According to the Sisters
Scripture Reading: Romans 16:1-16
Here is a delightfully refreshing study by our Associate Editor, Mr. James Gunn, on the women mentioned by the Apostle Paul in Romans 16.
There are three chapters of recorded commendations in the Bible which at least illustratively foreshadow the Judgment Seat of Christ: Nehemiah 3, Romans 16 and Hebrews 11. It is not that there is no disapproval in these chapters. Think of this one statement, “Their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord” (Neh. 3:5). Notwithstanding, there is no penalty imposed. In Nehemiah the commendations are for physical toil expended in the work of God, the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. In Romans the commendations are for moral qualities in Christian personality, and in Hebrews the commendations are for spiritual attainments through faith in God.
Similarly, at the Judgment Seat of Christ everyone shall receive his own due praise of God. Since we shall all appear before the Judgment Seat, how should we then live? The answer to this question might be according to some sisters, friends of the Apostle Paul. The apostolic commendations of these sisters are found in Roman 16:1-16. All told there are 27 names mentioned in this passage. Of these, nine are in the feminine.
In looking over these names it will be noticed that some are Jewish and some are Gentile. What a pleasant testimony to the oneness of the Body of Christ! The middle wall of partition certainly has been removed: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male or female: for ye are all one in Christ” (Gal. 3:28).
Let us consider these nine feminine names and see how they lived and served.
Pheobe is the first sister mentioned. For those who are fond of alliteration, Paul, in that very style of writing, gives much information concerning this gracious lady. She was a sister, a servant and a succourer of many. As a sister she was related within the whole family of God.
Believers through the redemptive work of Christ have been brought into an eternal relationship to God and to a perpetual relationship with fellow Christians. What a rich blessing!
As a servant, Phoebe was a deaconness of the church where she permanently fellowshipped. Humbly she would serve under the elders overseeing the sheep of Christ’s pasture.
A succourer is a guardian, a protector. How this godly lady cared for the discouraged, the weak and the poor of the people of God! Well might the apostle commend her for such a useful life spent for the Lord and His beloved people.
Priscilla is warmly commended for her devotion, not particularly for her service. The name Priscilla is the diminutive of Prisca. Paul was naturally a very affectionate man; he did not hesitate to use endearing terms. Here he intimates the delightful and intimate fellowship enjoyed with Priscilla, her husband and himself. The clause, “Who have for my life laid down their necks,” implies that they were willing to bare their necks for the executioner’s axe; they were willing to be martyred for the Lord and His servant. Paul could not omit a reference to such consecration.
Mary, or better Marium, for she probably was a Jewess, is named for her generosity in Christian service. Paul says, “She bestowed much labour upon us.” The word “labour” means to toil until one is weary and faint. Mary’s work was characterized with more than enough; she went the extra mile in the performance of her duties.
The euphony of the next two feminine names in verse 12, Tryphena and Tryphosa, makes the reference to them very attractive. In fact, it suggests identical twins. Twins look alike, act alike, usually dress alike and apparently think alike.
What better symbol could possibly be found for co-operation? Here is a quality that every saint of God should develop. This spiritual trait should always be in evidence, particularly in assembly matters.
One finds it difficult to make any comment upon “the beloved Persis.” The adjective “beloved “ is used rather sparingly throughout the New Testament. Luke is called by Paul “the beloved physician.” Here, then, is a sister who is equally worthy of such a title. She maintains the same reputation. The implication apparently is that she was very affable, courteous and magnetic. She was an amiable and approachable personality.
We all know certain imposing personalities from which we shrink; personalities we find it difficult to respect. Oh, for more personalities like “the beloved Persis.” They are much needed in the church today.
One of the warmest commendations in the honour role goes to the unnamed sister of verse 13. She is identified as the mother of Rufus. Do we have here the widow of Simon the Cyrenian who carried the heavy cross for the Lord Jesus? It could easily be. For Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus (Mark 15:21).
The Apostle Paul never mentions his own Jewish father and mother. It would seem as if he were a meshumed person, one disowned by a Jewish family because of his Christian faith. If he had thus lost his natural mother, the Lord directed the maternal instincts of this godly widow. She readily extended love, understanding, care and counsel to the servant of the Lord who must have felt loneliness at times. What a true eulogy in Paul’s words: “Salute Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine!”
Two other sisters have a place on this honour list: “Salute Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister.” There is nothing stated as to what these two ladies were or what they had particularly accomplished. They filled a very ordinary place in life. Just the usual routine of a wife and a sister. Both moved among the same group of believers, probably one of four churches in the city of Rome. The majority of Christian women pursue this same course; they play a very similar role. Notwithstanding how mediocre their path in life might be, these sisters were held in the same high esteem; they were extended the same warm salutation from the appreciative Apostle.
“Not a day passes over the earth but men and women of note do great deeds, speak great words, and suffer noble sorrows. Of these obscure heroes, philosophers, and martyrs the greater part will never be known till that hour when many that were great shall be small, and the small great.”
Inasmuch as “none of us liveth unto himself,” and “all must appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ,” let both our character and our conduct be produced by the Divine Spirit. Let our lives be according to the example of these beloved sisters who lived in the apostolic days.