The book of Romans is so abundant and beautiful that it sometimes intimidates people. By the time you get to the last chapter, it’s tempting to skip over it. Just buzz past it and celebrate that you crossed the finish line.
But not today, not now.
I was recently reminded, thanks to my friend Andy Crouch’s talk at Q, of how rich Romans 16 is.
At first glance you might not notice it. But Romans 16 is more than Paul’s thank you letter. Looming in the background of chapter 16 is love. You see, Paul’s whole idea of community is grounded in the nature of the triune God—three glorious persons who are always working, serving, and loving each other, while still being One.
The Father gave the Son, because he loved. The Son obeyed the Father, because he loved. The Spirit empowered the Son, because he loved.
This ancient, older than ancient, love stands at the center of everything Paul does. The problem with us is that we don’t know how that love plays out in the real world. How can something that sounds squishy actually change the world?
Our world feels broken, divisive, unsettled, and loud. Many of us find ourselves pulling away from conversations and community. We retreat back to our tribes to feel safe, to feel heard, to feel understood. But if we aren’t careful, our relational worlds begin to dwindle and our tribes become isolated.
As our circles shrink, we quickly forget how to get along, how to listen, and how to learn from others. Beyond that, it’s deadening our ability to notice what God is doing around us. Instead, all we notice is that the world is broken and hopeless.
Is this just the new normal? Am I being too sensitive?
I don’t think so. The reality is, we Christians have to forge a new path. We have to do things differently than the rest of the world.
Let’s take a cue from Paul. The first step is to open up our circles and invite someone new to the table. Romans 16 is Paul’s public way of saying, “I can’t do this alone” but more importantly he is celebrating, “I don’t have to do this alone.”
We need to celebrate our interdependence—I need people, I can’t do it all. You need people, you can’t do it all either.
We need each other.
Throughout his ministry, Paul kept leaning into the diverse network that God put around him. On paper these people had very little in common–Persians, Africans, Greeks, Romans, Jews, and Gentiles. Leaders, no names, wealthy, poor, slave, and free. Single women, married women, and at least one mom. That’s Paul’s crew.
Do you ever wonder why Paul was so effective in ministry? I believe it’s because it wasn’t always about Paul. He would diligently learn from other people in his network.
Do you understand how humble it is for a guy with that much power to submit himself to others?
When we do the work of the kingdom, we need to actively seek out input. And then we have to listen and digest the feedback we receive. Even if it’s hard to hear…That’s the second step.
Open yourself up to the feedback and opinions of others. Start by asking more questions.
Am I missing it?
Is there something from your perspective that I should know?
Can you help me understand?
As we listen, sometimes our vision clears and our perspective widens.
Look at Paul’s list in Romans 16—slave and free, Gentile and Jew, different nationalities, men and women, poor and rich. Think of how many different perspectives Paul was exposed to through his network. What a gift!
WHO WOULD BE ON YOUR ROMANS 16 LIST?
If you got a pen and wrote it out, what would your list look like? Would your community be varied and textured or would everyone sound the same?
Remember, if all we do is retreat into echo chambers where people tell us what we want to hear and what we already believe, we’ll never grow. Our relational world will shrivel up and we will not be better for it.
Our world will not be better for it.
We’ll be another group of know-it-alls charging into the next situation, leaving a wake of disaster behind us. The world has enough of those people. We followers of Christ were created for a different kind of community. The way we treat one another should reflect the Trinity. Submitting, serving, respecting, championing.
That’s the last step.
Love differently. Love boldly.
- Read Romans 16 and write out your own Romans 16 list.
- Submit yourself to the feedback of others. Give a family member or friend permission to speak truth to you.
- Pray and ask God to open your eyes to seeing new relationships and fresh perspectives.
- Invite someone new to the table.