Paul's Pillar People

Bible Book: Romans  16 : 1-27
Subject: Church Life; People, Problem; People, Helpful; Christian Living

As most of you know, our “nest” is now pretty much empty—Sarah and Becca are away at college and our son Daniel is married to the world’s greatest daughter-in-law, Ashley. Once our kids began to leave the nest and head off to college I adopted the custom of writing them regularly. And I keep that custom to this day—even though we all have cell-phones and can talk to our kids any time we want at no charge—I still e-mail both of the girls a couple times a week. Some people prefer to use the phone but for me—it’s just easier to get all my thoughts out clearly if I take the time to write them down. I’ve found that as Dawson Trotman once put it, “Thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass over the lips and through the fingertips.” So, I prefer to write my letters and as I said—I do that—a couple times a week.

But invariably, after I’ve written several paragraphs telling all about my day and “sign” my e-mail by saying, “Love you! Keep the SON in your eyes! DAD” Well, many times right as I am about to hit the “send” button, I think of something else I want to tell Sarah or Becca, so I add a “P.S.” —which, by the way, is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase, “post scriptum,” meaning, “after the writing.” You might want to remember that in case it ever comes up on Jeopardy!

And you know what I mean. Many times after we have written a letter whether it is on real paper or a computer screen we think of something else we want to say so we add our comments to the end.

Well, look with me at the end of Romans 15. In what SOUNDS like the end of his long letter, Paul wraps things up by talking about his desire to come to Rome to visit the members of that church on his way to take the Gospel to Spain. He says that before he can come he has to make a stop in Jerusalem to deliver the love offering that the Christians in Macedonia and Achaia provided for the Christians there who were facing famine and then after these closing thoughts, Paul says, “Pray for me as I go to Jerusalem that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen.” (Romans 15:32-33) Sounds like Paul is finished doesn’t it? Time to fold the letter, lick the envelope, and look for a stamp! And—as Paul dictates these “final-sounding” words, I can just picture his stenographer or secretary—according to Romans 16:22, his name was Tertius. I can just picture ole Tertius thinking, “Finally, we are done! I’ve been writing so long, I think I developed carpal tunnel syndrome! I mean, this was supposed to be a letter, not a book of the Bible or something.” But, then, just as he is about to put the quill down, Tertius looks over at Paul and he sees a certain look in the apostle’s eyes—a look he’s seen before—and Tertius says to himself, “There is a P.S. coming…sure shooting…he’s not done yet. I’ve seen that look on his face before. Plus—I’ve read Paul’s letters and he always has a P.S.”

By the way, the name Tertius, literally means “third” and it indicates that he was a slave. You see, in slave families back then it was common to number the children instead of name them.

Perhaps Tertius and his master came to faith in Jesus as a result of Paul’s ministry in Corinth and Tertius served the great apostle as a secretary while he was there. I don’t know…but most scholars believe Paul would have needed Tertius’ secretarial talents because Paul’s other writings seem to indicate that he suffered from a disease of the eye. For example, in Galatians 4:13-15 Paul made the comment that the people there loved him so much that if possible they would have given him their own eyes—which tells me his eyes were flawed. Further “proof” of this is in Galatians 6:11, where Paul says,“See what LARGE LETTERS I use as I write to you with my own hand.” Perhaps he had to write large letters in order to see what he was writing—which indicates to me that Paul needed a secretary.

In any case he did indeed have a P.S. coming—the longest P.S. Paul ever dictated! As he came to the end of his lengthy letter to the church at Rome, his mind drifted back to the individual people who would be sitting in the congregation as his letter was read. When he thought of these people I think his heart was stirred and he got a little bit misty. Maybe at this point he said, “Tertius, where’s my handkerchief? I’ve got something in my eye!”

Now—if you know anything about Paul then you know that this is not a far-fetched thought. You see, Paul was more than a church planter. Paul was a people lover. Each time he participated in the establishing of a church he wound up forming deep bonds of friendship with the people in that new church…bonds so deep that when it came time to leave and move on to the next church planting effort…well, the separation from those key people—those co-laborers—was excruciating. It was so hard to say good-bye.

Let me show you an example of what I’m talking about. Turn to Acts 20. Paul is making his closing remarks to a new church that he had started at Ephesus. In verse 36 we read,“When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.” (Verses 36-38) Can you sense how close Paul got to these co-laborers? I mean, Paul was not just a highly organized, well-educated man. He was not just a get-things-done type of person. Paul was indeed a people-lover! He cherished the unique joy of working with other believers!

So, whenever he established a church—whenever he set a goal and set about to achieve that goal he gathered around him other people—fellow believers—and he said, “Let’s do it together. Let me do the things God has gifted me at doing. But I need help…and you surround me and do the things I can’t do and let’s work together as a team toward the goal that God has put in our minds. Let’s start this church!” Then, when the goal was achieved and it was time for Paul to move on to the next church start—well, it wiped out the people who had labored with him because they had experienced Paul’s tender heart.

And as I inferred, this deep love was a two-way deal. I mean, Paul’s sense of loyalty to the people he worked with was incredible. In his writings, he calls them “kinsman.” He calls them “brothers.” He calls them “children.” In Philippians 1:7 he says, “You people are inscribed on my heart.” I mean, there is a deepness of fellowship between Paul and the people he worked with over the years in each of the churches he served.

And that’s the way it is when it comes to the relationship a pastoral staff shares with a congregation. When you work together doing God’s will—well, let’s just say it’s a “heart thing.” Because, as a shepherd, you give your heart to your people and vice versa! On our church’s 40th anniversary weekend a couple years back I remember basking in the love that was shared between this church’s first pastor, Bob Rich, and the people who worked with him in those early days—a love that was still strong even after all those decades had passed. When you work side by side to do the Lord’s work—you form deep, lasting friendships indeed!

Now even though Paul had never even been to Rome, he knew a sizable number of the members of that church—believers from his ministry associations over the years.

You see, many of these people that he had ministered with in other settings…people that he had known throughout the course of his ministry for whatever reason, many of these people had found their way to Rome. You know the old saying, “All roads lead to Rome?” Well, back then it was true to a large extent. People from a lot of various places in the Roman empire would wind up in Rome for a few years doing business or involved in politics or because of governmental responsibilities—whatever. We experience the same sort of thing here at Redland…because in a very real sense all roads lead to D.C. if you are in the military. I mean, if you wear our nation’s uniform, there’s a good chance you are going to wind up here at some time in your career. If you doubt that, ask the Woofters. They ended up here twice!

Well, Paul had learned that many of his close friends over the years had migrated to Rome for some reason and they had gotten active in the church there. I don’t know HOW Paul knew—I mean these were the days where communication was very limited but remember, Paul was a people person—and he had lots of friends and he apparently was very good at keeping in contact with them.

I can imagine Paul hanging out at the harbor at Cenchrea where he would seek out sailors whose ships had come in and he would say to them, “Where are you from sailor? Rome? Well do you by any chance know of a sail maker by the name of Aquilla? He has a wife named Priscilla.” I can see Paul questioning merchants as they passed through the market at Corinth saying, “You’ve just come from Ephesus? What have you heard about the Christians there?” I mean, some way some how, Paul did an amazing job keeping tabs on the people he knew and loved. He knew which Jewish believers had been exiled from Rome. He knew of their return. And he must have had Tertius write all these details down so that he could pray for his friends in their various journeys.

In any case he was able to keep himself informed as to the state of the church in Rome. He knew many of the leading Christians in that church by name. And now in his Spirit-led P.S. he sends these people his personal greetings—checking their names off one by one as he draws his letter to a close.

Now—many believers tend to skip over this final chapter—and other chapters in the Bible like it.

When we see a long list of hard-to-pronounce Biblical names many of us just skip ahead. I mean, at first glance Paul’s postscript looks about as interesting as a page from the phone book—but remember, this P.S. is Scripture—and as 2nd Timothy 4 says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness…that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped, furnished unto all good works.” I mean, God can speak to us even through lists—and He definitely does that here because this P.S. is one of the most fascinating chapters in the Bible.

If you haven’t done so already, open your Bible to Romans 16. Now, by scanning this final chapter you would see that in his closing remarks Paul mentions 33 different men and women: 26 of them were in Rome and 7 were with him in Corinth. He also sends his greetings to five groups of believers in Rome and he WARNS the church about another group. In fact, let’s begin our study by looking at this group of people about whom Paul warns the church at Rome.

I. Problem People

For want of a better term, let’s refer to them as the PROBLEM people. Look down at the end of the chapter…at verses 17 & 18 where he writes,“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.” In other words, Paul says, “I hear that God is doing wonderful things in and through your congregation—but don’t let down your guard. Don’t be naive because Satan won’t sit still and do nothing. He will do everything he can to destroy your church so watch out for his pawns. They can do incredible damage.”

These “pawns” are the kind of people Paul was talking about in Philippians 1:15-17 when he said, “Some preach Christ out of ENVY and RIVALRY, but others out of good will. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.” Perhaps he had heard that some of the problem people from the church at Philippi had moved their membership to the church at Rome. And, we still have this kind of problem people in churches today. They use the tools of gossip and slander to divide churches and render them ineffective. Well Paul warns—keep your eyes peeled for these selfish people. They may seem wise and wonderful but don’t put them in positions of authority. In fact, steer clear of them.

A group of problem people like this came to my “home” church in Dover about 30 years ago. They had charismatic personalities that made them attractive to others and they were quickly put into positions of leadership but their behavior showed that they cared more for their own selves than they did for the cause of Christ. They very nearly destroyed that church. It was an incredibly painful time. My dad was pastor at the time and after the smoke cleared we learned that this same group of people had done the same thing at several other churches in the Dover area.

Well, I think the message we should take from this is simply: BE careful to protect church unity! And we need to heed this warning because we have a wonderful unity here—we share deep friendships. I mean, like the church at Rome we have so much going for us—and first and foremost is our sweet, sweet spirit. Listen! I can’t tell you how thankful I am for our spirit of harmony. It is so precious to me—because not only does it make my job easier…and not only does it keep us an effective tool in God’s kingdom…I’m ALSO thankful because our health and harmony is a source of strength for me personally as I live in this fallen world. Our fellowship as believers here at Redland is an anchor for me. I rely on it. And I’m sure you do as well—but please hear me! In order for us to keep it that way—in order to keep our fellowship sweet and strong—we must be on our guard. Church harmony may be a source of strength—but at the same time it is a fragile thing and satan knows that. He knows that attacks from without only make us stronger…so he attacks from within—which is why, as Paul says in Ephesans 4 we must, “…make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

Okay—enough of the negative—look with me now at the other group of people in the church at Rome that Paul refers to—the MAIN group. They are at the beginning of this final chapter.

II. Pillar People

Paul commends the church for these men and women—a group that Bill Hybels refers to as PILLAR people. Let me give you a word picture to help you understand this term. As I’ve told you numerous times, we spend our vacation each summer at Ocean Isle beach in North Carolina. This island is basically one huge sand bar. It’s about seven miles long and maybe a half mile wide at its widest point. When we first vacationed there in the mid ‘80’s houses were few and far between. It was undiscovered real estate—a great place to go to find peace and quiet. I remember in those days we had to go down to the corner to use the pay phone to call home because there was no phone in the unit itself. Well, over the years things have changed. Now almost every build-able square foot of Ocean Isle has a house or hotel on it. We’ve “watched” most of them being built. And they always start with the pillars—huge, telephone-pole-like columns that they plant deep in the ground. And every house or hotel is built on these pillars—to protect it from high tides or storm surges. Some of the houses are relatively small like this one…others are huge like this one. Now, as you can see here, many times the bigger, more expensive houses, look like there are no pillars. They seem to have a ground floor like a “normal” house—but if you get close enough you can see that lower level is fake. It’s just plywood and siding fastened to these huge pillar poles. All the buildings on Ocean Isle are built on these pillars.

I’m told that it is very important that the builder of these homes uses high quality pillar poles. I mean, they have to be careful in their “pillar pole selection.” The poles have to be the right length and height and diameter. They have to be specially treated so as to make them resistant to insects and salt water not to mention the kind of weather you have at the beach. This initial part of construction is very important because if the builder doesn’t select the right kind of pillar poles, the house is not going to last long. And, I think you can see where this parallel is headed with respect to churches. I mean, if a church planter like Paul isn’t highly selective when it comes to who it is that he will rest the load of the church upon—especially in the formative days…well, without the right people disaster is just around the corner. Churches that grow in a God-glorifying way are churches that have a core of Godly, pillar people. These are the people who undergird and support the weight of the ministry of a church. Without quality pillar people, it is only a matter of time before a ministry collapses.

I think this is one of the reasons our church plant in Milford a few years back didn’t take. The church starter wasn’t a true “pillar” in that he wasn’t committed for the long haul. He looked good on the outside—but on the inside he just did not have the strong resolve that is required to get a church going. And when he and his family left after less than two years, the church folded because there wasn’t a strong foundation.

Well, Paul understood all this. He wrote the book on church planting…and so I think that in the first part of his P.S. Paul is acknowledging and cheering on, and thanking 26 different PILLAR people in the church at Rome. In my mind, the first part of chapter 16 was Paul’s way of saying “I know who you ‘pillar people’ are and I know how important you are. I want to tell from the bottom of my heart that I praise God for you because the future of the church at Rome is bleak without pillar people like you. So be strong. Be encouraged. Listen to your name read in this letter and know how I feel about you. There’s a lot of weight on your shoulders. There’s a lot of responsibility. All Heaven is cheering you on and so am I.”

I mean, Paul knew the vital importance of Pillar people when it came to the establishment and growth of a God-glorifying church.

Now, what makes a person a good pillar person? I’m sure we all want to know the answer to this question—because we all see the validity of this principle. We want Redland to continue to grow—and we know we need pillar people to make that happen—so how can we all become more “pillar-like?”

Well, by looking closely at this list in Paul’s P.S. we can see at least two characteristics that are found in true pillar people—qualities more of us must embrace if we want to be the kind of people our church needs in order for it to grow and do more and more things for God.

A. The first quality is SERVANT-HOOD.

A great example of someone with this character trait is the first person Paul mentions and her name is Phoebe. Look at verses 1-2 where he says, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant—a deacon—of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.

Now, I for one think it is important for us to stop and note that the first person Paul mentions is a woman. In the male-dominated society of Paul’s day this was amazing. Let this verse remind you that, contrary to what many people say, Christianity has done more to elevate the status of women than any other movement in history. Most scholars believe Phoebe was the actual carrier of Paul’s letter. She made the dangerous journey to bring this letter to Rome. We have this book of the Bible because of her courage! Well, by including her in his list Paul was saying, “Phoebe is a ‘pillar person.’ She is someone all of you should emulate. Help her in any way you can…because she has established a track record of faithful servant-hood.”

Paul mentions other servant-minded believers by name. Look at verses 9 and following where he says, “Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ..Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.” By the way, many scholars believe Rufus was the son of Simon of Cyrene—the man who the Roman soldiers forced to carry Jesus’ cross.

In any case, the point here is that for a church to be healthy requires hard-working, selfless servants like these Roman believers. And please note: Pillar people aren’t necessarily pillar people because they KNOW a lot or because they have important careers. No—pillar people are pillar people because their personal walk with Jesus is so real and so vital and so satisfying that they serve consistently in the body of Christ…as a way of saying thanks to God for His amazing grace. They serve behind the scenes or in front of the scenes—it doesn’t matter to them because they aren’t serving to be seen by the likes of you and me. They constantly, self-lessly, look for ways to help the church do all that God has called it to do.

Now, I won’t list the names people who have this character trait here at Redland because they wouldn’t want me to but you know who I’m talking about. These people are servants and this sets them apart as special…precious pillar people. They earn distinction. They earn respect by quiet consistent creative excellent servant-hood. They just do what God has gifted them to do and they do it for His glory…and they do it with all their heart and they do it with a humble attitude and before they know it there’s a large responsibility on their shoulders. They have become pillar people and they didn’t even try. Remember that! You don’t ask the nominating committee to install you as a “pillar person.” No—they put you in charge of vital ministry because with your selfless service it just makes sense to them to give you more selfless service to do.

Well, Paul says, “This is what Phoebe is. She’s a pillar person and I trust her…I trust her enough….to put this letter Tertius and I have labored over in her hands.” Listen friends—a church’s health—it’s future—rests on the shoulders of servants like Phoebe. We are fortunate to have so many of them here at Redland. They are a blessing to me—and to you—in the way they serve our Lord in this body. Without their quiet selfless ministry this church would not last long.

I remember when we went to Glorietta a couple years back—I saw that outside the dining hall was a life-sized bronze statue of an elderly man pouring coffee. Think of it. The only statue on that huge beautiful campus wasn’t a statue of a famous preacher or teacher—and there had been hundreds of those who came to Glorieta over the years—names you would recognize. But those guys didn’t merit a statue. No—this sole statue was of a servant named Bob Cooper. He died earlier this year but he volunteered in the dining hall at Glorieta for 28 years….and became known as “the minister of the coffee pot.” It is estimated that he poured over 5 million cups of coffee for conference attenders. This is a picture of Cooper next to the statue. And for many, Cooper’s service was more than a much-needed dose of caffeine every morning. His friendly demeanor made them feel especially welcomed. Cooper had a great smile and showed sincere concern about a guest’s small problems. Larry Haslam, retired director of Glorieta said, “I’ve been fortunate to go to many conferences on [servant leadership], but the greatest lesson I’ve ever been privileged to learn on servant leadership was watching Bob pour coffee. Glorieta wouldn’t be able to function without servants like him.” When it comes to building a church the same principle applies. You need PILLAR people—who see themselves first and foremost as SERVANTS.

B. The second quality is SACRIFICE

And, according to Paul’s P.S. a second characteristic of pillar people is SACRIFICE. Look at verses 3 and 4 where he refers to a couple named Priscilla and Aquilla. He says, “They risked their lives for me.” Look at verse 7 where Paul mentions, Andronicus and Junious—two believers who were committed enough to the gospel to serve a prison term. And that doesn’t mean minimum security with tennis courts and big screen TVS. You serve a prison term in those days and you knew you were in prison. Look at verses 10 and 12 where Paul sends greetings to the believers who were, “in the household of Aristobulus” and “the household of Narcisuss.” To make a long story short—neither Aristobulus nor Narcisuss were Christians—but some of their servants were. When Aristobulus died, his “household” which included his servants, became the property of the emperor at the time—whose name was NERO. Remember that cruel tyrant who burned Rome and then blamed the Christians? Narcissus was the personal secretary of the Emperor named Claudius—the one that expelled the Jews from Rome. When Nero succeeded Claudius he forced Narcissus to commit suicide and Narcissus’ servants also became Nero’s property. So there with the believers in these two “inherited” households, there was a large Christian witness in the very corridors of Roman power—working for the monster known as Nero—even though being a believer in that place was a very dangerous thing.

There is a principle here that Paul is underscoring. Don’t miss it. Paul is saying, pillar people are not just defined by being consistent faithful servants. Pillar people are also people who will sacrifice—even their very lives—for the cause of Christ. Listen! True pillar people have a kind of dedication that is downright frightening to the demons of Hell. Pillar people have what Hybels refers to as “an attitude of abandonment” — an attitude that comes from knowing this world isn’t our home. We’re just passing through. Pillar people know the only reason we are here is to tell lost people how they can find God through faith in Jesus Christ. So…pillar people don’t care about laying up for themselves treasures here…they abandon that kind of thinking and sacrifice it all for the cause of Christ!

Queen Esther had this attitude. She knew what God wanted her to do and she realized it could cost her life. She prayed about it and then do you remember her famous words? She said, “I will be faithful and do what God has asked and if I perish…I perish. If I perish…I perish.” What a spirt of abandonment she had! For TRUE pillar people, the cause of Christ is far more important than the comfort level of their life. Pillar people are so grateful to Christ for what He has done. They are so devoted to the cause of Christ that they will carry any cross…they will fulfill any assignment. They will obey any leading. They will endure any trial…they will suffer any indignity…they will give up any treasure…they will withstand any…opposition and if need by they will take a beating a prison term or a bullet. If that’s what’s required to advance the cause of Christ. SO BE IT. And of course Paul could talk like this because he himself died for the cause of Christ.

Now—there are believers in the world—even today—who face death for their faith, but of course you and I here in the U.S. aren’t asked to pay that price.

We have the freedom to worship and share our faith—but churches here in America still need PILLAR PEOPLE who are willing to die…in ANOTHER sense. We need people who are willing to die daily in a figurative sense—people who will say, “Look, if I’m going to maximize what I can do with the limited years that I have left in my life to serve Christ and to advance His cause….if I am going to make a difference with my life, I am going to have to say NO. I’m going to have to die to a certain amount of self-ambition. I’m going to have to say NO—I am going to have to die to a certain amount of pleasure and opportunities out there that can entangle me….and lure me away from what Christ is calling me to do. And I’m willing—HAPPY—to do that. I’m ready to ABANDON all that!”

I mean, true pillar people—the kind of people you can build a church on—they know a lot about dying. They know how to die to the flesh to live for Christ. They know how to die to the pleasures of this temporary world to live for the eternal kingdom of God. They know how to die to men’s applause so that they can receive God’s smile. They know a lot about dying. Pillar people define satisfaction and meaning in life by how useful they are to the cause of Christ—not by how comfortable and carefree they can manage to arrange their lives to be.

As I told you in my last SOWER article, a couple weeks ago Sue and I attended the 50th anniversary of our home church, the First Southern Baptist Church in Dover, Delaware. It was an incredible joy to gather with those people that I have known for so long—former Sunday School workers and choir directors and youth ministry volunteers from my younger years. As I sat at our table that night I thought, “You can tell it was a 50th anniversary because we needed name tags to recognize each other.” Attenders would see someone and think, “Who is that under all those wrinkles?” And then they’d see my name tag!

Most of the pillar people at 1st Southern who helped build that church—and helped me build my personal faith from childhood until I left for college—are elderly now with less hair and more wrinkles. They are at the end of their lives. But they are thrilled that they spent their lives in that way. They are glad to have died to their own pleasures so as to build that church. And I was so moved and thankful to God for those incredible men and women. I prayed almost non-stop that night saying, “Thank You God! Thank you for these people!” Well, Paul felt the same way about the pillar people at Rome. He’s just full of praise as he thinks about these men and women. We see this in verse 16 where he says, “I tell you what—All you Pillar people! When you read this, why don’t you just stand up and kiss each other! Encourage each other. Your church has a fantastic future if you have support columns of your caliber and quality. So stand up and rejoice and hug each other and give each other a holy kiss. The future is bright!”

And I feel the same way about Redland. I stand in awe of the caliber of pillar people God has raised up here. Our future is bright as well! Perhaps we should stop and swap some holy kisses ourselves! But, first let me read you Paul’s final words beginning with verse 24: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you. Amen. Now to Him Who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey Him—to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen."