Sunday, November 26, 2023

FAREWELL SERMON #3: Romans 16

 


This is the last of my three farewell sermons in which I take the 16th chapter of Paul to the Romans. This chapter consists of a long list of personal greetings, along with some final instructions and a doxology. I want to use Paul’s outline to share some closing thoughts. 

1.         16:1- 16 Greetings to…

The bulk of this last chapter to the Christians in Rome contains a long list of people who had been a rich source of blessing to Paul. To them he sends his affectionate greetings. To begin with there was Phoebe (16:1-2).  Her name means “bright” or “radiant”. Phoebe is the first of thirty-five personal names, most of who are mentioned nowhere else in Scripture. Phoebe was the one who hand-delivered this letter to the church in Rome. She lived in Cenchreae, a harbour town east of the city of Corinth, located on an isthmus, a narrow strip of land sticking out into the Mediterranean sea. Paul had visited here on his third missionary journey (Acts 18cf 18:18).  Phoebe was a woman deeply committed to the church. She was known best for her servant spirit. She seemed to have been a woman of means, for she was a patron[1] to many and to Paul also.  The history of the church is resplendent with such women who were pillars in the church. The 18th century evangelist George Whitefield speaks in such terms of Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon (1707-1791), a pivotal figure in the 18thC. Evangelical Revival. She was a patron to many in the Calvinistic Methodistic Connexion.  

I think of my first experience of a Phoebe in terms of Winnie Branquino, a servant of the Walvis Bay Baptist church in the 1980’s. Her home and heart were always open. Her generosity was well known. I am also thinking of Linda Gibb, wife of a previous elder, the late Colin Gibb, a remarkable man in his own right. What a kind and generous soul she was to the church- deeply interested in people. She was, like the mother of Rufus, a mother in the Lord to us (16:13).

Then there are Priscilla and Aquila (16:3)[2], Paul’s fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who had "risked their necks" for Paul, and in whose home there was a church meeting (1 Cor. 16:19). This was a special ministry couple with whom Paul felt deeply connected. They had first met in Corinth (Acts 18). They were theologically astute, mature, faithful and hospitable believers.   These are rare couples indeed, but we have them at Eastside too! I pray that many more of you younger couples will become such in the church.

And then there was Epaenetus, Paul’s first convert in Asia. To my shame I cannot remember the first convert at Eastside, but one of them is Mike Callesen whom the Lord saved and delivered in a most remarkable  and dramatic way from the power of the devil.  Then there is “Mary who has worked hard for you” (16:6). The same is said of the “beloved  Persis who has worked hard in the Lord” (16:12).  Here I remember a whole bunch of people. I begin with our church administrators – Carmen Steyn (neé Yates), Henriette de Koning, Cheryl Corringham- our longest serving administrator to date, Liz Walters and her pastoral heart, Linda Rush and her quiet, unassuming, hardworking efficiency, and now we have our happy soul in the church office - Monica Simon.

Into this category I also place those who have worked hard in establishing the church’s financial accountability through our Fincom, which began under the leaderships of Etienne Fourie, Douglas Reissner and Le’ahm Lucas. We thank God for many faithful givers over many years  - who responded gladly in generous and anonymous giving, because they believed that the furtherance of the gospel needed that kind of support. We have never needed to supplement the church funds with bazaar’s and the like. God has always supplied our needs through free, un-coerced giving. Praise be to God! We have always preached the gospel for free, at weddings and funerals. No cent, no money was ever required of those that were glad or sad. On the contrary, we steadfastly refused to take money for such occasions.

I also think of the Administrative Steering Committee which was first conceptualised and implemented by Daniel and Renee van den Bergh. I think of hands-on, diligent, practical hard working men like Andre Walters. I think of our deacon, Douglas Reissner who has shepherded so many people through practical challenges. I think of all the deaconally minded and gifted people in the church that have reached out and helped so many inside and outside the church community. Our good friends Niels and Bente Bernstein are worthy of special mention. The diaconal spirit of Phoebe lives in them.

I now also think of my fellow workers in the pastoral ministry (16:7,9,12). We appointed our first youth pastor, Mark Nieuwoudt, a BI graduate in 1994. He left us in 1996 for a calling to St Helena island. We struggled to have biblical elders for 12 years, because of much internal division and unhelpful influences from the outside, but we did eventually find them and appointed them in 2003. Before that happened God sent men like Erroll Hulse from the UK, Martin Holdt, Brian Stone and Erroll Wagner from South Africa to help us, and to relieve me from time to time, when we had no elders. I thank God for the many brothers in the ministry across Southern Africa with whom I enjoyed cordial relationships and friendships. The men of the Spurgeon fraternal which we started in 1998 were a life line to me. The work of Reformation is not for the fainthearted.  We started the SOLA 5 Association in 2005 – a network of God centred Evangelicals in Southern Africa.  We must not forget  the men from Zambia – men like Ronald Kalifungwa and Conrad Mbewe who have helped us in the greater work of the reformation of the Namibian church.

The start of an eldership at Eastside in 2003, following many years of severe trials, produced men like Colin Gibb who is now with the Lord, and also Pieter Slabber.  The biblical, 1Timothy 3 driven eldership finally settled the church. We thank God at this time especially for Pieter, converted under this ministry. He has served this church for 20 years as an elder. In time Norman van Zyl was added. He is now released for church planting work among Afrikaans speakers. Nsenduluka Kapambwe, a Zambian brother was ordained in April 2010 and led the church plant at Grace Reformed Baptist Church under our oversight for 2 years. That church is doing well by the grace of our Lord. Frans Brits was first ordained as an elder in September 2014 and as a vocational elder in January 2017.  The latest addition to our eldership is our faithful brother, Le’ahm Lucas. We also mention our first pastoral intern, Todd Hammerstrom (2007-2009) now in the USA,and Uaundja Karamata (2019-2021)   who is now our designated church planter in Otjiwarongo.  

I think of so many others that have served the church as early youth leaders (e.g. Lameck Mwewa/ Andrew and Irmela Jamieson) the Sunday School, for many years under our superintendent Bill Puckey, and the many  Crèche teachers, small group leaders – not forgetting those that do the work of the ministry  right now. You know who you are.  

I think of that precious little group of faithful Saturday morning prayer warriors (Here I think specifically of dear Dr. Zimba)  over the years. May the Lord increase their tribe among us! I don’t think that I have ever missed a prayer meeting when I was in town.  The church advances by prayer. Prayer is expressing confidence in God’s power. By prayer we have sometimes seen mountains moved.

I think of our many church musicians over the years. I believe that Ronelle Laue is our longest standing musician today.  Please forgive me for being sparse in my mentioning of many of you.

I think of the evangelistic and missionary efforts of the church. In early years we did much street work and tract distribution in the homes of our street, when you could still enter at a gate. Eastside has always been active in promoting partnerships with other churches and church planting endeavours, from the Zambezi (Caprivi) region down to Lüderitz. In the early  2000’s we undertook a mission trip into Angola (Menongue) and now, as we speak,  we are privileged to minister to many Angolans. 

There are so many people I now think of. Many of course are no longer with us, having moved elsewhere in the world or having been promoted to glory. Some have left for reasons best known to themselves, being disaffected or disappointed that we could not be more to them. Had everyone stayed we would have been well over a thousand members. We certainly have seen many come and go over the years. Our persistent prayer for them has been, “Lord, may they leave in a better shape than they have come. Make them fruitful wherever they go”.  

As Paul concluded his letter to the Romans, he was filled with such grateful, thankful memories concerning those that had co-laboured with him in the work of the gospel. So it is right that we should spend the bulk of this morning in such reflections. He not only greeted many of them by name, but he also expressed his gratitude for what they had done. What an example for all of us to follow!  What makes this list so amazing is the fact that Paul had never been to Rome! Most of the people which he mentions are those whom he had met on his journeys elsewhere and who had subsequently taken up residence in Rome. Think of the energy of having to keep in touch with all these people! Imagine Paul keeping this list of people alive in his mind, wondering, how are Asyncritus and Patrobas doing? Where in the world is Hermes now? Is he still walking in the faith?  How are Philologus and Julia and Nereus and his sister (I forgot her name), and Olympas and all the many others doing? What can I pray for?

We know from the testimony of other Scriptures that this is the way Paul related to people (e.g. Phil. 1:3-5), and here they are – their names are mentioned in the Holy Scriptures. How wonderful to know that the names of all the redeemed are written in God's book in heaven (Lk. 10:20; Phil. 4:3) but just as a token of this fact, we also find the names of some of these saints written in  the Bible - God's book on earth.

2.         16:17-20 Watch out for…Hold on to

Watch out: How wonderful to reflect positively upon all the good that God has given. Unfortunately life in a fallen world is not tidy. The church is not exempt.  Here in closing (as in most of his letters) Paul has a word of warning, in particular concerning those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught. Concerning these Paul says, “Avoid them”[3], and then he gives an insightful comment, “for such persons do not serve or Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve.” I remind you that churches have a strange attraction for people with strange motives, whose problem can be simply described as, “…they serve their own appetites“.  Avoid them! Paul has a list of them too![4]  I remind you that even Jesus had his Judas.  So be aware that there will always be such in the life of the church. Train yourself [5] then with a biblical mind-set to discern what is good and  in accordance with Christian character  and what is evil, and contrary to the spirit of Jesus.  Do not disregard character traits, works of the flesh  such as are described in Galatians 5:19-21. Such things if unconfessed and not repented of, and not dealt with in the church will bring a bitter harvest.

Hold on: See what follows in 16:19-20. The church at Rome, like the Thessalonian church[6]  was known for her obedience to   the Lord Jesus Christ. That is a wonderful thing to say about a church, and I trust that the Head of this church, the Lord Jesus Christ will say that about you – this generation. Eastside in her first generation was not that church. Take note this piece of pastoral advice,  “I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.” Learn to be discerning by focussing on what is good. “Ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is and walk in it” (Jer. 6:16). Watch out for what you feed upon, for what you feed upon determines how you act and react. Eastside needs people who feed on what is good. God’s Word is good.  We need to be good – biblically good people to this broken world. That is the counter culture which we so desperately need for life in this broken world. As for the rest, know that God will soon bring all evil to an end. “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”(16:20).

May God preserve this local church for a long time. For this reason you must make sure that you appoint church leaders of proven character. You must also make sure that only people with a credible testimony of conversion and a commitment to Christ and to the church become members. Insist on biblical obedience. Insist on an active membership. Don’t keep people on your church register who do not attend. Christ prunes the dead branches from the living vine. (John 15)

3. 16:16, 21-23 Greetings from …

Again we see how connected Paul is in his life and thoughts. Greetings to (16:1-16) and now greetings from (16:16, 21-23) …Remember always that you are connected to others: “All the churches of Christ greet you (16:16). Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, Tertius the writer of this letter, Gaius Paul’s host, and the whole church at Corinth, and even Erastus the city treasurer and Quartus send greetings. Continue to be prayerfully aware of our sister churches in Namibia and in Southern Africa. Our church bulletin will keep you updated.  Be connected to the bigger body of Christ, in as far as those churches hold to the teachings of God’s Word. Don’t waste your time with churches that have no room for the Word of Jesus, unless you are sent to do the work of reformation in them. In that case you better be spiritually strong.

4. 16:25-27 Doxology       

I will be brief here. See what it is that strengthens you: the gospel- the preaching of Jesus Christ. The heart of his gospel was the revelation of a Person, Jesus Himself. He is the heart of the gospel. Insist that your preachers show you the Lord Jesus Christ from the Bible. I have aimed to do that for 34 years – to tie your hearts to Jesus. I must now lay down this charge which I have received from God and you, back in January 1990. I was charged to proclaim the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to instruct you from the Word of God, to admonish, to comfort, to reprove you. I was charged to faithfully administer the ordinances and to pray for you. I was charged to disciple you into the obedience of Christ.

In becoming members of this church (as per your church membership application) you promised in turn to receive the Word of Truth and to live by its truths, as also outlines in our 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  You promised to submit to the pastoral care provided. You promised to pray for me and my family with encouragement and financial care. 

I thank you, my sisters and brothers, for the love, kindness, and support shown me and my family these past  34 years, and especially in latter years. I am grateful for the ministry we have shared together. With joy I recall what we accomplished with God’s help, and with sadness those dreams not fulfilled. Finally I ask your forgiveness for mistakes made and expectations not met. I fall on the kind arms of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Numbers  6:24-26



[1]  Patron: A person who supports a cause

[2] There are  6 references to this couple in the Bible : Acts 18:2-3,18, 26; Rom.16:3; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim.4:19

[3] See also 2 Thess. 3:6,14 ; Titus 3:10

[4] 1 Tim. 1:19,20; 2 Tim. 2:17,18; 2 Tim. 4:10,14

[5] 1 Tim.4:7,8

[6] 1 Thess. 1:7-10

1 comment:

OLA said...

Great sermon with biblical example of a great servant of the most High God. Farewell Pastor.

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