Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise, greet the church that is in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. (Romans 16:3-5)
The letter of Paul to the saints in Rome is filled with doctrinal and theological arguments that can sometimes be difficult to understand. Paul is trying to impress upon his readers the meaning of God’s grace and how faith, law, and baptism are essential ingredients to salvation. It can be a daunting book to read as he unfolds the gospel of salvation by grace, justification by faith and the divine plan of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ seen in the waters of baptism. Near the end of his letter, he exhorts the saints to present their bodies as living sacrifices to God and explains the application of the law of grace in the lives of the Christians. While the book is heavy on doctrine, Paul concludes his letter with some very personal exhortations.
After telling about his plan to visit Rome, Paul sends greetings to and from thirty-five named individuals and a host of brethren in the churches of Christ. He commends Phoebe for her untiring labors in the kingdom and sends greetings twenty times to various brethren who are his fellow countrymen, fellow prisoners, fellow workers, beloved, approved, and chosen in the Lord. The word the apostle uses is a deeply endearing term of personal connection with the brethren. He sends greetings or salutations to the brethren with a word that means to enfold in the arms, salute, and embrace. Paul knew the value of a personal relationship with his brethren and showed in writing how much he loved and appreciated all those who were in the church of Christ.
One of the most important parts of the COVID-19 crisis is where assembled worship has been interrupted. It is doubtful many realized how important gathering as saints would become as the world turned upside down with churches unable to meet together. The reason many churches temporarily closed their doors was because of their love for one another. The response of the contagions of the virus demanded a responsible action on the part of church leaders. As time progressed it became clear what was lost was more precious than first realized. The inability to greet one another has become paramount in the struggle to regain a normal pattern of worship. As the conditions of the virus subside churches will begin to have measured responses to assemble. It is at these moments the reality of not assembling will be felt.
Paul’s Roman greeting shows the importance that each member of the church has to the other. He names people because they are important to him. There are many more he refers to as simply the church in someone’s home or greeting one another with a holy kiss as was customary. How often have we realized in the past months how important it is to shake the hand of a brother or sister in Christ, to hug with compassion our fellow Christians, to hear the sound of glorious singing of saints worshiping God together and the noise of brethren visiting with one another? We have missed the opportunity to embrace our brethren.
The experience of the past few months should serve to impress upon our hearts two vital lessons: first, God designed the church to be a gathering body of saints who need one another. Many assemble with the saints on an infrequent basis only coming once in a while. They may come sporadically as the mood fits them. Could it be that God is telling us that if that is all you are interested in serving Him that He will take it completely away? The church is made up of souls who need to embrace one another and that cannot be done by proxy. Jesus died so that His people would wash one another’s feet and that cannot be accomplished via a correspondence course or Facebook or staying home. These past few months should awaken the souls of the weak to be strong in the Lord.
A second lesson we learn is how much we need one another. The wise man said, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Paul sent specific greetings because he knew how important those greetings and salutations were for him and to those in Rome. We should greet one another. Never allow worship to go without greeting everyone – not just those in your special group. Absence does not make the heart grow fonder; it hurts. Greet the saints of God with joy and happiness. The day will come when the conditions of social distancing will end and we can enjoy the blessings of greeting our brethren. May we never take for granted the simple words of greeting one another.