HOUSE CHURCHES IN ROME
Key Verse: 16:5 “Greet also the church that meets at their house.”
Thank God for enabling us to study Romans to the end. Paul concludes Romans with his long final greetings which covers one chapter composed of 27 verses and mentions 29 persons, of whom 9 are women. Paul’s affection toward the saints in Rome is not commercial at all as people send their greetings through Kakaotalk or emails. It was not emotional, too. We can see the depth of Paul’s affection toward the people he remembered in Philippians 1:8, which says, “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Paul’s affection was the affection of Christ, which is overflowing forever.
Why were all saints in Rome remembered in Paul’s final greetings with such great affection? How could their names be recorded in his final greetings with Paul’s great affection toward them? In today’s passage, we learn how we could be remembered in God’s world salvation history. It is because all 29 persons in his final greetings worked hard for fulfilling God’s world salvation plan in their generation, coworking with Paul for the glory of God. Understanding God’s plan of world salvation very well, Paul really gave his life for God’s world salvation plan. Rome was the center of the world of that time. Paul prayed to go to Rome, not because of “Roman dream”, but because of God’s world salvation plan. Paul prayed to make Rome a Kingdom of Priests as we are praying for America to be a Kingdom of Priests. In his final greetings, we also learn that Paul not only had a vision for making Rome the center for world mission, but also found his 5 loaves and 2 fish which is the practical way to carry out his priestly duty for world mission. It was men and women of God who worked very hard by offering their houses as house churches in Rome.
Late Dr. Samuel Lee grasped Paul’s vision for evangelizing the world through America so that he came to America. When he began to pioneer Korea UBF, he served Korean students with the spirit of giving based on Mark 6:27 which says, “You give them something to eat.” But when he came over to America, he began to pray for America to be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation. It was out of his broken shepherd toward many Americans whose house was broken and lost God’s holiness in their lives. He was not just visionary. In his world mission report in Korea, he delivered his main message based on Romans 16 with the title “House Church in Rome.” God has raised up 2 American shepherd house churches, 2 missionaries sending out to Bonn UBF, 2 second gen house churches and 13 house churches. I pray that we all may study Romans 16, the final greetings to the saints in Rome so that each house churches may follow the good examples of house church in Rome.
First, show the respect for women who dedicated their lives for world mission. (1-2) Look at verse 1. "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea." Paul recommends Phoebe. She lived in Cenchrea, which was the port of Corinth, the city of trade and education like New York and New Jersey. Since she lived in Cenchrea, she had a chance to do education business like Msn. Grace. She worked hard day and night to maintain her business and became rich. But she did not enjoy her rich for herself or her family members. According to Paul, we can see that she has been the benefactor of many people, including Paul. (2) Now Paul sent her out to world mission journey at her own cost with his letter “Romans” to the saints in Rome. Paul felt a danger that she would not be treated as a precious servant of God, but as a business woman so that all saints in Rome would not listen to her. In Jesus’ time, women and children were despised and mistreated so that they were not counted in numbers. It was the same in Paul’s time. But Paul asked their favor to receive her in the Lord, in a way worthy of the saints, and to give her any help she may need from them. Why? It was because Phoebe lived a life of dedicating her life to serve many people, including Paul for carrying out her priestly duty. Many women only focus on their own children. But in carrying out world mission, Paul teaches us to show the proper respects for women, not because of their beauty or their money, not because of women’s right, because of their sacrificial life of dedication to the Lord. All women and men of dedicating their lives to the Lord for world mission should be equally respected and remembered as God’s servants in the history of God. Missionary Sarah Kim, Ruth Chong and Mary Lee who dedicated their time and life to carry out more than 3 one to one Bible, obeying the direction of Msn. Peter Kim should be respected more highly than any men missionaries who do carry out one to one less than 3 times.
Second, Priscilla and Aquila’s house church in Rome. (3-5) Look at verses 3 and 4. "Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them." Who were Priscilla and Aquila? Priscilla and Aquila were Jews who had previously been residents in Rome. But Claudius the Roman Emperor had issued an edict to banish all Jews from Rome. So they came to Corinth and settled (Ac 18:2,3). They were tentmakers like Paul. When Paul went to Ephesus they gave up all their business and followed him to cowork with him (Ac 18:18). Priscilla and Aquila met Apollos in Ephesus. Apollos was a Jew, a man of great learning with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. But he didn't know the core of the gospel. He only knew the baptism of John. So Priscilla and Aquila invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more through one-to-one Bible study. They taught him the core of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Their one-to-one Bible study was so effective that Apollos immediately began to prove from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ (Ac 18:28).
Paul said in verse 4, “They risked their lives for me.” Even though they were tentmakers, a self-supporting business couple, they did not put their business first. Instead, they risked their lives for Paul always, including their business future. Their spirit of coworking with Paul for world mission was very remarkable. They coworked with Paul at the risk of their lives and future security. Since Paul had such coworkers and house churches who were ready to risk their lives for world mission, he was able to carry out God’s world salvation plan. In pioneering NJ UBF world mission, I do see that Msn. Sarah and Peter Kim risked their lives and their future securities for me many times. I am always grateful to them. Not only I but all the churches of NJ UBF are grateful to them.
Look at verse 5. "Greet also the church that meets at their house."' This verse tells us that the early Christians used their houses as meeting places for their Bible study and prayer and worship service. Priscilla and Aquila were an outstanding couple who opened their hearts and house for fellow Christians. They lived an unsettled life. They were born in Asia, (Ac 18:2) immigrated to Rome, and were banished from Rome and settled in Corinth, then followed Paul to Ephesus, then came back to Rome. Wherever they went their house was a center of Christian fellowship and service. These days we see many homes which are nothing but places of physical rest, television watching, complaining centers, sometimes a battleground. When Matthew Kim moved out his apartment to a solitary place, he used his home from time to time as a battleground. But when he decided to move into a Highland Park for common life with coworkers, he even invited three second gens from his mother chapter to his house and feed them with spiritual food through daily bread. Thank God for the house church of M. Matthew Kim.
Likewise, Priscilla and Aquila offered their home as a house church. They gathered people and distributed the word of life to them and also treated them with delicious food. Their house was also a place for prayer for coworkers throughout the nations. Through their house we remember Jesus' word in Mark 11:1 7b, "My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." Priscilla and Aquila were the founders of the Christian church throughout their lifetime. The open door, the open hand, the open heart are the characteristics of their lives. Here, Paul did not say, "Aquila's family." He said, "Priscilla and Aquila." The church of God began at a house church. It was possible because Aquila's wife Priscilla gave her privacy to God. They held worship service, and after the worship service she cooked to share love and dinners. It was never ending. In a house church the housewife's role is very important. Because of this, Paul saw women who opened their house for the work of God with honor and respect. My house church should be called “Grace and John’s house church” not as “John and Grace’s house church” since I do see the important role of Msn. Grace’s coworking with me for world mission.
Fourth, What Paul remembered in his final greetings. (6-16) In Paul's life and ministry, there were many hardships and sufferings and rejections and accusations and misunderstandings from anti-Christians. Paul was old and tired. So he could have been overwhelmed by the sense of loss and suffering. But he was not. He was happy to remember each individual who became a coworker and brother in Jesus in Rome.
First of all, Paul remembered the ancestor of faith in his ministry of the province of Asia. By remembering the first convert in Asia, Paul emphasizes the importance of raising up one ancestor of faith in each ministry. Look at verse 5b. "Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia." When Paul was engaging in gospel work in Asia, he could hardly find a new convert. It was because the people of Asia were slaves of witch doctors. But Epenetus became the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. So Paul praises and thanks God for the great work he had done in Epenetus. To Paul, "the first convert in Asia" was indeed significant. We remember that God raised up Sh. David Gates as an ancestor of faith from Rutgers ministry and shepherd Jason Perry as an ancestor of faith from Princeton. It is important to remember always one man of God who convert to Christ through our house church ministry. I pray for each house church to have one man who believes in Jesus at each campus. I pray for Peter Lim, Joseph Lee’s house churches to have one man.
Secondly, Paul remembered women’s Hardworking spirit in Rome.Look at verse 6. "Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you." This Mary was not the mother of Jesus, but one of the Marys. In verse 6, the phrase, "who worked very hard for you," means that she worked to the point of death. Paul was an extraordinary hardworking person. So to Paul, an ordinary hardworking person was not considered a hardworking person. Paul thanks God for Mary because she knew the grace of God and worked hard.
Several more women’s names were remembered in his final greetings. Look at verse 12. “Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.” Paul remembered all women because of their hardworking spirit. Then, why were all women motivated to work hard? Where did their hardworking spirit come from? Usually people have a regular job for their survival. So when they have to work for God they feel that the work of God is extra work which requires extra strength and effort. The work of God is also spiritual work. So whoever does not give his heart has nothing to do. But these young people worked hard for God since they gave their heart to do the work of God. Paul prays for them that the grace of our Lord Jesus be with them. Even though we work hard for world mission, we feel “burned out” if we do not remember the grace of our Lord which enable us to work hard. Satan whispers us, saying “Relax, do not work so hard. Oh, look at many Christians around you who just go to church on Sunday and be relaxing, doing whatever you want. It is normal. Do not work hard even to the point of being burned out. UBF is too much.” But Paul remembered several women of God not because of their appearance, but because of their spirit of hardworking which meant that they gave their hearts to do the work of God.
Thirdly, Paul remembered the spirit of humbleness in Rome Look at verse 7. "Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was." Andronicus and Junias were senior to Paul in faith in Jesus. They were in Christ before Paul was. But they coworked under the leadership of Paul with the spirit of humbleness. The place was uncertain but they had been in prison together with Paul for Jesus' name's sake. Paul praises and thanks God that they knew the grace of our Lord Jesus and worked hard. Paul said, "They are outstanding among the apostles." It meant they were better than he.
Read verses 8-10. In these verses, Paul remembered Urbanus, Stachys, and Apelles who were men of faith and soldiers of Christ. Satan tried to beat them but they rather resisted Satan's attack and defeated Satan. In the early Christian days so many Christians stumbled, but they stood firm in Christ as warriors of faith. So Paul praises and thanks God that they knew the grace of Jesus Christ personally and stood firm. Paul also reminded the saints in Rome of spiritual fighting in front line of world mission. It is our spiritual reality that we are always in spiritual fighting in the spirit battle between disobedience and obedience to God’s world mission command.
Fifth, the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you (17-20). In this part, we can see that there were people in Rome who were a bad influence, causing division and causing weak Christian brethren to stumble. How did Paul recommend us to handle these people in Church? Verse 17b says, “Keep away from them.” What is the reason of keeping them away from Church? Verse 18 says, “For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.” Those who live for their own interests are all talking smooth in flattery in order to deceive the minds of naive people. Look at verse 19. But Paul encouraged all saints in Rome to live a life of obedience and hardworking to the end.
Look at verse 20. "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you." In this verse Paul prays that Satan may be crushed and the peace of God be upon all men. Paul also prays that the grace of our Lord Jesus be with them.
This verse is short but it summarizes, in a sense, the whole Bible. This is also our daily prayer. As God had promised, God sent his one and only Son as the Savior of the world and crushed Satan and gave us final victory. We also pray that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ will be with us always. When we look at people of the world we cannot be happy always, even with gorgeous and young people: We see in them all the ugliness that fallen man can possess. We become tired and weary to look at them. But when we look at our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross shedding his blood, we remember his grace that he died for the sin of the world as a Paschal Lamb. Sometimes we become selfish and our hearts are hardened and we cannot see the grace of God. But when we stand beneath the cross and look at him we realize the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we have the grace of Jesus Christ in our hearts the world looks different and each person looks beautiful. So Paul prayed, "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you." The final greeting of Paul was, "The grace of our Lord be with you," to 29 individual persons. May God help us to seek the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ moment by moment.
Sixth, Final victory to the glory of God (25-27)
Look at verse 25. "Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past." In this verse Paul praises God that he established them in the gospel of Jesus. The process and fulfillment of the gospel was long, so long that it seemed to have been hidden. But through the coming of Jesus, the gospel was proclaimed. Now Paul and his coworkers are established in the gospel of Jesus Christ. To Paul, this was a marvelous grace of God. There is nothing greater than to be established in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Look at verse 26. “... but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him." According to his promises, God sent his one and only Son Jesus Christ to save men from their sins. The coming of Christ is the consummation of history. The coming of Christ is a unique event in history. The coming of Jesus Christ is God's glory. Through the coming of Jesus Christ all peoples of all nations can believe and obey God through his Son Jesus Christ.
Look at verse 27. “to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.” Paul’s faith was rooted in the absolute sovereignty of God Almighty and his glorious world salvation plan revealed in the Bible. Paul sees the final victory in God’s world salvation plan since he did not play with double motives. Paul’s vision for world mission was possible since he had only a single motivation of revealing the glory of God through Jesus Christ. We are called to pray for America to be a Kingdom of Priests. We are praying to raise up 7,000 Bible teachers and missionaries from NJ. No matter what happen to us, we do have faith in our final victory as long as we remain faithful to our motive of seeking the glory of God alone. May God bless all house churches in NJ and our shepherds and 2nd gens to remain faithful in seeking the glory of God.
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