The first striking conversion is mentioned in verse 5 as ‘my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia.’ Paul took the gospel to the province of Asia when he went to Ephesus along with Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:19-20). He was only there for a short time, but during that period he influenced a few people and then left, leaving them under the care of Priscilla and Aquila. It is not surprising that Paul mentions Epaenetus right after he refers to Priscilla and Aquila – some commentators even speculate if he had taken up employment with them and was converted through that means.
Of course, Paul knows that there were more converts that Epaenetus in Asia. He uses the term ‘first-fruits’ to describe him, which is an allusion to the Jewish offering in which a sample grain was used because it pointed to the certainty of the harvest. No doubt, Paul and Priscilla and Aquila had said to one another, as they served God in Ephesus and then mentioned other churches that commenced in the area, ‘Remember when Epaenetus was saved. It was a wonderful time and look at how many more have come!’
The second amazing conversion is Rufus, mention in verse 13: ‘Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well.’ Who was Rufus? It is generally accepted that Mark wrote his gospel first for the church in Rome. And in Mark 15:21, he mentions a man called Rufus who was the son of Simon, the man who was forced by the Roman soldiers to carry the cross of Jesus: ‘And they compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.’ Mark would only mention their names because the readers would know who they were. So there, in the church in Rome was the wife and one of the sons of the man who carried the cross of Jesus. I wonder what Simon thought when he was forced to carry it. I wonder what he thought when he was converted, when his wife was converted, and when his sons were converted.
Paul obviously met the wife of Simon and mentions that she was like a mother to him. We are not told where that was, but it is amazing how the cross brought them together. Of course, we only about the names in this chapter because of the cross. And if they are ever to hear about us, it will be because we too have discovered the meaning of the cross. That is the first application that we can make from this chapter: have we discovered the power of the cross of Jesus?
There are two other applications. First, do we remember those who helped us in the faith? Perhaps it would be useful to take time and think about those who have. Second, how do we become like Paul, so focussed on other people? I suppose the answer is that he stopped regarding himself as Number 1. He learned that primarily from Jesus and then, secondly, from other followers of Jesus whom he met in his travels.