Dan Popp
Hidden in plain sight
Romans: The most important book ever written
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By Dan Popp
July 17, 2011

The base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are. — 1 Cor. 1:27, NKJV

This will be our final meeting of the Romans Book Club. We're ready for goodbyes and closing credits beginning in Chapter 16, verse 20.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. [NASB]

That's Paul's customary benediction. Grace is seed of everything — "For God so loved...." And it's the last word, as the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (11:29) If God is for us, then what else can ultimately matter? (8:31ff) The gospel in a word is grace.

Here at the end of the letter, the Christians in Corinth (from where Paul was writing) add their various greetings. We see in verse 22 that Tertius took dictation. But one epilogue of praise and victory remains:

Now to Him who is able to establish you [strengthen you, set you firmly on your feet] according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ... [NASB, TCNT, Phi]

The power of the gospel (1:16) is not just for bringing people into the Kingdom; it is for establishing us there.

according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and at the command of the eternal God made known through the writing of the prophets to all the heathen to lead them to obedience and faith. [NASB, Gspd]

The freedom of the gospel was concealed in the constraint of the Law as a sacred secret [Rhm]. It was "hidden in plain sight." Whatever God has done for us through Christ, it has all been in agreement with, and ratified by, the Hebrew Bible. (1:2, 3:21)

This obedience of faith from all the nations is the mission of Jesus, the mission of His message-bearers (1:5), and the mission of the message. It is the "why" of all history.

to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen. [NIV] ...He alone is wisdom; give glory therefore to him through Jesus Christ for ever and ever. Amen. [Jerus] ...to God who alone is wise, through Jesus Christ, be glory for endless ages! Amen. [NEB]

Near the start of our walk together through this letter we said that Romans is about righteousness — or, as I have updated that religious-sounding word, rightness. But behind and above and underneath and through that truth, Romans is about the glory of God. God the Creator, God the perfect and just Judge, and especially God the Rescuer. One real day in the future, every knee shall bow...and every tongue give praise to God. (14:11) And His praise will ring out through eternity. So be it. Amen.

Thus ends Paul's letter to the Roman Christians. But I promised that we would go back and look at one thing we skipped. That is the opening of Chapter 16.

Now I introduce and commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae. [Amp]

There's controversy over whether the Greek word diakonos is meant to be her title, or whether it's used in its everyday sense. The ESV and many others translate it, servant. My impression is that the case for Phoebe being "the first deaconess" is based on ambiguity, not solid evidence. John Wesley disagreed. As with everything in this series, and everything anyone tells you about the Bible, investigate for yourself.

Even though I believe Phoebe was not ordained to a leadership position in the church, she was chosen for a tremendous honor. She's mentioned here because she is the courier of Paul's letter to Rome.

Now think about that for a second. The ink is barely dry on a document of incalculable worth to humanity, and Paul places it in the hands of a woman. In that culture, women were not exactly first-class citizens. Of course Christianity would eventually change that in the West, contrary to the myth that the religion of Jesus somehow oppresses the gentle sex. But Phoebe is a fascinating choice. Was this a way of keeping the letter safe? Maybe the enemies of the gospel wouldn't think to search a female for contraband communication from a former Pharisee. Perhaps the apostle was following the divine pattern of hiding things in plain sight.

Welcome her in the Lord, as holy people should, and give her any help she requires [Beck, Mof]

for she herself also hath been a helper of many, and of my mine own self. [ASV] ...a defender of many... [Rhm] ...a protector... [Gspd]


We do know this about Phoebe: She was the patron or protectress of Paul and others. The Greek word is prostatis. To lean on Vine's Expository Dictionary one more time, "Among the Jews it signified a wealthy patron of the community." Lady Phoebe was one of those rich and influential Christians who aren't supposed to exist, according to leftists. One of the "things which are not."

Sister Phoebe is an illustration of the truth that "we have these treasures in earthen vessels" (2 Cor. 4:7). Parallel to a certain hasty journey to Bethlehem, the word of God was once again entrusted to a faithful and competent woman. I'll bet she even rode a donkey.

To conclude:

Romans is indeed a book about rightness. Maybe one reason the world around us is getting more lost by the minute, and one reason the church seems so helpless, is that we don't understand what rightness is, why we need it, how to get it, or what it does in us once we do get it. That's why I think we need this letter now, especially.

The good news of Romans that shocks hearers to this very day is, as theologian Desmond Ford said, "The righteousness God requires is God's gift — if you'll take it."

That is what makes Christianity unlike any religion. Religion is man trying to make his way to God. The very good news, almost too good to be true, is that God has made the way. That way is His Son. And the thorough explanation of that gospel is what makes Romans the most important book ever written.

Thanks to any and all who have explored this powerful letter with me in the Romans Book Club.

And thanks, Phoebe.

© Dan Popp

 

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