Women Paul wrote to in Rome
Nereus’ sister (Romans 16:15)
Paul’s list of greetings and commendations to the notable women leaders and workers in the Roman church was completed with Nereus’s siter. It was not at all unusual for a sister and a brother to keep house together, especially if neither had married, or one was married and the other moved in with them. Divorces were also easy to procure (and Paul, in another letter, dealt with the many divorces and remarriages happening among believers), and it was also fairly common to be widowed at least once in one’s lifetime. For a woman, returning to her brother would have been the safest, and most natural, move.
Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister (who may very well have had a feminine version of Nereus’ name, if both had been named after the paterfamilias) and Olympas all led a church together, as Paul sent greetings to them and “all the Lord’s people who are with [you].” Although it is unknown whether the church met in Philologus and Julia’s household, or Nereus and his sister’s household, one gets the sense it was a fairly large gathering.
For the first three centuries of the church, believers met almost exclusively in private homes. Certainly, this began as a necessity, since Christianity was not generally accepted by the Jews, or any other culture, or religion, and what money the church had was given to those in desperate need, not to the building of meeting halls.
Archaeological evidence of ordinary, humble homes remodeled to accommodate large meetings supports what the Bible describes of the early church,
- They devoted themselves
- To the apostles’ teaching
- To fellowship
- To the breaking of bread
- To prayer.
- Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.
2. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
3. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.
4. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.
A small, intimate setting fosters relationship, the kinds of connections that encourage and build up the faith, help us to stay accountable to what we believe. In a smaller setting, everyone is important, and everyone is noticed. If one person is missing from the gathering, everyone feels it, and misses that person. There is far more likelihood for real interaction between people—and a greater tendency to both care for each other and take care of each other.
Of course, there is also the greater risk of hurt, of friction and contention, of conflict and ruptures in relationship. However, this is the very fabric of real life. Without it, we are not giving everything we have—a full investment—into the people, and into the work. There is no compassion without need, no grace without the undeserving, no forgiveness without offence. The fruit of the Spirit are borne and developed in relationship.
Other aspects of church life take on more meaning in a small setting—church discipline takes on genuine significance, and has greater impact. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper actually becomes having a family meal together, as it originally was in the Passover Seders celebrated in all Jewish homes each year. Talking matters through, and achieving consensus becomes a much simpler affair, when a small gathering who has come to know each other well is able to talk frankly, in honesty and transparency, and be moved by each other in all humility and vulnerability.
The more affluent members of the church were the ones, initially, to open their homes to church gatherings—it only made sense that such people as Philemon and Lydia, and others would provide their own spacious atrium (often with a fountain and benches already there).
Priscila and Aquila were involved in the same lucrative tent-making business that kept Paul solvent, and opened their homes wherever they lived (both in Rome, and in Ephesus; though they also traveled with Paul, on occasion). Gaius was so wealthy he was able to amply support missionaries as well as house the large church in Corinth. It’s possible both Julia and her husband, and Nereus and his sister, provided commodious rooms for meeting in, on a rotating basis.
Building healthy, godly relationships in the body of Christ bears eternal fruit
Isn’t it encouraging to know that in the body of Christ social and cultural distinctions do not exist? Single men and women, married couples, slaves, nobility, Greeks, Persians the very wealthy, the young and the old, public officials as well Jewish kinsmen – all worked together as a family and all had an important part in God’s great work.
Paul knew so much about all these people he mentioned, and he took an interest in knowing them; he kept up with them. He took the time and effort to maintain relationships. This is Christ’s example. Paul balanced the quiet prayer time and study time he needed to teach God’s word, and he also involved himself in people’s lives.
Because we are made in the image of God, part of our original design was to mirror God's character to each other. God is love, and as He fills every believer with His life, His Spirit, and His love, we experience that warm affection for each other, recognizing Christ in other believers, loving each other as He loves us. Paul urged them all to greet each other with a holy kiss, reassuring them that all the churches in Christ sent them their love.
This was Paul’s warm affection in Christ for these people, and for the whole Roman Church. Kisses and hugs all around for his family. He wanted them to love each other as he already loved them.
All passages taken from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.