We should note the variety of ways in which Paul describes the people he greets in the church at Rome. For example, he calls several of them ‘beloved’. It is possible that he uses this word to speak to those he has already met elsewhere. We can see from the frequency of its usage that Paul obviously was a man marked by brotherly love. He uses the word with regard to males and females, so he had this affection for Christians whatever their gender. He also uses it with regard to Christians from different racial backgrounds (Persis is a female from Persia whereas others have European names), so his affections were not based on any nationalistic connections. It is possible that the word was shorthand for saying that they were beloved of God, and that they loved one another because of his love for them.
Whether that is the case or not, we can see that Paul advocated a simple way of expressing this love when he said that the Christians should greet one another with a holy kiss. What was it that made the kiss holy? Paul is probably referring to the common way that people greeted one another, which was by kissing on the cheeks. I suppose we can say that motives made it holy. It would be holy when it was an expression of brotherly love. But it is important to note that Paul stressed that there should be a visible expression of it.
A second feature of Paul’s use of words is seen in the way he describes several of them as working for the kingdom. Again he mentions both men and women as doing this. Mary is described as having worked hard for the church whereas Persis is described as having worked hard in the Lord. We do not know what they did, but what Paul stresses about them is that they were active Christians. No doubt, their activities included providing practical help and spiritual encouragement. What is evident is that Paul was delighted with the work that those individuals did.
It is possible that verse 12 hints at a piece of humour on Paul’s part. Commentators like to point out that the names of Tryphaena and Tryphosa can mean Dainty and Delicate, and Paul points out that they worked very hard. He stressed their contribution by using the present whereas he uses the past tense to describe the work of Persis. Perhaps she could no longer do what she once had done.
A third feature that Paul mentions is faithfulness and we see this in the couple mentioned in verse 7: ‘Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.’ A lot of ink has been spilt over the phrase ‘well known to the apostles’ because it can be read as if it meant that they belonged to the group of apostles chosen by Jesus. It is safe to say that they were not apostles of that nature. Here are a couple who served the Lord in different places. Perhaps they were similar to Priscilla and Aquila in what they did. In modern language, we would probably regard them as a missionary couple (Andronicus is a man and Junia is a woman).
Paul mentions that they were Jewish Christians (kinsmen could mean that they were related to him, a possibility that led Spurgeon to ask if they had prayed for their relative’s conversion), that they were converted before he was (they had probably been Christians for over twenty-five years), and that they had been in prison with him for the faith (we don’t know which imprisonment he is referring to). They could even have been converted on the Day of Pentecost, which would explain why the apostles knew them. Perhaps they were among those who were forced to leave Jerusalem in the persecution connected to the death of Stephen. From what we do know about them, the one word that covers such consistency is faithfulness. And it is notable that Paul mentions that both of them were equally so.
The fourth description to note is that of Apelles in verse 10, ‘approved in Christ.’ Paul’s description ‘approved’ indicates that Apelles had come through a very difficult trial, an ordeal in which it was possible for him to have failed, but in which he remained loyal to Jesus with great steadfastness. People could look at him and say that it was possible to remain true in the hottest trial.
Those four details – beloved, hard-working, faithful and approved – should mark all those who trust in Jesus. It marked the members of the church in Rome and it can mark members of all churches wherever they are.