard on ourselves, but we can pursue Christs approval and then let each one’s praise… come from God (1 Corinthians 4:5) the Bema. Stay focused upon pleasing Christ and nothing else and let the Bema Seat work itself out for you. 

Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord. He does not say of either the household of Aristobulus or the household of Narcissus what he said of Priscilla and Aquila in v 5—likewise greet the church that is in their house. This might suggest that these churches met not in homes, but in tenements (very small apartments on the upper floors of buildings owned by wealthy persons).

Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. These two women might have been sisters, since they are mentioned together and their names are similar who toiled in [on behalf of] the Lord. Notice the emphasis of in the Lord coming up. Ministry is eternal in focus. It keeps eternity in view. Christ is the focus and purpose. Its done in the Lord not in my name.

Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord. Like Mary and Tryphaena and Tryphosa, Persis put in hard labor for the kingdom, not that she necessarily toiled much harder. It could be, too, that Paul is simply varying his style in his brief comments about various people.

Verse 13: Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. Paul means that Rufus is an outstanding person in Christ. This probably is the same Rufus whom Mark mentions—then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross (Mark 15:21). The father of Rufus had carried the cross for Jesus. The mother of Rufus had been a mother to the apostle Paul also his mother and mine. At some time, she had displayed motherly affection and extended hospitality to Paul. What a family!

Verse 14-15: Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them. As Paul is winding down those whom he is greeting, he has less to say about people. Likely this is because these were people about whom Paul had less knowledge. Paul mentions five men and the brothers who are with them suggesting that these men and the unnamed brothers were part of a house church together.

Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Philologus and Julia could be husband and wife (or brother and sister). Nereus and his sister might be their children. Olympas was another person in their house church, and so were all the saints who are with them.

Verse 16: Greet one another with a holy kiss. No case is made for this by the apostles as a preferred Christian mark of love and friendship. Many customs today of believers greeting each other and sharing the peace come dangerously close to overstepping bounds of propriety at least in the West. Men kissed men; women kissed women, as a Near-Eastern expression of love and unity. Today we might high five or fist pump. Greeting someone with a kiss was also common among Jesus’ disciples when they walked with Him. This is evident in that Judas greeted Jesus with a kiss when he betrayed Him at Gethsemane (Matt 26:29). All the churches of Christ greet you in the sense of being bound together due to belonging to and serving the Lord Jesus Christ.

PT—Paul did not have a lone ranger ministry mentality. He did not hate women as many are prominent with him in the work of ministry. There is a network of believers scattered across the empire who knew each other quite well. The work is associated with the Lord. The ministry is difficult.



Verse 17: Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. Unity is a great thing, but it is not to be maintained at the cost of truth. Its unity based on the truth to the teaching which you learned, not according to what you all can agree upon. In other words, what you learned from the apostles. False teaching about what is true always meant teaching things contrary to what Paul, Peter, James, John, and the other apostles taught. There were people causing divisions and scandals contrary to sound doctrine, not necessarily personal opinions or preferences. These troublemakers were to be avoided turn away from them, not try to get agreement from them or stay connected to them (compare 2 Thess. 3:6; Titus 3:10; and 2 John 1:10). Divisive people like this may have smooth talk and flattery, but their message is false. The specific form of these descriptions suggests that Paul had something definite in mind--and they would know it. 

PT— Identify and avoid those who don’t follow biblical teaching. The issue for avoiding people is not personality or the kind of music they like or their race or wealth or dress, but their teaching. What is it they are teaching? Don’t hang around them. Turn off the TV. Change the radio station. Don’t purchase their books. Stay away from them. Don’t associate with them. Their teaching and beliefs will only place obstacles and snares in your path. Don’t dialogue or try to understand them.

Verse 18: For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. Paul gives their motives. These people do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but instead their own belly and all that entails. That is, they are saying things that will bring them money so they can eat well. So they can satisfy themselves. They are not in it for the Lord. And with their false teaching they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting (or simple). The church must protect its people by not allowing these with contrary teaching to spread their false doctrines. Doctrine matters and must not be overlooked.

Verse 19: For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore, I am rejoicing over you. The believers in Rome whom Paul is greeting were not like the divisive people about whom he is warning them. The report of the readers’ is that their obedience has reached to all. That is, their godly behavior and sound doctrine is well known among all the Gentile churches. Thus Paul rejoices over them. Yet he is still concerned about them and wants them to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. That is, to ensure that sound doctrine is taught in the church. To keep defective doctrine from being taught. To warn the flock about false teachers and false doctrines when necessary (cf. Acts 20:28-32; Hebrews 13:17).

PT—Its never better to have sinned and then experience its consequences. It’s a better testimony to not have an experience of sin and its consequences—and be innocent in evil. Become wise about good by nature, as God intended, and innocent in evil. In other words, develop the skill to discern what is good biblically and by nature. The world can never teach you that. Don’t become worldly-wise. Don’t think that it is better to sin and then repent.

Verse 20: The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. Who knows? While being alert to the truth, God’s power will destroy false teachers. If they heed Paul’s warning to identify and avoid them, then God will crush Satan’s action speedily. False teachers are under Satan’s influence, but God destroys and then brings peace to replace the dissension and division their false teaching produced. God is ready to judge the false teaching and teachers, but it requires believers being aware of the falseness of it all.



Special Final Greetings from Special Friends (16:21-24)

Verse 21: Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen. Timothy, of course, is well-known to us (cf. 1 Cor 4:17; 16:10-11; Phil 1:1; 2:19-23; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2). The name Lucius is only found one other time in the NT (Acts 13:1). Jason is a common Jewish name often used as a substitute for Jesus. This could be the Jason from Thessalonica mentioned in Acts as having been associated with Paul (cf. Acts 17:5-9). Sosipater is likely the same person who accompanied Paul to Asia and who is called “Sopater of Berea” in Acts 20:4.

Verse 22: I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord. Tertius was apparently Paul’s stenographer. Paul’s eyesight may not have allowed him to pen it personally. Tertius is the man who wrote down the letter Paul was dictating. Paul did not write out his epistles himself. In the Lord suggests he realize he was used by the Lord to record Scripture.

Verse 23: Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Gaius was evidently a fairly wealthy man as he was Paul’s host in Corinth as he wrote this letter and he was the host of the whole church. Most likely the man who is here greeting the Roman believers is the Gaius of 1 Corinthians 1:14.

Erastus, the city treasurer greets you. Gaius is probably the Gaius of 1 Corinthians 1:14. Ryrie says: Erastus’ name has been found on a pavement that he donated to Corinth. In 1929, this inscription was found, mentioning Erastus as the one who paid for the paving of the street in return for his appointment as a city officer. It is likely that this is the same Erastus mentioned by Paul as sending greetings to the church at Rome (Romans 16:23). If so, Paul’s influence apparently extended to wealthy and influential Roman citizens of Corinth. And Quartus, the brother. The final greeting comes from Quartus, whom Paul simply calls a brother. He is not mentioned anywhere else in the NT.

Verse 24: [The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.] is not in some manuscripts.

A Benediction (16:25-27)

Verse 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 which has been kept secret for long ages past. The Gospel is a mystery (something unknown in the Old Testament, which was revealed to the apostles – Ephesians 3:3-9) which has been kept secret for long ages. The mystery is the present age of the gospel when God is taking both Jew and Gentile and fashioning them into one body. That mystery is the gospel and Paul is its ambassador. Now to Him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ reveals the means by which God changes lives. This is what the work of ministry is—the establishing of believers in sound doctrine, in the faith. No longer infants tossed to and fro as to truth. This has been Paul's concern in much of the book, as indeed in much of his ministry. 

Verse 26: but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith. So, when we talk about the Christian faith, it is the faith of the prophets and the apostles. That is what we believe—what the apostles and prophets taught. Besides the Gospel of the apostles (what is for us the New Testament), we are also established by the Scriptures of the prophets (what we call the Old Testament). This is the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; therefore, the “prophets” mentioned here as “now” revealing this truth are likely the New Testament writers. 

Verse 27: to the only wise God. Paul then returns to his theme of the wisdom of God—all of it, from beginning to end, is the divine plan that is beyond our comprehension. We can only stand amazed at the wisdom of God. It means that God sets the standards of wisdom. In fact, the cross is the wisdom of God, even though it seems foolishness to mankind. Paul affirmed that he preached Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God, for the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor. 1:21-25).   

—through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen. What is a bit different in the final benediction is the absence of Paul’s usual emphasis on the grace of our Lord Jesus.


1. Ministry comes at a cost. Assistance in time of distress. Risking. Working hard. Sacrifice. Prisoners. Workers. Tested and approved. Ministry by it’s very nature is sacrificial and costly. All of these people knew of or at least heard of the cost of ministry in the life of Paul. He modeled that for them and so they were determined to serve Christ in costly ministry as well.

2. A ministry is characterized by reproduction. 26 different individuals are mentioned in this greeting. In one way or another, Paul’s ministry was being reproduced through the lives of other committed individuals. In some cases, he was physically with them. This led to reproducing himself through them. They in turn were willing to count the cost themselves in their service for Christ. Let ministry happen and as it runs its course over time the impact is impressive.

3. Ministry is for both men and women. It is interesting to note that at least four women were said to have ‘worked hard’. One risked her own neck. Another may have been a fellow prisoner. Men and women both are responsible to serve Christ with their own God given giftedness and capacities and should be encouraged to do so without violating the specific leadership roles scripture identifies.

4. Ministry is best done one on one or in smaller groups. It was not the fact that these people were associated with some kind of group or congregation or class or denomination, but that they were connected relationally with other believers. This made ministry personal enough to make an impact in their lives. The Word of God is central.

5. Ministry is focused on people. When you boil it all down, it is that life on life impact that changes the lives of people. This has profound implications for the discipling of your wife or your children or extended family. People are eternal. Programs are temporal. Maintain priorities here. You only have so much time so use it to impact a few people that will impact a few more for the kingdom of God.