History has recorded many ideas about the final evaluation and final state of humans beyond death. Jesus told the parable of the rich man and Lazarus and in it described a great gulf which prevented Abraham from returning to earth to warn those who needed to repent (Luke 16:19-31). Paul also taught that to be absent from the body was to be at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8), and Jesus told one of the thieves he would be with him in Paradise that very day (Luke 23:43).
Probably the most well-accepted conclusion is that our hereafter is determined by whether our good works outweigh our bad ones. Some believe death is it, and nothing exists thereafter.
Paul now reaches the end of this magnificent letter to the saints in Rome, and as in most letter endings, greets his friends and gives final instructions.
The Final Evaluation Will Include Commendations (vv. 1-16)
Jesus tells several parables dealing with how faithfulness to God will result in hearing: “Well done good and faithful servant.” Paul looked forward to receiving a crown of righteousness for his faithful service to Christ.
Reward for faithfulness is a scarlet thread weaving itself throughout the pages of the Bible. Phoebe receives the first commendation. Older Bible translations call her a servant while more modern ones refer to her as a deacon or deaconess. The Greek word is actually diakonos and is the word deacon derives from. It refers to one who executes the commands of another.
Phoebe was coming to the church in Rome, and Paul instructed them to receive her as one worthy of high honor because she had helped many people with their needs.
Phoebe carried out the role of what the word deacon implies. She ministered to other’s needs. She was a servant. She was probably a wealthy woman who helped support Paul’s ministry and may have even delivered this letter from Corinth to Rome.
Women had important roles in the early church just as they did in Jesus’ ministry. Phoebe’s commendation for faithful service is worthy of our emulation. Remember the important words of Jesus that as we minister to others we are actually ministering to him (Matthew 25:31-46). As a servant of Christ, we must be a servant of his church and of others.
Priscilla and Aquilla are commended for faithfulness. They were a married couple and close friends of Paul’s. Like many other Jews, they had been expelled from Rome by the emperor Claudius in A. D. 52 and had moved to Corinth. They met Paul at Corinth and invited him to live with them. They were no doubt able to tell Paul a great deal about the church in Rome and were missionaries like him. They had risked their life for Paul and others. At some point, they returned to Rome and now had a church in their house.
Several important lessons come from their example: we should be hospitable, we should remember believers are fellow laborers not competitors, and we should be willing to sacrifice for others.
Epenetus is commended for his courage to be the first to believe. Imagine his fear in living among a pagan society yet being willing to launch out in faith. Think of the consequences he may have faced for his belief—consequences from family, friends, and work associates.
Mary was a hard worker. Andronicus and Junia were fellow prisoners with Paul and were respected among the apostles. They were not jailed for crimes, unless it was Christianity. They were willing to suffer for their faith. Paul also mentions many others from the Faith Hall of Fame.
The Final Evaluation is Preceded by Instructions (vv. 17-20)
While the final evaluation for the believer will be based on faith alone, our works and the obedience factor are involved. Faith determines our entrance into heaven. Obedience and works, carried out with proper motives, determine the nature of our rewards.
Paul cautions the Christians in Rome to avoid those who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to God’s Word. People such as this are not serving Christ but their own personal interests. They deceive by their smooth talk.
While reading Christians books and listening to God’s Word taught is important, it is more essential for us to familiarize ourselves with God’s teachings so we won’t be led astray by false teachings. And there are many examples of those who have been. Some have resulted in mass suicides.
We should never blindly and automatically take the word of one who claims to speak the truth or even to speak for God. Investigate what they say by God’s Word. The church in Rome was a strong church, but even a church like this could let their guard down and let those in who would divide it and ruin its testimony.
Paul had confidence in the believers at Rome. Their obedience made him happy. Like a good spiritual father, he wanted them to understand clearly the right and stay innocent of any wrong. He is confident that evil will soon be destroyed.
Regular study of God’s Word keeps what is right buried in our hearts and minds. We have the assurance God will conquer Satan and his hordes. Paul reiterates a promise God made in Genesis 3:15 in the Protoevangelium (the gospel before the gospel). We live with confidence knowing the outcome.
The Final Evaluation is Preceded by Final Words (vv. 21-27)
People who are about to die often want to say final words, especially to their family. They at least want to see them. Paul wasn’t about to die, but he was about to conclude an important letter.
In addition to Paul, there were others who sent their good wishes to the church in Rome, among them Timothy. Timothy had traveled with Paul on his second missionary journey and was very instrumental in the growth of the early church. He came from a godly family. Paul even wrote two letters to him.
Paul’s amanuensis, Tertius, also sends his greetings. Gaius, Erastus, and Quartus are also mentioned as sending greetings.
Paul’s closing words provide encouragement. God will strengthen them and us. He will grow our faith as we participate in spiritual disciplines. He will strengthen us to face whatever comes our way in life: storms, opposition, or disappointment.
Paul was excited about living and ministering in a time when the Gospel was going out to the Gentiles—God’s original plan that was now being made known. We should be just as excited. Technology has availed us of amazing ways to get the Gospel out to millions of people and to do so quickly and effectively.
Martin Wiles is an author, teacher, and freelance editor currently residing in Greenwood, South Carolina. He and his wife Michelle are founders and editors of Love Lines from God (www.lovelinesfromgod.com). Wiles has authored Grits & Grace & God and Grits, Gumbo, and Going to Church (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas), Morning By Morning,Morning Serenity, Grace Greater Than Sin (America Star Books), Authentic Christianity (Smashwords) and is a contributing author in Penned from the Heart (Son-Rise Publications), and Rise (Chaplain Publishing). He has served as Regional Correspondent and Sunday school lesson writer for the Baptist Courier and also written for LifeWay’s Bible Studies for Life curriculum. He has also been published in Open Windows, Proclaim, The Secret Place, Upper Room, Light from the Word, Reach Out Columbia, Mustard Seed Ministries, Journey Christian Newspaper,Common Ground Herald, The Quiet Hour, and Power for Living. He is a regular contributor to Christian Devotions, and PCC Daily Devotions, and is a regular contributor for the Dorchester County Eagle Record, the Orangeburg County Times and Democrat, and the Greenwood County Index Journal. Wiles also serves as the Managing Editor for Christian Devotions , the Senior Editor for Inspire a Fire, and as a Proof Editor for Courier Publishing. You can follow him @linesfromgod.