Broadcasting now. Watch Live.

A Pattern for Christian Relationships

Tom Pennington • Romans 16:21-24

  • 2021-05-23 AM
  • Romans
  • Sermons

PDF

Well, believe it or not, we are coming to the end of the book of Romans. Lord willing, if everything works out, next Sunday will be our last Sunday in this magnificent book, so this is the next-to-the last.

Romans 16, I invite you to turn there with me again this morning. Let me begin by reminding you that Paul wrote the book of Romans from the city of Corinth. While he was in Corinth, he stayed in the home of a wealthy Roman nobleman, a man who was also a Christian named Gaius. Gaius furnished one of his educated servants to Paul as an amanuensis, as a kind of secretary who took down Paul's letter as Paul dictated it to him. Can you imagine what that was like to have that responsibility? He too was a fellow believer. In fact, we'll meet him in the passage that we study this morning. It's likely that Paul dictated this letter over at least several days and possibly over even several weeks; it probably didn't take him several years as it has us to study it, but nonetheless, it took some time. And now as he comes to the end of this letter, he includes here greetings from those who were with him there in the city of Corinth, and they all address their greetings to the Christians who lived several hundred miles away in the capital, in Rome.

What we discover in verses 21 to 23 here is an intimate remarkable picture of Paul's own relationships, also of the relationships within a local church, the church there in Corinth and even the relationship between Christians across the Roman Empire. What I want you to see this morning is that this passage, which just contains a list of names, is far from merely a historical record. Instead, it provides for us a wonderful pattern for our own Christian relationships. We get the opportunity to sort of look over the shoulder of the Apostle Paul and the church there in Corinth of the believers in the first century and see what it was like to interconnect as believers in that context. And as we see them interconnecting as we watch their relationships, we develop a plan and a pattern for our own. That's our goal this morning as we study this passage.

Now, just to remind you, we're studying "The Conclusion of Paul's Letter to the Romans." The conclusion begins, his argument is over, the main argument of the letter is over in chapter 15, verse 14, and the conclusion runs through the end of the letter. So far, we've considered "Paul's Reasons for Writing," the second half of chapter 15, and then in chapter 16, the first 24 verses are "Personal Greetings to Friends." We've looked at the first 16 verses in which we saw "The Apostle's Own Greeting to the Christians," there in Rome that he knew. And then he interrupts himself in verses 17 to 20; he interrupts his greetings to give "A Serious Warning about False Teachers."

This morning, we come to the last part of these personal greetings, and they are "Personal Greetings from the Friends and Ministry Partners" that are with him there in Corinth, to the Christians in Rome. This is the message of verses 21 to 23.

Now, before we read our text, let me first of all call something important your attention. You'll notice if you have a new American Standard Bible or most modern translations, verse 24 is in brackets, and if you have a version that has marginal notes, you'll notice the marginal note reads, "Early manuscripts do not contain this verse." So, we're not going to deal with verse 24 this morning. Lord willing, next Sunday as we study the last three verses, I'll briefly explain how a few later manuscripts wrongly inserted verse 24 here. But this morning, we want to consider verses 21 to 23. Let's read it together; you follow along as I read:

Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen. I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, the brother.

Having greeted the Christians in Rome by name and by church in the first 16 verses of this chapter, and having interrupted himself to give a warning against false teachers in verses 17 to 20, in verse 21, Paul returns now to his greetings. But, this time he sends greetings from those who were with him there in Corinth where he's writing this letter, greetings to the Christians that are in Rome.

Now in the verses we just read, there are eight names; four of those names represent people on Paul's missionary team. One of them is his amanuensis, his secretary who is taking the dictation of this letter. Three of the people listed in these verses are part of the church there in the city of Corinth. Eight names and yet there is so much that we can learn from these verses. As Paul and his companions in Corinth send their greetings to the Roman Christians, we discover the nature of Paul's relationships and we learn from him a helpful pattern for our own. By observing these first century relationships, we are going to discover this morning several guidelines that should serve as a pattern for us as we try to shape our own relationships in the 21st century. There's so much here for us to learn, let's look at it together.

I use the word 'guideline;' I think you understand that this word 'guideline' was originally used for just that, marks that you would make on some material that served as the guide for cutting out the pattern. That's what these are that we're going to look at this morning; they're guidelines. The first guideline is this, "Cultivate Lifetime Christian Friends," cultivate lifetime Christian friends. Verse 21, "Timothy, my fellow worker greets you." Now, I think you knew even as we read these verses, that Timothy stands out head and shoulders above the rest of these men because of the place that he occupies in the New Testament record.

We first meet Timothy back in the book of Acts. Turn back to Acts, chapter 16; Acts, chapter 16. It was at the beginning of Paul's second missionary journey that he arrived in Timothy's hometown, a city called Lystra, in South Galatia. Act 16, notice verse 1:

Paul came also to Derby and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was Greek, (And the implication is not a believer.) and Timothy was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that Timothy's father was a Greek. Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe. (In other words, they're communicating the decisions of the Jerusalem Council back in chapter 15.) So, the churches (verse 5) were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.

So, Timothy, then, joins Paul's missionary team for the rest of that second missionary journey. When Paul later travels to Jerusalem in Acts 18, verses 18 to 22, it seems like he left Timothy, he certainly left him in that part of the world, and it appears he left him in the city of Corinth, in which Paul would later write the book of Romans.

But Paul and Timothy joined up again for the third missionary journey. We find Timothy with Paul in Greece at the very end of that third missionary journey in chapter 20, verses 3 and 4. Timothy was also with Paul during his first Roman imprisonment in Caesarea. You remember Paul went back to Jerusalem another time and there he was arrested and he was taken to the coastal town of Caesarea, he was imprisoned there for two years, you read about it in the book of Acts, and Timothy was with him during that time and with him in that imprisonment. After Paul was released, after his case was heard and he was released, Timothy continued to serve alongside and minister with Paul. Of course, Paul eventually assigned Timothy to the beloved city of Ephesus where Paul himself served for three years as pastor, and that's where Timothy was pastoring when Paul wrote him 1 and 2 Timothy.

Here's the thing I want to get. No one was closer to Paul than Timothy. In fact, you read it in Paul's own words. Turn over to Philippians, chapter 2; Philippians, chapter 2, verse 19, he says:

But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. (Now listen to what he says about Timothy, verse 20 of Philippians 2.) For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me.

Paul and Timothy were the closest of friends. In fact, in 2 Timothy, chapter 1, verse 2, Paul refers to Timothy as "his beloved son." He even includes Timothy as co-author of six of his New Testament letters. Now, that isn't true here in Romans; likely that's because as we'll see in a moment, Timothy was elsewhere and wasn't there when Paul started dictating this letter, but he arrived along with others in Corinth before Paul finishes it, and so he includes his name here at the end of this letter.

By the end of Paul's life, he and Timothy had been the closest of friends and had served together for about twenty years; and of course, the very last letter Paul wrote, he wrote to Timothy, 2 Timothy. In that letter, 2 Timothy, it's obvious that Timothy, his dear friend and son in the faith, was discouraged. He was growing timid; he'd lost some of his heart for ministry, and so Paul writes him to encourage him and calls him to Rome and says, "I need you, come, I need to visit with you."

The good news is Timothy ended well; he was a man of courage to the end because Hebrews, written shortly before 70 A.D. after the death of Paul, Hebrews 13:23 says, "…our brother Timothy has been released." So, Timothy stayed true, he stayed in ministry, he even suffered persecution, was arrested, stayed true through all of that, came out of prison and continued to serve the church.

But even by the time Paul wrote Romans, Timothy had already been his constant traveling companion for eight years; and during those eight years, Paul also gave him several important assignments, places to go, churches to serve. So, no wonder back in our text, back in Romans, chapter 16, Paul refers to Timothy as, "my fellow worker." Literally the Greek text says, "the fellow worker of me." Paul includes the definite article 'the' and the idea is, "The one you know, my well-known fellow worker."

The point I want you to get is this, Timothy was one of Paul's close lifetime friends; in fact, all the evidence points to his being the absolute closest friend that Paul had on earth. In the same way, brothers and sisters, you and I must cultivate lifetime Christian friends, friends that encourage us, challenge us, serve with us, care for us, even confront us if necessary. And, some of them become even closer than family. But, let me tell you in a world where all it takes to become your friend is clicking something on your computer screen, don't expect many of these kinds of friends, don't expect that you will have a lot of Timothy-kinds-of-friends; don't expect a lot of close lifetime Christian friendships. If you have one or two Jonathan type of friends in a lifetime, consider yourself truly wealthy. But regardless, we need to cultivate lifetime Christian friends. Paul did and we should as well.

There's a second guideline here for Christian relationships as we sort of peer into the window of this first century world and that is, "Develop Close Ministry Friends," develop close ministry friends. We see this in the second half of verse 21 and verse 22, that the people we meet here were not as close to Paul as Timothy was; they were not lifetime friends, but they were close ministry friends as they were thrown together in ministry.

Let's meet these men. Verse 21 says, "Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen." Now, who are these three men and why are they important here?

Well, let's see if we can discover little bit about them. First of all, Lucius has primarily been identified as one of three people. Some have said he's the Lucius of Cyrene in Acts 13:1, who belonged to the church in Antioch, Syria and Antioch, and was a prophet and a teacher, although there doesn't seem to be any reason for taking that position. Others have said, "No. this is actually another form of the name of Luke, the physician, the author of Luke and Acts. And, it is true that Luke can be a variation of Lucius. A third option is that this is just an unknown member of one of the churches there in Greece or Macedonia, and as we'll see in a moment, that seems to be the most likely explanation. So, this is all we know about this man.

Secondly, there's Jason. Now, Jason was a common Jewish name; it was the Greek substitute for Jesus. Jesus is a name that's in Greek the 'Insous,' but it was merely a transliteration of the Hebrew name, 'Yeshua,' into Greek. But, if you wanted to actually translate the name 'Jesus' into Greek, it was the name Jason. Jason was one of the first converts Paul had in Thessalonica. In fact, Jason cared for Paul during his short, very turbulent, visit in Thessalonica. Go back to the book of Acts, chapter 17; Acts, chapter 17. You'll want to keep a marker here in Acts in this place; we'll come back here again in a minute. Acts, chapter 17, verse 1 of chapter 17 says:

They came to Thessalonica, (and) there was a synagogue of the Jews. (And Paul ministered to them there. But verse 5 says,) But the Jew, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the marketplace, formed a mob and set the (entire) city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, (Here's our friend.) they were seeking to bring them out to the people. When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, "These men who have upset the world have come here also; and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus." They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. And when they had received a pledge (literally a bond) from Jason and the others, they released them.

In other words, the city fathers said, "Listen, these guys are creating disturbances here (Which wasn't true, but certainly the disturbances were because of them.) and they said, 'You're going to have to pay a bond, and you're going to forfeit that money if they cause any more trouble." And course that meant Paul and the others had to leave the city of Thessalonica. But this is Jason, Jason who cared for Paul and put him up in his home while Paul was in Thessalonica.

Back in our, again, keep your finger here in Acts, but back in our text and in Acts 16, in verse 21, we meet a third man, Sosipater, Sosipater. That's almost certainly the same man referred to as 'Sopater of Berea,' which is just a shorter form of the same name back in Acts, chapter 20. So, go back again to the book of Acts, chapter 20, because I want you to see this group of men here.

Now, let me give you context as we begin chapter 20. The first three verses of Acts 20 describe the circumstances from which and from where Paul wrote Romans. So, if you want to insert Romans into the book of Acts, it fits right here in Acts 20, verses 1 to 3. So, he's writing from Corinth and he's about to take a trip, you remember, back to Jerusalem with the collection for the poor in Jerusalem, and as he's there in Corinth, some people collect with him. Verse 4:

He was accompanied by (Here's our friend.) Sopater (or the same man we met in chapter 16 of Romans) of Berea, (So, he's from the city of Berea.) the son of Pyrrhus, and by Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, (So, here's another city represented.) and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. But these had gone on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas.

So, who are these men who collected around Paul in Corinth? It appears that the three men that we just looked at in Romans 16:21, were apparently chosen along with several others listed here to accompany Paul on his journey to Jerusalem. All three of them were Jews and they were delegates chosen by the churches in Greece and Macedonia, Gentile churches, to escort Paul to Jerusalem with the collection that had been taken for the poor Jewish Saints in Jerusalem. And, that's why this group of men has gathered together in Corinth, and that's why they're listed at the end of Paul's letter to the Romans.

So, back in Roman 16 then, although these men are not lifelong friends of Paul's like Timothy, they have become close friends in ministry to him and they're going to become closer because they're going to be traveling together hundreds of miles as they head to Jerusalem. So, that's who these men are.

Now, verse 22, of Romans 16, adds another. "I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord." Paul usually dictated his letters, but he would usually include a brief greeting at the end of the letter that was written in his own hand. That closing greeting was a kind of signature; it was a kind of authentication that the letter was genuinely from him. In fact, in a couple places he says, "I Paul, have written this in my own hand," and it's to say, "I dictated the letter, but I want you to know that this isn't something somebody made up, here's my own writing, here's my signature to authenticate this letter as being truly from me the apostle."

Here in Romans, it's likely that Paul wrote the second half of verse 20 at least, "The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you." Judging, based on what he wrote at the end of other letters when he authenticated them, it's likely that this is what he wrote in his own hand.

But he dictated to another man, and Paul's amanuensis for Roman, his secretary for Romans, is a very interesting man. Notice he calls himself, Tertius. The name 'Tertius' means 'three,' "I, three, who write this letter greet you."

Why would you name someone three? This was a typical designation for a slave in a great house that had several household slaves or servants. In fact, it wasn't uncommon in wealthy Roman homes, if they had enough servants, there would first of all be Primus, number one. There would be Secundus, number two; we just met one of those in the text we read in Acts 20. There would be Tertius, number three. There would be Quartus, number four. There would be Quintus, number five, and so forth.

And so, Tertius is a slave; he's number three; and in this household, he serves under a redeemed master, Gaius. So Tertius was not abused, he was not treated with contempt; instead, and again I've told you before, slavery in the first century was a lot different than American slavery. And here you have a man who was highly educated and, therefore, took the dictation of Paul to the Romans.

Can you imagine, being number three who was selected because of your master's connection to the Apostle Paul, to be the one who writes down the letter to the Romans? They of course, Paul and Tertius, had worked together for many hours on this letter and Paul had come to consider him as a friend in Christ. And so after Paul adds his own kind of signature to the letter and he passes along a couple of greetings from his friends in verse 21, Paul encourages Tertius to include his own greeting to the Roman believers in verse 22, "I, Tertius, who write this letter greet you in the Lord."

Now, there's another interesting thing in verse 22, and that is in our translation, "in the Lord," is attached to greet, "I greet you in the Lord " In other words, that's simply saying, "I greet you as a fellow brother in Christ." But in the Greek text, "in the Lord" is actually attached to write. In other words, "I, Tertius, who write this letter in the Lord, greet you." In other words, that is what he's saying and I think, therefore, his intention is to say, "I am writing this letter in the Lord, I'm writing this letter as part of my service to Jesus Christ my Lord." I love that and I think it's a powerful reminder to all of us that it doesn't matter what you do in this life, you serve Jesus Christ and you can do it as unto Him.

I mean, Paul made this so clear. Turn over to Colossians, chapter 3; Colossians, chapter 3, verse 22:

Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord (Messiah) whom you serve.

How would it revolutionize our work if above our workspace or above our computer screen or above the windshield of the truck we drive, whatever it is, those words, "It is the Lord Christ whom you serve." How that would revolutionize the work we do, the job that we do day in and day out. But that is the perspective we're to hold, that's the reality! Verse 24 says, "…knowing…from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance." He sees, He knows how you do your job. If you can do it for Him and if you do it well as unto Him, it doesn't matter whether you get a reward here, it doesn't matter if your boss notices, gives you the promotion, the Lord knows and He will reward you.

But what's amazing back in Romans, what's amazing about Tertius's greeting is that it shows that the gospel of Jesus Christ transforms all human relationships, even the relationship between a first century slave and his master. That's why Paul goes on, by the way, in Colossians; Colossians 4:1, he says, "Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven." And in Ephesians he says, "And listen, He doesn't really care what your status on earth is, there's no partiality with Him." He treats all men the same. So, be careful.

Back in our text though, what I want you to see is Paul not only had lifelong Christian friends like Timothy, but he also developed close ministry friends and partners with those with whom he worked only a relatively short period of time; they're connected, they're friends.

You know, I experience that when I travel. I just got back, as you know, from Germany and while I was there, I had a translator, and he and I, over the just few days we were working together, developed a friendship; I appreciate him as a brother. He runs the training center for pastors in Zürich and is planting a church there; and Lord willing, he's going to come visit us. You'll get a chance to meet him at some point. And that's what Paul did; there were these relationships that formed wherever he went.

Now, as we observe Paul's pattern, there's a third guideline that we learn for our own relationships and that is, "Build Healthy Relationships in a Local Church," build healthy relationships in a local church. We see this in verse 23, because the people we meet in verse 23, they're part of the church in Corinth where Paul is. Let's meet them. Verse 23 says, "Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you." Now, Gaius was a common name in the first century; it's not surprising, therefore, that at least three different men with this name appear in the New Testament. There's Gaius of Derbe in Acts 20, verse 4. There's Gaius, a church leader in Asia Minor that John addresses in 3 John, verse 1. And then there's this Gaius of Corinth that we meet in 1 Corinthians, and I think that's certainly the man he's talking about here because Paul is writing from Corinth. So, he almost certainly means this Gaius who lives in Corinth.

In 1 Corinthians, chapter 1, verse 14, we learn something very interesting about this guy. He was one of a very few people that Paul himself baptized. Paul said, "…I baptized…Gaius (when I was there in Corinth, but I don't baptize very many people, I let others do that.)" And so, this was a likely one of the first converts Paul had there in the city of Corinth.

Also, here we learn, in verse 23, that the church in Corinth met in this man's home. Now, that likely means that he's the same guy that's called Titius Justus in Acts 18:7, who gave lodging to Paul on his first visit to Corinth. If that's true as most commentators believe and I am convinced as well, his full name was Gaius Titius Justus, which was a proper Roman name. We meet him back in Acts 18; go back to Acts, chapter 18, again; Acts 18, verse 1, Paul left Athens and he went to Corinth and initially he was ministering in the synagogues and staying with Aquila and Priscilla, two Jewish friends, a Jewish couple. Verse 4,

(But he was) reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the (Messiah). But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." Then he left there (the synagogue) and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus.

This is almost certainly the Gaius in whose house the same church meets in Romans 16, "A worshiper of God whose house was next to the synagogue." I'm sure that upset the leaders of the synagogue quite a bit. You know, he leaves the synagogue and he sets up shop next door. So, this is Gaius, this is the man that we meet in the book of Romans.

Go back to Romans 16, and notice how Paul describes him here, "… (he) is host to me." That is, when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, he was staying with Gaius. In addition, he says, "… (he is also) host…to the whole church." Gaius hosted the entire church in Corinth in his home; obviously he was a very wealthy man, had a large, probably upper room which was typical for that time period. And the entire church in the city of Corinth met in the house of Gaius where Paul was staying. That's one member of this church.

Verse 23, introduces us to another member, "…Erastus, the city treasurer greets you." Now, some believe this is the Erastus Paul sent from Ephesus to Macedonia during his third missionary journey in Acts 19. But that's very unlikely because that guy traveled around a lot with the Apostle Paul; it's unlikely that this Erastus here in Roman 16 would've been able to travel because he was an important city official in Corinth. He's called here the city treasure.

It's interesting how archaeology steps in here because archaeologists have discovered a large stone from first century Corinth that was repurposed as a paving stone. I should have brought a picture of it; I have a picture, but on that stone an inscription reads this, "Erastus in return for his aedileship laid this pavement at his own expense." Aedile was a particular kind of commissioner of public works. So, in return for his Commissioner of Public Works job, he laid this pavement at his own expense. Often those who held public office, in the ancient world, funded some of the public works. Wouldn't that be refreshing rather than using just our money to do it? But not how it works!

He was, at the time of the inscription, he was in aedile. An aedile was typically appointed for a one-year term, was responsible for public streets and buildings, including the finances for those public works. So, here he's called the city treasurer. How do you reconcile the two? Well, it's possible that Erastus served as city treasurer when Paul wrote Romans, but was later promoted to the higher office of aedile. That's the very likely scenario here. But regardless, what I want you to get is Erastus served in an important government position in the city of Corinth, and this reminds us that believers can serve faithfully as government officials even in pagan governments and still remain faithful to Christ.

The final companion of Paul who sends his greetings here in verse 23, notice is, "…and Quartus, the brother," and Quartus, the brother." I wish you could be shocked by that like you should be shocked by that. It doesn't stand out quite as much in English, but Paul has just mentioned two extremely wealthy, influential citizens of the city of Corinth, Gaius, who owns a huge home and hosts the entire church, and Erastus, who is an important city official in the city of Corinth, both of whom are part of this church there in Corinth. And then without any transition, he sends greetings from a man named Quartus. Tertius means three; Quartus means four. This guy was further down the food chain than Tertius. Quartus was slave number four, likely the fourth slave of Gaius. Socially, he was the most insignificant person in the room as Paul finished his letter to the Romans. But he wasn't insignificant because notice he was the brother; he was a brother in Jesus Christ; and so as Paul finishes his letter to the Romans, the most significant letter ever written, he says, "Oh yeah, and I don't want to forget to send greetings from number four, Quartus, the brother."

Don't miss the lesson here. If you were a believer in Corinth, you belonged to the church of Corinth that met in the home of Gaius, and it didn't matter, it didn't matter if you were slave number three, or if you were slave number four, or if you were the city treasurer, or if you were the Apostle Paul, you all joined together; you were brothers and sisters, and you loved and you cared for one another. It wasn't your differences that defined you, but your shared devotion to Jesus Christ!

Can I just say, if God has blessed you in this world so that you have great resources, understand that the people around you are your brothers and sisters even if they completely lack those resources. On the other hand, if you find yourself short of resources in this life, it can be easy to look down on those whom the Lord has blessed. Listen, we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and we come together in the church of Jesus Christ.

Notice here though that even the Apostle Paul belonged to this church while he was here. He's a part of the church, and by the way, he always was. Go through the New Testament and you'll find wherever Paul is, he's attending the church, he's part of the church, he's connected to the church there. And if there isn't a church there, there soon will be, and he'll be a part of it because biblical obedient Christians belong to and build healthy relationships within a local church.

Now, let me just say that this passage and this message couldn't be more appropriate for our times. We are coming out of a very strange fifteen months; it's been very odd. Relationships have been broken, people have been isolated, patterns of behavior, in terms of involvement in the life of the church, have been shattered even for longtime Christians. Brothers and sisters, don't let that happen. You're still a follower of Jesus Christ; you're still called to have the same depth of relationship within the context of the church that was in the first century, that was before COVID, and that will be again and should be with you. Make sure that you don't allow changes in the culture to change your commitment to what biblical Christians have always been committed to. You need to make sure that you build and develop healthy relationships within the context of the church to which you belong.

The fourth guideline for Christian relationships is this, "Care about and Connect with Christians in other Places," care about and connect with Christians in other places. This is really the larger point that weaves throughout versus 21 to 23 because Paul and the believers who were with him, and who was with him? Remember, you have several from the church in Corinth, you have others who are from churches across Macedonia and Greece who have gathered in Corinth to travel with him to Jerusalem, and all of these Christians are sending their greetings and expressing their love and concern for the believers in the churches in Rome. In many cases, believers they'd never met. And, Paul is about to travel hundreds of miles with several of these brothers to deliver their financial gifts to believers in the churches in Jerusalem. Again, in the case of these from across Macedonia and Greece, believers they had never met.

What I want you to understand is this, in the first century Christians intentionally connected with like-minded Christians who lived in other places and so should we and so should you. Let me ask you, "What about Christians that you know, solid Bible believing Christians that you have met in other places, do you care about them? Do you pray for them? Do you stay connected to them? Do you try to encourage them? The Christian community is a small community and we're to be interconnected with each other. So do you see how this little window into the first century world just opens up a pattern for our own relationships.

Now, having looked at the passage, let me briefly draw out for you several important implications here about the nature and priority of Christian relationships, just briefly. And let me just say that I recognize that some of these slightly overlap, and I thought about cutting one or more of them because of that, and I decided I couldn't do that because I like the emphasis of each of them; so just deal with the overlap, okay?

Number one, next to Christ, we should pursue our deepest relationships with other Christians, we should pursue our deepest relationships with other Christians. It doesn't mean we can't know and have friendships with unbelievers, we should. But we're not going to connect, we shouldn't be able to connect with them at the same level that we do as believers because if you're a Christian, what is the most important thing in your life? It's your relationship to your God through Jesus Christ. And so, the people that you find yourself pursuing your deepest relationships with are other Christians.

Secondly, we should always prioritize finding, belonging to, and worshiping and serving in a biblical church. That's what Paul did! Everywhere he went, connected with a church, wherever it was, he belonged to a church. You know, we've gone again through a strange time where church was live-streamed. You know, I'm grateful for live-streaming, I'm grateful because there people still in our church who, for health reasons and other things, aren't able to be with us. But it's not a substitute for belonging to and being a part of and connected to a local church. It takes being side-by-side like we are here, face-to-face, carrying on real relationships. Be committed to a biblical church, and if you have to move from here, you know what the first priority that should be on your mind? It isn't the house you buy, it isn't your work; it should be what church are you going to belong to?

Number three, after family, our closest Christian relationships should primarily center in the church and its ministry. So, not only are our deepest relationships with other Christians, but our deepest Christian relationships should happen within the context of the church family to which we belong. That's where we ought to invest, where we ought to dig down and sink our roots; these are our people, these are our family. And you see Paul again doing that wherever he went.

Number four, and this is really where I wanted to go. Our Christian relationships should transcend all normal human differences; our Christian relationships should transcend all normal human differences. Age differences, you know, they don't matter in Christ. Do you realize there were nearly thirty years difference in age between Paul and Timothy? There were thirty years difference between Jonathan and David, the sort of premier example of a friendship in the Bible. Most, you know, flannel graph, if they us flannel graph anymore, I'm dating myself here! But most of those presentations of David and Jonathan have them as peers, as though they're like teenagers together. No, read the biblical account; that can't be possible. There were thirty years difference between them and yet they were the closest of friends. So, don't be bound by age.

Ethnic differences don't matter. In this church in Corinth, there were Jews and there were Gentiles. Cultural differences don't matter. Paul was raised as a Pharisee of the Pharisees. Several of these in Corinth were raised as total pagans attending idolatrous temples. Life situation doesn't matter; included in chapter 16 are those who were likely single, married, married with children, widowed, divorced, and unequally yoked. Socioeconomic status doesn't matter. Tertius and Quartus, number three and number four were slaves. Gaius was their wealthy Master. Erastus was an important city official in the city of Corinth and yet they all came together in the church as one as brothers and sisters in Christ. National citizenship doesn't matter. People in the church in Corinth were from Italy, Macedonia, Asia Minor, Greece. Your primary language doesn't even matter. Among the names listed in our text there were those who spoke Greek, Hebrew, possibly Aramaic, and certainly Latin.

Here's the point, all of the differences that typically divide human beings are completely irrelevant to followers of Jesus Christ in the church of Jesus Christ. Our relationship as Christians should and do transcend those differences.

Now let me just say, sadly, churches often ignored this over the last few decades. Over the last fifty years, it's become popular for entire churches to be built around the same exact demographic whether it's age, socioeconomic standing, or life circumstance. We're going to have a church of thirty-somethings. We're going to have a church of wealthy suburbanites. We're going to have a church of—you fill in the blank. That's ridiculous!

Listen, it's okay to have a class or a fellowship group that's age or life-stage specific, but don't miss, Christian, the treasure of connecting with people in the church who are completely unlike you. Don't just look for friendships with people like you! That's never Christ's intention. He intended to bring together people from every tribe and tongue and nation and every background, all coming together around the throne of Jesus Christ, glorifying Him together, and the church is supposed to be a microcosm of that. So, forget this idea of looking for somebody that's just like you and that's the only person I want to connect with. That's not the church of Jesus Christ. Some of the deepest most profound friendships in Scripture and in church history have been between people whose primary connecting point was their mutual love for God and His Son, Jesus Christ. May God give us the grace to commit to follow the pattern for Christian relationships that was modeled by Paul in those dear first century believers who gathered in Corinth as Paul wrote the last verses of his letter to the Romans.

Let's pray together. Father, thank you for giving us this window into which we can see the relationships that defined the Apostle Paul, the believers there in Corinth who gathered around him. Lord, help us to take this as far more than history. Help us instead to embrace this as the pattern for framing and shaping our own relationships. Lord, I pray that you would make us people who love your people. Lord, help us all to pull out of the strangeness of the last year and to recommit ourselves to real life-on-life relationships within the Christian community within this church. And, Father, I pray that you would bless those endeavors to the enriching of the souls of all of us as we worship and serve you together. We pray in Jesus's name, Amen.

Romans