In the final chapter of his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul sent greetings to many individuals and groups. Also, Paul encouraged these people to greet one another. I think that we can learn much about fellowship among believers by thinking about the “greetings” found in Romans 16.
For example, Paul had never been to Rome – at least as far as we know. In fact, most scholars believe that in Romans Paul was introducing himself to the church in Rome. Now, Paul did know some of the Roman believers personally. For example, he knew Prisca and Aquila, because he met then in Corinth (Acts 18:1-2) and travelled with them to Ephesus (Acts 18:18-19).
However, we do not have records of Paul meeting all of those listed in Romans 16. And, there are a large number of people listed in Romans 16 – at least 27 individuals in Rome are listed in Romans 16:3-15. Paul greets them all by name. So, somehow he has heard of these people and he knows them well enough to greet them and to encourage them to greet one another. Perhaps travellers had told Paul about these believers. Perhaps Paul had received correspondence from them or from others who know them. However Paul found out about these believers in Rome, he considered them to be important enough to mention them by name.
But, Paul does not only mention individuals. He mentions several groups of believers: 1) the church that meets in the house of Prisca and Aquila (16:5); 2) those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus (16:11); 3) the brothers and sisters who are with Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, and Hermas (16:14); 4) the saints who are with Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas (16:15). Paul is not only familiar with individuals in Rome, he also knows about several groups of Christians who are meeting together. He encourages his readers to greet these groups, and for the groups to greet one another as well.
From the emphasis in his letter, it is entirely possible that these groups included both Jews and Gentiles. It is probably that some within these groups believed that one day was more important than another. Others probably believed that eating certain foods and drinking certain drinks was prohibited by God. (See my post “Stumbling blocks” for a discussion of the differences in belief in the Roman church.) And, yet, Paul expected all of these believers to “greet one another”.
Perhaps, when Paul instructs these different groups of believers (churches?) with different sets of beliefs to “greet one another” he means simply that they should nod in each other’s general direction when they pass in the marketplace. Or, perhaps, he means “greet” in the fuller sense of “to engage in hospitable recognition of another” or “to express happiness about the arrival of something” (BDAG). Perhaps, if Paul cared enough about all of these different individuals and groups that he would mention them by name from hundreds and thousands of miles away, he would also expect them to care about one another from across town.
I think that we can learn alot about fellowship between believers and groups of believers from Paul’s greetings. I think it is past time that we begin to “greet one another” – even those who may disagree with us.