I recently watched a movie in which the main character was socially awkward and clumsy. With a formal gathering looming, she sought the advice of her friends on how to get through the evening without becoming an embarrassment to her fiancé. The advice given was as follows:
“Introduce people with thoughtful details, ‘Susie this is Daniel, Daniel this is Susie. Susie enjoys journaling and comes from New Zealand. Daniel attends UBC and he is from Winnipeg.”
I have been in settings like this and I can tell you that although it is polite and appropriate, it does little to bring the conversation away from the superficial.
In Romans 16, we might be tempted to view Paul’s introductions in a similar fashion as they are lengthy, and they seemingly lack depth, “greet…who are in the Lord… who work hard in the Lord… who has worked very hard in the Lord… who has been a mother to me… my fellow Jew… my dear friend in the Lord… whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test…” Why did Paul feel it necessary to include all of these introductions?
I believe they reveal an intimate knowledge and tender love for each person named. The body of Christ has become Paul’s family and he speaks to the Romans in such a way as to reflect his great love of these people, and to ensure those to whom he is speaking fully understand that they are part of this same family. As such, they are to greet one another truly as brothers and sisters, “with a holy kiss.” We have a bond in Christ. We are a family. When we greet each other, our warmth and care should emanate from a genuine affection that comes from sharing the most fundamental values.
The second half of this chapter strangely shifts from the introductions to a warning, then
to well wishes from Christians.
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil,”
Perhaps we need to be warned because God knows we can be weak and we may fall prey to being blinded by adulation, persuasive speech, good looks, social position etc. How else can we explain the thousands of dollars people have willingly given to some questionable TV evangelists? Or more personally, why do I give more of my time and attention as a program leader to a particular mom? Yes, she is certainly more assertive, but could it be that I am blinded to inappropriate behavior (calling me at home, on my cell etc.) because she has a very famous last name? Not one of us is immune to having our minds deceived by smooth talk and flattery.
Let us pray for clarity…to see our church family as really being family- people who we sincerely care for, serve, and support through the generosity we have been given by our savior, who gave His life for us. Embrace each person, not just those whom we like, who are pretty, who have money, who appear stable, who are like us, but everyone, in order to display the truth that we are bound together in Christ, designed to love one another as a witness to the world. Who in our congregation can you reach out to today? Who in the body (our body) do you need to see differently? Unconditional love, which is only possible through resurrection power, is what we are called to give. Be the vessel through which God’s living water flows.
- Rina Carbol