A Room Shaking Night

The ending of Mark’s gospel is frightening to me.

Women attended the grave of Jesus, only to find him gone. An angelic being told them that Jesus was en route to Galilee.

The women left the grave, in the words of the gospel, afraid. At once, the women realized the gravity of such an event.

Aftermath of RedemptionThe resurrection of Jesus, and the promise of the resurrection for humanity, is a controversial idea. In one year, the amount of people who believe in Jesus’ resurrection dropped 13%, from 77% to 64%. Other statistics state that only 75% of those who describe themselves as “born again” believe in the resurrection of Jesus.

I tend to think it’s a threatening, for one reason. Imagine, for a moment, standing fully in the presence of the God of all, without harm. Whatever you believe about God — whether Creator or Provider or Protector — to stand in his Presence without harm is an incredible thought.

Which is why the resurrection threatens us. It speaks to our own arrogance. The message of the resurrection is that we, now, are incomplete, regardless of personal success. The resurrection confronts our own immaturity, this side of death, and that, I think, is why we have difficulty accepting it at face value.

This post, the next in a succession of comments over the New Testament book of Acts, makes us confront the resurrection, through the eyes of those who believe it, and those who are threatened by it.

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Comment over Acts 4:1-31

What began as a time for evening prayer for Peter and John became an epic confrontation between those who were to be the true “rulers of the twelve tribes of Israel”: the apostles … or the Sanhedrin.

Peter invoked the ire of the current leadership, not because a man had been healed, but because Peter taught that because of Jesus, resurrection from the realm of the dead is a certainty. Peter didn’t try to persuade this group that Jesus’ resurrection really happened. Instead, he told them that Jesus’ resurrection guarantees a future resurrection for everyone. The Sadducees, who were there, wanted none of that – they refused to believe in the resurrection, historically, because the Torah said nothing about the resurrection. So they could never buy the idea that the Messiah of Israel had died, only to come back to life.

It’s easy to see why such teaching, and the healing of the lame man, made Peter and John viable threats, though – the people believed the apostles instead of the Jewish religious leaders. So, in an effort to damage the credibility of the two apostles, the religious leaders imprisoned Peter and John.

Their plan backfired.

The imprisonment of the two apostles was the catalyst for yet another miraculous growth, with 5,000 men counted as believers in resurrection.

But the Sanhedrin was not content. The following day, Peter and John were forced into a hearing before the Jerusalem leadership (apparently the same group that sentenced Jesus to death), where the apostles were questioned about the power that allowed them to heal the former lame man. Peter, though, saw it as a moment to share the gospel with the seditious group who killed his rabbi.

So filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter addressed the skeptical group. His words were few, but powerful. He proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus, and that it was Jesus’ name which provided the power to heal the man

Perhaps the most startling teaching Peter shared, though, was that salvation can only be found in the name of Jesus. This is the first time the word salvation appears in Acts and it appears, not in the context of thousands of people calling on the name of Jesus and being baptized in his name, but rather it appears in the context of a lame man being healed. That’s important. The man’s healing, after all, was the point of Peter’s and John’s questioning. So salvation, at least here, must mean more than perhaps what we’ve believed, what we’ve learned, or maybe even what we’ve been taught. In this context, salvation means the total restoration of a person from every kind of brokenness and stigmatization – physical, spiritual, political, moral, and even eschatological. (That’s a pretty big word which really means an understanding of what happens after death.) The lame man’s physical condition prohibited him from enjoying full rights in any of those categories. But once healed, he was fully accepted in every category, and could now function, without reservation, in the social realm of the Jewish culture. In fact, according to Luke, every division on planet earth was controlled by the devil. Jesus, and the power of his name, erases such divisions, however they appear, and saves people from separation. This, in Luke’s world, was the meaning of the word salvation.

So, for Peter and John, the lame man found salvation, not simply healing, in the name of Jesus. His entire life was restored back to its original intention, an intention broken by  his inability to physically walk, itself a result of sin in the world.

These were pretty strong words by Peter, and the council knew it, not because of Peter’s actual speech, but rather how the apostles appeared. The council watched Peter and John be transformed from just unschooled, uneducated, ordinary men, into men who spoke with boldness. The word “boldness” is an important distinction for these men — it was a Greek word often used to describe Greek philosophers. Peter and John, then, were no longer just men unschooled in the rhetoric of the Torah. They were no longer just men untaught in the skills of oration. They were extraordinary, and the delivery of their words was extraordinary, because they were filled with the Holy Spirit and had been with Jesus. In fact, the council of Jewish rulers – the very same council that had condemned Jesus to die – were speechless, could not deny the apostles’ testimony, and were unable to even mention Jesus’ name, even when they told Peter and John stop such public teaching.

Peter and John, though, chose to defy their order, because they just simply couldn’t help but talk about what they witnessed. The two men were released, not only because they had not broken any law thus far, but because the council was afraid of the people.

Peter and John “went back to their own” – meaning the other apostles, the true rulers of “the twelve tribes of Israel,” (certainly not all 8,000 believers!) – and shared the edict of the council. The first response of this group was to pray, not to be spared from persecution, but for boldness to continue to witness. And theirs was a prayer of unanimity!

They addressed God as “Sovereign Lord,” and the following words of the prayer indicated the belief that everything — creation, the words of David, and the so-called decisions to arrest and kill Jesus — happened because God decided them to happen. Even the threats the believers received were part of a divine plan. And this group did not pray for a release from the persecution, but rather prayed for boldness in the face of persecution.

The Lord heard the prayer (the room shook – a new symbol in Acts of the presence of the Spirit), they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they did speak the word of God boldly.

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A Few Discussion Questions

  • Have you experienced legitimate persecution and threats because of your belief in Jesus? If so, explain.
    • If you haven’t, then explain why you haven’t.
    • Why does following Jesus threaten people, anyway?
  • Read Acts 4:1-4.
    • Who interrupted Peter and John? Why?
    • Why would the resurrection disturb people? Those who deny the resurrection – what do they believe about life and purpose? Explain.
    • Is the resurrection of Jesus still a disturbing thing? Explain.
  • Read Acts 4:5-12.
    • Peter and John healed a lame man in Acts 3. Is this sort of healing still possible today? By what power did Peter and John heal? If that power is still active, then shouldn’t healing still be possible? Explain.
    • Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit (v 8). Wasn’t he already filled with the Holy Spirit? (See Acts 2:4.) So what does this mean? And how would he know? How did Luke know?
    • What does “salvation” mean? What did Peter think it meant?
  • Read Acts 4:13-17.
    • How did the council react to Peter and John? What was different about them?
    • Does being filled with the Holy Spirit produce such a dramatic change? Every time? Explain. Should it?
    • Why couldn’t the council even say the name of Jesus, in v 17? Why is the name of Jesus so threatening?
  • Read Acts 4:18-22.
    • Peter and John refused to abide by the council’s order according to what reason?
    • Does their reason surprise you? Convict you? Why do they feel so compelled to keep talking about Jesus? Do they have something we don’t? Explain.
  • Read Acts 4:23-31.
    • How did this group pray?
    • How did they address God? The Greek word for “sovereign” is the origin of the English word “despot.” Is that an accurate depiction of God? In their prayer, for what do they credit God? Are we as eager to credit God for every single thing … even the things we determine as harmful? Explain.
    • Why didn’t they ask to be spared from persecution? What did they ask for, instead? Why does that matter?
    • How did they know God heard their cries? Does God still shake rooms today, because of the cries of his people? Explain.

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A Prayer

Father, you are sovereign. We don’t tell you in order to remind you. We say that, in this prayer, because we need to hear our own mouths say that.

We ask today for courage to proclaim resurrection in your name. We know that the events that may threaten us are, in fact, ordained by you, for your own glory, and we pray, now, that we can have the freedom to proclaim the good news even in the midst of events that would cause us to suffer.

Bless your name, God!

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¹Depending on translations, Jesus was referred to either as a capstone or cornerstone. The Greek word can be used interchangeably. The capstone finished and completed a Roman arch, and held the two opposing sides together. A cornerstone was the first stone of a building, the stone by which all subsequent stones were measured. Either way, the word meant that Jesus was the ultimate completion of life, or the ultimate beginning of life.

Epic Church

There is an epic sense to the beginning of the letter to the Ephesians.

You can almost hear an awesome soundtrack while you read the first three chapters of the letter. Big themes of salvation and history and grace, long sentences, and images of the heavenly realms. It’s a big opening to such a small epistle.

But then the soundtrack stops in Ephesians 4, and the letter grounds itself. The big orchestral music of  the opening credits gives way to the tinkling of a piano while the plot is hatched.

And, of all things, the plot is hatched by a church that needs to think about how it walks.

There are five references to walking in the final three chapters. And by the way, you’ll have to refer to the original language of the letter for the correct wording — most English translations, and certainly the more popular ones, completely disregard the word walk, and, instead, translate the word as live.

Anyway, here they are, as they are addressed the community as a whole:

  • Walk in a way worthy of their calling (4:1).
  • Walk not like the unbelievers (4:17).
  • Walk in love (5:2).
  • Walk as children of light (5:8).
  • Walk wisely, redeeming the time (5:15).

In other words, we have a responsibility to walk right.

We’ve been introduced to the far-reaching plan of God. Knowing that plan, then, should make us change how we walk.

There is a corporate sense of responsibility, and there is a uniting ideal that has already been achieved. Grace is the ultimate gift of God, and that should make us be different.

Our community walks together.

It is gifted, by God, for the sake of its strength (4:11-13).

It is transformational, in that knowing Christ has given us new lives (4:17-24).

It is selfless, built upon a walk of love, and not selfish desires (5:1-3).

It is proof that a different life can be lived (5:8-13).

It is full of wisdom (5:15).

Remember, too, that this letter was written to gatherings of believers, to churches, to be read aloud in churches, thus to make these passages individualistic may be a stretch. This letter is chiefly concerned with the community of God, the kingdom of God, in a realm currently ruled by dark powers.

It is the bride of Christ, cleansed for marriage (5:26), ready for its walk with God.

Even the final passage of weaponry, in Ephesians 6, speaks to an idea of community, and the way we’ve always read it changes when we change the context. Read the previous few verses about relationships within a home, and see that relational context as evident when you transition into 6:10. It’s powerful.

What if the church, instead of the individual, donned this armor?

The church would stand against the schemes of evil, instead of trying to fight them. Because there is no fight. Read here, from Ephesians 1:19-23:

That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

We spend too much time fighting, I think. Political fights. Cultural fights. City fights.

There just isn’t a need to fight. The victory of Jesus’ exaltation is supreme, and complete. Nothing can contend with that.

But there is a need to stand in confidence. There are struggles. We are not called to fight. We are called only to stand.

Scholar Martin Kitchen indicated that this passage, of standing, in Ephesians 6:13-18, was meant to be heard by believers who stood, together, often, in worship and prayer. Wow! What if that’s the real meaning of this passage? What if we are called to stand in worship, praising God for our security?!

Or, maybe better said, that worship and prayer are our defense mechanisms?! Wouldn’t that change a few things!

I’m placing this passage here, and want to challenge you, for a moment, to read these verses in this context — to see this passage as a church, as a community of believers, standing together in worship, praising God for this amazing security.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Reading this passage as we’ve previously read it, as an admonition for each individual to wear this armor, always made me feel alone and isolated. I often asked myself these questions: What if no one else wore the armor? What if I was to be the only one?

The constant reading of the New Testament, though, attests to the community of the believers, not the isolation of each believer. Reading this passage as a church wearing God’s armor (it is God’s armor, by the way — remember, no part of salvation is ever earned, and neither is our defense in a fallen world — even the armor we wear belongs to God) is so refreshing, so powerful, and is the realization of the mission for the church.

And so, as the letter ends, the orchestral music plays again. Sweeping cinematography and landscapes, with a group of believers, standing fast, as battles rage around it. It stands in worship, as the dark powers in the landscape try to overcome them. Yet their praises rise to a God who is seated above even the worst of what life can be.

This is the treasure of this letter. This is the peace in this life. And this is the mission for the church.

Your Faith Is Not Alone

As you read this today, I would love for you to do so as you listen to this song. One of my favorites, I think it completely encompasses everything Paul writes in our reading today. It’s a song called “Let Our Faith Be Not Alone” by the Robbie Seay Band.

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There is a kind of love that makes a person give pause.

It is poetic. It moves in your soul, like the air you breathe. It sings sweet lullabies to you in your darkest hour.

Powerful, this love is. It protects. It is steadfast. It does not waver, even when life sinks to the moors. It is the hope, in this life, that God is real and that he is alive, for only he can enable someone to love you like this. And only he can enable you to love others with the same force.

When we gather, then, as the full body of Jesus, our love is on display. It is the only gift that should keep making us want to come back.

People, together in utter anticipation, wait for the voice of God, because there is great strength found in knowing how God works in the lives of everyone else.

I lead a small group of students on Wednesday nights. I grew tired, long ago, of trying to teach students in these settings. God was calling me, last autumn, to embark upon a different type of gathering. No more curriculum. No more hours of research and writing for a thirty minute lesson. Instead, our hour-long meetings would be filled with only one thing: revelations. I wanted all of us to experience at least one part of this type of gathering, encouraged by Paul:

When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. (1 Corinthians 14:26; NIV84)

My challenge was for each student, and each adult, to spend the entire week searching for God — looking for God. They were to do so, by prayer, by reading, and, most simply, just by listening.

When met together, we would allow each person to share those revelations. And they were awesome. They were awesome, in part, because each person began to seek the gift of prophecy. Every Wednesday night was anointed.

Prophecy. That may have made you stop reading for a moment. But it is true, and it is biblical, and a gift available to all of us. Here are Paul’s words:

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. (1 Corinthians 14:1; NIV84)

It is a gift that requires no interpretation (14:4). It is used to encourage others (14:3). It can speak into the depths of another’s heart (14:25). It is not a sermon, and can be given to anyone, by the spirit of God, in a moment’s notice (14:29, 30). It is a gift to be given, and used, by both men and women (1 Corinthians 11:4, 5).

It is an incredibly biblical gift few of us have ever been taught to receive. Yet God speaks to all of us, all of the time. I simply encouraged our group to listen, and share. That, friend, is prophecy.

And I was deeply moved by these revelations, in fact, i was deeply moved most every meeting. My faith was not alone. My struggles were not done alone. God was moving, and I, like everyone else, became an eye-witness to the doings of God in the lives of everyone else. Age didn’t matter, for we were all children of God, sharing the depths of our own struggles, and sharing how God was constantly renewing our hearts.

It seemed that when I no longer let the hour be dominated by just my voice, God finally was given the spotlight.

But when our time of worship is dominated by the thoughts of one person, we inadvertently make the revelation of only one person the crowning moment. I know, too, we have centuries of traditions to erase if we want to change what happens in our gatherings on Sunday mornings. Yet if you meet in a small group, you can change that, through a time of prayer.

I have found that when God starts talking, nothing else really matters, anyway.

It will be messy, though. There were times that our own Wednesday nights were messy, and times when our own selfishness kept us from hearing God. Many of us admitted as much.

Even the Corinthian church had issues. Those who interrupted the revelations of others — both those who spoke in a tongue, in their own private conversation with God, without anyone to interpret (14:28), and women who seemed to ask interrupting questions (14:34) — were told to be quiet. Yes, it was messy.

But a gathering like this is wrapped in a divine love. It is a love that tears down our walls, and lets us be vulnerable to each other, and to receive the prayer, the spontaneous prayer, when God leads others to pray for us as we share our struggles.

This kind of love does not come from us. We do not have the capacity, or the ability, to love like this. We are so adept at selfish behavior that we believe only God can love like this … that only God can love without condition.

That is not true. The love, written by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, is agape love. Unconditional love. God loves us like this, but God also enables us to love others with the same love. We can love without condition, because God gives us the ability to do so.

And when we gather, this is the supernatural love we bring. This is the most excellent gift.

This love  not our worship music, not our sermons, not or our facilities, and not our ministers — is what binds us with others in dark moments, and in moments of praise.

It is the more excellent way.

It is what levels our gatherings, because each of us only concern ourselves with the needs of others.

And it is the only gift that will outlast all of the others.

Worship may be about music. It may be about communion. But it should always be about love. The God who loves us without condition, and gives us the gift to love others without condition, is a God worthy of praise.

How To Empty the Cross of Its Power

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours … (1 Corinthians 1:2; NIV84)

So Paul began his letter to the Corinthian church this way.

Written from the city of Ephesus, three years or so after he left Corinth, he began this letter with this solid claim:

Believers are different — “sanctified in Christ Jesus.”

And believers form their own culture, around Jesus — “called to be holy, together, with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Yet Corinth was an overwhelming city, with its own culture, and the believers were bringing the culture of the city into the church.

In Paul’s time, it was a Roman colony, enjoying Roman privileges and Roman government and Roman buildings. It had 90,000 people, and hosted an athletic festival second only to the Olympics. It had two ports, each of which faced both east and west, and connected it to both sides of the Roman empire. And it was wealthy, due, in large part, to its extensive slave trade. The temple of the Roman goddess Aphrodite alone had over 1,000 religious prostitutes, to celebrate, worship, and beseech the goddess for fertility and success.

It was stable, wealthy, and entertaining. And it’s values were a drug to the believers who lived there.

Because very quickly in this letter, we see the root of all Paul will write in the following chapters.

The Corinthian church was divided. And all subsequent issues stem from this unhealthy division. In Corinth, the believers were divided along the lines of their teachers, both Paul and Apollos.

Apollos, we’ve learned from reading Acts, was a student of Priscilla and Aquila, and who came to Corinth after Paul left. Whatever his intention while there, divisions arose, and believers picked sides — picked teachers.

Yet Paul doesn’t condemn Apollos. The division of the church was not his fault. In fact, Paul said that Apollos “watered” what Paul “planted.”

These divisions were so sharp that Paul addressed them first, though. It may be unusual to us, but Corinth fashioned itself as a city that enjoyed the presentations of famous philosophers and teachers. Remember, there were no comforts of modern entertainment. Listening to great orators was in fashion, and the believers abandoned their transformed lives, to turn the church into a cultural counterpart to what the city of Corinth offered.

Is it safe to say that we do the same? Do we mimic, in our own churches, the divisions found in our culture? Or celebrate it? Absolutely. We are human, and we sin.

But when we do, we abandon the message of the cross, just like the Corinthian believers. And like the Corinthian church, we divide, and castigate people over mere opinions, as if our intellect and passion can offer anything to the message of the cross!

But isn’t it possible for people to disagree, and still be united?

Yes. But only because we recognize our transformations, and others, because of the message of the cross.

I want to include a 10 minute clip here of Rick Atchley, who is the preaching minister for The Hills Church of Christ in North Richland Hills, Texas. His illustration, regarding divisions over petty opinions, is memorable, and convicting. If you have time, please watch this today.

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For the Corinthians, Paul was only concerned about the message of the cross.

But what is the message of the cross?

Here are Paul’s words, from 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not —to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

The message of the cross is a transformed life. It is how God takes the weak and the poor, and resurrects them into a transformed life, so that others will see God through that transformation.

The message of the cross is not tribal warfare. It is not focused on opinions or ideas or traditions. Those things completely reject the message of the cross, and prove, to the world, that the message of the cross is not capable of any sort of transformation.

Believers in Corinth were living and acting like their surrounding culture. And for Paul, who spent around 18 months of his life there, this was a hurtful report. They had emptied the cross of its power, by their divisions over “words of human wisdom.” Here are his words:

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17, NIV84)

If we are united around anything other than the message of the cross, then we are turning our backs on our own call to be different. We’ve accepted the spirit of the world, rather than the spirit of God. Here, again, are Paul’s words:

We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. (1 Corinthians 2:12; NIV84)

God offered the Corinthian believers unlimited access to his work in the world, yet they refused it for their opinions and divisions.

He offers the same to us, too.

The Corinthians, though, exchanged the truth of God for the opinions of people, and the church, as a whole, suffered. Paul’s letter to these believers will attempt to weld their factions back together.

And he will do so with the message of the cross. Here’s what he wrote, at the close of our reading today.

Together you are God’s holy temple, and God will destroy anyone who destroys his temple.

Don’t fool yourselves! If any of you think you are wise in the things of this world, you will have to become foolish before you can be truly wise. This is because God considers the wisdom of this world to be foolish. It is just as the Scriptures say, “God catches the wise when they try to outsmart him.” The Scriptures also say, “The Lord knows that the plans made by wise people are useless.” So stop bragging about what anyone has done. Paul and Apollos and Peter all belong to you. In fact, everything is yours, including the world, life, death, the present, and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. (1 Corinthians 3:17-23; CEV)

The image of God destroying those who divide his temple is powerful.

God cares deeply that believers are united around the message of the cross, because any other identity only empties the cross of its power. When that happens, we only tell the world around us that we are better at fashioning unity than God is.

Wow.

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As always, each morning, and my time of reading, is a personal journey with God. What I write, here, is what I believe God speaks to me, in this particular setting.

I make no claim to supreme authority, but feel moved, by God’s spirit, to share, here, what the passage speaks to me. Thank you for indulging my opinions, but, by all means, don’t follow them. Follow Jesus. Embrace the message of the cross, and that message only.

Women in the Roman Church

The women in Paul’s life were fairly important.

Today, I would like to introduce you to seven of these ladies, from Romans 16. Keep in mind that each of these ladies were Jewish, which means they emerged from a male-dominated religious belief system when they accepted Jesus as their Messiah.

Phoebe

Phoebe was a deacon in the church in Cenchrea. Even though some translations call her a deaconess, the word is actually deacon. Women who labored in churches were not called deaconesses until the fourth century. And she is the first person specifically mentioned as a deacon in history. But not only was she a deacon, she led a specific ministry. The phrase “a great help to many people” in Romans 16:2 actually has a little more force to it. Her ministry was to care and protect. And if she sheltered many people, she probably had wealth and resources.

Priscilla

Priscilla was the wife of Aquila. They are mentioned together six times in the New Testament, with her name listed before her husband’s name four of those times, which was not altogether normal in a male-dominated world. It’s not normal today, either.

She may have been from Rome because her name is mentioned first, but the placement of her name could also mean that she was of a higher social status, and had a greater influence, in the church in Rome than her husband. Both were Paul’s coworkers and they were teachers, mentioned in Acts 18, and their ministry was specifically to the Gentile churches, best known for their work in Corinth. They also taught Apollos, who was a very prominent believer and teacher. In Rome, a church gathering met regularly in their home.

Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis

Little is said about them, but their description does matter. Paul writes that they “worked very hard” for the church in Rome. The Greek word Paul used to describe the intensity of their work, too, was used only in reference to the women in this chapter. In other words, only these women “worked hard.” Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis were all slave names. They were presumably freed long before Paul wrote this letter, because of the time they were able to give to “work hard” for the Lord. Persis, too, was “beloved” by Paul, and she was, at least, a dear friend of his.

Junia

Many English translations call her Junias, which is a male name. But textual scholars almost unanimously agree that the word here is Junia, and that Paul referenced a woman. Even the earliest Greek texts of Paul’s letter to the Romans indicate the word should be Junia, and not Junias.

Junia was a fellow prisoner with Paul, along with Andronicus. Some scholars have linked them as husband and wife by the way Paul wrote their names, but that can’t necessarily be proven. He also called them his relatives, which could mean blood relations, or kinsmen.

Paul also commended her, and Andronicus, as “outstanding among the apostles.” Much has been written about this phrase, but know this: every time Paul used the word apostle, he meant it as someone who had seen Christ, and had been called to deliver a message of grace. It is fairly safe to say that he actually recognized Junia as an apostle, and others did, as well.

Junia was also a believer before Paul accepted Jesus as Messiah. Which means that if she was an apostle, and she did see Christ, she may have been from Palestine. Her testimony would be profound. As a Jewish woman, she could bear witness that Jesus was everything he ever claimed to be.

And for whatever its worth, Paul doesn’t commend anyone else in this chapter with the same forceful and honorable language has he does Junia and Andronicus.

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Phoebe was a deacon.

Maria, Tryphena, Trophosa, and Persis worked and labored hard, and the latter three may have even once been slaves.

Priscilla had incredible influence in the Roman church, and, with her husband, taught Apollos.

Junia was recognized in the rank of the apostles, and was imprisoned for publicly proclaiming the message of Jesus.

And while I let you draw your own conclusions about this, we can at least be clear about one thing. Paul had absolutely no problem with these women holding esteemed leadership positions in church assemblies and gatherings across Rome, regardless of what we know to be true about other passages, written by Paul, concerning a woman’s role in a community of believers.

The women in Romans all seemed to yield tremendous influence in various cities across the Roman empire, and that did not seem to change when they returned to Rome. Paul encouraged the Gentile believers there to accept them as such.

As we close this letter, though, let’s remember what Paul desired for the believers in Rome. He wanted them to be together, to live together, to worship together, to eat together. He wouldn’t dare ask them to treat anyone in a submissive way, after all he had written about God’s intentions for harmony and unity within their church. Instead, he asked each cultural group to submit to the other.

And Paul closed this letter, in Romans 16:16, by asking the Gentile believers to embrace and kiss each of the Jewish people he listed in this chapter. They were a family, and they should begin to act like one.

It’s not surprising that he did this. He began his letter with this statement:

For God does not show favoritism. (Romans 2:11; NIV84)

And he ended his letter by showing its reality. The ground is truly level at the foot of the cross. For us to falter in this reality, we truly show our disbelief at God’s miracle of unity.

But I’ll not stop praying for this miracle, and I’ll keep praying these words, from Habakkuk 3:2:

Lord, do great things again in our time!

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This is my forty-seventh straight post, while reading through the New Testament in 90 days. Tomorrow we begin 1 Corinthians. You can begin with us tomorrow, or start at the beginning. My posts here are meant to only complement what you read, by sharing how God stirs my own thoughts every day. Thanks for reading.