Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament epistle of the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Rome, and more specifically, is found in the first sixteen verses of the final chapter of the epistle. When reading the closing remarks and what is essentially the conclusion of the epistle of Paul unto this congregation it’s incredibly interesting to discover how he in fact chooses to close the epistle. If you read the first sixteen verses of this epistle you will notice the apostle Paul instructing the congregation at Rome to salute and greet a number of men and women whose names he would provide. What’s quite interesting about this particular chapter is that there would be those who would read the names contained within it and not place much stock or emphasis in it. Consider if you will taking this chapter and setting it up against the eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews and you will notice that while the eleventh chapter of the epistle unto the Hebrews has become known as “the hall of faith” chapter, this chapter seems to provide no such indication that it is similar. If you read the entire eleventh chapter of the epistle unto the Hebrews you will find the names of countless men and women whose lives seem to transcend the natural and touch the realm of the supernatural. What is even more intriguing about the eleventh chapter of Hebrews is this it is by no means an exhaustive or conclusive list concerning all those saints of old whose lives touched and transformed the generation they lived in.
What is absolutely necessary to consider when reading the eleventh chapter of the epistle unto the Hebrews is that it seems to lead straight into that which we read and that which we find in the twelfth chapter. When the twelfth chapter of the epistle unto the Hebrews opens it does so with a declaration centered upon the reality that we as the saints of God in this generation are surrounded and compassed about by such a great cloud of witnesses. Just who were these witnesses who were mentioned in the twelfth chapter of this epistle? The answer is found in the entire eleventh chapter, however, as has already been mentioned, that which we read in the eleventh chapter is by no means an exhaustive list. The great cloud of witnesses we read of in the twelfth chapter would include so much more than simply those whose names were mentioned in the preceding chapter. When speaking of what we would consider to be “heroes of the faith,” it is necessary and imperative that we recognize that this great cloud of witnesses is made up of both those whose names we do know and those whose names we don’t know. We would love to limit and relegate this company of witnesses and saints to those whose names we know and those whose lives we have an account of, and yet the truth of the matter is that this simply isn’t the case. We date not spend so much time focusing on and emphasizing those whose names we know, those whose lives we have an account of, and even those whose ministries might be well-known in the earth alone.
SERVING GOD IN THE SHADOWS! FOLLOWING GOD OUT OF THE SPOTLIGHT! KNOWN BY GOD YET UNNOWN BY MEN! Did you know that it is absolutely possible to be known by God and yet be unknown by men? Did you know that the people whose hear those treasured words “Well done good and faithful Servant” won’t only be those whose names we have found in Scripture and those whose lives we have an account of? We dare not be so naïve to think that only those whose we know and are aware of will hear those treasured Abe desires words. It is absolutely possible that we can be completely obscure and never be known by men, and yet not only are we known by God, but He also speaks of us with the same endearment He used when speaking of His own Son. On two separate occasions the voice of the Father was heard from heaven and not only declared that Jesus was the beloved Son of the Father, but the Father was also pleased in Him. I am convinced that those whose names and those whose faces we don’t know can not only be known by God, but can also be spoken of as His beloved son, and/or his beloved daughter, and know that their lives truly please the heart of the Father. It is absolutely and incredibly tragic that more often than not we focus on personalities and names, and we consider only that which is known as that which is valuable and worthwhile to the living God. I am amazed at how much and how often we seem to elevate and exalt personality and charisma, and seem to equate such realities as being that which pleases God. I am absolutely amazed at how much stock we place on that which is visible and that which is right before us when it comes to determining that which truly pleases the Lord. The truth of the matter is that it is possible that men and women can serve God in the shadows and serve God in the darkness even, and the lives of those men and women are no less valuable to the Lord than those who serve God in the limelight.
To help truly set the stage for that which we read in the sixteenth chapter of the epistle of the apostle Paul, it’s necessary and imperative that we at least consider the text that is found in the eleventh chapter of the epistle unto the Hebrews. Consider if you will the words and language that is found within the eleventh chapter of this epistle concerning the lives of those whose names are mentioned:
“By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witnessed that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that he is a rewarded of them that diligently seek him. By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God. Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is but the sea shore innumerable. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, and heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city. By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whine also he receive him in a figure. By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff. Bey faith, Joseph when he died, made mentioned of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones. By faith, Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment. By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ of greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him is invisible. Through faith he kept the Passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them. By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed no, when she had received the spies with peace” (Hebrews 11:4-31).
As you read the eleventh chapter of the epistle unto the Hebrews, it would appear to be sufficient and enough to stop at verse thirty-one and not proceed any further. There would be those who are so caught up with personalities, and charisma, and names, and faces, and the like, who would choose to focus only on what is recorded in these first thirty-one verses and yet never take the time to realize there is more to the chapter than that which we read in these thirty-one verses. When I read the eleventh chapter of the epistle unto the Hebrews I have to admit that I am absolutely grateful that this chapter doesn’t stop with verse thirty-one, but instead continues on with another nine verses. These final nine verses are absolutely crucial to our understanding that which we read in the first and opening verse of the twelfth chapter concerning this great cloud of witnesses. Beginning with the thirty-second verse of the eleventh chapter of the epistle unto the Hebrews we read the following words: “And what shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barack, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mocking and scourging, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were San asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worth) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:32-40).
These final nine verses of the eleventh chapter of the epistle unto the Hebrews is absolutely incredible and remarkable when you take the time to read it, for while it begins with certain names—Gideon, Barack, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel—it seems to continue to progress speaking of and pointing toward countless names whose names weren’t mentioned. If there is one thing I can’t help but be faced with when reading the eleventh chapter of the epistle unto the Hebrews it’s that the names that were mentioned were mentioned alone and without any relation to those around them. The text and context of the entire eleventh chapter clearly point to the lives of individual men and women unto themselves and that which the Lord purposed for them within the earth. When we read the eleventh chapter of the epistle unto the Hebrews we are confronted with the fact that all those whose names were mentioned were mentioned concerning their relationship with the Lord alone. We know that Moses led the children of Israel out of their slavery and oppression in Egypt, and we know that Joshua led the children of Israel into the land of Canaan, and into battle against all the peoples and nations that were present within the land of Canaan. Outside of and apart from that, however, this “hall of faith” chapter seems to highlight the faith and lives of those mentioned as solely unto themselves without any mention of others alongside them. While there might be some who would disagree with the statement I would dare make at this juncture, I would dare say that the faith that is mentioned of in the Old Testament was an individualistic faith. In other words, it was a faith that was known and experienced by individuals rather than together in the setting of others. When reading the Old Testament, one gets the strong sense of the Spirit of the Lord coming upon a certain individual at a certain period of time in order that they might accomplish that which the Lord desired for them to accomplish. When I read the eleventh chapter of the epistle unto the Hebrews, I can’t help but be confronted with a faith that might have accomplished much in the earth and much for God, and perhaps even for the people of God, yet the faith that was spoken of was oftentimes relating only unto men and women as individual rather than those around them.
I fully recognize that there were certain individuals who could not accomplish that which the Lord destined and purposed them to do without and apart from those whom the Lord had brought unto and gathered around them. The Lord raised up Gideon to engage the Midianites in battle, and while Gideon originally started with thirty-thousand men who would fight alongside him, the Lord determined that that was too many. Through a series of two distinct tests, the Lord took that army of thirty-thousand and dropped it down to only three hundred men who would fight alongside Gideon to engage an enemy and adversary that threatened and oppressed the people of God. Even when reading of Jephthah it’s worth noting that even Jephthah did not accomplish that which the Lord had purposed and planned for him to do without and apart from those around him who would fight with him in battle. Not even Joshua could accomplish in the land of Canaan that which the Lord had purposed for him without the great number of men from each of the twelve tribes of Israel who fought alongside him in battle. The land of Canaan could and would not be conquered by Joshua alone, but would require all the soldiers and men of war who were present in that generation. Even when speaking of the life of David, it’s worth noting that the only record we have of him fighting a battle alone on the battlefield is in the seventeenth chapter when he agrees to challenge and fight Goliath in battle. When speaking of and considering the life of David it is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand that every battle he fought and every battle he was engaged in after that divine encounter and showdown in the Valley of Elah would be with others alongside him wielding sword, and spear, and bow, and shield, and the like. It would be one thing for us to look at the life of David and think that while it is true he was a man after God’s own heart, he accomplished all he did by himself and without the assistance of others. It would be wonderful to think of David as this tremendous warrior who could destroy and defeat entire armies by himself, and yet the truth of the matter is that that simply isn’t the case. If we are to understand what made David great as king over the nation of Israel, and that which made David great in battle against his enemies and adversaries, it’s absolutely necessary and imperative we understand those whom the Lord brought alongside him.
If you turn and direct your attention to the twenty-second chapter of the Old Testament book of First Samuel you will find David fleeing and departing from the murderous hand of Saul, and ultimately escaping unto the cave of Adullam. Beginning with the first verse of this chapter we find and read these words concerning David’s experience there within and there at the cave: “David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam: and when his brethren and all his father’s house heard it, they went down thither to him. And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men. And David went thence to Mizpeh of Moab: and he said unto the king of Moab, Let my father and my mother, I pray thee, come forth, and be with you, till I know what God will do for me. And he brought them before the king of Moab: and they dwelt with him all the while that David was in the hold. And the prophet Gad said unto David, Abide not in the hold; depart, and get thee into the land of Judah. Then David departed, and came into the forest of Hareth” (1 Samuel 22:1-5). THE PURPOSE OF THE CAVE! As you read the words which are recorded in this chapter, it is crucial and imperative that we recognize and understand that it would be here at this cave Adullam the Lord would begin to bring around David those who would help him fulfill the divine destiny that was upon his life. What is actually remarkable to read within this chapter is that when speaking of those who came unto David there in the cave, we read how the first ones to come unto him were his brethren and all his father’s house. There at the cave Adullam the Lord first brought unto David his brethren and his father’s house, and then once his brethren and his father’s house were brought unto him, the Lord would then bring a very specific group of men unto him. Beginning with the second verse of this chapter we read how “every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him.” This is actually quite astounding when you consider it, for in the final part of this second verse we read how David became captain over all those who were gathered unto him—a number of about four hundred men. It would be there in the cave Adullam the Lord would bring unto David those who would essentially be the core group of those who would fight alongside him during his days of flight from Saul, and ultimately his days of battle as king over Israel.
When I read the words of the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Rome, I can’t help but be directly confronted by the tremendous need to make no attempt to isolate ourselves in our service of the Lord. I am directly confronted with the powerful reality that more often than not we are only as strong as those we have around us. There are a number of men and women who would think that they can survive by themselves and without and apart from the help of those around them, and yet the truth of the matter is that that simply isn’t the case. If you turn your attention to the twenty-third chapter of the book of Second Samuel you will find a powerful description of the mighty men of David whom the Lord brought alongside him in battle against the enemies and adversaries of Israel. Consider the following words concerning those whom the Lord brought alongside David as he engaged the enemies and adversaries of Israel in battle:
“These be the names of the mighty men whom David had: The tachmonite that sat in the seat, chief among the captains; the same was Adino the Eznite: he lift up his spear against eight hundred, whom he slew at one time. And after him was Eleazer the son of Dodo the Ahohite, one of the three mighty men with David, when they defied the Philistines that were there gathered together to battle, and the men of Israel were gone away: HE arose, and smote the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clave unto the sword: and the Lord wrought a great victory that day; and the people returned after him only to spoil. And after him was Shammah the son of Agree the Hararite. And the Philistines were gathered together into a troop, where was a piece of ground full of lentils: and the people fled from the Philistines. But he stood in the midst of the ground, and defended it, and slew the Philistines: and the Lord wrought a great victory. And three of the thirty chief went down, and came to David in the harvest time unto the cave of Adullam: and the troop of the Philistines pitched in the valley of Rephaim. And David was then in an hold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then in Beth-Lehmann. And David longed, sand said, Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Beth-lemme, which is by the gate! And the three mighty men brake through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Beth-lemme, that was by the gate, and took it, and brought it to David: nevertheless he would not drink thereof, but poured it out unto the Lord. And he said, Be it far from me, O Lord, that I should do this: is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives? Therefore he would not drink it. These things did these three mighty men. And Abishai, the brother of JOab, the son of Zeruiah, was chief among three. And he lifted up his spear against three hundred, and slew them, and had the name among three. Was he not most honourable of three Therefore he was their captain: Howbeit he attained not unto the first three. And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant man, of Kabzeel, who had done many acts, he slew two lionlike men of Moab: he went also and slewa a lion in the midst of a pit in time of snow: and he slew an Egyptian, a godly man: and the Egyptian had a spear in his hand; but he went down to him with a staff, and plucked the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand, and slew him with his own spear. These things did Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and had the name among three mighty men. He was more honourable than the thirty, but he attained not to the first three. And David set him over his guard” (2 Samuel 23:8-23).
If you turn and direct your attention to the twelfth chapter of the Old Testament book of First Chronicles you will find another reference to all those whom the Lord brought unto David in ZIklag, while he yet kept himself close because of Saul. Consider the following words concerning those whom the Lord brought alongside and unto David while at Ziklag: “Now these are they that came to David to Ziklag, while he yet kept himself close because of Saul the son of Kish: and they were among the mighty men, helpers of the war. They were armed with bows, and could use both the right hand and the left in hurling stones and shooting arrows out of a bow, even of Saul’s brethren of Benjamin…And of the Gadites there separated themselves unto David into the hold to the wilderness men of might, and men of war fit for the battle, that could handle shield and buckler, whose faces were like the faces of lions, and were as swif as the roes upon the mountains….These were of the sons of Gad, captains of the host: one of the least was over an hundred, and the greatest over a thousand. These are they that went over Jordan in the first month, when it had overflown all his banks; and they put to flight all them of the valleys, both toward the east, and twoard the west. And there came of the children of Benjamin and Judah to the hold unto David. And David went out to meet them, and answered and said unto them, If ye be come peaceably unto me to help me, mine heart shall be knit unto you: but if ye be come to betray me to mine enemies, seeing there is no wrong in mine hands, the God of our fathers look thereon, and rebuke it. Then the spirit came upon Amasai, who was chief of the captains, and he said, Thine are we< David, and on thy side, thou son of Jesse: Peace, peace be unto thee, and peace be to thine helpers; for thy God helpeth thee. Then David received them, and made them captains of the band. And there fell some of Manasseh to David, when he came with the Philistines against Saul to battle: but they helped them not: for the lords of the PHilsitines upon advisement sent him away…And they helped David against the band of the rovers: for they were all mighty men of valour, and were captains in the host. For at that time day by day there came to David to help him, until it was a great host, like the host of God. And these are the numbers of of the bands that were read armed to the war, and came to David to Hebron, to turn the kingdom of Saul to him, according to the word of the Lord. The children of Judah that bare shield and spear were six thousand and eight hundred, ready armed to the war. Of the children of Simeon, mighty men of valour for the war, seven thousand and one hundred. Of the children of Levi four thousand and six hundred. And Jehoiada was the leader of the Aarronites, and with him were three thousand and seven hundred; and Zadok, a young man might of valour, and of his father’s house twenty and two captains. And of the children of Benjamin, the kindred of Saul, three thousand: for hitherto the greatest part of them had kept the ward of the house of Saul. And of the children of Ephraim twenty thousand and eight hundred, mighty men of valour, famous throughout the house of their fathers. And of the half tribe of Manasseh eighteen thousand, which were expressed by name, to come and make David king. And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment. Of Zebulun, such as went forth to battle, expert in war, with all instruments of war, fifty thousand, which could keep rank: they were not of double heart. And of Naphtali a thousand captains, and with them with shield and spear thirty and seven thousand. And of the Dante’s expert in war twenty and eight thousand and six hundred. And of Asher, such as went forth to battle, expert in war, fortry thousand. And on the other side of Jordan, of the Reubenites, and the gatdites, and of the half tribe of Manasseh, with all manner of instruments of war for the battle, an hundred and twenty thousand. All these men of war, that could keep rank, came with a perfect heart to Hebron, to make David king over all Israel: and all the rest also of Israel were of one heart to make David king” (2 Chronicles 12).
When you read the sixteenth chapter of the epistle of the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Rome, you will find a number of names that were mentioned by the apostle Paul himself. Within those sixteen verses we find the following words: “I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also. Free Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise free the church that is in their house. Salute my well beloved Epaenetus, who is the first fruits of Achaia unto Christ. Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us. Salute Andronicus and JUnia, my kinsmen, and my fello prisoners, who are of note among eh apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord. Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stacey’s my beloved. Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus’ household. Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord. Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved PErsis, which laboured much in the Lord. Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, HErmas, Patrone’s, Hermès, and the brethren which are with them. Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympia’s, and all the saints which are with them. Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you” (Romans 16:1-16).
It is at this juncture towards the very end of this writing that I bring this all to a head and to a close, for it is here that I would present unto you the tremendous reality that what we find here in this chapter is a list of names that perhaps aren’t as well-known as those names which are mentioned in the list of the apostles, or those names which appear in the eleventh chapter of the epistle unto the Hebrews, yet the names which are mentioned here were important to the apostle Paul. The names we read and the names we find in this passage of Scripture are the names of various individuals whom the Lord brought alongside the apostle Paul to assist him in the work and ministry he himself was called to do. With that being said, however, it’s imperative that we recognize and understand that the names we find within this chapter aren’t even about the apostle Paul himself—despite the fact that some of them were a team of fellow saints and believers who assisted in the work of the Lord. The names we find mentioned here in this passage are the names of those who were living their lives as saints and disciples of Jesus and who were labouring together in the work of the Lord—even in spite of the absence of the apostle Paul. THE WORK MUST GO ON! It would have been very easy for the work of the church and the work of the ministry to cease once the apostle Paul moved on from one place to the next, yet what we find here in this passage seems to indicate something entirely different—namely, that even in the absence of the apostle Paul the work continued among the churches as the saints and believers continued to fellowship together in churches and households alike. These sixteen verses are absolutely incredible, for within these sixteen verses we not only find a team that was brought alongside the apostle Paul to assist in the work of the ministry among the churches, but we also find within this chapter a list of “saints in the shadows” so to speak—the names of those who perhaps weren’t as notable or well-known as others, and yet were known by the Lord, and known by the apostle Paul. There are two questions I would leave you with at the end of this writing. The first question is whether or not you are willing to be a saint in the shadow, and whether or not you are willing to serve God—even if it means serving in obscurity. The second question is whether or not you are willing to serve the Lord in company and serve the Lord in fellowship, for you weren’t created, nor were you intended on serving the Lord isolated, alone and by yourself.