In some ways, Romans 16 is anti-climatic. Apart from some theological meaty exhortations, there is just a list of people to whom Paul sends his greetings. These are all names of people we know very little about. After fifteen chapters of theological dynamite, this almost seems like a let down. We would expect this glorious book to end in a more dynamic way.
Yet, this is perhaps a most fitting conclusion to Romans. Look at how many people Paul knew by name. Men and women he had formerly worked with and some he had known from other churches he had planted. He knew their names as well as personal things about them. Read the list and see how personal Paul is. The man who was taken to the third heaven and who singlehandedly planted the body of Christ in the Roman world knew people intimately. Amidst all of his labors as well as his sufferings, he never forgot people.
This is Paul the pastor. We often don’t think of him that way. Indeed, some throughout church history have painted Paul as a cold, detached theologian, more comfortable in the academy than among people. But Romans 16 blows that theory to smithereens. Paul knew and loved people. He never forgot them. And at the end of the most theologically stacked letter ever written, he takes the time to personally greet both his friends and acquaintances. It is true that Paul was comfortable among the deepest of theologians and philosophers. But he was preeminently the pastor, lavishing love and affection on those he was privileged to know and labor with.
It’s a simple truth we cannot afford to ever forget: Christ died for people whom he loved. And while it is true that we must, like Paul, exercise our minds to the fullest in order to understand truth, we must also never forget what the apostle says elsewhere, that the “greatest is love”. It was God’s love for people that sent the Son into the world. Even when we are speaking the truth we must remember to do so in love. Love is the greatest because people matter. God loves them and calls us to love them as well.
It’s about people. Amidst the many demands of ministry, it is quite easy to forget that. We can, if not careful, begin to feel that people are interruptions or impediments to our goals. Among pastors, there is this humorous quip that states that ‘ministry would be easy if we didn’t have to ______ ____ ______.’ The blanks are “work with people”. But such thinking views people as impediments rather than the goal. We don’t have to work with people; we get to! It is a glorious privilege to shower people with the love of God we have freely received.