Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. Greet Mary, who labored much for us. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord. (Romans 16:5b-8)
In Romans 16:1-16, Paul begins concluding his letter to the Christians in Rome. In those verses, he mentioned 26 people by name, giving some greeting or recognition to each. This is remarkable because Paul had never visited Rome, but because so many traveled to and from the great city, he knew many among the Christians there.
There are important things to learn from a long list of names.
First, it teaches us that this was a letter written to real, everyday people. It’s true that Paul’s letter to the Romans is worthy of the deepest, most intellectual attention. I wonder how many PhD dissertations have been written examining Romans! Yet the original readers words were ordinary people. They weren’t qualified as professional theologians, but they were people who loved the Lord. This teaches us that God’s word is written for ordinary people. There are depths in God’s word that the most brilliant can’t fully reach, but its main message is accessible to everyday, simple people.
Second, notice the women mentioned in this chapter: Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, the mother of Rufus, and Julia. Junia (16:7) is also possibly a woman’s name. These women served the Lord in wonderful ways and were noted by Paul. We can be sure they served according to the pattern given by the New Testament, giving honor the Lord.
Third, notice their work for the Lord. Among these 26 there are servants, helpers, fellow workers, fellow prisoners, those who labored, and those who labored much. In God’s family there are all different kinds of servants, with different roles, and who do their work to different degrees. It’s good to be among those who labor for God’s cause; it is even better to be among those who labor much.
Fourth, of the 26 names, 13 also appear in inscriptions or documents connected with the emperor’s palace in Rome. We know that there were Christians among Caesar’s household (Philippians 4:22). Paul may be writing many of the servants who worked for Caesar who became Christians. God has His people in unexpected places.
Finally, the 26 names show us how much God loves common people. It is perhaps unavoidable that our attention is drawn to those thought to be important, or prominent. We’re quick to think of people as celebrities and stars, and to think they should be first in line. That’s not how God thinks. As a group, these weren’t prominent leaders, and only a few of the 26 of are mentioned in the Book of Acts. Yet Paul, and the Lord Jesus he served, took note of them.
God must love everyday believers – He made so many of them!