Romans 16:20-23 “The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. Timothy, my fellow-worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my relatives. I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings.”
One feature of the twenty first century church has been conferences for men. How can men be reached with the gospel? It is a widespread concern. I remember saying forty years ago that if we ever saw ten men of Aberystwyth being truly converted to Jesus Christ it would be the beginnings of some great days for the gospel church. We have yet to see that sight. Let me say two things briefly by way of introduction.
i] In our text eight men are mentioned, most of whom would have come out of paganism to Jesus Christ. I am aware that although Timothy’s mother and grandmother held to the faith Timothy’s father was a Greek with no apparent interest in the gospel. So here are eight formerly pagan men, in closest association with Paul, and they all express their concern about the church in the mighty city of Rome. This is what the theology of the letter to the Romans accomplishes, it transforms men. They could have been nonentities, utterly anonymous forgotten men whose dust lies today somewhere under the middle eastern sun, yet here they are in the word of God, living on here for ever until one day we shall meet them. Jesus Christ had delivered them from a narrow life and given them elevated interests and affections which had broadened their minds and fired their hearts.
ii] This is the third cluster of greetings. Firstly, Paul has sent his own personal greetings to the church at Rome taking up the first sixteen verses of the chapter. It is an extraordinary list; he had never been to Rome and yet he knew the leading figures of the church there intimately. Then, secondly and very briefly, at the end of the sixteenth verse he sends to the Roman congregation the greetings of all the churches of Christ (it is the only place in the Bible where the phrase ‘churches of Christ’ occurs). We know that Paul at this time was especially in touch with congregations in Asia, Galatia, Macedonia and Achaia and these would be particularly amongst the churches who knew that he was writing a major letter to Rome and who wanted him to surely join their greetings to his.
One congregation may greet another. It expresses our affection for the work that they do. It encourages us to pray for congregations we know and whenever there is an opportunity to greet them. “We esteem you in the work you do.” We mustn’t neglect this, especially at times of a possible crisis in neighbourhood churches, or in the early days of a new church plant with all the struggles and disappointments, or when a church is installing a new minister, on such occasions we must greet a fellow church. “We are thinking of you. We are standing by. Are there any ways we can help you?”
Then finally there is this little list of men who in one way or another were associated with the apostle and they all pass on their greetings. You see that refrain four times in our text; “we send you our greetings . . . we greet you.” It is the Christian ‘shalom’ of brotherly affection and pleasure at seeing one another again. The words ‘greet’ and ‘greetings’ occur about 65 times in the New Testament. It is one of the most distinctive marks of the life of Paul that he was always greeting men and women. He cannot stop himself; he has such affection for the people of God. I have a friend who is a Mississippi cotton farmer and when he visited Edinburgh and stayed with a mutual friend as they walked around his neighbourhood he greeted everyone with a smile they passed on the pavement, “Hello . . . Howdy . . . Good day to you.” Our friend who has lived in that neighbourhood for twenty years was not used to extending such greetings. In the dour Scottish way everyone averts their eyes as they pass one another. Paul was just like our Mississippi cotton farmer and we need his spirit too. So first let us look at the graciousness of the men who send their greetings, and then we will look at the grace of the Son of Man.
1. THE GREETINGS OF GRACIOUS MEN.
i] Timothy. It’s the first time he’s mentioned in the letter. In half a dozen letters Paul mentions Timothy in the opening sentence, bracketing his name to the apostle’s in greeting a church. Here at the conclusion of the letter Paul ‘sneaks’ him in. “Of course my son in the faith, my beloved Timothy (2 Tim. 1:2) is here with me.” As he told the Philippians, “I have no one likeminded . . . As a child serves with his father, so he served with me in the gospel” (Phils 2:19-22). For the previous eight years he had been Paul’s constant traveling companion. He had taken several special missions at Paul’s request, and now here he is in Corinth at the side of Paul dealing with so much of the counseling, answering men’s questions, visiting, pastoring and chairing meetings so that Paul could have space to write this divine letter which is destined to last longer than the sun.
So Paul passes on Timothy’s greetings, and you see that he acknowledges him to be his “fellow-worker.” That is the calling of any Christian in leadership. He works as he’s never worked before. You remember the Lord Jesus talking to his men and telling them that the fields were ripe for harvesting, however, there was this dilemma that there were so few labourers. There is only a specific time in which a farmer can bring in the harvest. The cold winds and the rain will affect the standing crop. It must be reaped, but where are the reapers? There are so few of them. So much work; so few workers, and the work is not an option; it is vital. There will be death without the harvest. What should we do? Jesus told them to pray to the Lord of the harvest that he himself would constrain men and women to get out of their chairs, leave their comfort zones and work. The word Jesus used was ‘labour’ – that labourers would be sent forth by God to reap the harvest. Who are those people in the world who are called and owned by God? How will we know them? Not by their words alone, but by their labours for God. They are men who love to labour, men in love with labour, labouring men for Christ. That is what we see here, Timothy a man who laboured with Paul. Was there any Christian who laboured in the face of such opposition as Paul? No one, but with him always, there at his right hand side was another labourer, Timothy, sweating, bleeding, hurting, afraid, gasping, sleeping with exhaustion, rejoicing at the glories of this richly fulfilling work, and then back to labour with Paul day after day – our grand brother Timothy!
ii] Paul’s relatives Lucius, Jason and Sosipater. The word ‘relatives’ could mean that they were part of his extended family, or his tribe, or that they were fellow Jews. There are three others earlier in the chapter who are also described by Paul as his relatives or kinsmen. We know nothing with certainty about them. There is also a man named Lucius mentioned in Acts chapter thirteen and this could be him. It seems unlikely that it is Luke the physician, though in fact Luke seems to have been with Paul at this time, but he nowhere else calls him ‘Lucius’ and Luke was a Gentile wheras this Lucius is called a relative of Paul. There is a Jason mentioned in Acts chapter seventeen; he was Paul’s host when he visited Thessalonica, and a Sosipater mentioned in Acts chapter twenty in an abbreviated form of the name, ‘Sopater’. Perhaps these are the men mentioned here.
Ordinary men, transformed by the love of God, cleansed from their guilt by the death of the Lamb of God, indwelt by the Lord Jesus, and daily empowered to work for the Kingdom of God by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Mere Christians like so many of us, who daily needed to go for mercy to God and grace to help them in their time of need. Three men from the same family, or tribe or nation now joined together by Jesus Christ in eternal bonds. They are interested in a group of Gentiles in Rome, no longer dismissing them as ‘Gentile dogs’ but greeting them, concerned that the Roman Christians should know that three kinsmen in Corinth wanted them to be aware that they had sent them their best wishes. They felt one with them and hoped that this letter of Paul would do them great good. It has happened to us; Jesus Christ has delivered us from our own little creek. He has saved us from being merely preoccupied with what was happening to our own kinsfolk. Now our horizons are as large as the kingdom of God. We rejoice in our brethren from Germany, Poland, the Bahamas, France, and China with us today and there are those who have gone from us to Latvia, Kenya, France, and Ecuador. Probably Lucius, Jason and Sosipater had never been to Rome, and never would go there. No one in Rome had ever heard of them, but these three men loved the Christians of Rome.
iii] Tertius and Quartus. We read these interesting words, “I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord” (v.22), and “and our brother Quartus sends you . . . greetings” (v.23). I think it was Dr. F.F.Bruce who suggested that Tertius was someone’s third son and Quartus was his younger brother and the fourth son, so we have in Tertius and Quartus, ‘Third’ and ‘Fourth.’ That is how they were known (as two brothers in an English private school would be known as ‘Major’ and ‘Minor’). Dr. C.E.B. Cranfield is not impressed with this suggestion that they were brothers; “an exercise in free fancy” is how he describes all that. And that is also how one approaches Donald Grey Barnhouse’s suggestion that Tertius and Qaurtus were number three and number four houseboy slaves in a slave-owner’s household – “free fancy” again we judge. But when Barnhouse pictures Paul dictating to his secretary Tertius, and his secretary adding this twenty-second verse then that does have a ring of reality about it, at least it has to me. Barnhouse writes, “When the epistle was about finished, Paul began sending greetings from Corinthian believers to the churches in Rome. Number-three boy held the pen and wrote on. As Paul spoke he wrote, “Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.” Paul paused, but number-three boy kept on writing, “I, number-three boy, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord.” Tertius, in that moment you became immortal in the ranks of men, and your name, already written in Heaven, was inscribed among the immortals of the Christian faith on earth. There are savage tribes who have heard the gospel, and who now hold in their hands the epistle to the Romans. They spell out its names and come to yours, Tertius, and thus they know about you. They will live and die without ever hearing the name of Caesar, but your name they know. You are in Christ and you sent them greetings” (Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans, Volume four, p. 170).
There has been some discussion over the years as to the manner of Paul dictating this letter to Tertius. Some people are sure that Paul was in the habit of dictating his letters. They quote those famous words towards the end of his letter to the Galatians, “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” (Gals. 6:11). They infer from that fact that to write with a pen in his own hand was exceptional and that he customarily used an amanuensis. But how did that operate? Did Tertius slowly write the letter in long hand as Paul dictated it? Or did Tertius write it in shorthand and then more leisurely wrote it out in long-hand to be checked and corrected by the apostle? There is a reliable tradition to the effect that shorthand was invented amongst the Greeks, actually by Xenophon, about five hundred years before Paul.
There is a letter of Cicero written to his friend Atticus on 12 July in the year 45 B.C. and Cicero tells him that he has just been writing to a fastidious man called Varro, and he had to be very careful what he wrote to him and so he dictated word by word to a specially drafted in amanuensis named Spintharus rather than what he normally did and that was just to give the broad ideas of what he wanted to say to his beloved secretary who generally composed his letters. Cicero had found this dictation very tiresome. I would think that Paul was conscious that this letter was going to be read and re-read aloud to the congregation in Rome who would hang on to every word and subsequently discuss it amongst themselves. So I believe that Paul slowly composed it, thinking about every sentence, and Tertius steadily wrote it down. So we have in the text of this letter to the church in Rome the convictions of Paul the apostle of Jesus Christ as Paul himself expressed them word by word to Tertius until the end of this chapter and of the epistle. But what we see in our text is a measure of involvement and freedom this secretary displays in his work. He is not intimidated by the apostle. It was not an atmosphere of fear in which Paul wrote under the Spirit of God, any more than hearing me preach is in an atmosphere of fear. Tertius had been caught up in everything Paul has written and he too wants to send his greetings to the congregation in Rome and was free to add his salutation. “I greet you in the Lord,” he says. In other words, “I am a real Christian too.”
iv] Gaius and Erastus. “Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works . . . send . . . greetings.” (v.23). A man with this name of Gaius is also mentioned in the opening chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and he may well be the same Gaius mentioned here. Paul calls him the ‘host to himself and the whole church.’ It is unlikely that that means that the entire Corinthian congregation met in his house each Sunday; maybe part of it did in the winter, but that is not the stress of these words. They basically mean that Gaius was renowned for his hospitality in the congregation, and whenever a visiting preacher or a persecuted believer turned up in the town they would always be welcomed in Gaius’ home. He kept a ‘prophet’s chamber’ for guests and many enjoyed that blessing from him. He was ‘Mr. Hospitality.’ That is the stress of Paul’s words.
Then there is this man named Erastus, and in the last century a Latin inscription on a marble paving-block was discovered at Corinth which reads in translation ‘Erastus, commissioner for public works, laid this pavement at his own expense.’ This was a man in charge of buildings, roads and public games, and so the N.I.V. translators have taken that inscription as giving them authority to translate this normal Greek word for ‘treasurer’ as the grander translation of verse twenty-three, ‘city’s director of public works.’ That cannot be done. Both Hendriksen and Cranfield say that ‘treasurer’ and ‘city’s diector of public works’ are not the same office any more than foreign secretary is the same as chancellor of the exchequer. The ‘Erastus’ mentioned in our text was the city treasurer.
Certainly the office of city treasurer was a high office, and it shows how Christianity was spreading through every level of society and that these men were vital living Christians. Erastus told Paul, “Send my greetings to the church in Rome.” I remember being in Montgomery, Alabama some years ago preaching in a missions’ conference and I talked to many of the men there. One told me that he had been to England on a tour with their previous pastor who had been an evangelist. They had gone all over the British Isles at evangelistic services and he had been present singing in the crusade choir. I asked him what was his work. He told me that he was a judge; so comprehensively has the Christian faith permeated American society. Thus it was in the first century, within thirty years of Pentecost in distant Corinth in Greece the city treasurer was, as men say, a ‘born-again believer.’
The greatest interest of these men had become the kingdom of Christ. There was animosity between Greek and Roman caused by Rome conquering Greece and so the Greeks hated the Romans, but that is not found in these verses. It is absent amongst all these men in Corinth. They are fascinated by the congregation of Jesus Christ there in Rome. They all send their greetings to that church. There is therefore now in the church of the Lord Jesus no Greek and Roman but just the one new man in Christ. We’ll always be greeting one another in his name.
2. THE GRACE OF THE LORD OF GRACE.
If the greetings of fellow believers are precious to us how much more precious the grace of Christ! “The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” (v.20). Paul cannot resist returning to this theme. This grace also comes to us from a real person. It is the grace of a human being, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, born of Mary in our low condition. The grace of this glorious One was seen throughout his life, firstly, in his character – his tenderness, kindness and patience towards all men and women. He refused to call down fire from heaven upon the Samaritan city that rejected him; he wouldn’t condemn the woman caught in adultery simply urging her to stop her activities “Go and sin no more.” He was willing to heal nine unthankful, ungrateful lepers; he was ready to receive children and hold them in his arms and bless them; he wept over Jerusalem and he longed to have covered them but they wouldn’t be covered. Doesn’t our unbelieving land benefit from such goodness of Jesus Christ to everyone today?
Secondly, how great was the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to those whom he made his disciples. To blustering self-confident Peter, how he warned him and kept praying for him and after he fell Jesus restored him, even making him his spokesman at Pentecost. How great was his grace to Mary out of whom he cast seven demons. He let her weep at his feet and anoint him with oil and dry his feet with her long hair. There was a wretched evil man who hung next to him on the cross. He had nothing to offer Jesus Christ at all but how great was Christ’s grace to him. He took him to paradise with him that very day. They entered the presence of God within minutes of one another, Jesus because he merited it, the criminal because of the merit of Christ
The Lord Jesus Christ is full of grace to lost men and women. Think of him coming to Jericho in order to meet the most unpleasant man in town, Zacchaeus. Where is Zacchaeus to be found? High in the branches of a sycamore tree spying down in curiosity on Jesus. What did Jesus do? He looked up at him. What amazing grace is this! It is a wonder that he should look down from heaven to us on earth, but for him to come down to earth to identify with those who crawl on the surface of the earth – “I am a worm and no man” –what grace! Why did he come down? That he might look up to sinners. The Almighty looking up to snakes? Sin has turned everything upside down. Christ is brought so low while sinners soar to the stratosphere of self. If a sinner looks at Christ it must be a downward look – think of it – to the meek and lowly one, and Christ, in order to see him must look up. Christ looking up to sinners, what grace!
There is even greater grace than his looking up; Christ lifted up. Nailed to a cross, making atonement for our sins, he is lifted up. No problem with sinners spotting him on Golgotha he is lifted high on the place of the skull. There he dies between two criminals who are getting what they deserve, soldiers gamble, the crowds chant ceaselessly as they mock him, the sun beats relentlessly on his naked body, and he is so thirsty. The one who is greater than the universe is now contracted to a span and nailed down until he’s dead. This he chooses, the accursed death of the cross, that we might never be accursed by God.
As sinners, we’ve all been under fearful stringent obligations to God to live a perfect life and also to pay the penalty for our sins. Neither of those things have any men been able to do. But in grace Christ comes, as the proper man, the last Adam, and he does them both on our behalf and in our stead. He is under no obligation to do anything whatsoever for us except to judge us fairly, but he comes to fulfil all that we couldn’t do. He pays the penalty for our sins to the last penny; so then he pardons our sins from the foulest of them to the slightest of them. What grace! What mercy! God’s forgiveness is more than an amnesty. An amnesty occurs, for example, when a government tells a group of rebels that their past will not be held against them. The IRA killers were let out of the Maze prison and the H block through the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement. But an amnesty like that fails to deal with the evil nature of the murders, the bank robberies, the kneecapping and the grief of the families; it chooses to overlook them all for a truce.
In the cross of Christ our sins have all been dealt with properly, comprehensively and justly. Nothing has been overlooked; there’s been no sweeping under the carpet. Each sin in all its individual guilt and personal answerability has been imputed to Jesus Christ and he has paid the penalty for all of them. He has done so utterly comprehensively so that it’s neither necessary nor possible for their price to be paid again. Let me use this illustration; imagine buying a car; completing the transaction you give the salesman the total sum of money he demands. You pay for it all. Then imagine his perplexity if you insist on paying him again. “No thank you,” he says, “it’s all been paid for. It is covered. There is no more debt.” But then you start making out another cheque for the same amount, and then another cheque, and another for the same vehicle. He would be increasingly concerned for your sanity. “Please desist. It’s all right,” he would say to you. “It has all been paid for to the final penny. There is no need on paying anything more. I won’t take any more from you for the car. There is no need . . . no need whatsoever. There’s no outstanding debt at all.” That is what the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ has achieved for our guilt. In one great act of atonement, by himself, once and for ever, he has made full atonement. Nothing needs to be added. No further sacrifices need to be made. No masses need to be said. All of redemption has been accomplished by Christ.
It has achieved something more. In grace Christ has imputed his own obedience to the law of God to every believer. His perfect life of 24/7 obedience of mind, and heart and affection to God’s will has been imputed to each believer as an entity which henceforth is their own personal righteousness. Jesus’ own obedience has now become our standing and acceptance before God; we are justified, we are cleansed, yes but we are also clothed by Jesus Christ. We are declared to be righteous in Christ. Again God’s justifying love is a once-for-all action that never requires repetition. Let me illustrate that in this way; consider a bride on her wedding day who puts on her wedding dress and she looks a dream, but then listen, she starts to insist that another one be put over that dress, and then she weeps for another dress to be put over that, and another one . . . . She is never satisfied with her white dress that covers her beautifully; she wants more, and more. Her parents are broken-hearted. Should they get a doctor? They’ll have to do so; what else can they do? She won’t stop; she doesn’t understand. She is perfect in this one dress. On her wedding day she wants something more than her wedding gown! We must be contented with the once and for all imputation of the righteousness of Christ. Nothing else is needed; nothing else is provided. God is contented with the righteousness of Christ, and so must be our hearts and our consciences.
Bold shall I stand in that great day,
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved from these I am,
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame. (von Zinzendorf, 1700-1760)
This is the foundation of the believer’s hope and comfort. Before we get up in the morning, we must say to ourselves, ‘I am a person whom God in his grace has justified.’ Remind yourself that you are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. When you confess your sins, rejoice that you confess them as a son to a Father and not as a condemned criminal to a judge. In other words, we are to preach the gospel to ourselves every day. If we do this, there will be at least three benefits.
i] First, the wonderful grace of Jesus is liberty to Christians who despair about their sins. We know what it’s like to groan because of many past follies against common sense, against good manners, against years of God’s faithfulness, against good preaching, against kind pastoring, against his love for us. But as we express our sadness to God – “I am so sorry Lord that I did that” – we discover how great is the grace of his forgiveness. We are pardoned and washed and clothed and justified and sanctified. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.
ii] Second, the wonderful grace of Jesus is the launch-pad for Christian discipleship. There is a temptation to assume that we need little spiritual pushes along the way to help us ascend to God, such as longer times of prayer, big special meetings, conferences away from home with dynamic speakers. These are true blessings, but they are not to replace the assurance of the free pardon of all our sin so that we know that God has no grudge against us at all, but has in grace imputed Christ’s own righteousness to us. We are always tempted to a legal spirit in the Christian life, dreaming that God would do more for us if only we did more for him, if only we could grovel lower, or carry a heavier cross that then he would bless us. Come now! Did we have to work and sweat and writhe and scream and starve to be justified? Did we have to do all of that before God dealt with our sin or clothed us with Christ’s righteousness? I thought it was by his grace he freely pardoned us and made us his child! Certainly works must follow his free grace; God has foreordained that our walk is one of good works all our days; that is true, but those works have been stimulated and motivated and energized by his wonderful grace. Our works are not the way of earning that grace. The grace of Jesus Christ must be with us always.
iii] Third, the wonderful grace of Jesus is the basis of Christian assurance. He knew all about me when I had been as bad as bad could be. He then freely forgave me, as he said to the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” He gave me a new heart – I did not choose one for myself. He clothed me with his righteousness – I did not get a pair of scissors and cut out Christ’s righteousness and make a garment for myself. The tailoring was all divine. I am what I am by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. How do I know that I am a Christian? It is through all that Jesus in grace has done for me by his life and death. It is never by my achievements; it is all his.
Do I believe this? Is this all my hope? Yes. My confidence that I will be allowed into heaven is through the grace of Jesus Christ. Everything I seek to do each day of my life is but my answer to his grace. Those things are not the basis of such hope. I am not going to heaven because I preach the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ I am going to heaven and I shall go there preaching his grace. His grace covers the past failures, it strengthens the present trials, and it assures me of a glorious future.
Harry Ironside was travelling on a train and during the journey a gypsy came down the passage way and offered to tell his fortune. Ironside replied by saying that his past, present and future were already written down in a book. He asked her if he could read it to her. He read from Ephesians chapter two, where verses one, two and three described his past, “Dead in trespasses and sins”, and verses four, five and six described his present, “by grace he had been saved through faith and that not of himself it was a gift of God”, and finally verse 7 his future “that in the coming ages God would show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to him in Christ Jesus.” That is my life in toto. No need of a fortune-teller to guess at what’s to come.
The more you understand the gospel, the more you realize that it’s all a work of the grace of the Lord Jesus from beginning to end. The more you understand the gospel you are convinced of that. Let me ask if there is someone here today who is thinking now or say saying to himself, “Oh! Not the ABC of the gospel again!” Men and women, the more you understand and repeat to yourself gospel truths – full forgiveness, the finished work of Christ, the robe of Christ’s righteousness – the more you’ll understand how deep a sinner you really are, and how sovereign a work grace really is from beginning to end.
As we worship God we’re glad of the presence of those others Christians who have helped us by their consistency and integrity and constant warm greetings to have kept us going. On a human level it is because of them that we are today still believing and still trusting in the Saviour. But we all know that there is a much deeper and higher and more glorious reason that we are all here. It is to be renewed again in the wonderful grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank God most of all for our Bridegroom but thank God too for the bride of Christ.
3 June 2007 GEOFF THOMAS