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