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Jack Graham - The Influence of a Godly Woman

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    Jack Graham - The Influence of a Godly Woman
TOPICS: Essential Gospel, Influence

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Romans. This is our ESSENTIAL GOSPEL series and we're rounding third and coming home on this great book, the ESSENTIAL GOSPEL. And when we come to the sixteenth chapter of Romans, you might be tempted to skip it or skim it. But what you have here in the sixteenth chapter of Romans is the close and the final greeting of the great Apostle Paul who is the author, the human author of the book of Romans. Thus far Paul, writing most likely from Corinth, has given us this great truth of the Gospel of Christ. And Romans is filled with theology and the deep things of God as well as the simple Gospel of Christ. And we’ve been on this Roman road for some time now. And as we near the end, Paul takes time not only to show us his head and these great truths of the Bible, but now to show us his heart.

At times we may think of the Apostle Paul as a hard-charging evangelist, the theologue, the student, the scholar, but today we take another look at this great man, the missionary Paul and his great love for people. You know the church life really in and of itself rises on relationships. Someone said that life is relationships; the rest is detail. Well, Paul talks about relationships and he gives us some of the details in this passage of the early days of the Church, the embryonic days of the Church, just after the Church was born in the very first century, and we see the pattern and the practice of the New Testament Church.

This is incredible insight that we are getting as to how the Church functioned in their faith and the practice. And how they were able to turn the world upside down. Because one of the greatest evidences of the Christian faith is the fact that a small band of believers beginning with the disciples of Jesus, founded on Christ Himself, His death, His burial and resurrection, again, to preach this message in Jerusalem and then ultimately to the ends of the earth. The fact that Paul, the missionary and a small band of believers, both men and women were able to take on the great and Roman world with the Gospel of Christ and the religious world and change the world. And they did it by preaching the Gospel and by establishing churches, planting churches all across the world.

So Paul is writing to Christians at Rome and the church at Rome in this case. And before he says goodbye, he greets various members of the congregation and he talks about people in the church. He would never have met most of these. A few of these he knew on his missionary journeys like Perscilla and Aquila, that courage Christian couple that we’re about to meet in this passage. And he mentions 33 names and beyond the 33 names mentioned, there are households, so people represented that are not named. And among the names of those listed in the church and remembered and memorialized in the Word of God are seven women who in particular had a great impact upon the Apostle Paul himself and upon the church in that generation and generations to come.

So the title of this message is “The Influence of Godly Women” because I’m going to point out in the greetings of Paul some of these women who changed the world. God has used devoted women to bless and build the church from generation to generation. And my prayer is that every woman within the sound of my voice would discover your gifts in Christ, your identity in Christ, who you are in Christ, and what you have been given in Christ. And bless the world and build the church through the work and by the power of the Holy Spirit. What is your identity in Christ? You are God's daughter and you are our sister in Jesus, and you are a servant of Christ.

So what has happened in Christ for you, for each of us who know Him, and I speak specifically to the women in this room and watching on a screen somewhere, that first God works for you. That's what He did when He died for you and rose again and gave you salvation and the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. God works for you. And then God works in you by the power of the Holy Spirit. And because God works for you and God works in you, He now works through you to make a difference in the world, to change lives and legacies in the name of Jesus. This passage actually ends, this is all by way of introduction. This passage actually ends with the words "Greet one another with a holy kiss".

I started to entitle this message "XOXOXO" with a heart. Maybe you've received a text from your mother or someone who loves you, XOXOXO. And this is Paul's holy kiss. This is Paul's heart for the church and, therefore, should be ours as well. A holy kiss is a mark, is a cultural practice of the time, of course. Still practiced some in the world in Orthodox Christian churches in the Middle East in various places, but in that day, as in this day in most cases it is a mark of love and innocent affection. It's different than a hug; better than a handshake. If you think a hug and a kiss are the same, just ask your teenager at home if it's the same. They'll tell you it's not the same. No, it's more than a hug, it's more than a handshake; it is a holy kiss.

And perhaps you've seen this practiced where a man would kiss another man on the cheek, on the side of the head, then the other side. It was actually a part of the liturgy of the early church, the practice of the church in the first several centuries. And as I said in some cases in some places still today in the midst of the service they would stand and they would greet one another with holy kiss, the men to the men and the women to the women. It was a sign of peace. I don't know how well that would go over in COVID seasons but it certainly was a practice.

Augustine, the great theologue said, "They demonstrated (speaking of the early Christians) an inward peace by their outward kiss". It's a sign of peace, of brotherhood and sisterhood because we are family. I dare say when your family comes in the room, especially if you haven't seen them in a while, there's hugs and kisses. There are so many lonely people in the world, people who walk into church wondering if anybody cares, if anyone loves them in the church. If not in the church, where else could they find real affection, real love? So that was the church, again, inside in the King Jesus of the first century. This is the Jesus revolution in the making and was filled with love and devotion. Why? We are family! We’re brothers and sisters in Christ. We are the family of God and we love one another with immunity and with affection.

Peter himself, the big fisherman, you know, big tough guy, Simon Peter. He spoke of this holy kiss, this affectionate peaceful kiss in 1 Peter 5:14. He called it the kiss of love. That's Simon Peter. "The kiss of love". Don't be afraid to show your love and your affection to people. I'm not necessarily bringing back the holy kiss today. But I am bringing back and hope to remind you of the importance of loving people and not just saying it, but showing it. Showing it so that people know it and that they feel it.

So that said, let’s take a whack at Paul’s text messages here. Beginning in the first verse of Romans 16: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae (Cenchreae rather) that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. Greet Prisca", Or as Luke would call her, Perscilla, who is mentioned 6 times in the New Testament, alone with her husband Aquila. And Paul says, "my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. (Perscilla, along with Phoebe and then Aquila.) Greet also the church in their house". There's insight as to how the church operated in the first century. There were no church buildings until the second or third century.

So Christians, churches met in homes; they preached in the streets; they went everywhere with the Gospel. Jewish Christians worshipped in Synagogues, sharing that Jesus is the Messiah until they were thrown out. But this was a house-church movement, church plants. It's planting and establishing local colonies of heaven. Churches, ekklesia, the gathered ones, Christians in the church. So, "Greet also the church in their house. (The house of who? The house of Perscilla and Aquila.) Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Christ in Asia. (Probably Paul’s first convert in Asia. And then:) Greet Mary (another woman), who has worked hard for you". Ergo, means working to the point of exhaustion. Woman so often work so hard for the cause of Christ and His Church.

The founder of the Salvation Army once said, talking about his force for the Gospel, he said that the women do the work of ten men. He said the best men I have are women. Women who do the work. And I've found it to be true in the church in the generation how hard. So many women give themselves to the work of the ministry and the mission of Christ. So that's Mary, one of many Marys in the New Testament. And then, "Greet Andronicus and Junia", Junia may be a female name. We don't know. It's one of those names that could be either. You know, like Pat. Junia. So this could be brothers, Andronicus and Junia, brothers or it could be a couple, but Paul says: "my kinsmen (In other words, they were related, Jewish believers related to Paul) and my fellow prisoners. (They were in prison with Paul.) They are also well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me".

So here they are. Before Paul came to Christ, while he was still a murderer, before he became a missionary. He was a prosecutor in the church before he became a preacher of the Gospel. These two people came to Christ, kinsman, his own flesh and perhaps influenced the Apostle Paul in some way. We don't know, but there they are. And then, "Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet (here's a good one) Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys or Stachys".

The word Urbanus, you can hear the word urbane in there, urban so most likely urbane They often get their names from their residence. He was a city fellow. And Stachys, his name means cob, like corn on the cob. This guy is corn pone, he's a redneck! So you got an urbane fellow here, you got a redneck! That's the church, isn't it? Males and females, rich and poor, educated, uneducated, city folks and country folks, Gentiles and Jews, but one in Christ. And, "Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ". What a great statement! Tried and true in Christ. That's all we know about him. But what a great sentence. Greet him. He's tried and true in Christ, approved in Christ. "Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa".

Two girls, twin girls; their names mean delicate and dainty. So maybe you can try this for the next twins you may have, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. But, "Greet the beloved (so there’s two more women) Greet the beloved Persis (who is a Persian woman) who has also worked hard in the Lord". Kind of a past tense there. Maybe she was an older woman who had worked all those years for the Lord. A Persian, Iranian woman. And then, "Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also", watch this, "his mother, who has been a mother to me as well". We don’t know the mother of the Apostle Paul. He doesn’t talk about her in the Scriptures; his mother, his physical mother never mentioned. But Paul mentions this woman, the mother of Rufus who’s a mother in the church and a mother to me as well.

There are church fathers and there are church mothers. And the great apostle said this woman has mothered me, in some way nurturing him and encouraging him. Like so many of our mothers have done through the years to encourage us. Mentoring even the Apostle Paul. And then he mentions, "Greet Philolgus, Julia (another woman) and Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. And the churches greet you;" all the churches greet these Christians in Rome. Phoebe is at the top of the list.

So let me take just a few moments if you will stay with me to talk about her. It was almost like Phoebe, you go first. Ladies first. He's writing this; he remembers Phoebe, whose name means radiant, bright, beautiful, pure. Phoebe. And it says of Phoebe, look at it again, what it says to us about this woman. It says that you are, she is "a servant of the church in Cenchreae (which is in Corinth, near Corinth, so Greece, she's Grecian, and probably a convert of the Apostle Paul), that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints. (Here we see a woman worthy of all the saints, men and women.) And help her whatever she may need from you".

She is on some kind of a business trip to Rome, and you know what she carried with her to do her transactions in Rome? Paul is endorsing her. "Whatever you can do to help her", and the word here is transaction, whatever in her transactions she needs, you do it. How would you like the Apostle Paul on your resume of endorsers? She had it. And he said of her that she is "a servant of the church". First, a sister, not his physical sister, but his sister in the Lord. Again, we are a family, we're brothers, we're sisters. In some ways we are closer in Christ to our spiritual family than our own physical family if some of these are outside of Christ.

There was a point, a place in her life when she responded to the Gospel and she said yes to Jesus Christ. She became a liberated woman. She didn't find it in the feminist movement; she found it in faith in Jesus Christ. She became a sister in Christ. And then a servant of the church, diákonos. Same word from which we get our word deacon, but here the focus is not on the position of deacon but the practice of Phoebe and her service to the Lord. She is a servant of the Lord. And she is a steward because not only a sister and a servant, but she is a steward among the saints "for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well".

That's the word succourer. In other words, she was a helper of the Apostle Paul; the word is patron. You know what a patron is. A patron is someone who gives to support. In the Arts, you give to support the Arts, and so on. She was a patron of Paul and of others who preached the Gospel. In other words, she was invested. Apparently, she was a woman of means, she had money; she was a business person. And so she is on her way to Rome to transact business and Paul reminds them she is a patron of me and of many for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God has given women innately, I believe, certainly in Christ a generosity of spirit and compassion for Christ and the world and the Gospel. Yes, the church needs strong and godly men, but the church also needs strong and godly women!

And women, let me say to you, you're not the JV of the church. The church of Jesus Christ is not a male movement; it's not a female movement; it's a Jesus movement! And together, husbands and wives, like Prescilla and Aquila, single women, we don't know is Phoebe was married or not. It's not mentioned. She may have been a single woman, a benefactor. She was a blessing. She gave herself to the work of Christ and the church. And she is commended for it and she is remembered for it. And we're always, always to commend and celebrate and elevate women. Jesus did. When Jesus came He elevated women, He blessed women. Included them in His cast of champions. They walked with Him along apostles; they were not apostles but they walked with the apostles.

And the Gospel of Luke tells us about. You can read about it in the eighth chapter of Luke when he mentions, Luke mentions these women that were with Jesus and the apostles and they supported, the women supported the work of Christ and the apostles with their presence and with their possessions. But little girls were often thrown away or led into prostitution or criminalized in some way. You say, what a terrible world! Yes, and it’s still happening in many ways. There’s a mother that’s mentioned here at the close; the mother that was the mother to Paul. Who is this mother who had a son by the name of Rufus. Rufus! What a name!

Who was Rufus and who was this mother who mothered Paul and mentored others? Who is this woman? One day a young man was carrying a cross to a place called Calvary and already beaten to within an inch of His life, gasping for air, He collapses. The weight of the world on His shoulders, He is crushed beneath the cross. He falls. Crowned with thorns, He bleeds. And even some cruel Roman soldier had a bit of compassion and conscripted a man out of the crowd to come and carry the cross of Jesus. His name was Simon, Simon of Cyrene. He picked up the cross of Jesus and He carried it to the place called Calvary.

And there Jesus was nailed and died for the sins of the world, yours and mine. Rose again on the third day, so we know the end of the story. But what a story! And what a man, this man Simon. And the Gospels tell us that Simon has two sons, one whose name was Alexander and another whose name was Rufus, who had a mother named Mary who was the wife of the man who carried the cross of Jesus. She’s in this church and she is loving Paul and loving people and telling them the story of what Jesus did for all of us when He carried the cross to Calvary.
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