A list of names:
When I was young, when asked what they wanted to do when they grew up, children would say pilot or train driver or doctor or something like that. Nowadays, it seems like everyone is chasing fame. Some people want fame for the sake of it. People in the media now are often introduced as “influencers” (whatever that means)!
There are 33 different names in this passage AND also people described as so-and-so’s mother or brother or sister. We also have groups described as someone’s ‘household’. Only a couple of whom are mentioned elsewhere in the Scripture.
There are so many people mentioned, but we note that with a couple of exceptions they are all but unknown to us. Think of the ‘giants of the faith’ you can. Add together every single Christian both modern and from history. From people like the disciples, through the church fathers, to people like Augustine, Aquinas, Tyndale, Wycliffe, Zwingli, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, Whitefield, Hudson Taylor, Smith Wigglesworth, Billy Graham, Jackie Pullinger and hundreds more. Add them all together, and they will be outnumbered by orders of magnitude by faithful people of God no one has ever heard of. Many billions of them. There are 2.2 billion Christians alive today!
One of the biggest things about our Lord is he always noticed and gave value to the unknown and unnoticed people. Women, children, people who were unclean, those who did jobs people hated, those who were pushed to the margins of society all found love, acceptance and welcome with Christ.
My point here is to remind us that in all likelihood not one of us will ever become a giant of the faith who is remembered and quoted in the generations to come. We will all be unknowns in the world.
But not one of us is unknown to God.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).
Hints on church life
Notice some of the extra comments about what some of these people did which might give us some hints on HOW we should live out our faith:
- Phoebe: was a benefactor many people, including Paul.
- Priscilla and Aquila, risked their lives for Paul.
- Mary, worked very hard for the Romans.
- Andronicus and Junia, Were imprisoned for their faith.
- Urbanus, a co-worker
- Apelles, was faithful in testing
- Tryphena and Tryphosa, who worked hard.
- Persis, worked very hard in the Lord.
- Rufus’ mother, was a mother to Paul, as well.
- Gaius, was hospitable.
Hope I got them all. One thing that comes across strongly in a number of these people is this characteristic of ‘hard work’ (Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis). The things which Paul commends seem to me to be what we might describe as ‘ordinary’ traits. Hard work, bravery, being a mother. There is not a single ‘teacher’, ‘prophet’, or ‘evangelist’ amongst them. In fact only two of them are displaying spiritual gifts at all – faithfulness and hospitality.
I wonder if someone were to write about US, what would they say? Is there anything about the way WE live out our faith that is noticeable?
Cast your mind about and think of people you know. Is there anyone who exhibits a characteristic which you think epitomises them?
My friend Cliff — he is, simply, an encourager. He can’t help himself, I’ve watched him and he just encourages everyone he is around.
Another friend, Jayne, seems to be a magnet for the unseen and unwanted people in every church we’ve been in. She gathers and brings in the ones who sit alone, the ones others almost instinctively avoid; those who we might describe as the oddballs. She shows them worth and value.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’ve either got it or you haven’t. It IS possible to choose to exhibit one or other of these characteristics. What I mean is this. If you are not naturally hospitable, it IS possible to make a choice to become hospitable. If you are not naturally a generous person, it is possible to make a choice to be one (and so on). It might take an effort (especially initially), but it is possible. One key is to decide to do it BEFORE the need or opportunity arises.
God did it.
- He chose YOU before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).
- Eternal life was promised before the ages began (Titus 1:2).
- The Gospel was promised beforehand (Romans 1:12).
- Jesus endured the cross ‘for the joy set before Him’ (Hebrews 12:2)
Let’s make a choice to be the kind of people God is calling us to be. It is not good enough to say ‘I can’t help it, that’s just the way I am’. For a start we are a new creation, so just the way I am is (or should be) something that is born of the Spirit of God.
Division & Obstacles
Vv17-18 is a warning to the church …
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive”.
Note the two things that Paul sees as opposing the gospel …
We need to beware of such things, I frequently bang on about unity and how important it is, so I’m not going to look at that this morning. what I am going to do is consider for a few moments the tactics these people use. Paul says they use ‘smooth talk and flattery’.
We find this tactic used elsewhere in the Bible …
1 Thessalonians 2:3-6 “For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others,”
2 Peter 2:1-3 (ESV) “false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep”.
Daniel prophecies about a ‘mighty king’ in Daniel 11 who will arise, and one of his characteristics is found in 11:31-32 where Daniel says this of him: “Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate. He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action”. Note that Daniel says those who know their God will stand firm and take action.
Although we are aware of the very real physical persecution that Christians worldwide suffer, although we know about other religions and cults, one of the most dangerous threats we have to face is the ‘infiltration’ of false ideas into the people of God. This is especially true nowadays. It is difficult to miss the twisting of the gospel in some churches today. In the guise of ‘love’ and ‘tolerance’, there are some churches who are rejecting and in fact criticising the clear teaching of Scripture. This is far more dangerous and far more insidious than any amount of external persecution.
We must be really careful not to allow people to lead us astray. There is one question we should ask of any teaching we listen to, whether it is me preaching on a Sunday, someone at a Christian camp like New Wine or Creation Fest, and especially if it’s someone we’re watching on TV or social media. The question is this: “is what I am being told in line with the revealed will of God in His word?” “It is NOT ‘does this feel good?” (Or sound good?).
Some red flags:
- ‘This is a NEW revelation that no one has ever had before’.
- ‘I know the Bible appears to say “such and such”, but that’s not what it means’ (in fact ANY )
- ‘If you follow or accept this teaching, it will transform your life’
So, how do we defend against false ideas and false teaching in our lives?
(From Daniel) “people who know their God shall stand firm”. Defence #1: Make sure you know God. Spend time with Him, in prayer, in the Word, in the Church. I cannot tell you how many people over the years who have been led astray because they haven’t. I would venture that people don’t leave the church because they are losing or doubting their faith. Rather they doubt and lose their faith because they distance themselves from God and His people.
(From Paul) “watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them”. Defence 2: Avoid divisive people and false teaching (note that we won’t know if something is false teaching unless we know what good teaching is). In 1 Timothy 6, Paul tells Timothy to flee from false teachers (v11). This passage will also give us our next defence:
1 Timothy 6:11 “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness”. Defence 3: don’t just recognise false things and avoid them, at the same time, pursue things of righteousness. This is echoed in Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”
And finally, Paul finishes his letter to the Romans with a doxology:
“Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.”