A Community of Leaders (Romans 16)Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
Chapter 16 of Romans belies many people’s common assumptions about the nature of Paul’s work—namely, that he was a solitary, heroic figure, enduring hardships to carry out his lonely and exalted calling to spread the gospel among the Gentiles. In Romans 16, however, Paul makes it clear that his work was a community effort. Paul mentions twenty-nine co-workers by name, plus many more by terms such as “the church in their house” and “the brothers and sisters who are with them.” Paul’s list sets equal value upon the work of both women and men, without distinct roles for either, and seems to include people of various social stations. Several are clearly wealthy, and some of those may be freedmen and freedwomen. Others may well be slaves. Paul praises the particular work of many, such as those who “risked their necks” (Rom. 16:3), “worked very hard” (Rom. 16:6), “were in prison with me” (Rom. 16:7), “worked hard in the Lord” (Rom. 16:12), or acted “as a mother to me” (Rom. 16:13). He mentions the work of Tertius “the writer [scribe] of this letter” (Rom. 16:22) and Erastus “the city treasurer” (Rom. 16:23).
Observing Paul within such a wide circle of co-workers undercuts the modern Western emphasis on individuality, especially in the workplace. Like everyone he names, Paul worked in community for the good of community. This final section of the letter lets us know that the gospel is everyone’s work. Not all are apostles. We are not all called to leave our jobs and travel around preaching. Paul’s list of the varied gifts of service in Romans 12:6–8 makes that clear. No matter what kind of work occupies our time, we are called to act as servants of the good news of God’s salvation for all people. (See “Work as Members of One Another,” in Romans 12:4–8.)
These greetings also remind us that church leaders are workers. It is sometimes tempting to see Paul’s work as somehow distinct from other kinds of work. But Paul’s repeated reference to the work of those he names reminds us that what is true of Paul’s ministry is true of all workplaces. Here, where we spend much of our time each week, is where we will either learn to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4)—or remain mired in the power of death. In our workplace relationships we are invited to seek the good of the other, according to the model of Christ. In the often mundane work of our minds and hearts and hands is where we are offered the chance to become channels of God’s grace for others.
In the final verses of Romans, it is apparent that no one’s work stands in isolation; it is interwoven with the work of others. Paul recognizes those who have gone before him, passing on their faith to him, those who have worked beside him, and those who have risked their lives for him and for their common work. This point of view calls each of us to look at the whole fabric of community that constitutes our places of work, to consider all the lives intertwined with ours, supporting and enhancing what we are able to do, all who give up something that they might want for themselves in order to benefit us and to benefit the work that goes beyond us into God’s world.