Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

#38 – One in Christ

(Romans 16)

It was Paul’s purpose in the closing of his letter to the Roman Church that he might impart to them some spiritual gift or truth that they might be established in Christ.  You will notice that he gives a benediction at the end of this letter.  In Romans 16:25, Paul repeats the same concern.  He says:

Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past,....

We have spent 38 studies on this book now.  That may seem a long time to some of you.  The famous preacher Martin Lloyd Jones spent five years preaching on the book of Romans every Sunday.  My purpose in spending so long on this book it twofold.  Firstly, I want you to be established in Christ.  I want your faith to become so strong that nothing can shake you.  And there is nothing like the book of Romans to do that, if you really understand the book.  But there is another reason that I covered this book, and that is, I am hoping that a clearer understanding of the gospel, a clearer understanding of Christ Our Righteousness will so excite you that you will want to share this wonderful truth, this everlasting gospel, with others.  It is my prayer that both these objectives will be reached:  that you will be rejoicing in Christ on the one hand and that you will be witnessing about Him on the other.

Our study today is Romans 16, the last chapter of this book.  I don’t know how many of you have read this chapter, but those of you who have read it may turn around to me and say, “Is there anything we can learn from this chapter? After all, it’s full of greetings.”  Well, nothing has been recorded in Scripture simply to fill space.  There is a purpose.  What I would like to do is to look at the whole chapter as a unit and then turn to one specific area which I believe is significant in this chapter.

We can divide this chapter into four parts.  The first part is verses 1-16, where Paul greets 26 people by name and then two others for whom he mentions no name but he greets them.  Now what does this tell us?  What does this big section of Romans 16, 16 verses tell us? It tells me something that really makes me rejoice.  It tells me that wherever Paul went and preached the gospel, there were loyal supporters.  There were men and women who were saying good-bye to Paul and some of these were willing to die with Paul.  I thank God for men and women who stand by the truth.  But, unfortunately, not everyone stood by Paul.  For when I go to the next section, verses 17 to 20, I notice that Paul is warning the believers in Rome to be careful.  Let’s read it.  Romans 16:17:

I urge you, braothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaaching you have learned.  Keep away from them.

He’s talking here about false teachers, men and women who were dogging his steps and who were always trying to split the church over theological issues.  Then, in verse 18, he says:

For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites [that is, their own interests].  By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.

In other words, Paul is saying that, “I thank God that you have obeyed the gospel.”  Romans 16:19-20:

Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.  The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

Unfortunately, the problem hasn’t stopped with Paul.  We still have people today who like to divide the church, who would like to split the church over theological issues.  Please notice what Paul says:  “It is a contradiction of the gospel.”  I will have to say more about this as we go along.  Paul says that these people are contrary to Christ because Christ’s greatest concern for the church is that we are united.

Let us turn to one of the last prayers that Jesus ever prayed publicly, in John 17.  He has come now to the end of His earthly mission and He unburdens Himself to His Father.  In verses 20 to 22 I read these words, recorded for our benefit.  This is Christ praying to the Father concerning all believers.  John 17:20-22:

My prayer is not for them alone [that is, for the disciples].  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message [and that includes you and me], that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one....

As long as we have division, we are not witnessing the truth.  God wants us to be one.  That is one of the greatest evidences of the gospel.  John 17:22-23:

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:  I in them and you in me.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

The word “glory” refers to God’s self-emptying agape love.  The love of God must unite us, folks, and this unity must be the witnessing of the gospel.

Let’s go back to Romans.  After warning them about these false teachers, which in Paul’s days were the Judaizers, he turns to greeting the Roman Christians from his fellow workers.  That’s verses 21 to 24.  He talks about Timothy, “my fellow worker,” and other men.  Tertius, in verse 22, was the secretary who wrote this epistle.  Paul dictated his letters.  The only part of the book of Romans that he actually wrote with his own hand was the benediction.  The rest was dictated to Tertius, so he is the one who wrote the letter, but it was Paul’s words that he wrote.

So we have these nine faithful co-laborers with Paul.  So, on one hand, we had supporters who supported Paul and, on the other hand, we had co-laborers.  This work will not be finished until the lay members join hands with the ministers to preach the gospel.  It is my prayer that we will no longer be seat warmers but we will go out and witness the gospel to our neighbors and to those around us.  We will join hands in preaching the everlasting gospel.

Then, of course, verses 25 to 27 is the longest benediction that Paul ever wrote in the New Testament.  He begins with his great concern that the believers in Rome should be established in the gospel and in Jesus Christ.  And that is my prayer for you.  Then he gives all the glory to God.  I must say a word about the benediction because he goes on to say:

Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed...

What was this mystery that was kept secret and now is made known?  What is Paul talking about?  Well, if you read the next sentence, it comes out:

...and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him — to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ!  Amen.

What is this mystery?  The mystery is that the plan of salvation was not reserved only for the Jews but for all nations.  The gospel is to go to all people of all classes and of all nations.  Every tribe, nation, and creed must hear the gospel and that commission God has given us.

God has raised the Advent Movement to present to the world the matchless charms of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The reason why He hasn’t come is not because He has delayed His coming or has failed to keep His promise, but because we have failed to send this message to the world.  Please remember, Paul is saying this gospel is not limited to the Jews.  It is for all nations, for all people.  God wants all men and women to accept this gospel through a heart obedience to the truth as it in Christ.

As I read this chapter, there were two phrases that had the same meaning that kept hitting me in the face, two phrases that had been repeated time and time again in this chapter.  Those phrases are:  “in the Lord” and “in Christ.”

Let’s start with Romans 16:1:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea.

The first person he sends greetings to is Phoebe, who is a servant of the church.  Look at verse two.  What does he say to the church at Rome?

I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.

“Receive her in the Lord.”  Now what did Paul mean?  What did Paul mean when he said when he says in verse three:

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus.

“My fellow workers in Christ Jesus.”  And so he repeats this.  In verse seven you have:

Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me.  They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

“They were in Christ before I was.”  In verse eight, you have “in the Lord.”  In verse nine, you have “workers in Christ.”  In verse ten, you have “in Christ.”  And so on.  He is repeating these phrases “in the Lord” and “in Christ.”  For every person he mentions, he mentions this phrase.  What did he mean by that?

Let’s look at the first one and that will give us the clue to all the rest.  He says to the church at Rome, “Please receive Phoebe in the Lord.”  Each one of us has a dual identity.  First is what we are in ourselves.  We may be poor, we may be uneducated, we may be educated, or we may be rich.  We may all have different identities personally, but Paul is not asking the church at Rome to accept her as she is in herself.  He’s asking them to accept her as she is in Christ.  In other words, “I want you to receive Phoebe as if she is Christ.”  You will notice that this is the clear teaching of the New Testament.

Here are two examples.  There is a chapter in the book of Matthew where Jesus divides the human race into two camps, the sheep and the goats.  Matthew 25:31-36:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Notice what He says to the sheep:  “Come and inherit the kingdom of My Father which was prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  I was hungry and you fed me.  I was naked and you clothed me.  I was in prison and you visited me.”  He did not say, “My followers were hungry and you fed them.”  He said, “I was hungry and you fed me.  I was naked and you clothed me.”  Christ has identified Himself with every human being.

And when the believers said to Jesus, “But when did we do these things to you?” he replied [Matthew 25:40]:

I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

Christ became one with us when He came to this world.  One of His names was Immanuel, which means “God with us.”  In Hebrews 2:11 we are told that:

Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family.  So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.

He has identified Himself with the human race and so, when you mistreat any human being, you are mistreating Christ.  If you reject any believer in the church, you are rejecting Christ.  We covered this in chapters 14 and 15.  If God has received you, who am I to reject you?

Here is another example.  Paul was persecuting the church.  You are familiar with that fact and know that it was before he was converted.  He was a man of whom the Christian church was afraid.  With all authority from the Jewish leaders, he was going to Damascus to persecute the Christians in Damascus and Christ met him on the road.  Do you remember what Christ said to him?  Acts 9:4:

He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Not the church, but “why do you persecute me?”  Every time you say anything negative about a fellow believer, please remember, you are saying it against Christ.  This is the whole emphasis of Paul.  Paul is saying, “Please, I want you to greet this people, I want you to accept them.”  Why?  Because we are all one in Christ.  That is the key emphasis of chapter 16.

It has been recognized by many Bible scholars today that the “in Christ” motif is the central theme of Paul’s theology.  As I bring this book to an end, I want to emphasize this in our closing study because we need to realize that, even though we are many individuals in this church, we are only one, one body.

First, I want to remind you what Paul has already taught you in chapter six of Romans, verse three.  What Paul is doing is summing up everything that he taught.  I am simply going to remind you.  Chapter six of Romans verse three.  The first thing that every believer must recognize is this:  when you were baptized you were not baptized into a denomination, you were baptized into Christ.  Romans 6:3:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

“Do you not know (says Paul to the believers) that all of us who were baptized into” what?  Not the Seventh-day Adventist Church but “into Christ Jesus.”  This is a key teaching of Paul.  If you look at Galatians 3:27, He says the same thing:

...For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Now, if that is true, if all of us have been baptized into Christ, the next thing that comes up to us is that we are all one body.  And if we are one body, then we are members of each other.  Turn to chapter 12 of Romans, verse five.  This is what Paul brings out in the ethical section of Romans:

...So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

So we, being many, are one body in Christ.  We may not be one body in this town.  We may not be one body in this nation, but in Christ we are one body.  And because we are one body in Christ, we are individually members of one another.  I would like to add to this 1 Corinthians 12:12-13.  There Paul is saying the same thing.  He puts it in very clear words so we will read it:

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.  So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

This wonderful truth so gripped the early Christian Church that they would meet together.  Please remember, if you think we have class distinctions today, you should have lived in the days of Paul and of Christ.  The gap between the haves and have-nots, the gap between the social classes, was far greater in the days of the early Christians than it is today.  We are living in a capitalistic society.  The early Christians were living in a slave society.  Forty to 60 percent of the population of the Roman Empire were slaves.  The rest were masters.  Between the two was a wide, wide canyon.  They never met together socially.

Then there was another division, a very big division, and that was between the Jews and Gentiles.  These believers — Jews and Gentiles, slaves and masters — met together in a home.  They worshipped together.  They ate together and they called it the “agape feast,” the “feast of love” that brings men and women together, all classes and all distinctions together.  You have the educated and you have the slaves, eating together at the same table.  So that even the enemies of the gospel, historians like Cicero and Celsus, had to confess, “These Christians know how to love each other.”  That is what it means to be one in Christ.

Now how can we make this practical?  How can the body of Christ be one?  How can we be united?  You will discover that, in the New Testament, Romans 12 brings this out and also Ephesians chapters four and five and also 1 Corinthians 12.  Paul will use the human body as an example, as a metaphor for how the church should function.  Now we have a wonderful human body in the sense that your body and my body are perfectly united with itself.  I have never, in all my years had the problem where my hands and my legs fought against each other.  Never!  And I’m sure you have the same experience.  Why is it that our human bodies are perfectly united and perfectly coordinated?  Why?  Two reasons.  There are other reasons, but two main reasons:

  1. In my body, there is only one boss:  my mind.  The rest of my body — my arms, my ears, my eyes, my legs, my stomach — are slaves to the mind.  What the mind says, the body does.  No question.  If my mind says to the hands, “Wash the feet,” my hands don’t say, “Why should I wash those ugly feet?”  No questions.

    For the church to experience the same unity, you and I must become slaves of Jesus Christ because the church is the body and Christ is the head.  If all of us were slaves to Christ, we would solve a lot of problems.  One of the key terms used in the New Testament for Christ is “Kurios,” which is the Greek word for Lord.  It is much stronger than the English word “Lord.”  It means that Christ is not only the Saviour of the church, but He is its Lord.  He is our Lord and Master.  He wants every believer to live in total subjection to Him.  That’s why, in many of Paul’s epistles, he introduces himself as a slave of Jesus Christ.  This is what Jesus prayed for.  He said, “Father, just like I am united to You, totally dependent on You, living in total subjection to You, I want My believers to live in total subjection to Me.”

    There will be times when you will not agree with the will of God.  What do you do then?  What does a slave do when his master says not to do this?  He may mutter under his breath, but he’d better do it.  The humanity of Christ did not want to go to the cross.  Three times He prayed [Matthew 26:39-44, Mark 14:35-41], “Father, if it is possible, remove the cup.”  But Jesus was a slave of God, so He said,

    Yet not as I will, but as you will.

    Turn to Ephesians chapter four.  This is God’s desire for this church and I pray that it will become a reality.  Ephesians 4:1-6:

    As a prisoner for the Lord [“the Kurios”], then, I urge you [beseech you, plead with you] to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

    What is Paul saying here?  There is only one Saviour and only one Lord in the church and if we were all subject to that one God instead of dividing ourselves — one for this man and one for the other man, like the Corinthians were doing — we will never be able to reveal the power of the gospel.

  2. But there is a second requirement, a second principle of the human body.  That is the reason why the human body is in perfect unity, perfect coordination:  there is a living connection between the human body and the mind.  My hands, my legs, my eyes, my ears have a living connection to the mind through the nerves, so that there is a constant communication between the two.

    When I hurt my toe, the toe sends a message to the head, “I’m hurting, I kicked a stone.”  The head sends a message to the hand, “The toe needs help.  Go to its aid.”  That is how the body works.  If you and I keep a living connection with Christ, besides being slaves to Him, then, when a person is hurting, Christ will come to another member and say, “Look, that person is hurting, go and visit him.  Help that person.”  The church would then be working in unity and love.

Now there is one difference.  My hands, my legs, my eyes do not have the power of choice.  They are simply automatic slaves to my head.  But believers, the body of Christ made up of believers who do have their own minds, have the power of choice and it is possible for Christians to disagree with the Lord.  It is possible for Christians to disagree with each other and that’s the problem.

So I realize that it was true in the New Testament and it was true through the history of the Christian Church and it is true now.  It is impossible for all of us to see eye-to-eye on everything.  It’s impossible.  We will disagree.  What do we do with a disagreement?  Do we knock each other down?  I have a little quotation for you.  By the way, this quotation is reproduced in the Sixth [SDA] Bible Commentary, page 1083.  But I want you to read with me the first five or six lines:

“The strength of God’s people lies in their union with Him through His only begotten Son and their union with one another.”

The strength of this church is based on two things:  our unity with Christ and our union with one another.  This is a fundamental truth of the New Testament.  This is one of the great truths of the “In Christ” motif.  We are all one in Christ, therefore, we are all members of each other.  Now listen to the next statement:

“There are no two leaves of a tree precisely alike, neither do all minds run in the same direction, but while this is so, there may be unity in diversity.”

That is why, when people in the church try to divide the church over theology, I know for a fact that they are not studying Jesus Christ.  We may disagree.  What do we do?  If we go to Matthew 18:15, it gives us some counsel:

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.

If you disagree with your pastor, please come and see him.  Please don’t tell others that, “My pastor won’t see me.”  That’s a lie.  I have never refused to see anybody.  I have never refused to discuss theology or Bible with anybody.  That’s my calling.  I love to discuss Bible.  In fact, I have spent much time discussing the Bible; unfortunately, most of the people involved were not members of my church.  If I am going to give time to nonmembers, I am more than willing to give time to my own flock.  Just come and see me.  We may not agree in everything, but I know one thing:  I will respect you for where you stand and please respect me.

Yes, we must be united in fundamentals and, by fundamentals, I mean the 27 beliefs that are in our church manual.  I have no problem there.  When it comes to nonfundamentals, we need to learn to respect each other.  It isn’t that some believe in the Bible and some don’t, or some believe in the Spirit of Prophecy and some don’t.  That’s not the issue.  The issue is that we may not agree in interpretation of Scripture or of Spirit of Prophecy and that’s because I don’t interpret the same way as you.  You can’t accuse me of not believing.  That’s not being fair.  That’s judging.  We need to realize that we need not see eye-to-eye in everything, but we need to learn to respect each other.  We will never grow in Christ as long as we are fighting like cats and dogs.

Our church today — I’m talking of the denomination — is polarizing over theology.  We will not solve the problem by talking about each other.  I mentioned an illustration in the past and will mention it again.  In 1980, the Pentecostal Church of Addis Ababa [Ethiopia] of 800 members asked me to take a week of prayer in their church.  That is something of a miracle for a Pentecostal Church to ask a Seventh-day Adventist preacher whom they accuse of being “Old Covenant” to preach in their church.

I took the week of prayer and gave them a series of studies on the gospel.  The pastor came to me just before the end of the week of prayer and he said, “We would like you to preach on the Sabbath because my members are confused as to what Adventists teach on the Sabbath.  Most of us believe that you are keeping the Sabbath legalistically, but, from what you have preached to us, you have given us clearly the impression that Adventists believe in the gospel.  So could you please give us a study on the Sabbath and relate it to the gospel you have preached here?”

I said, “Surely, I’ll be more than happy to do that.”  I gave them a study on the Sabbath as the seal of righteousness by faith.  Do you know what the church board did?  They met together and the pastor said, “What shall we do with this?”  And the board took an action.  The action was that, “From now on, we shall keep the Sabbath.”  They changed the name of their church.  They called their church the Seventh-day Pentecostal Church.

Well, I came under fire from my own brethren.  The fire was, “Why did you allow them to do that?  Why didn’t you bring them to our church?  Can you imagine?  Our membership would have increased by 800!”  I kept quiet.  I didn’t know how to explain it to them.  I knew what the problem was.  But three months later, the pastor of the Pentecostal Church, now the Seventh-day Pentecostal Church, came to hear me preach in our own Adventist Church and, when the service was over, I introduced him to the Sabbath School Secretary of our Union.  The Sabbath School secretary said to this Pentecostal pastor, “I hear that you people have changed your name to ‘Seventh-day Pentecostal Church.”

The pastor replied, “Yes, that is right.  You can blame this man,” and he pointed to me.

Then the Sabbath School secretary said to him, “Why did you change your name?  Wouldn’t it have been better for you to join our church?”

The pastor didn’t know what to say.  In fact, he was embarrassed.  I said to the Pentecostal pastor, “Go ahead, tell him.  They need to know.”

“Well,” he said, “we came and looked at your church.  We discovered two things.  Number one, your church is dead.  There’s no life in it.  Number two, when you Adventists learn to love each other, we’ll join your church.”

Now that was a slap in the face, but what he said was honest.  We were fighting like cats and dogs.  The fight was between the nationals and the missionaries and it was very obvious for visitors that had their ears open.  So, my dear people, as long as people see division in our church, we will never be able to witness the gospel.

Not too long ago, a young theology student came up to me and said, “Pastor, I was told by one of your members not to come to this church because I would hear heresy, and I came just to hear what heresy you were preaching.  Now I would like to join your church.”

Folks, if I am preaching heresy, please come and see me.  I want unity in this church.  If you disagree with me, I’m willing to sit down with the Word of God and tell you where I stand.

My prayer for this church is that we’ll be one in Christ; even though we may not see eye-to-eye in everything yet, we’ll have unity in diversity; that our love for each other will be so great, so strong, that our differences won’t matter.  It is my prayer that others will see a church that knows how to love and how to care.

God gave us a special message a hundred years ago.  That message was to lift up Christ as the Saviour of the world.  But that message was also to bring unity and love into this church.  Unfortunately, it did not work out that way.  Sister White had to rebuke our brethren many times.  But, after 100 years, God has turned to a Calvinist — a Calvinist, of all people — and has given him this message, the truth as it is in Christ.  One of those men who read that book by this Calvinist, Neal Punt, was our own ministerial secretary of the General Conference, Bob Spangler.  He said, “This book has done something for me.  Now I look at every human being in a different light than I used to.”

Every human being you see — whether he’s in the gutter or if he is on the throne — please remember one thing and that is this:  every human being is a soul that has been purchased, that has been redeemed by Jesus Christ.  And when you see each one of us, it doesn’t matter how we appear to each other, we may not like each other by our feelings, we may not agree with each other, but one thing is true:  we all belong to Jesus Christ.  Therefore, we all belong to each other.

Therefore, there is no such thing as Jew or Gentile, male or female in the Christian Church.  We are one in Christ.  But it is not enough to preach this.  The world must see this.  I close with the words of Jesus Christ once again.  I repeat what Jesus said in His prayer to His Father, that we may be one that the world may know that He has sent us.

Jesus said to His disciples, “By this the world will know that we are His disciples:  when we have agape, when we have love one for another.”  It is my prayer that we will put aside our differences and, if we disagree, we will come and speak to the one with whom we disagree and try to hash this out as Christians.  And we will grow as Christians and anyone who comes to this church as a visitor will see in us a united church lifting up Jesus Christ.  That’s my prayer in Jesus’ name.

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