A Sermon Delivered On Sunday Evening, January (a) 1873, By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. *11/23/2011
I commend to you Phebe our sister, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: that you receive her in the Lord, as becomes saints, and that you assist her in whatever business she has need of you: for she has been a helper of many, and of myself also. Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: who have for my life laid down their own necks: to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Greet my well beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives, and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles who also were in Christ before me. Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. Greet Apelles approved in Christ. Greet them who are of Aristobulus’ household. Greet Herodion my relative. Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who laboured much in the Lord. Greet Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes and the brethren who are with them. Greet Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you. (Ro 16:1-16)
1. This chapter contains Paul’s loving greeting to the various Christians living at Rome. Remember that it is an inspired passage: although it consists of Christian courtesies addressed to different individuals, yet it was written by an apostle, and written not as an ordinary letter but as a part of the inspired volume. Therefore there must be valuable material in it; and though, when we read it, it may appear to be uninstructive, there must be edifying material beneath the surface, because all Scripture is given by inspiration, and is meant to benefit us in one way or another. It shows to us one thing, at any rate, that Paul was of a most affectionate disposition, and that God did not select as the apostle of the Gentiles a man of a coarse, unfeeling, selfish turn of mind. His memory, as well as his heart, must have been in good condition to remember so large a number of names, and these were only a few of his many beloved brethren and spiritual children all over the world whom he mentions by name in his other epistles. His warm heart, I do not doubt, quickened his memory, and secured to his remembrance the form, condition, history, character, and name of each one of his friends. He loved them too well to forget them. Christians should love one another, and should bear one another’s names upon their hearts, even as the great High Priest wears the names of all his saints upon his jewelled breastplate. A Christian because of the love he bears to others is always anxious to please by courtesy, and never desires that anyone should endure pain from rudeness. Grace makes the servant of God to be in the highest sense a true gentleman. If we learn nothing more from this passage than the duty of acting lovingly and courteously towards each other, we shall be all the better for it, for there is not too much tender consideration and gentle speech among professors at this time.
2. I. Beyond this, our text is exceptionally full of instructive material, as I shall hope to show you. Without preface, let us notice first, that THIS PASSAGE ILLUSTRATES REMARKABLY THE VARIOUS RELATIONSHIPS OF FAMILIES TO THE CHURCH.
3. Notice in the third verse that the apostle says, “Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus.” Here you have a household, in which both the father and the mother, or say the husband and the wife, were joined to the church of God. What a happy circumstance was this! Their influence upon the rest of the household must have been very powerful, for when two loving hearts pull together they accomplish wonders. What different associations cluster around the names of “Priscilla and Aquila” from those which are awakened by the words “Ananias and Sapphira!” There we have a husband and a wife conspiring in hypocrisy, and here a wife and a husband united in sincere devotion. Thrice happy are those two are not only joined in marriage, but are one in the Lord Jesus Christ; such marriages are made in heaven. This couple appear to have been advanced Christians, for they became instructors of others; and not merely teachers of the ignorant, but teachers of those who already knew much about the gospel, for they instructed young Apollos, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures. They taught him the way of God more perfectly, and therefore we may be sure were deeply taught Christians themselves. We must usually look for our spiritual fathers and nursing mothers to those households where husband and wife are walking in the fear of God; they are mutually helpful, and therefore grow in grace beyond others.
4. I do not know why Paul in this case wrote “Priscilla and Aquila,” thus placing the wife first, for in the Acts we read of them as Aquila and Priscilla. I should not wonder that he put them in order according to quality rather than according to the rule of sex. He named Priscilla first because she was first in energy of character and attainments in grace. There is a precedence which, in Christ, is due to the woman when she becomes the leader in devotion, and reveals the stronger mind in the things of God. It is well when nature and grace both authorise our saying “Aquila and Priscilla,” but it is not amiss when grace excels nature and we hear of “Priscilla and Aquila.” Whether the wife is first or second matters little if both are truly the servants of God. Dear husband, is your wife unconverted? Never fail to pray for her. Good sister, have you not yet seen the partner of your joys brought in to be a partaker in grace? Never bow your knee for yourself without mentioning that beloved name before the throne of mercy. Pray unceasingly that your life companions may be converted to God. Priscilla and Aquila were tentmakers, and were thus of the same trade with the apostle, who for this reason lodged with them at Corinth; they had lived in Rome at one time, but had been obliged to leave owing to a decree of Claudius which banished the Jews from the imperial city. When that decree was no longer carried out they seem to have gone back to Rome, which from the vast awnings used in the great public buildings must have afforded a fine sphere for the tentmakers’ craft. It is very likely that their occupation of tent making necessitated their having a large room in which to carry on their work, and therefore they allowed the Christians to meet in it. Paul spoke of the church that was in their house. It is a great privilege when a Christian family can accommodate the church of God, it is well when they judge that the parlour will be honoured by being used for a prayer meeting, and consider that the best room in the house is not too good for the servants of God to meet in. Such a dwelling becomes like the house of Obededom, where the ark of God was kept and left a permanent blessing behind.
5. To pass on; in the seventh verse you have another family. “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives, and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” Now, if I understand this passage correctly, we have here a case of two men, perhaps they are both male names, Andronicus and Junius, or else a husband and wife or a brother and sister — Andronicus and Junia; but at any rate they represent part of a household, and part of a very remarkable household too, for they were relatives of Paul, and they were converted to God before Paul was. This interesting fact slips out quite incidentally. I have wondered in my own mind whether the conversion of his relatives helped to irritate Paul into his murderous fury against the church of Christ, whether when he saw Andronicus and Junia his relatives, converted to what he thought to be the superstition of Nazareth — whether that aroused in him the desperate animosity which he displayed towards the Lord Jesus Christ. I may leave that as a matter of question, but I feel certain that the prayers of his two relatives followed the young persecutor, and that if you were to look deep into the reason for the conversion of Saul of Tarsus on his way to Damascus you would find it at the mercy seat in the prayers of Andronicus and Junia, his relatives, who were in Christ before him. This should act as a great encouragement for all of you who desire the salvation of your households. Perhaps you have a relative who is very much opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ; for that very reason pray the more importunately for him! There is none the less hope for him because of his zealous opposition, the man is evidently in a thoughtful condition, and the grace of God is able to turn his ignorant zeal to good account when his heart has been enlightened and renewed. There is something to be made out of a man who has enough stuff in him to be opposed to the gospel; a good sword will make a good ploughshare. Out of persecutors God can make apostles. Nowadays the world swarms with milksops of men, who neither believe in the gospel, nor thoroughly disbelieve it; they are neither for nor against, neither true to God nor the devil, such men of straw will never be worth their salt even if they should become converted. An out and out honest hater of the gospel is the man who with one touch of divine grace may be made into an equally sincere lover of the truth which he once despised. Pray on, pray hard, pray believingly for your relatives, and you may live to see them occupy the pulpit and preach the faith which they now strive to overturn. It is a happy and hopeful sign for good for a family when a part of the household is joined to the church of God.
6. Passing on again, we find a third family in connection with the church, but in this case the master of the house was not a Christian — I suppose not, from the tenth verse, “Greet them who are of Aristobulus’ household.” Not “Greet Aristobulus,” no, but those who are of his household. Why leave Aristobulus out? It is just possible that he was dead, but far more likely that he was unsaved. He was left out of the apostle’s greeting because he had left himself out; he was not a believer, and therefore there could be no Christian greeting sent to him. Alas for him, the kingdom of God was near to him, yes, in his house, and yet he was unblessed by it! Am I not speaking to a man in this condition? Where are you, Aristobulus? That is not your name, perhaps, but your character is the same as that of this unregenerate Roman, whose family knew the Lord. I might speak in God’s name good words and comforting words to your wife and to your children, but I could not speak so to you, Aristobulus! The Lord sends a message of grace to your dear child, to your beloved wife, but not to you; for you have not given your heart to him. I will pray for you, and I am happy to know that those of your household who love the Lord are interceding for you both day and night. It is a hopeful connection that you have with the church; though perhaps you do not care much about it, yet be sure of this, the kingdom of God has come near to you. This fact will involve dreadful responsibility, if it does not lead to your salvation, for if like Capernaum you are exalted to heaven by your privileges it will be all the more dreadful to be thrust down to hell. It is a sad thing in a family when one is taken and another left. Oh, remember how wretched will be your condition if you continue in unbelief, for when your child is in heaven and your wife is in heaven, and you see your mother who is there already, and you yourself are cast far off into hell, you will remember that you were called but refused, were invited but would not come, you shut your eyes to the light and would not see; you rejected Christ and wilfully perished, a suicide to your own soul.
7. Another example of this, and I think a worse one, is to be seen further on in our text where the apostle speaks of the “household of Narcissus,” in the eleventh verse: “Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord.” Now I imagine that Narcissus was the master of the house, and that the converts in the house were his servants or his slaves. There was a Narcissus in the days of Nero, who was put to death by Nero’s successor. He was Nero’s favourite, and when I have said that, you may conclude that he was a man of no very commendable character. It is said of him that he was extremely rich, and that he was as bad as he was rich. Yet while the halls of the house of Narcissus echoed to blasphemous songs, and while luxurious gluttony, mingled with unbridled licentiousness, made his mansion a very hell, there was a saving salt in the servants’ hall and the slaves’ dormitory. Perhaps under the stairs, in the little place where the slave crept in to sleep, prayer was made to the living God, and when the master little dreamed of it, the servants in his house sang hymns in praise of one Jesus Christ, the anointed Saviour, whom they adored as the Son of God. Wonderful are the ways of electing love, which passes by the rich and great to have respect for the man of low degree. It may be there is some bad master within the reach of my voice, he is himself utterly irreligious, but still in his house there are those who wait upon the Lord in prayer. He who polishes your shoes may be one of the beloved of the Lord, while you who wear them may be without God and without hope in the world. The little maid in your house fears the Lord, though you are forgetful of his praises; an angel received unawares, waits upon you at your table. There was a good man some years ago who used to sit up for a certain king of ours of wretched memory — let his name rot! This king was called a gentleman, but other titles might better describe him. While his master would be rioting, this man was communing with God, and reading Boston’s “Crook in the Lot,” or some such blessed book, to while away the weary hours. There are still at this day in the halls of the great, and wicked, and in the abodes of transgressors of all classes, God’s hidden ones, who are the salt of the earth, and cry to God day and night against the iniquity of their masters. There shall be an inquisition concerning all this; the godly shall not always be forgotten, the golden nuggets shall not always lie hidden in the dust. Remember, oh masters, how will it fare with you when your humblest menials shall be crowned with glory and you yourselves shall be driven into the blackness of darkness for ever? Seek the Lord also, you great ones, and he will be found by you.
8. We cannot afford to stay with Narcissus, let us turn to the twelfth verse, and you have another example of a family in connection with Christ’s people: “Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord” — I suppose two sisters, the names sound very like it. Where were their brothers? Where was their father? Where was their mother? “Tryphena and Tryphosa,” how often have I seen them in the church, two humble, earnest, faithful women, the lone ones of the family, and all the rest far off from God! Oh brother, do not let your sister go to heaven alone. Father, if your daughters are children of God, do not remain his enemy by yourself. Let the examples of your godly children help you, oh parents, to be yourselves decided for the Redeemer! Hail to you, you gracious women who keep each other company on the road to heaven! May the Lord make you a comfort to one another. May you shine both here and hereafter like twin stars, shedding a gentle radiance of holiness on all around. There is work for you in your heavenly Father’s house, and though you may not be called to public preaching, yet, in appropriate spheres you may with much acceptance “labour in the Lord.”
9. Further down, in the fifteenth verse, we have a brother and his sister, “Nereus, and his sister.” It is pleasant to see the stronger and weaker sex thus associated. “They grew in beauty side by side” in the field of nature, and now they bloom together in the garden of grace. It is a sweet relationship, that of a godly brother and sister, they are as the rose and the lily in the same bouquet; but had they no other relatives? Were there no others remaining of their kindred? Had they no trouble in spirit concerning others dear to them? Depend upon it, they often prayed together, and sighed because their relatives were not in Christ, for concerning all the rest of the family the record is blank. May God hear your prayers, my dear friends, when you, like Nereus and his sister, unite in brotherly prayer and sisterly intercession.
10. One other very beautiful example of a family connection with the church is in the thirteenth verse: “Greet Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.” Now, this is a case of a mother and her son. I would not wish to say anything that is far fetched, but I think there is no vain conjecture in supposing that this good woman was the wife of Simon the Cyrenian, who carried the cross of Christ. You will remember he is said by Mark to be the father of Alexander and Rufus, two people who evidently were well known in the church of God at that time. And here we have familiar mention of Rufus and his mother. Whether she was the wife of Simeon or not she seems to have been a kind, good, lovable soul, one of those dear matrons who are at once an ornament and a comfort to the Christian church; and she was such an excellent woman that Paul when he calls her the mother of Rufus adds, “and mine” — she had been like a mother to him. I do not wonder that such choice mothers have choice sons — “chosen in the Lord.” If those whom we deeply love carry their religion around with them set in a frame of affectionate cheerfulness, it is hard to resist the charms of their lovely piety. When a godly woman is a tender mother, it is no wonder if her sons, Rufus and Alexander, become believers in Jesus Christ too, for their mother’s love and example draw them towards Jesus. There is a legend connected with Rufus and Alexander; I have never read it, but I have seen it displayed in glowing colours by an artist in a cathedral in Belgium. I saw a series of paintings which represented Christ bearing his cross through the streets of Jerusalem, and among the crowd the artist has placed a countryman looking on, and carrying with him his mattock and spade, as if he had just come into the town from labouring in the fields. In the next picture this countryman is evidently moved to tears by seeing the cruelties practised upon the Redeemer, and he shows his sympathy so plainly that the cruel persecutors of our Lord who are watching the spectators observe it, and gather angrily around him. The countryman’s two boys are there too, Alexander and Rufus; Rufus is the boy with the red head; he is ardent and sanguine, bold and outspoken, and you can see that one of the rough men has just been cuffing him upon the head for showing sympathy with the poor cross bearing Saviour. The next picture represents the father taken and compelled to bear the cross, while Alexander holds his father’s pick, and Rufus is carrying his father’s spade, and they are going along close by the Lord Jesus, pitying him greatly. If they cannot bear the cross they will at least help their father by carrying his tools. Of course it is only a legend, but who marvels if Alexander and Rufus saw their father carry Christ’s cross so well, that they, too, should afterwards consider it their glory to be followers of the Crucified One, so that Paul should say when he wrote down the name of Rufus, that he was a choice man, for so we may translate the passage, “Chosen in the Lord,” or, “The choice one of the Lord!” He was a distinguished Christian, with great depth of Christian experience, and in all respects a fit descendant of a remarkable father and mother.
11. Thus we have observed the different ways in which families come in contact with Christ, and I pray God that every family here may make up a part of the whole family in heaven and earth, which is named by the name of Jesus. May all your sons and your daughters, your brothers and your sisters, your servants and relatives, but mainly yourselves, take up the cross of Jesus, and be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation.
12. II. The interesting passage before us shows WHAT ARE THE POINTS OF INTEREST AMONG CHRISTIANS.
13. Now, among worldly people points of interest are very many and characteristic. In any worldly community one very important point of interest is, how much is a man worth? That is an important point with Christians, too, in the right sense, but the worldly man means by that, “How much money has the man scraped into his own account?” He may have gained his pilfered property in the worst way in the world, but no one takes account of that, the one all important question among Mammonites is, “What is his bank balance?” Now Paul does not in his greeting make a single reference to anyone on account of his wealth or poverty. He does not say, “To Philologus, our brother, who has ten thousand pounds a year, and Julia, our sister, who keeps a carriage and pair” — nothing of the kind, he makes no account of position or property, except so far as those may be implied in the service which each person rendered to the cause of God. Neither is there any allusion made to their holding important offices under the government, or being what is called exceedingly respectable people or people of good family. The points of interest with Paul, as a Christian, were very different from those.
14. The first matter of which he made honourable mention was their service for the church. Phebe, in the first verse, is “a servant of the church, which is at Cenchrea. She has been a helper of many, and of myself also.” It is a distinction and honour among Christians to be allowed to serve, and the most menial employment for the church of God is the most honourable. Every man who seeks honour in God’s way seeks it by being abased, by undertaking that ministry which will involve the most self-denial, and will secure the greatest reproach. Foremost in the ranks of the divine peerage are the martyrs, because they were the most despised; they suffered most, and they have the most honour. So Phebe shall have her name inscribed in this golden book of Christ’s nobility, because she is the servant of the church, and because, in being such, she helped the poor and needy. I do not doubt she was a nurse among the poorer Christians, or as some call them, a deaconess, for, in the olden time, it was so, that the elder women who had need were maintained by the church, and in return occupied themselves with the nursing of sick believers; and it would be well if such were the case again, and if the old office could be revived.
15. Another special point for remark among Christians is their labour. Kindly refer to your Bibles, and read the sixth verse: “Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us.” This is the sixth Mary mentioned in the Bible. She appears to have been one who laid herself out to help the minister. “She bestowed much labour on us,” says the apostle, or “on me” — she was one of those useful women who took personal care of the preacher, because she believed the life of God’s servant to be precious, and that he should be cared for in his many labours and perils. What she did for Paul and his fellow labourers we are not told, but it was something which cost her effort, amounting to “much labour.” She loved much and therefore toiled much. She was “always abounding in the work of the Lord.” Sister Mary, imitate your namesake.
16. Then follow the two good women, Tryphena and Tryphosa, of whom it is said, “who labour in the Lord,” and Persis, of whom it is written she “laboured much in the Lord.” I do not suppose Tryphena and Tryphosa were angry because the apostle made this distinction, but it is certainly a very plain and explicit one; the first two “laboured,” but Persis “laboured much.” So there are distinctions and degrees in honour among believers, and these are graduated by the scale of service done. It is an honour to labour for Christ, it is a still greater honour to labour much. If, then, any, in joining the Christian church, desire place or position, honour or respect, the way to it is this — labour, and labour much. Persis had probably been a slave, and was of a strange race from the far off land of Persia, but she was so excellent in disposition that she is called “the beloved Persis,” and for her indefatigable industry she receives special mention. Among believers the rewards of affectionate respect are distributed according to the self-denying service which is rendered to Christ and to his cause. May all of us be helped to labour much, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
17. At the same time, another point of interest is character, for as I have already said, Rufus in the thirteenth verse is said to be “chosen in the Lord,” which cannot allude to his election, since all the rest were chosen too, but must mean that he was a choice man in the Lord, a man of particularly sweet spirit, a devout man, a man who walked with God, a man well instructed in the things of God, and a man whose practice was equal to his knowledge. “Greet” him, says the apostle. He who would be noteworthy in the church of God must have real character: there must be holiness to the Lord, there must be faith; a man must have it said of him “he is full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” This shall get him commemoration, but nothing else will do it. Apelles is described as “approved in Christ,” a tried, proven, and experienced believer. Christians value those who have been tested and found faithful; tried saints are held in honour among us.
18. Character, you see, is the one noteworthy point in the fellowship of the church, and nothing else. Yes, there is one other thing. I find one person here noted in the church as a person around whom great interest centred, because of the time of his conversion. It is in the fifth verse: “Greet my well beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ.” You know what that means. When Paul began to preach in Achaia, Epaenetus was one of his first converts, and while every minister feels a particular attachment to all his converts, he has the most tender memory of the first ones. What parent does not prize above all others his first child? I can speak from experience. I well remember the first woman who professed to be brought to Christ when I began to preach the gospel. I have the house in my mind’s eye at this moment, and though I cannot say that it was a picturesque cottage yet it will always interest me. Great was the joy I felt when I heard that peasant’s story of repentance and of faith. She died, and went to heaven a short time after her conversion, being taken away by consumption, but the memory of her gave me more comfort than I have ordinarily received by the memory of twenty or even a hundred converts since then. She was a precious seal set upon my ministry to begin with, and to encourage my infant faith. Some of you were the firstfruits of my ministry in London, in Park Street, and very precious people you were. How gladly would I see some of you in this Tabernacle become the firstfruits of this present year; there would be something very interesting about you, for it would encourage us all through the year. If you are brought to seek the Lord just now, I shall always view you with love, and think of you as I read this chapter so full of names. I shall be as thankful for those born to God tonight as for those regenerated at any other time, for my heart is earnestly going out after you.
19. So I have shown you that there are points of interest about individual people in the church of God, and what they are.
20. III. But since time has fled, though I have much to say I must close with the third point, which is this. This long passage REVEALS THE GENERAL LOVE WHICH EXISTS (must I say which ought to exist?) IN THE CHURCH OF GOD.
21. For, first, the whole passage shows the love of the apostle towards the saints and brethren at Rome. He would not have taken the trouble to write all this to them if he had not really loved them. And it shows that there were Christians in those days who were full of love for each other. Their greeting, the holy kiss, marked their fervour of love, for they were by no means a people given to use outward signs unless they had something to express by it. Oh that Christian love reigned among all Christians now to a greater extent! “Ah!” one says, “there is very little of it.” I know you, my friend, very well indeed; you are the man who is for ever grumbling about others for lack of love, when the truth is that you are destitute of it yourself. I always find that those who say there is no love among Christians now, judge by what they see at home in their own hearts, for those who love Christians believe that Christians also love one another; and you shall find the man of loving heart, though he will say, “I wish there were more love,” will never be the man to say that there is none. Brethren, it is a lie that there is no love among Christians: we still love each other, and we will show it by the grace of God even more, if the Spirit of God shall help us.
22. Notice according to this passage the early Christians were accustomed to show their love towards each other by practical help; for in the second verse Paul says concerning Phebe, “Receive her in the Lord, as becomes saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you, for she has been a helper of many, and of myself also.” I do not think that the apostle alluded to any church business, but to her own business, whatever that may have been; she may have had moneys to gather in, or some complaint to make at headquarters of an exacting tax gatherer. I do not know what it was; and it is quite as well that Paul did not tell us. It is no part of an apostle’s commission to tell us other people’s business; but whatever business it was, if any Christian in Rome could help her he was to do so. And so if we can help our Christian brethren in any shape or form, as much as lies in us we are to endeavour to do it. Our love must not lie in words alone or it will be unsubstantial as the air. Notice, you are not called upon to become sureties for your brethren, or to put your name on the back of bills for them; do that for no one, for you have an express word in Scripture against it — “He who hates suretyship is sure,” says Solomon, and “he who is a surety shall smart for it.” I could wish that some brethren had been wise enough to have remembered the teaching of Scripture upon that point, for it might have saved them a world of troubles. But for your fellow Christians do anything that is lawful for you to do, do it for one another out of love for your common Lord, bearing one another’s burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ.
23. We are bound to show our love towards each other, even when it involves great sacrifices; for in the fourth verse the apostle says of Priscilla and Aquila that for his life “they laid down their own necks.” They went into great peril to save the apostle. Such love still exists in our churches. This is denied, but I know it is so. I know Christians who could say honestly that if their minister’s life could be spared they would be willing to die in his place. It has been said by some here, and I have heard it, and have felt that those who said it meant what they said. Indeed, I know the prayer has gone up from some lips here that they might sooner die than I should. When your pastor has been in danger, many of you have lovingly declared that if your life could stand for his life it should be freely rendered before God. Christians still love each other, and they still make sacrifices for one another. I speak this to the honour of many of you, that your love for your pastor has not been in word only, but in deed and in truth; and for this may the Lord reward you.
24. Christian love in those days had an intense respect for those who had suffered for Christ. Read the seventh verse. Paul says that Andronicus and Junia were his fellow prisoners, and he speaks of them with special unction because of that. No one was thought more of among the early Christians than the prisoner for Christ, the martyr, or the almost martyr. Why, there was even too much made of such sufferers, so that while Christians were in prison, expecting to be martyred, they received attentions which showed almost too great a reverence for their persons. Now, brethren, whenever any man in these times is laughed at for following Christ fully, or ridiculed for bearing an honest testimony for the truth, do not be ashamed of him and turn your backs upon him. Such a man may not expect you to give him double honour, but he may claim that you shall stand shoulder to shoulder with him, and not be ashamed of the reproach which he is called to bear for Christ his Lord. So it was with the church in the olden time, the men who went first in suffering were also first in their love and esteem. They never failed to admit that they were brothers to the man who was doomed to die; on the contrary, the Christians of the apostolic times used to do what our Protestant forefathers did in England. The young Christian people of the church, when there was a martyr to be put to death, would go and stand with tears in their eyes to see him die, and what do you think for? To learn the way! One of them said when his father asked him why he stole out to see his pastor burned, “Father, I did it so that I might learn the way”; and he did learn it so well that when his turn came he burned as well, and triumphed in God as gloriously as his minister had done. Learn the way, young man, to bear reproach. Look at those who have been lampooned, and satirized, and say, “Well, I will learn how to take my turn when my turn comes, but as God helps me I will speak for the truth faithfully and boldly.”
25. Again, that love always honoured workers. For Paul says, “Mary, who bestowed much labour on us”; and he speaks of the labourers over and over again, with intense affection. We ought to love much those who do much for Christ, whether they are Christian men or women. Alas, I know some who, if anyone does a little more than another, immediately begin to pick holes in him. “Mr. So-and-so is very earnest, but — ah — yes! And Mrs. So-and-so, yes — God blesses her, but — but — yes.” For lack of anything definite to say, they shrug their shoulders, and insinuate. This is the opposite of the spirit of Paul, for he recognised holy industry and praised it. Dear friend, do not become a fault finder, it is as bad a business as a pickpocket’s. Until you can do better, hold your tongue! Did you ever know a man or woman whom God blessed who was perfect? If God were to work by perfect instruments, the instruments would earn a part of the glory. Take it for granted that we are all imperfect; but when you have taken that for granted, love those who serve God well, and never allow anyone to speak against them in your hearing. Silence critics at once by saying, “God honours them; and whom God honours, I dare not despise!” We cannot be wrong in putting our honour where God is pleased to place his.
26. Still, Christian love in Paul’s days — though it loved all the saints — had its favourites. Read down the chapter, and you will find Paul saying, “my well beloved Epaenetus,” “Amplias my beloved in the Lord,” “Stachys my beloved,” and “Urbane our beloved in Christ.” All these were people whom he especially esteemed. There were some whom he liked better than others, and you must not blame yourself if you judge some Christians to be better than others, and if you therefore love them better; for even the Lord himself had a disciple whom he loved more than the rest. I desire to love all the Lord’s people, but there are some of them whom I can love best while I know the least about them, and feel the most comfort in them when I have not seen them for a month or so. There are Christian people whom you could live with in heaven comfortably enough, but it is a severe trial to bear with them on earth, although you feel that they are good people, and since God puts up with them, so you ought to also. Since there are such particular people do not be always getting in their way to irritate them — leave them alone, and seek peace by keeping out of their way. Brethren, let us love one another; by all means let us love one another, for love is from God. But let us all try to be lovable, in order to make this duty as easy as possible for our brethren.
27. Once more, love among Christians in those early days was accustomed to respect seniority in spiritual life; for Paul speaks of some who were in Christ before himself. Among us I hope there always will be profound esteem for those who have been longest in Christ, for those who have stood the test of years, for our aged members, the elders and the matrons among us. Reverence for old age is only a natural duty, but reverence for advanced Christians is a privilege as well. Let it always be so among us.
28. And the last word is this; love for all Christians should make us remember even the most obscure and lowliest members of the church. When the apostle Paul wrote, “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas,” why, many of us say, “Whoever were these good people?” And when he goes on to mention, “Patrobas, Hermes,” we ask, “And who were they? What did these men attempt or perform? Is that all? Philologus, who was he? and who was Olympas? We know next to nothing about those good people.” They were like the most of us, commonplace individuals; but they loved the Lord, and therefore as Paul remembered their names he sent them a message of love which has become enshrined in the Holy Scriptures. Do not let us think of the distinguished Christians exclusively so as to forget the rank and file of the Lord’s army. Do not let the eye rest exclusively upon the front rank, but let us love all whom Christ loves; let us value all Christ’s servants. It is better to be God’s dog than to be the devil’s darling. It would be better to be the lowliest Christian than to be the greatest sinner. If Christ is in them, and they are in Christ, and you are a Christian, let your heart go out towards them.
And now, finally, may grace, mercy, and peace be with all those who
love our Lord Jesus Christ; and may we labour to promote unity and
love among his people. The God of peace shall bruise Satan under our
feet shortly, may we therefore in patience possess our souls. Oh that
those who are not yet numbered among the people of the Lord may be
brought in through faith in Jesus Christ to his glory! Amen.
[Portion Of Scripture Read Before Sermon — Ro 16]
(a) The month this sermon was preached was deduced from the remarks in paragraph 18. No exact date was given but it was an evening sermon so we assumed it was some Sunday evening in January of 1873.