We all desperately need community. This hit me again with great force recently as I was watching the movie “The Count of Monte Cristo” starting James Caviezel as Edmond Dantes. Abbe Faria, aka the Priest, becomes a lifeline to the weary Dantes during his stay at the prison, Chateau d’if. Abbe is a great scholar who gradually transforms the unschooled Dantes into a wise, learned and cultivated man. The beginning of the movie sets forth the power of community to endure adversity and hardship.
Romans 16:1-16 also sets forth the power of community and gospel partnerships. It highlights at least five secrets to discovering genuine New Testament koinonia. This more or less summarizes my desire for our church over the past 8 ½ years.
What are these five keys? Concern (love for one another), a Christ-centered life, the importance of the cell group, a common cause, and candor. To put it more simply our church must serve as a home and a mission. (NOTE: The above sentence and basic outline of this post comes from a talk on genuine fellowship from Sam Shoemaker. The last phrase of the church serving as a home and a mission comes from Randy Pope and Perimeter Church.)
A local church can be a place of health and beauty when it follows God’s pattern.
- Concern (deep affection and love for one another). People matter. People were important to the Apostle Paul. How so? Note that Paul says something specific about virtually every person greeted. He enjoyed real relationships of love.
One Scripture commentator declares that Romans 16 is one of the most instructive chapters of the New Testament. Why does he say such a bold statement: “Because it encourages personal relationships of love in the church” (Emil Brunner)
Notice first of all the affection and love that Paul has for his friends. “Greet my beloved Epaenetus (v.5)… greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord (v.8)… greet my beloved Stachys (v.9)… Rufus’ mother who has been a mother to the Apostle Paul (v.13). The word ‘beloved’ means dearly loved.
This list of greetings opens a door into the everyday world of the first century church – it’s a home. This chapter serves as a hall of family portraits of our brothers and sisters who’ve gone before us. It also affords us a remarkable portrait of the heart of the Apostle Paul.
The warmth of Christian friendship evident in these verses (with so many indications of warm affection) remind us that in a world of fractured families the church is so often the first family where men and women find the warmth for which they long.
(How do you and I experience this type of authentic community? Christopher Ash is the Director of the Cornhill Training Course in London, and was previously the minister of All Saints Church, Little Shelford, near Cambridge. He declares that the only way to experience this type of community is “not in being passengers but rather by being active servants alongside others.”)
- A Christ-centered life – The gospel matters. We share life together in Christ. On what are you centered?
Everyone has a “Center”. Everyone lives for something–something that we think will give us a sense of significance and satisfaction. We all then have a “personal center.” That which is your bottom line. Your ultimate value by which you sort through all the activities of life and set priorities? It may be money, career, possessions, appearance, romances, approval from a certain peer groups achievement, marriage, children, friendships – or a combination of a several. Without this “bottom line”, your life would be completely meaningless.
(In Romans 16:1-16, the phrase “in Christ… in Christ Jesus… in the Lord” is used ten times). With whom do we have the privilege of advancing the gospel? We serve together with those who are beloved in the Lord (v.8). (v. 9 – the phrase “fellow workers,” v. 10 – “approved in Christ”, v.13 – “chosen in the Lord”).
- Cell (house church… small groups). Small groups/community groups matters. Aquila and Prisca. Notice the phrase: “The church in their house” (v.5). 1 Corinthians 16:19 “Early Christians gathered on a regular basis in the homes of leading members.
Such groups not only were intimate for the members but apparently represented nonthreatening environments in which to do evangelism.
The development of authentic community life requires significant face to face relationships. Deliberate effort. It will not happen in worship or other Sunday morning ministries.
Cocooning is the name given to the trend that sees individuals socializing less and retreating into their home more. In the 1990s, Faith Popcorn suggested that cocooning could be broken down into three different types: the socialized cocoon, in which one retreats to the privacy of one’s home; the armored cocoon, in which one establishes a barrier to protect oneself from external threats; and the wandering cocoon, in which one travels with a technological barrier that serves to insulate one from the environment. We now can live in physical isolation while maintaining contact with others through the internet.
- A Common Cause – Advancing the gospel matters. We desire to see others come to find hope, life and salvation in Christ. Expand and grow our family… (Notice the words used in v.14-15 – brothers and saints – Process of seeing natural enemies transformed into brothers… and sinners transformed into saints).
(Epaenetus – “The first convert to Christ in Asia” (v.5)
Prisca and Aquila were tentmaking missionaries and helped Paul start the church in Ephesus and had been instrumental in the church in Rome.
This passage calls for maximum effort to further God’s cause, extend Christ’s kingdom, and make the Savior known. We should do this will the same intensity that a runner has when he has his eye on the finish line.
(What will it demand of us in building this type of authentic community?)
- Candor (What will it take to build this type of community that truly advances the gospel?) Let’s be honest.
It will demand sacrifice and hard work (Scholars debate whether Phoebe is a servant in a general sense, or whether she served as a deacon. She served as a patroness, probably with financial assistance and hospitality. Apparently Rufus’s mother (Mark 15:21 – Rufus’ father was Simon of Cyrene) ministered significantly to Paul.
It says that Tryphaena and Tryphosa and Persis “worked hard in the Lord” (v.12). It is important to note that women had a significant place in the life of the early church and engaged in significant ministry.
It will demand risk taking (v.4). Prisca and Aquila risked their lives when Paul was in danger in Ephesus (Acts 19:23–41; 1 Cor. 15:32).
Where is God calling you to take risks? This week we’ve seen many people risking their lives to save others. One great gambler for God in the past was C.T. Studd. He was a man who “hazarded (gambled with) his life for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26). He once wrote: “No craze so great as that of a gambler, and no gambler for Jesus was ever cured thank God!” He was willing to jeopardize his own life to magnify and make known the name of Jesus Christ. Are we?
It will demand a willingness to suffer (v.7 – fellow prisoners). Bravery, at some point you will have to stand firm for Christ against some type of opposition, belittling and ridicule.
Conclusion: God calls us regularly to reflect on what it cost Him to make us members of His family. This galvanizes us to make any sacrifice to serve Him. In fact, C.T. Studd intones: “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then there is no sacrifice too great for me to make for Him.”