Romans

January 12, 2020


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Real People Have a Voice

Who remembers this woman? Phoebe. Let’ imagine what could have been Phoebe’s story. 

She was born in Cenchreae, not long after Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Cenchreae is a seaport; five miles from the famous Greek city of Corinth. Phoebe’s parents were merchants. They did alright for themselves. Phoebe was born in a nice Greek mansion overlooking the port. She grew up with Greek scholars as tutors, with all the benefits of being a daughter of a respected, wealthy family in Corinth. 

Phoebe’s mother was a devote worshipper of the Greek Pantheon. Her mom named her after the Greek Titan; Phoebe. Phoebe was the goddess of prophetic radiance and the grandmother of the more famous…Artemis. When she was born her mother bundled her up and took her to the Temple in Corinth to Artemis and offered a small sacrifice of blessing on her precious Phoebe. She was raised a Greek!

But all that changed in 50 AD when she met a man named Paul.  Paul was preaching in the forum. Phoebe’s heart glowed within her as she listened to Paul’s words about a man named Jesus. This Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by the hateful Romans.  But he was resurrected by the Jewish God, YHWH! She believed. She was baptized. She became a servant of the LORD. 

Phoebe invited Paul and his companions to her home. A house church was formed there. She became Paul’s patroness. Paul had always been hesitant to take financial support from just anyone, but Paul trusted her. She supported Paul’s missionary work. Phoebe became a deacon of the church; a trusted servant of Jesus!

Her whole life had been changed by Jesus, the Christ! But it was about to be changed even more by what Paul was about to ask her to do. 

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Her is another woman we met last week… 

Her name is… Junia. But that’s not the name she was born with. Let’s imagine what her story might have been. 

It is the Day of Pentecost 30 AD. Junia, or as she was known then, Joanna, was in the upper-room with the 120. She had been one of the women who had supported Jesus in his 3 years of ministry. But Jesus had died and then rose from the grave. She saw the risen LORD with her own eyes. She was one of the original believers. She and her husband Chuza, were witnesses of it all. 

She also knew Paul.  But, then, he was called Saul. Saul was her first cousin on her mother’s side. But Saul persecuted the church. When Saul’s persecution hit the church in Jerusalem with a vengeance, Junia was sent, as an apostle, to Rome to preach the word. As was the custom, many Jews changed their names to Roman names, like Saul did to Paul. Joanna became Junia. Her husband took the name Andronicus. They were apostles in the first church in Rome. 

Junia and Andronicus were expelled, along with the other Jews, from Rome in 49 AD. Junia ended up in Corinth with Paul and his new convert, Phoebe. Paul, Junia and her husband, boldly preached the resurrected Lord all over Corinth. 

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Let me introduce you to a third woman. Meet Priscilla, or as Paul called her, Prisca. (picture)

Let’s imagineher story. 

Priscilla was born a slave in a Roman household in the capital; Rome.  Her mom named her the same as many other babies when she was born. Lots of little Prissys in kindergarten. She was an ordinary household slave… cleaning, scrubbing floors, cleaning, emptying bed pans, cleaning. She lived a boring slave-life. Until, one day she met a Jewish man named Aquila in the market. We’ll say…It was love at first sight. Or more accurately the Holy Spirit connected them. Aquila bought Priscilla from her master and promptly freed her. And taught her Jesus. 

Priscilla’s life was no longer boring. They worked in Rome to teach everyone they could about Jesus. It was their passion. They supported themselves by making tents for the Roman legions. Business was booming. The legions were always at war with someone. They needed tents. 

But when Aquila was exiled from Rome, because he was a Jew, they took the Gospel with them. Priscilla and her husband Aquila became church planters. They met another church planter in Corinth; Paul. Not only was Paul a believer, he was a tentmaker. They had so much in common, they became a part of Paul’s posse of traveling missionaries. For several months they worked in Corinth and established a house church there. 

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Let’s continue to imagine how the stories, of these three women, merge into one story. In 50 AD all three women ended up in Corinth. Junia and Priscilla with their husbands stayed in Phoebe’s house just a few miles from Corinth. From there, they all went with Paul into Corinth to preach the Gospel. 

One day Paul and Cousin Junia were standing boldly outside the Temple of Apollo preaching the resurrected Jesus; the Jewish Messiah. They were arrested. The Jews had come to hate Paul and his companions. The Jews got them arrested. Paul and Cousin Junia were thrown in jail. They were brought before the Proconsul, Gallio. But, behind the scenes, Priscilla and Aquila risked their lives to meet with Gallio. Priscilla and Aquila convinced Gallio that is was just a Jewish problem over who the Messiah was. Nothing he had to be concerned about. 

Acts 18:12-16 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, "This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law." But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, "If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.".

Paul and his posse were free to continue their preaching. They did!

In 54 AD, as soon as Claudius died, Priscilla and Junia with the husbands returned to Rome to continue their house churches there. Then in 57 AD, Paul writes a letter. Arguably, one of the most important letters ever written. Paul sends Phoebe to Rome to carry his letter to the churches there. Phoebe was his ambassador. She spoke for Paul to all the house churches in Rome. She was Paul’s voice in Rome! It was an honor. It was important. It was her mission. It was scary. Phoebe was reunited with Priscilla and Junia in Rome. She spread the message of the letter to the Romans! 

Paul tells the church in Rome to “Greet” these three women. The Greek word Paul choose was avspa,zomai (a-spaz-omai) which is not some perfunctory Greeting; “Hey how ya doing?” It carries with it the literal meaning of “wrap your arms around them; hug them; embrace them. Along with… greet one another with a holy kiss, aspazomai means to accept them as you would a family member! Greet… fellowship… accept… listen to… value… acknowledge their worth… Give them a hug! 

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Phoebe, Priscilla and Junia were amazing women, with amazing stories. What we imagined of their stories might have been, most likely did not happen. I made it up. “Based upon true events.”  But what actually happened, the real story was close to my imagination. The three women were devout believers in Jesus. They risked their lives. They spent time in prison. They traveled with Paul.  They were leaders. They preached Jesus! They were important to the Roman churches. 

Romans 16:1-2 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.

Romans 16:3-5 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 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. Greet also the church in their house.

Romans 16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.

This brings us to our theme verse of Romans…

Romans 15:5-6 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voiceglorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

--Women and men glorifying God with one voice!

--Romans, Jews, Greeks glorifying God with one voice!

--Slaves, freemen, citizens glorifying God with one voice!

--Wealthy homeowners and poor slaves glorifying God with one voice!

--Young and old glorifying God with one voice!

Paul’s message in Romans 16, and the whole letter, is glorifying God with one voice!

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20 years ago, last Sunday; in January of 2000, the elders, our same three elders, made the decision to allow women to have a voice in our congregation. It wasn’t an easy decision. 10 families left because of it. But they could no longer allow women to not have a voice. Bible passages, such as Romans 16, where our three women clearly had a voice, led the elders to allow women to fully participate in our worship services. 

They set the example, 20 years ago, to never deny a voice because a person is a woman and be extension… race… education level… social status… young or old. Within this body of Christ all have a voice. 

So, I commend to you Dwain Farley, Bill McKerley and Gerry Wood for being faithful to your Word, allowing us to live in such harmony with one another that together we all may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Let’s bring this sermon to the road. 

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Image you are Junia sitting in a house church in Rome listening to Phoebe read the letter of Romans. You have listened for an hour or so, when you hear your name with Paul’s commendation. Wow! How special you feel! Paul’s “Greet” with a hug of fellowship because of your service. 

That is where the rubber meets the road this morning! It’s on our banner… Use Kind Words.

We commend each other. We encourage each other to glorify God with our voices when we commend each other! In the summer of 1973, I preached my first sermon. The preacher at the church we attended allowed me to preach on a Sunday night. His words of commendation on my sermon… was a powerful reason I became a preacher. We commend each other to enable our voice! 

Here is the road… This week… The challenge is to commend someone. Spend some time thinking/praying for someone you need to commend. Then do it. It can be in person… face to face. It can be by email, text, or Hallmark Card. 

“I commend you because…”

If you have a cell phone… give yourself a reminder to commend someone.

We empower real people to have a real voice when we commend them.

Romans 15:5-6 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voiceglorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s glorify God… each of us… with one real voice! 


Tim Stidham

Los Alamos Church of Christ 

January 12, 2019