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“Servant Heroes”

Romans 16
Bob DeGray
July 18, 2004

Key Sentence

Servants who would be heroes have to shoulder the plain hard work.


I. Servants are helpers (Romans 16:1-2 and others)
II. Servants are fellow workers (Romans 16:3, 9,21 and others)
III. Servants are hard workers (Romans 16:6,12 and others)


        Who is the hero of the Lord of the Rings? Aragorn? Frodo? Gandalf?

        Consider this clip: (Frodo and Sam talking as they leave Osgiliath)

        Sam: I wonder if we’ll ever be put into songs and tales?

        Frodo: What?

        Sam: I wonder if people will ever say ‘let’s hear about Frodo and the ring!’ They’ll say ‘Yes, it’s one of my favorite stories - Frodo was really courageous, wasn’t he dad?’ ‘Yes, m’boy the most famousest of hobbits, and that’s saying a lot.

        Frodo: You’ve left out one of the chief characters, Samwise the Brave: ‘I want to hear more about Sam. Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam’

        Sam: Now Mr. Frodo, you shouldn’t make fun. I was being serious.

        Frodo: So was I

        Sam: ‘Samwise the Brave’

        Sam wasn’t the chief mover in the Lord of the Rings. He wasn’t the greatest fighter. He wasn’t the wisest or most knowledgeable. He was simply Frodo’s servant, committed heart and soul to stay with Frodo no matter where he went and no matter what happened. Yet both J. R. R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson allow him to be seen as a hero. Can servants be heros? Sure: it happens all the time in the institution we call the church. But for the most part those heroes aren’t celebrated: often they aren’t even recognized. We have a sad tendency to leave our unsung servant-heroes unsung. Fortunately Paul didn’t. When we read his letters we find that he depends on a community of servant-heroes for everything he accomplishes, and like Frodo he frequently as much as says ‘Paul wouldn’t have got very far without him, would he?’ So this morning we want to look at one of the great lists of Paul’s servant-heroes, the one found in Romans 16, and figure out what character qualities make a servant hero, and therefore what our character and behavior needs to look like as the servant-heroes of this generation. We’ll see that like Sam resetting his pack in that video clip, servants who would be heroes have to shoulder the plain hard work. But we’ll also see something of how Paul feels about these people, and therefore how we should feel toward the servant-heroes in our midst.

I. Servants are helpers (Romans 16:1-2 and others)

        We won’t look at every verse in Romans 16, but we’ll skip around in the chapter and pick out three character qualities of servant-heroes. Let’s begin with the first two verses, where we find that servant-heroes are people who help. Romans 16:1-2 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. 2I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.

        Like others in Romans 16, Phoebe is no where else mentioned in the New Testament. We learn everything we know about her here. We learn, for example, that she isn’t from the church in Rome, but is going to Rome from the church in Cenchrea. It’s likely she’s the one bringing the letter to Rome from Paul, who is writing from Corinth. Cenchrea was a seaport town about six miles away from Corinth, and Acts tells us Paul visited Cenchrea at the end of his ministry in Corinth on his second missionary journey, though this letter was written near the end of this third journey.

        We also learn that she was a servant of that church. Some would say that the word should be translated deacon or deaconess of the church in Cenchrea. That’s possible, but I don’t think it is necessary. The only place translators actually use ‘deacon’ is in the description of the office of deacon in 1 Timothy, and in association with elders in Philippians. All the other sixty or so uses of this root are translated servant or minister or as a verb, serve. And that includes descriptions of Timothy as a servant, Titus as a servant, Paul as a servant, others as servants and Jesus himself as a servant, and as one who did not come to be served but to serve. So unless the office of deacon is clearly in view, which it’s not here, the normal translation is preferred. She was a servant of that church: she may have had many official and important roles to play, but the verse doesn’t prove that she held an office called ‘deacon’.

        Does the lack of a title diminish her value, or her heroism? Certainly not. Paul affirms her in glowing terms. He asks the Romans to receive her in a worthy manner not because of her office as deacon but because of her character as a servant: ‘Give her any help she may need, for she has been a great help to many, including me.’ Her servant character is captured by the word helper - a great word. Two things about it: first, it’s from the same root as the word help in the same verse. You help her because she has so helped others. Paul expected the Romans to be servants to this servant of the Lord’s people. He expects them to practice this same character quality. Even more fun is the fact that the Greek word helper is prostatis, from which we get the English word prosthetic, the word used for an artificial leg, an artificial arm, an artificial tooth, or any artificial organ designed to replace some of the function of the original organ. In the same way Phoebe and all servants are helpers: they come alongside to provide something that another person cannot do for himself. In Phoebe’s case some of this may have been financial support, since the word is often used of someone who supports another person financially. But the more general application is to help of any kind.

        Shouldn’t we desire the same character quality? One of the great questions in the Christian life is the simple question ‘how can I help’? I’ve often said that husbands need to ask this question of their wives, and wives of their husbands. But it is also true in the church: unless there is some compelling ministry reason not too, you ought to walk into a room looking for ways to be a helper. Sadly, many people don’t have this mindset. I think, for example, of our local Free Church pastors, who come and have lunch here about once every six weeks. Back in the days before some of our ladies graciously took over the task, I used to prepare theses lunches for eight or twelve guys. And in many cases, as I was frantically multi-tasking the preparation, one or more would walk in, and simply stand and watch me as I worked. That’s not the way it should be. Servants need to develop this habit of saying ‘how can I help?’

II. Servants are fellow workers (Romans 16:3, 9,21 and others)

        The second thing we notice about servant-heroes is that they are fellow workers. Let’s read verses 3 and 4 3Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. 4They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. 5Greet also the church that meets at their house.

        Priscilla and Aquila were widely travel servants of Jesus Christ. Paul met them in Corinth, but they were from Rome, and had left due to persecution. Paul worked with them for awhile in Corinth, then traveled with them to Ephesus, where he left them for a time, and where they ministered to Apollos. Later, writing 1st Corinthians, Paul sent the Corinthians greetings from Priscilla and Aquila, and still later when he wrote to Timothy in Ephesus, he sent greetings to them. But here he sends them greetings in Rome, where they had apparently returned after the end of the Roman persecution. In fact many of the names in this list may be of people Paul met while they were temporarily exiled from Rome and who were now back in Rome.

        Paul calls Priscilla and Aquila his fellow workers in Christ Jesus. ‘Fellow workers’ is ‘sunergos’ in Greek. It literally means to expand energy together. It is descriptive of those who came alongside Paul and worked with him in ministry. In fact Priscilla and Aquila even risked their lives for Paul, probably while they were in Ephesus at the time of the great riot. And Paul recognizes that the service they offered was not just service to him but to all the churches, which isn’t a very great exaggeration considering how many places Priscilla and Aquila ministered. Now, according to Paul, these fellow workers are back in Rome and a church is meeting at their house.

        But Priscilla and Aquila aren’t the only fellow workers here. In verse nine Paul mentions Urbanus as a fellow worker. In verse 21 he describes Timothy the same way. Urbanus is mentioned only here, but we know Timothy helped in much of Paul’s ministry and he’s one of his closest and most trusted co-workers. In fact ‘fellow worker’ implies trust. Timothy was trusted with very significant missions, as when Paul sent him to the troubled church in Ephesus. In the same way Priscilla and Aquila carried great responsibilities: in Corinth, toward Apollos, and in Ephesus.

        So someone who is a servant isn’t merely an underling, completely subordinate in will and initiative to a tyrannical boss. Instead a servant is a fellow worker, someone who comes alongside and makes a significant contribution to ministry. To a very large extent that’s the kind of servants we need here at Trinity. We need folks who will see a need and be willing and able to take responsibility for meeting that need.

III. Servants are hard workers (Romans 16:6,12 and others)

        Let’s pick up a few more verses as we look for one more characteristic of servant-heroes. Verses 5 to 7: Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. 6Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. 7Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

        I want you to notice a couple of things here that are going to contribute to this whole picture of servant-heroes. First, Paul calls Epenetus his dear friend or his beloved. The Greek word is ‘agapetos’, those I love with an unconditional and God-imitating love. Paul appreciates his brothers and sisters in Christ, these servant-heroes he’s mentioning: we’re going to pick that up again at the end of the message. Notice second, Mary, who Paul says, worked very hard. Those who want to be servant-heroes have to embrace the plain hard work that is involved in serving Christ. This unknown woman, was one of several in this chapter who did.

        Before we look at them, however, notice the comments about Andronicus and Junias. Paul says they are his relatives, or better, kinsmen, and that they are outstanding among the apostles. There has been much debate as to whether this means that they outstanding apostles themselves, which would imply a female apostle, Junias, or simply well known to the apostles. A recent paper by Daniel Wallace, a New Testament professor at Dallas Seminary shows that a review of a vast database of Greek literature favors the second translation. This couple, probably husband and wife, were well known to the Apostles even before Paul became a convert. Like many here, they’ve been Christians a long time and have served faithfully - but they don’t hold the formal office of ‘Apostle’ as Peter and John and Paul do.

        So, back to the word ‘hard working’. This is a key characteristic of servant-heroes. The Greek word is ‘kopiaw’ and it means ‘to engage in hard work, implying difficulties and trouble; to be tired or weary, as the result of difficult endeavor’, so that we can translate Matthew: 11:28 ‘come to me all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads and I will give you rest.’ The word is used in Revelation of losing heart, being emotionally drained and discouraged. What an incredible word to use of Christians! Is Paul commending people for working to the point of exhaustion? Yes, I’m afraid he is. We don’t like to think of the Christian life this way. Those who work themselves to exhaustion are told over and over to slow down, to get some rest, to do less, to learn how to say no, to balance their lives. And this advice has merit: I’ve given it and received it and at times really needed to hear it.

        But ‘slow down’ is not the whole story. Paul looks around and sees those who are really working hard and commends them. In verse six he mentions Mary, who worked hard for them: she wasn’t in the limelight; she was helping them accomplish their goals. And she put energy into it above and beyond the call of duty. Then there is verse 12: “Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.” I don’t know what it means that Paul uses this description particularly for women. Maybe it was true in that day as it sometimes is now that the women are the hard workers in ministry. About “Tryphena and Tryphosa” Kent Hughes says: “they were probably twins, given names that go together, meaning ‘dainty’ and ‘delicate.’ Paul employs some playful irony here as he calls them women who work hard in the Lord.” Yes, they are dainty and delicate, but they labor to the point of exhaustion. Hughes says “dynamite comes in small packages.” Even here at Trinity some of the hardest work is done by some of the least likely workers. Of the final woman, Persis, Paul says not just that she worked hard, but that she worked very hard: she labored even more diligently then these others.

        So we’ve seen three characteristics of servant-heroes: they are helpers, they are fellow workers, and they are hard workers. Does this appeal to you? It might not. It doesn’t sound very glamorous, it doesn’t sound very easy, it plain doesn’t sound like very much fun. But of course, that’s true of almost every kind of heroism, not just servant heroism. The person who becomes a hero in wartime goes through danger, destruction, and hardship before he earns that title. And in many cases he loses his life and becomes a hero posthumously. The heroes of September 11th, the firemen and policemen lost their lives in a blazing catastrophe of destruction to save others. Now firemen and policemen are recognized as heroes because of their willingness to put their lives on the line day after day.

        So we shouldn’t expect heroism to be easy or even safe. We shouldn’t even expect to be rewarded for it, although we all hope for that ‘well done good and faithful servant’ that Christ promises. But before we close I want to glean one more thing from this list: Paul really appreciated those who served in the church. He had tremendous respect and love for these servant-heroes. And we ought to have the same kind of affection and appreciation for the servant-heroes among us. Think about how that would work: If I serve and you appreciate me, it will mean a lot to me, even if I am working for Christ’s well done. And if you’re a servant and I appreciate you that will mean a lot to you, and so we’ll both benefit from our servanthood. This is the golden rule: appreciate others as you’d like to be appreciated yourself.

        So does Paul appreciate servant-heroes? Yes. Let’s look very quickly at some the things he says about these people. We’ve already mentioned ‘beloved’. That’s probably the most common and maybe the most affirming feeling that Paul mentions. He says it of Epenetus, verse 5, Ampliatus, 8, Stachys, 9, and of Persis, verse 12.

        Now I’m not saying that Paul’s love is entirely based on the servant merit of these people: Paul loves in imitation of God, who loves us before we are servants and before we have merit. But I think he mentions his love of these people to affirm their service. He wants them to know he cares, to motivate them to further efforts on behalf of their brothers and sisters in Christ.

        And ‘beloved’ is not Paul’s only way of affirming people. There are many others in the chapter. Of Priscilla and Aquila he says plainly “Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.” These churches thank God for these people, and hopefully thank them as well. Of Apelles, he says that he is “tested and approved in Christ,” using the word from metalworking that describes refined gold and silver. The implication is that Apelles has been through the fire in his path of service, and has come out refined and valuable - a hero. Of Rufus he says that he is ‘chosen in the Lord’ which means that Paul sees the hand of God in the life of this man. Of his mother, Paul says that she has also ‘been a mother to me,’ implying that she stepped in at some moment of need and gave him a mother’s care. Paul had many episodes of stoning or whipping that would have given occasion to receive care - and he valued it. Then, toward the end of the letter he commends one more servant hero, Gaius, “whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy.” We saw last week that hospitality is one of the hallmarks of those who serve - a required kind of service, because the home is such a great place to do ministry. Gaius probably hosted a house church in his home. I was thrilled last week when a couple here at Trinity voiced a commitment to hosting and leading a small group in their home, a group emphasizing participation by younger married couples.

        So Paul has told us what it looks like to be servant-heroes, and he has modeled what it looks like to appreciate servant heros, and both sides of this need to be part of our personal application of these verses. First, servants who would be heroes have to shoulder the plain hard work. That’s our key sentence for the morning, and it’s the plain truth: there is hard work involved in serving and the person who becomes a hero in this area is the one who stands up and does his or her part without complaint and without bitterness whether anyone stands next to them or not.

        But, as brothers and sister in Christ, we also have an obligation, following Paul’s model to recognize and appreciate those who serve. And so, with some trepidation, because I know I’m going to have to leave many people out, I want to do that right now. I want to spend just a few minutes here walking through the ministries that happen in our body, and saying thank you by name to some of those who serve. I’m not even going to mention outside ministries, though I know many of you are involved in things like the food bank and the CPC and Hope for Youth. I also can’t know all the informal ministries that y’all do among each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. All I can do this morning is give partial coverage to some who serve in some of the formal ministries of the church. Forgive me if I miss yours.

        Let me start with the elders, who this year are David Emerson, Frank Kittle, and Earl Shinpaugh. We have always been blessed with a great group of godly men serving in this position of responsibility, and I can’t say enough about your counsel and help as we have walked through both the difficult crises and the mundane day-to-dayness of shepherding the church. And of course the same thanks go to those have served as elders: Gary Kingry and Rich Boyd and others. And it’s a great blessing to be able to thank Mike Bauer, even though he’s not here today, for the work he is already doing in his position as associate pastor. It’s going great.

        But most of the servant-heroes in our church don’t have the visibility of these people, the leaders of this church would be useless without the co-workers and helpers that God has given, and without the hard work that they do. In Sunday School last year we had great teachers: Steve and Martha Sides, Doug Rask, David and Kim Balkum, Ruth and Bethany DeGray, Jaime and Alice Purcell, Lee Norbraten, Don and Pam Sederdahl, and others. This summer many families are teaching in Age Integrated Sunday School. Thank you for serving. There are, by the way one or two servants still needed for Sunday School in the fall.

        Junior Church - This is a big list, and I know not everybody is on it who should be, but this is sacrificial service, because you miss worship. Bill Atkins does the older kids almost every week, and Joanna Rask does some of the younger kids, and they’ve been helped by Lindsay Whittington, Jonathan Oliver, Patty and Alison Boyd, Laura McCree, Ariel McCree, Seth Purcell, Michelle and Jessica and Amy Murray, Hannah DeGray, Karla & Mark Bauer, Abby Kittle, Joseph Ingram, Sarah Walliser, Laurianne Balkum, Rita Balciunas, Novella Denney, Ruth Mohn, Sue Walliser. And if you can hear me over in the nursery, we appreciate your work.

        Awana - Whether you are a leader laboring together with other leaders, or a helper enabling the ministry to thrive, Awana is a lot of work. So thanks is due to Patty Boyd, Sue Walliser, Kim Thompson, Jenny Jackson, Gail DeGray, Betty Murray, Kathie McCree, Suzanne Topness, Stephanie Homan, Karla Bauer, Rita Balciunas Steve Sides, Martha Sides, Bill Atkins, Judy Atkins, Gary Norbraten, Kendall Norman, Sarah Walliser, Debbie Emerson, Joanna Rask, Angie Norman, Barbara Ingram, Jessica Murray, Cheryl Kittle, David Emerson, Scott Murray, Doug Rask, Jonathan Kittle, Mark Kubena, Mark Bauer, Jaime Purcell, Pat Oliver, Michelle Murray, Ted Trela, Jim Berreth, Hannah Jackson, Steven Yowell, Terry Winkler, Jim Walliser and others.

        In L.I.F.E. the main adult leadership has come from David Jackson and Frank Kittle, but a number of parents hang out to help, including Cheryl Kittle, Ted Trela, Steve and Martha Sides, Alice Purcell, Joanna Rask and others. One of the things that has come out of our youth discussions this summer is the affirmation of how important it is for adults to come alongside our Junior High and High School kids.

        Sunday Morning Ministries. Some people serve from up front by leading us in worship. Jonathan Kittle does most of the behind-the-scenes work for this, but those on the worship teams are critical to Sunday morning, including Tony Weiss, Stephen Rask, Pat Oliver, Rob Nebeker, Lindsay Whittington, Pam Sederdahl, Lauren Whittington, Abby Kittle, David Jackson, Hannah Jackson, Cheryl Kingry, Cheryl Kittle, Debbie Emerson, Sue Walliser and the other pianists. Then at the back of the room you have Frank Kittle in the sound booth, and my daughter Abbie running the Powerpoint, helped from time to time by others such as Kyndall Norman and Laura Walliser. And, of course, a whole bunch of people sing in the choir.

        And I can’t leave out the Women’s Ministry Board, which has made women’s a model for others. The board includes Cheryl Kingry, Cheryl Kittle, Helen Shinpaugh, Darra Murray, Susan Jackson and Gail DeGray plus a host of people who work on the Women’s Retreat. Similarly the men’s ministry team is deeply involved in serving to disciple men, and includes Rich Boyd, Lee Norbraten, Mark Bauer, Larry Walters, Don Sederdahl, Ted Trela, and a lot of helpers. They are even now working hard to structure this year’s men’s retreat in such a way that it is as good as the women’s retreat, but taking into account the nature and needs of men.

        Well, I could go on, but it’s and impossible task. If I’ve left you out, I apologize. And if you want to be a servant hero, whether you’re presently serving or not yet serving, I encourage you to develop these characteristics of being a helper, a fellow worker who can be trusted, and a hard worker. Because servants who want to be heroes have to shoulder the plain hard work. May God grant us grace to do so.