Wednesday 09 Nov
Scott reflects on partnership, diversity and unity in Romans 16.
I recently received a letter in the mail, a hand-written letter. It was sent to me by a long-time, faithful supporter of Baptist Mission Australia. It had been a while since I had received a letter like this. It’s usually emails, text messages and Zoom calls these days.
And the letter had a PS, a “post-script”. Suddenly my mind went back to my childhood days when I would write to my cousins. Each week I would send a handwritten letter to them and they would reply. In each letter we always had a PS. Like “PS: I love you and miss you.” It was a competition to see who could get the most PS’s into one letter.
In Romans 16 we have Paul’s PS in his letter to the church in Rome.
Romans is a lofty letter. It is rich in theological truths. It speaks about God’s character, love and grace, the impact of sin, the saving work of Jesus and the importance of faith. And as Paul gets to the end of his letter, it’s like he catches his breath, and adds his personal PS, as he celebrates and thanks his co-workers in the Gospel.
Over the past year I have been coming back to Romans 16 many times. It’s a passage that could easily be skipped as it seems to be primarily a long list of names, but it has much to offer us as followers of Jesus and church leaders.
What can we see in this passage.
First – in 16 verses of Scripture we read about 27 different people. Some names will be known to us, others only appear here, and we know little about the lives behind some of the names.
As I read this list, I am reminded of the privilege we all share in as followers of Jesus.
Here Paul reminds us that the mission of God is in the hands of ordinary people – people like me, people like you. We all have a unique purpose as we embrace God’s gracious invitation to join Him in mission.
As we dig a little deeper, we see that these 27 people represent diversity in the body of Christ. We read of women and men. Jews and Gentiles. Older and younger people. Some who will serve locally, some who will travel to distant places. Each have different gifts.
As I read this passage I am reminded of the importance of celebrating difference in the body, of valuing diversity, of respecting people who are not like me and seeing how God wants to use them, as well as me, for His Kingdom purpose.
I am also challenged as a white male leader of the importance of bringing diverse voices to the table. I have a role to play in ensuring that the voices of people often pushed to the margins are heard in the body.
As we keep digging, we see this passage celebrates partnership. Paul celebrates his co-workers in the Gospel. Here in Romans 16, we are reminded we are called into mission together. We need each other.
As a western mission agency, serving in a rapidly changing world, Baptist Mission Australia sees partnership as one of our most important strategic priorities as we look ahead. This commitment to partnership is aligned with a desire to embrace a stronger polycentric approach in how we embrace God’s missional invitation.
And take note of this. What is the first thing that Paul speaks about in Romans 16, following his celebration of his 27 ministry partners? We see in verse 17-18 that we are called to foster unity; to be on guard against disunity.
Disunity takes our eyes of Jesus. Disunity saps us of missional energy. Unity keeps Jesus front and centre. Unity fuels mission.
Unity fosters new and exciting collaborative initiatives.
And how does Paul finish his PS to the Romans. He comes back to what life and ministry is all about. “Now all glory to God” [v25] …. “All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever.”
Lesslie Newbigin writes that when we participate in mission our lives become “a doxology of praise” to God.
What a wonderful picture. As ordinary people, still being shaped into Christ-likeness by the Holy Spirit, we have the privilege of entering into our beautiful and broken world as the hands and feet of Jesus.
And as we do this, as we embrace God’s gracious invitation, as we celebrate diversity, cherish partnership and foster unity, our lives become a song of praise to God!
Grace and peace
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