If someone were to ask you what your ministry was, what would you say? Should this question be reserved for those who “go” or “surrender” into a fulltime ministry (you know…the professionals)?
In Romans 16 there are 35 individuals mentioned by name as Paul concludes this letter and says good-bye. Some of those mentioned are co-workers of Paul, and some are members of other congregations but most are members of the church at Rome.
For many of them, Paul identifies them as individuals who helped him in the work of ministry (including those who lived or worked in other parts of the Roman Empire). Some are labeled as “fellow workers” (v3), one as the first convert in Asia (v5), and some as fellow prisoners. Several are identified as beloved by Paul (vv 8, 9, 12) and others are singled out as hard workers (v6, 12). Some are simply identified as believers in the various households in Rome. One individual (Rufus v13) has the honor as being labeled as “a choice man in the Lord.”
Though they are many different individuals, together these believers are the body of Christ, as it existed in Rome. They are a reflection of Ephesians 4:16:
…even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
Here Paul compares the parts of a body to the individuals in the church. This verse in Ephesians 4 is a summary description of the people in Romans 16. While we really don’t know exactly what these individuals did to be singled out by Paul, we do know that all of them did something that aided the church and furthered the cause of Christ. So what was their ministry? They were all active in their faith.
As we look back at this list of people in Romans 16, we see that Phoebe was from Cenchrea, 26 people were from Rome, and the last 8 were in Corinth where Paul was writing this letter. Of those 8 in Corinth, several were associates of Paul who had home towns in other congregations across the Roman Empire.
I think it is important to see that when Paul uses the visual of the body in Ephesians 4, he is not just thinking about one local congregation, but of all believers. This is emphasized as he leads up to this verse in the beginning of chapter 4 and states that there is just one Lord, one faith and one baptism. If individuals in the church at Rome had served with Paul (who had never been to Rome), then it becomes evident that they served ministries in other cities. A good example of this would be Prisca (Priscilla) and Aquila, whom the writers in the New Testament trace as coming from Rome to Corinth, Corinth to Ephesus, and then evidently back to Rome. This couple functioned within the body of Christ wherever they were.
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:10-11
Practicing ministry in our lives means simply to employ the gifts and talents God has given us by serving one another. He says specifically here that we should serve as “one who is serving by the strength God supplies.” This is so that God gets the glory for what we do.
Paul writes to the church in Colossae with these words:
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. Colossians 3:17
And again to the church in Corinth:
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31
Serving the cause of Christ is not something that just takes place at church; it is something we do throughout the course of our life. Wherever we find ourselves, whatever we put our hands to, is our ministry. We have an opportunity to advance the cause of Christ by serving in the power of His name for His glory. We just need to do something that invests in the people around us. This is probably going to center around an area He has gifted us in, but not necessarily every time. God has a habit of stretching us by giving us opportunities to help in areas we don’t see as a strength in our lives.
The people mentioned by name in Romans 16 did something for the cause of Christ. It may not have been anything spectacular (only Prisca and Aquila get mentioned in the book of Acts), but it was their contribution to the body of Christ.