Famous, But Unknown

The final chapter of the book of Romans is often ignored because it contains the names of people we know little about – and many of them are hard to pronounce. After all the deep doctrinal explanations of the previous 15 chapters, the 16th seems out of place. But a 5-minute read of its 27 verses reveals it to be a well-chosen way to end the book.

Just like Hebrews 11 and its “Hall of fame” (as we often call it) illustrates the heroics of great people of the past who had strong faith, Romans 16 flashes the names of 35 who exemplify all that Paul has said in his book. Most of them lived in Rome and its suburbs, and they all served their Lord in admirable ways. But most of them are unknown to us.

While we are familiar with Priscilla and Aquilla and Timothy, and perhaps some basic information about Phoebe the female church servant, the rest are pretty well obscure. Besides Phoebe, several other women are named, such as Mary “who has worked hard for you” (the church in the city); and Julia, who with several others likely hosted a smaller congregation somewhere in the capitol. Someone named Apelles is described as “approved in Christ,” and Persis “the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord.” Gaius – probably living in Greece – was so helpful with hospitality that Paul describes him as “host to the whole church.” A cluster of five names, including Hermes and Hermas, also seem to be hosting a congregation. That’s at least four churches in the capitol besides the larger one Paul was writing to. To Paul these people were all famous in the Lord, but to us they are unknown.

Why did the Holy Spirit choose to include these names as the book of Romans comes to a close? They not only display people of faith living in a tough city, but they also provide us with examples of people who found ways to serve their Lord in their own setting.

But there’s one more lesson to learn from them. It doesn’t matter if you are well-known or obscure, wealthy or poor, well-connected or not, your service for Jesus and His church counts a lot to Him. Fifty years from now we will all probably be forgotten, but our Lord will not forget.

Like the obscure people of Romans 16, you may be unknown to many, but God knows your name.

– Tim Johnson 

A Refuge

A most interesting feature of the Old Testament justice system was the cities of refuge. From Joshua 20, we find that there were six of them scattered evenly across the country on both sides of the Jordan river. If someone committed manslaughter unintentionally, he could run to one of these cities to escape pursuers. The elders would give him protection and allow him inside, at least until a proper trial could take place.

The New Testament makes a connection with these refuge cities by pointing out that Christians have “fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us.” (Hebrews 6:18) Our sins have been forgiven in Christ and we find shelter from condemnation in Him.

In a way, the church is also to be a refuge for people in our hardnosed, wearisome, often cruel society. When disillusioned people visit us, they ought to feel a sense of security and relief just to be among us. Our message should give hope, our singing encouragement, and our prayers a sense of calm in the presence of God. But it’s the way we treat each other that reveals the marvelous difference between the church and the world. Notice these points made in Romans 12:

  • We who are many are one body in Christ (v5).
  • Let love be without hypocrisy (v9).
  • Be devoted to one another in brotherly love (v10).
  • Give preference to one another in honour (v10).
  • Contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality (v13).
  • Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (v15).
  • Be of the same mind toward one another…associate with the lowly (v16).
  • If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men (v18).

If we practice these principles, we will indeed be like a refuge in our community. Remember, Paul wrote these words to the church in Rome, a city of violence, greed, slavery, and human suffering. In the middle of all that, the church stood out as something full of grace, hope and love. Let’s do the same in our city.

– Tim Johnson


With several national elections behind us in North America, and more to come in the next few years, we are used to candidates making big promises that somehow fail to materialize. It is easy to make a promise and easier to forget about it. Theodore Parker, a notorious liberal American preacher of the mid-19th century said, “Magnificent promises are always to be suspected.” He eventually rejected the Bible’s claims, and therefore the promises of God.

While some question God, His promises in the Scriptures are based on His integrity and rock-solid track record. The New Testament writers call our attention to God’s inability to lie. In writing to Titus, Paul said he lived “in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago.” (Titus 1:2) The Hebrew writer pointed out how trustworthy God’s promises are by saying, “He…interposed with an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us.” (Heb.6:17-18) Our utterly honest God promised us salvation by swearing an oath upon Himself – and there is nothing higher than Himself. Abraham was made righteous through his belief in what God promised. “Yet with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong, giving glory to God.” (Rom.4:20) He stands as an example of faith that saves.

If God possesses such great integrity in the way He treats us, we must consider what kind of lives we are to live in this world. Our word should stand. Our promises should be completed. Our character should be trustworthy. In our family life our children need to feel secure in what we promise them, for broken promises hurt the innocent. Your marriage partner needs to feel you are always true, for you promised to be faithful to them alone. The church depends upon people who serve with faithfulness and dependability. Your boss needs to trust the way you work.

God’s promises are solid. Make sure yours are too.

– Tim Johnson

A Leaky Roof

Have you ever had one of those months when the house plumbing needs repairs, the wash machine breaks down, the furnace fails to start, and the car decides it doesn’t want to be left out of the break down game? With all that going on, you wonder if you should open your eyes the next morning lest something else is broken!

We spend a huge amount of money each year to maintain the things we own. CBC news reported that Canadians spent $80 billion renovating their homes in 2019. CAA says on average we spend at least $1000 a year on car repairs – and that’s just on fairly new vehicles.

We hate to spend that kind of money just to maintain things, but if we don’t, we soon find that our possessions deteriorate quickly. The classic example is the leaky roof that doesn’t get fixed. Water soon drips down through ceilings and walls, causing an awful mess in the rest of the house. A neighbour of mine ignored a leak like that and soon discovered rotten beams in his attic and a huge repair project.

Some people neglect their spiritual lives just like they do a leaky roof. Remember the old saying, “Seven days without prayer makes one weak?” Let that remind us that it takes work to stay strong in the Lord. Failing to pray weakens your relationship with God.  Failing to read and study the word of God makes us forget what He’s done for us. Neglecting fellowship makes us vulnerable to sin and keeps us out of the loop. Low maintenance means weak souls. But we can turn all of that around and gain great relationships, strength inside, fortification from God, and ability to help others wisely.

Peter put it this way, “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.” (2 Pet.1:10) 

Got a leaky spiritual roof? Plug up the holes and enjoy a strong spiritual life.

– Tim Johnson

Woman In The Crowd

Nothing discourages us more than to be neglected and ignored. Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell the story of a woman in a crowd when Jesus came to town (See Luke 8:40-56). Jesus was having a terribly busy day. He had just returned from his dramatic healing of the demon-infested man of the Gerasenes and was promptly mobbed by a demanding crowd. The synagogue official, Jairus, soon captured His attention over his dying 12-year-old child, and Jesus began pushing his way through the crowd to visit the man’s home. Unknown to the Lord was the suffering woman behind Him. Her illness had hurt her for 12 years, seemingly incurable by the doctors she had paid a lot of money. And here she was, hoping Jesus could help her. Could she present herself to Him in such a huge crowd? Could she get his attention before he left with Jairus? She decided to take a big chance and go up behind Him to touch His cloak. Immediately she was healed.

Sensing what happened, Jesus turned and spoke to her. She fearfully confessed what she had done and told her painful story before everyone. Jesus kindly declared, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” She had felt alone, but she really wasn’t. God was concerned about her; she had faith, and Jesus was willing to help.

Many people feel alone and don’t know what to do about it. Sometimes people have actually felt alone in the assemblies of the church. As we all know, it’s our responsibility to reach out to them kindly. It’s always easy to talk to our own family and friends and neglect other people. We can learn from Jesus: He was busy with others, but he made sure He looked after the woman too.

If you feel neglected and alone, it’s also your responsibility to change things. The woman didn’t just allow self-pity to hold her back; she determined to reach out to the Lord in faith; she was rewarded. God never neglects us, but you must also reach out to other people. They may not know you feel ignored. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” Try it; you might be surprised with the results.

Nobody really knows the name of the woman in Luke 8, but history has given her one: Veronica. Legend says she later rushed out of the crowd in Jerusalem and offered Jesus a cloth to clean his bleeding face as He carried the cross. Of course, this is just a legend, but the actual Biblical story has motivated many people to find relief for their own troubles, including neglect.

Nobody needs to feel alone when they are a member of Christ’s church. Now you know what to do about it.

– Tim Johnson