On Mission: Locally (Romans 16:1-16)

Here’s my sermon from January 20, 2019. It’s a part of a special vision series. You can also listen to the audio here.

This week and next, we’ll turn briefly to the end of the book of Romans. We’ve been walking slowly through the book of John together. We’ve looked closely at Jesus. We’ve considered who He is together. And through that who we then are. And we’ll get back there soon. In fact, our guest speakers during February will keep preaching through John. 

And I asked them to do that. Why? I didn’t want it to be yet another situation where our black brothers are invited just to talk about race and reconciliation. So we’re going to sit before them as they open up God’s word for us. In those four weeks, we’ll cover all of John chapter 12.

But they will talk about race and reconciliation. And you won’t want to miss it. Each man will host a workshop over lunch where they’ll take on a different angle of the issue. Please do everything you can to make those. Registration for them will go live soon. Bring your youth group age kids along. If you have young children, at least send one adult as a representative. These guys will bring important truths you must hear.

Well, back to Romans, as promised. Paul through the first eleven chapters has laid out the beauty of the gospel - the good news - of God. He’s painted this picture of our great need. We’re desperate sinners. He’s lifted up Jesus as our hope. He died on a cross in our place. He rose in our place. He’s clearly described how we should respond. By faith. Not with our works. In faith. 

But in chapter 12 of Romans, Paul shifts gears. He goes from the theological to the practical. He gets out of the clouds and takes us down to the ground. Really, He describes how those truths of the gospel impact our daily lives. He wants the cloud of God’s presence - found fully, finally in Christ - He wants that, He wants Him, to overwhelm and transform the ground on which we stand. 

Paul starts out by telling us, in Romans 12:1, because of this glorious gospel, offer your whole lives in worship to God. And then he helps us understand what that looks like.  

Here in chapter 16, the apostle finishes out the letter. And he closes with some words of encouragement to this church in Rome, a congregation he desperately wants to visit, but to that point hadn’t. Rome, here are my parting words. Does he say this? Improve your show. Fine-tune your performance. Put better bands up front. Shorten up and glam up the sermons. Get better lighting. Make the temperature just right. Improve the show.

Is this his recommendation? Get more customers. Of course, bettering the Sunday show will help. But plan lots of events. Offer services people will buy. Make them all great so people will stick around. Do what it takes to attract people. Ensure the kids have the time of their lives. The customer is always right. So find out what they want. And give it to them. Give it to them well. Widen your customer base, church of Rome. Isn’t that what Paul says here? 

No! Of course, not! He says no such thing - the opposite, in fact. And what we see is a vision for what the church can and should be. We see a picture of what our lives can be together. I want you to see a few things with me here now.

Paul’s Words to the Roman Church

First, don’t you see encouragement in these verses? Paul reminds people of His love for them. He reminds people of who they are in Christ. He praises folks for how God has used them. He tells them of what God has done in them. He greets the members of this young church in Rome. But Paul doesn’t just say, “Hello.” He says, “Good job. God loves you. I love you, too.”

Second, can’t we see family here in Romans 16? He calls women his sisters. He calls men his brothers. In verse 13, Paul talks about how Rufus’s mother had been like a mother to him, also. Paul has yet to visit that church. But he knows many of its members. But those he doesn’t know, he still calls brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers. They’re still family. He uses that terminology because He has experienced that community with so many of them.

Third, we can see diversity clearly in this passage. How’s that? Most of the names sound foreign to us. Right? But scholars have pointed out that there are Greek, Latin, and Roman names in the list. There’s ethnic diversity. You also have socio-economic diversity. If you look at verses 10 and 11, those who “belong to the family” of “Aristobulus” and “Narcissus” are likely servants of unbelieving masters who have been welcomed into the church. 

In addition, notice all the women listed and commended in the passage. “Phoebe” in verse 1 likely isn’t just a “servant,” in general. She’s more likely a deacon. Paul points her out and gives her props here. “Prisca” or Priscilla is mentioned before her husband. They’re both marked as great examples. Several other women are mentioned and commended here. This is a family that’s marked by diversity. All people - men and women - using their gifts.

Fourth, Paul points out all the ministry done by this church. Ministry done alongside Paul. Ministry done for that local church. Ministry done among the nations. Ministry done in that city of Rome. Paul calls people his “fellow workers.” He commends Mary for working hard for their sake. He names Persis for working “hard in the Lord.” There is all kinds of gospel ministry being done by these people, and Paul gives them a shout-out.

Fifth, can’t we also see hospitality in these verses? Priscilla and Aquila clearly host believers in their home. Verse 5 says, “Greet also the church in their house.” Back to verses 10 and 11, scholars think that Christian communities were hosted in those homes of Aristobulus and Narcissus. The lists in verses 14 and 15 are also probably members of two more house churches. What do we see? Hospitality. People being welcomed into homes to hear the gospel and see it all lived out before their eyes.

Sixth, and finally, we see affection, particularly in verse 16. “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” Love isn’t just being shared through words, but also through actions. And we’re not just talking good deeds here. We’re talking physical affection. 

Don’t you see appropriate physical touch in families? Shouldn’t we also see it in the family of God? Paul thinks so. Paul wants them to express their love for one another. He wants the Romans to show affection.

Shouldn’t we see all of these things in the church today? Encouragement. In a world that’s harsh and hard, cold and cruel, this is the one place we should come to be built up. And ultimately built up in Christ Jesus. In who we are in Him. In what He is doing through us. 

Family. I hate to say it, but no matter how great your office is, it’s not your family. Neither is your basketball team. Through Christ, God is our Father. Jesus is our brother. We’re brothers and sisters together. 

Diversity. We have a lot of work to do, but the church should be a place where you see all ethnicities come together. Where you have people from all social strata. Where women are valued and honored. 

Ministry. The church isn’t first a place to make friends - although those certainly come. It’s to give the gospel to those friends. And to take that gospel with them out in the city. We’re here to do gospel ministry together.

Hospitality. I’ve seen several articles recently that say hospitality is the new way to reach people with Jesus. Invite people in, share your life with them. But there’s nothing new about that. It’s what we see here in Romans 16 - people sharing their lives together. Christians inviting others into their life together.

Affection. Now the “holy kiss” was a cultural thing there. Tyler Eads, you go ahead and take this verse literally if you want. But that’s not what’s important. The church should be a place where hugs fly - keeping it wise and appropriate between male and female, of course - but a place where we’re not just embraced figuratively, but also literally.  

Put simply, what we see here in Romans 16 is a family. And a family that’s on mission together. And it’s my argument that what we see here looks an awful lot like a Karis Missional Community. These were medium-sized groups that met in homes that saw themselves as disciples, as family, as servants, as missionaries. 

On Mission Locally

Today and next week, we’re talking Karis vision. Next week, we’ll talk about being on mission globally. This week, we’re talking about being on mission locally. And how we pursue that here in Karis is through our MCs. 

Missional Communities aren’t just small groups. They’re not just Bible studies. They’re not just meant to happen one night a week. They’re not just people you sit with on Sundays. They’re families who are on mission together. 

Our vision is to see our city saturated with the gospel of Jesus. And our strategy for that is to see Missional Communities all over our city. In every neighborhood, in every place. In every network, every group of people. We want a Karis Missional Community there. 

A group where we can include our neighbors and friends. A group where we can welcome our co-workers and classmates. We want to carry the kingdom of Jesus to people. We want to invite people to come under His reign of freedom. Our goal is saturation.

The means for that is multiplication. Karis MCs are always open, inviting new people in. They’re always multiplying, giving birth to new groups. Inviting people into these families on mission. Seeing not division - not even addition - but multiplication - as more and more families are sent out on mission.  

We want to see multiplication happen from the First Ward to Fulton. Those are a couple of priorities right now. They also express our vision for gospel saturation.  

The first is to see almost immediately multiple Missional Communities here in the First Ward around our building. We want to reach our neighbors. We want to take Jesus to them. And as people visit here on Sundays, we want to steer them toward a group. Maybe you live in the area. Maybe you could host a group. Maybe lead a group. Would you pray about coming up here right after I preach today and jumping in to help? 

Second, we have a number of people driving in from Fulton each week. We want to soon see a Karis MC out there. Pray for us. Maybe open up your home. Perhaps it will one day turn into a church plant. That’s our hope. It’s not just our prayer that Columbia would be saturated with the gospel. But all of Mid-Missouri. Really, the world. But we’ll get to that more next week. 

Right now we have 15 groups. Groups ministering to college students, to refugees, to foster children, to nursing homes, to neighborhoods, and more. You can find out more information in the foyer right outside these doors.  

I want to invite you to plug into a Karis MC and be a part of this kind of life, this New Testament, Romans 16 kind of life. For some of you, I want you to recommit to your MC, to living out the gospel in community again. I’m asking you to commit for the first time or in a new way to being a part of one of these families on mission. Help us saturate our city and this part of our world with the gospel of Jesus.

But let me put it another way. I’m calling you to belong to one of these MCs. You know, you need to be a part of one of these gospel families more than we need you or certainly God needs you. You need people to encourage you, to minister to you. You need a diverse family. You need to be in your brothers’ and sisters’ homes. You need affection from Christians. And to be all God has made you to be, to really thrive, you need to be in a place where you can distribute all of those things, as well. Root down in a MC. You need it. Yes, be ready to give. Know also you need to receive.

I want to call you to another thing. We moved from Community Groups - more traditional small groups - to Missional Communities - back in 2012. Since that time, we’ve seen some good things happen. But we recognize need for growth. Beginning this March, we’re going to go through a resource in our MCs called the Saturate Field Guide. I’m asking you to grab a copy, go through with it with your group, and be open to how God will change you and your MC. It’ll serve to re-train us all together in how to be families on mission. I’m asking you to pray for that and jump on board with that.

In addition, I’m asking you and your MC to jump in on a couple of important things we’re doing as a church. We’ll do a series of cookouts when things warm up, where we’ll try to roll out the welcome mat for our neighbors. We’ll need lots of volunteers to pull them off. We’re trying to raise money now, so we can have all we need. But more than anything, show up and get to know those who call the First Ward home.

Also, we’re doing a series of prayer walks in this neighborhood. We’ll be doing this a couple of times a month. We’ll also do regular prayer meetings, like we’re doing tonight. This isn’t something extra. Another thing we do. This is the most important thing we can do - calling out to God, asking Him to work. 

Jump into a Karis Missional Community. Join us as we go deeper into what that means this spring. Grab your MC and help us reach our neighbors this summer. Pray with us, asking God to move and bless. Come be family on mission with us.  

Using the Right Scorecard  

Now those of you that have heard me preach know that I’m a big basketball guy. I’ve played it. I’ve coached it. I watch it too much. Go to a high school gym on a game night, and there are times that you’ll see a bench go absolutely crazy. You’ll hear the crowd of students yell out with excitement. What just happened was a killer crossover.

If you don’t know what a cross-over is, you’re dribbling with one hand, you’re going one direction. You then quickly switch hands, you switch directions. You cross-over to the other side. And what happens some of the times is that you catch your defender off guard, and you blow right by. On really good crosses, he even falls to his feet. If that happens, you know the crowd is going to go nuts. 

Call me old-school, but I mock it a bit with my kids. I say, “Look at the scoreboard. Does it say cross-overs? Does the team with the most killer crosses win? No.” This happened in the Mizzou game yesterday. Texas A&M crossed over one of our players. Our guy fell down. The crowd went wild. And we were up 20 points! You know, I can understand why people get excited over dunks. But that’s not on the scoreboard, either. Who wins the game? Well, the team with the most points.

Too much of the time, I think that’s what we’re doing in the church. We’re not using the scorecards we see in God’s word. We’re using the metrics of the world. We’re basing success by looking at the ABCs - attendance, buildings, and cash. Not if disciples are being made. Not if people are coming more and more to see Jesus as King. In other words, we’re counting cross-overs and not points.  

The church isn’t an event. It’s not a show - not a performance - not something that’s put on to entertain you and keep you on the edge of your seats.

It’s not a business that provides religious goods and services. Something that seeks to attract and keep customers. No. Not at all.

But we’ve made it that way in the American church. We’ve taken our cues from what goes on in Hollywood. Not from God’s word. We’ve been trained by the corporate world. Not by folks like Paul.

And that apostle here, inspired by God’s Spirit, gives us a very different picture of what the church is. One of a people. A family. A family that lives on mission together. People who love each other - and love their city - with a fierce love. And through it they saturate their neighborhoods and city with the gospel of Jesus. 

How do we know if we’re doing well? What’s the win? If we’re doing things like we see here in Romans 16. If we’re living as families on mission and making disciples of Jesus.

We who call ourselves Karis Church are not perfect. We make lots of mistakes. We’re a sinful bunch. We’re not the only church in town trying to live this way. Not at all. But this is what we’re striving to become. By God’s grace, it’s what we’ve begun to experience. And we want to invite you in - into a family. Into our mission. 

We’re on mission locally together. Next week, we’ll talk about how we’re on mission globally together. You’ll get to hear from Karis missionaries we’ve sent out and ones who are about ready to depart. Please come back and join us.