“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deaconess of the church in Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, including myself.
Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life and to whom not only do I give thanks, but so also do all the churches of the Gentiles. Also greet the congregation that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, and who were followers of Christ before me. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. Greet Apelles, the approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren 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. All the congregations of Christ greet you.”
– Apostle Paul, Romans 16:1-16
Who was Phoebe? Who were Prisca and Aquila? Who was Andronicus? Ampliatus? Urbanus? And who were all these other people whose names we have a hard time pronouncing? Why does Paul waste so much time mentioning them in his letter to the Romans? After all, his letter to the Romans was a serious theological treatise on the doctrine of justification. Why then does Paul spend an entire page of expensive papyrus providing us with this list of names?
Paul made the effort (and expense) to send his greetings to these people because they were his fellow Christians; they were his brothers and sisters in Christ, and they were members of the early Church. I suspect that when most of us think of the early Church, we think first of Paul and Peter and the other apostles. And they are certainly worthy of our remembrance. But often we forget that the early Church, like the Church of our day, was comprised mostly of these other, lesser known believers. The apostles were the leaders. They provided teaching and direction; they kept everyone on the right track and moving together in the same direction. They were also role models, as well as evangelists and missionaries. We have good evidence that all of the original apostles except John died as martyrs because of the witness they bore to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and John died a prisoner on the island of Patmos because of his faith. We know that the apostles played a very important role in planting new congregations in important urban centers throughout the Roman Empire, and even beyond. However, we also know that Paul and these other early missionaries could not have carried out their work alone. They needed the support of the whole body, which is why Paul made the effort and expense to mention these otherwise anonymous members of the early Church.
Nowadays, when people think of the “Church,” they often think of a big, old building where some professional Christians wearing funny clothes work. It is a place where individuals go once a week to perform some mysterious, ancient rituals. And if the rituals are done correctly, in accordance with the traditions, these individuals will have their sins forgiven and will get a shot of grace to help them through the following week. The problem is, this picture of the Church is very wrong for several reasons. If we read the Bible and we pay attention to the details, we will see that the Church is something altogether different.
I realize that the Romans didn’t play football (as it is played in modern-day America) two thousand years ago, but if they did, perhaps Paul would have compared the Church to a football team. One of the reasons I enjoy watching football is because it is truly a game in which teamwork counts. Eleven players from each side line up on the field at a time, and these players have to work in concert with their teammates to try to accomplish their goals in the face of the opposition. When a play begins, each player has a specific job to do. Some players specialize in offense, some in defense. And on offense, some are supposed to protect the quarterback or runner. Others are asked to run specific routes and be ready to catch the ball if it comes to them. And it is the same on defense. Each player has a specific role to play. To win a game, all the players on the team must do their jobs in unison.
I have heard many people get into very passionate arguments about who the greatest football player of all time was, and to support their case they usually refer to an individual player’s statistics. But this is a silly argument, because no matter how great an individual player is, that person can not accomplish anything without a good team and good teamwork. People will compare individual statistics, but an offensive player will have better statistics if his team has a good defense, and vice versa. Individual statistics mean very little in the game of football. Something similar could be said of the Church. Individual accomplishments mean nothing, and no one has any cause for boasting.
The last thing Jesus said to His followers before He ascended to heaven was: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) As followers of Christ, this is our mission. This is what He has told us to do. He wants us to help the people who are living in spiritual darkness find and meet God. To accomplish this, we all must work together as a team.
As someone who has spent over 25 years living and working abroad as part of an effort to carry out the Great Commission, I know just how important it is to be part of a larger team. Those of us who labor far from our family and friends and who struggle to master strange tongues and new customs simply could not do what we are doing if people like you were not standing behind us. We have an important role to play within the Body of Christ, but so do you! We could not fulfill our role if you were not fulfilling yours. For one thing, without your financial support, most of us would have to come off the field and return to the bench. So, thank you for making it possible for us to be here! Thank you for taking the expense to support us. Thank you for being part of our team.
– By Will Dickerson, OMS Hungary Team Member