Reciprocated Love

I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea. Rom. 16:1. (See verses 1-16)

This is a passage suffused with love. We especially see the love the apostle had for the believers at Rome, but it is clear that this was love that was reciprocated. It becomes explicit in verse 16: not only is Paul greeting the believers at Rome but he is joined by all the other churches as well: “All the churches of Christ greet you.”

First of all, we see how love is manifested in the way believers see each other, as part of a family. Thus, the apostle opens by saying, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe” (1; ESV - the Scripture quotations that follow come from this version). In verse 13, Paul identifies the mother of Rufus as his own; not because Rufus was the apostle’s biological brother, but because they were all part of the same family. It was in this family environment that the “holy kiss” was commended and commanded (16). It was a sign of affection, as members of a family would greet each other. (I would argue that this is culturally conditioned, but the principle remains the same. We are to show affection to each other in a way that is appropriate to belonging to the family of God.) It reminds me of what the apostle exhorted Timothy to do: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (2 Tim. 5:1-2).

Second, this love is manifested and seen in the way the believers helped each other. Phoebe is described as a woman who was a patron of Paul and of many others. It is probable that she, like Lydia of Philippi, was a businesswoman and a woman of means who used her wealth to support and give lodging to traveling saints (Cenchreae was a port city adjacent to Corinth). In addition, she is called a servant of the church, for she ministered to the needs of the saints. Mary, the apostle says, “has worked hard for you” (6). She is not the only one: so did Tryphaena and Tryphosa, and “the beloved Persis” (12). Here are saints who are bearing each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:1-5). Then we have Priscilla and Aquila “who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well” (4). They are working for Christ, yes. In fact, first and foremost we work for him (cf. ver. 9). But in working for him we labor for the saints. It is impossible to work for the Lord and to do so without a due consideration for the needs of the church. If we are a family, we will inevitably and naturally work hard for each other.

This is work, by the way, that is never forgotten. It may be forgotten by men, but not by God: “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do” (Heb. 6:10).

This is love that does not show preference. Commentators note how that the names that Paul mentions in these verses probably contain the names of slaves along with freedmen and freedwomen. Names like Junia and Ampliatus, Tryphosa, Tryphaena, Stachys, and many others. Those in the households of Aristobolus and Narcissus are probably referring to their household slaves. Nevertheless, there is no distinction in the greetings between slave and citizen. They are all one in Christ (Gal. 3:28). Again, this is a natural outflow of the love of God in us, as well as a recognition that what puts us in the family of God is not our status in society but the sheer grace and mercy of God.

Another way that is obvious but is easily overlooked is the simple fact that the mutual love of Christian brothers and sisters is verbally expressed. You see this in the greeting which Paul and the other churches give to those at Rome. The apostle obviously saw that it was important. And it is important. Sometimes we can take for granted that others know how much we love and appreciate them. But we must not take it for granted. Let it be expressed. Let others know how much you have been blessed by their ministry to you.

By: Jeremiah Bass