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Appendix: Letter of Commendation for Phoebe
Romans 16

Romans 16. In 2 Sam. 23 we get the catalog of David's mighty men. Thirty-six names are listed there, and one name is left out. It is a picture of the Judgment seat of Christ in connection with the time of Christ's rejection. Here in Romans 16 we get roughly thirty-six names again! In Paul's salutations we see the special value he placed on each one in their service with him. In a similar way, at the Judgment Seat of Christ all our works will come into review; "then shall every man have praise of God" (1 Cor. 4:5)!

Letters of Commendation. The use of "letters of commendation" was very common among believers in the early Church (Acts 18:27; 2 Cor. 3:1). The purpose of the letter was to express the unity of the Body of Christ, and the resulting communion between local assemblies gathered to the Lord's Name. Scripturally, an unknown person traveling to another assembly should carry a letter of commendation signed by two or three brothers (Matt. 18:16) from their home assembly. However, if a person has previously visited and is well known, they do not need such a letter; see 2 Cor. 3:1. The pattern laid down in Romans 16 shows that even if some from the destination assembly know the visitor (as Aquila and Priscilla most likely did know Phoebe, having lived in Corinth) a letter of commendation is still the proper order. It is a happy thing to read such letters, and often notes of encouragement and love are included, as Paul does in Romans 16. It is one way that we are to "endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3).

Christian women. It is remarkable that Christian women figure so strongly in the salutations that follow. It is a testimony to the value that Christ places in the service of godly women, though their service is in a less public sphere.

The meaning of names. I believe that the names recorded in God's Word are not random. There is some meaning behind each name. At the same time, there is some uncertainty with the meaning of the names, and we want to be very careful not to build a doctrine upon fanciful interpretations of a list of names. That said, there are many practical applications that can be made from these names, and I try to present a few of them for our enjoyment below. If we ever find ourselves making an application that runs cross-grain to the interpretation, we should abandon it immediately.


Commendation of Phoebe (16:1-2)

CHAPTER 16
 But I commend to you Phoebe ['radiant'], our sister, who is minister of the assembly which is in Cenchrea; v.1 This is the only place in the Bible where Phoebe's name is mentioned. She is marked out as a servant of the assembly in Cenchrea. What a commendation! Cenchrea was one of the two ports of the inland city-state of Corinth. Situated nine miles away on the eastern side of the Isthmus of Corinth, Cenchrea sat at a natural crossroads for arriving ships and overland traffic. Paul once sailed from Cenchrea, and a church was formed there (Acts 18:18). It identifies a unique local assembly at a short distance from Corinth, where another assembly was. This shows us the folly of those who claim that a "minister" necessarily means a public speaker in the Church. Why would Paul identify Phoebe as a godly minister in the very region where he had written that the women are to keep silence in the churches (1 Cor. 14:34)? Phoebe served the assembly in the quasi-official capacity of "deaconess", which of course did not include speaking while church was in session. Strictly speaking, office in the Church is held by men (1 Tim. 3:8-13). Phoebe was most likely an elderly widow or unmarried woman as she was travelling abroad without a husband. Without a doubt, there are some assembly services that are more fittingly discharged by a godly woman rather than by any man; e.g. shepherding younger sisters, preparing food for fellowship meals, etc. If the meaning of her name has anything to do with her character, Phoebe's service came with a smile! Though her sphere of service was quiet, she is honored by Lord and taken note of by the great Apostle Paul.

Deaconesses. Mr. Kelly calls attention the letter of Pliny the Younger to the Emperor Trajan. In that letter, Pliny reports on his activities to persecute and investigate the Christian religion. He speaks of torturing two maids that were "ministers of the church", using the Latin equivalent to what is here used to describe Phoebe's role. Evidently it was a common thing in the early Church for a single, elderly woman to look after the temporal needs of the local assembly.

2 that ye may receive her in the Lord worthily of saints, and that ye may assist her in whatever matter she has need of you; for *she* also has been a helper of many, and of myself. v.2 By this verse we can gather that Phoebe seems to have been the bearer of the epistle to the Romans. Paul exhorted the Romans to receive her in two ways:
  1. Spiritually to "receive her in the Lord worthily of saints". The expression "receive" here would seem to have a different context than used in Rom. 14:1. Here it is an official reception into the fellowship of the assembly as a believer. In ch.14 it is a practical reception into Christian fellowship. Hence the qualifier; " but not to doubtful disputations."
  2. Materially to "assist her in whatever matter she has need of you". The purpose of her trip was some private matter; perhaps personal, such as visiting sick family, or perhaps commercial, such as banking, purchases, sales, etc. in Rome. We are to take advantage of any reason that fellow believers travel through our area, and not limit our hospitality to those who travel for spiritual purposes only.
Paul adds an additional reason why they would should "receive" and "assist" her; she had done the same for many others, including the Apostle Paul. Notice how Paul was forward to lean on the affection of his brethren, not for his own sake, but for others? See Philemon 1:19.


Personal Salutations from Paul Himself (16:3-16)

vv.3-16 In this section we get a number of salutations from Paul to those in Rome that were his acquaintances, whether family members, or those he had interacted with on his journeys.

Inter-assembly relationships. One practical point that we should take away from this chapter is the importance of brotherly love between Christians across geographical separations. Paul has a different commendation for each of these ones that are listed; whether they were "my kinsman", "fellow-workman", "servant of the assembly", "beloved", "my beloved", or "well beloved". He knew these ones personally, and kept track of them when they moved to Rome. He had a special bond, and so was able to append these salutations to his commendation of Phoebe. Do we have this kind of love and relationship with our brethren from afar? Do we care to know how they are doing? Do we care to communicate with them?

Family members in the assembly. Often our relatives are in the same local assembly or another assembly in fellowship with us. There can be a bit of natural awkwardness as a result, because we don't want our family dynamics to influence the assembly. We would feel far more comfortable if no one in the assembly was related, but that is not how things usually work out. For sure, we do need to be careful that family character and family religion do not come into play in the assembly, but we should not be ashamed that some of those we meet with are our relatives. Six of the names mentioned in this chapter were relatives of the Apostle Paul, and he spoke of them with joy, and no shame. He wasn't worried about being accused of favoritism. He was confident that the brethren knew his heart. He didn't sidestep their natural connection to him either, as if to pretend they were not related. We ought to count it a double joy that God has saved members of our family and brought them into fellowship!

3 Salute Prisca ['ancient'] and Aquila ['an eagle'], my fellow-workmen in Christ Jesus, 4 (who for my life staked their own neck; to whom not *I* only am thankful, but also all the assemblies of the nations,) 5a and the assembly at their house. vv.3-5a See encyclopedia entry for Aquila and Priscilla. When Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome, Aquila and Prisca were forced to leave, and relocate to Corinth (Acts 18:2-3). They traveled with Paul to Ephesus, and remained there. The assembly in Ephesus began to meet in their home. Later they returned to Rome, and now at the time of this epistle one of the assemblies in Rome was meeting "at their house"! (See two other gatherings in v.14 and v.15.) Mr. Kelly remarks that, as tent-makers, Aquila and Priscilla would have always had a large room in their home for laying out tent fabric, which would have been quite suitable for a meeting room! No doubt this couple would have known Phoebe well, having lived in Corinth. While Aquila and Priscilla shared the Apostle's craft of tent-making, he passes over that here and refers to their primary bond; "my fellow-workmen in Christ Jesus". They had at some point risked their "neck" (singular) for Paul, showing that as one flesh they were committed to the service of Christ. Paul would be forever "thankful" to them for that sacrifice (John 15:13). Evidently the news of it was widely heard and Aquila and Priscilla had earned the thanks of "all the assemblies of the nations". Much can be attributed to the faithfulness of this model Christian couple: their instructing Apollos, establishing the Corinthian assembly, and now saving Paul's life. Certainly they were used of the Lord in a remarkable way among the Gentile assemblies in Italy, Greece, and Asia Minor.

5b Salute Epaenetus ['praiseworthy'], my beloved, who is the first-fruits of Asia for Christ. v.5b The next salutation is to Epaenetus now living in Rome, who was the first man saved in Asia Minor. The word "Asia" is wrongly translated "Achaia" in the textus receptus. The "household of Stephanus" were the first-fruits there (1 Cor. 16:16). He had some special place in the Apostle's affections, for he calls him "my beloved".

6 Salute Maria ['bitterness'], who laboured much for you.  v.6 It is wonderful to see how the apostle reminds them of her labor for them. That is what Paul's heart delighted in; and truly, Christ's desire is that we would "love one another", for "by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples" (John 13:34-35). If her name has anything to do with it, her service involved deep suffering of some kind.

7 Salute Andronicus ['man-conqueror'] and Junias ['youth'], my kinsmen and fellow-captives, who are of note among the apostles; who were also in Christ before me. v.7 Next Paul salutes two of his relatives that were imprisoned in Rome. Paul had not been arrested in Jerusalem yet, but he had frequently seen the walls of a prison (2 Cor. 11:23), and refers to these two as his "fellow-captives". Their names present notes of victory, in spite of the apparent defeat. They were "of note among the apostles" not in the sense that they were apostles, but that they were held in high esteem by the apostles. See encyclopedia entry on apostles. "Junia" can be masculine or feminine. Paul remarks that they were “in Christ before me,” and perhaps they had prayed for their young relative many times, resulting in his extraordinary conversion!

8 Salute Amplias ['enlarged'], my beloved in the Lord. v.8 Here we have another saluted as Paul's "beloved". If his name has anything to do with it, perhaps Amplias was one who has begun very small but had undergone great spiritual growth, which Paul rejoiced to see.

9 Salute Urbanus ['city dweller'], our fellow-workman in Christ, and Stachys ['a full head of grain'], my beloved. v.9 Now we get another pair. Urbanus means 'city dweller' and perhaps had led a posh Roman city-life before his conversion. Now Urbane had so fully given up that life that Paul refers to him as "our fellow-workman"… a different picture than "city-dweller". The second is Stachys, whom Paul again refers to as "my beloved", a special term of affection. If his name has anything to do with it, he was one whose life was fruitful for God; "and some, an hundred-fold" (Matt. 13:23).

10a Salute Apelles ['separation'], approved in Christ. v.10a The next salutation is to Apelles, which is Greek for 'separation'. Paul commends him for being "approved in Christ". The word 'approved' here is translated from dokimos (Strong's G1384) which has the thought of 'tested' or 'tried', in the way gold or silver coins are proven by fire. In some way, Apelles had undergone a fiery test for the sake of Christ, and had come through with His approval! If the brother's name has anything to do with it, perhaps Apelles was tested by family, business, or political association that required separation from evil for the glory of Christ.

10b Salute those who belong to Aristobulus ['best counselor']v.10b Next we get a group of brethren mentioned; those who were in the household of Aristobulus, although Aristobulus himself is not saluted. Perhaps the head of the house was on a journey, or perhaps he was not saved; we do not know exactly why he is not greeted. Perhaps his name would indicate that he was a legal adviser to politicians in Rome. In any case, the arena of politics does not mix with Christianity. How wonderful that the Gospel would reach his servants, regardless of their master.

11a Salute Herodion ['heroic'], my kinsman. v.11a Next Paul salutes another relative, who we know very little about. His name might be an indication of his valiant character.

11b Salute those who belong to Narcissus ['stupidity'], who are in the Lord. v.11b Now we get a second household where the master is not saluted. Again, it would appear that the head of the house was either on a journey, or not saved at all. Narcissus' name means 'stupidity', quite a contrast to Aristobulus which means 'best counselor'. It shows that whether it be the houses of the political elite (Aristobulus) or the incompetent fool (Narcissus), the Gospel had penetrated all types of households across the city of Rome.

12a Salute Tryphaena ['dainty'] and Tryphosa ['delicate'], who labour in the Lord. v.12a Next Paul salutes two women whose names sound quite similar, which most expositors say indicates that they were sisters. Both their names come from the same word which means 'luxurious living', perhaps an indication of their lifestyle before conversion. How beautiful to see them laboring together "in the Lord"! They forsook the easy life that wealth could afford, and dedicated their lives in service for the Lord. Most likely they were younger, because "labor" is in the present tense. They had an older sister (v.12b) who had "labored much" but could no longer work... and it took two younger sisters to "labor" in the work of that one older sister. Note: a possible rendering of Tryphosa is 'disdain'. If that were the case, the first daughter would be named 'small and pretty' and the second 'unworthy of consideration'. If that were the case, what a beautiful testimony to grace, which overcame their inequality in their parents eyes, and allowed them to go on to serve unitedly!

12b Salute Persis ['a Persian woman'], the beloved, who has laboured much in the Lord. v.12b Next Paul salutes a well-loved, perhaps elderly sister in Rome. We know she was well-loved, because Paul says "the beloved" instead of "my beloved". We know she was perhaps elderly because the fact that she "laboured" much in the Lord is stated in the past tense, which indicates that she was now older and unable to carry on with the same service. What a commendation for an older sister at the end of her life! Being of Persian descent, she would have been a foreigner in the city of Rome, but she had found a home among the saints of God!

13 Salute Rufus ['red'], chosen in the Lord; and his mother and mine. v.13 Next Paul salutes Rufus, who is likely the same person mentioned in Mark 15:21; "And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross." The way Mark records it is with the assumption that the reader knows the family. It likely refers to this same Rufus! Not wanting Jesus to die of exhaustion, the Roman soldiers forcibly enlisted Simon, who would have been a black man from North Africa, to carry the cross to Golgotha. There he no doubt witnessed the crucifixion of Christ. Mr. Kelly said; "The Lord repaid with interest the burden of that day." His son Rufus is found among the elect! And not only Rufus, but his mother (Simon's wife) was saved as well. Paul adds that the same woman had been a mother to himself as well, in the sense that she filled a mother's role to him! Nothing is said of Alexander. Perhaps he remained in Africa, or never believed the Gospel. In any case, Rufus carried on for the Lord in Rome without his brother.

vv.14-15 There was an assembly in the house of Priscilla and Aquila, but it appears that there were at least two other meetings in the vast city of Rome: one in v.14 and one in v.15. There is every indication that these groups were on the same ground of fellowship; how different from evangelical Christendom's ground of independency. In each gathering there are five ones listed (perhaps influential ones), followed by a group of brethren. Notice that the names first group tends to be of a more concrete, orchestrated character, and those in the second group of a more abstract, affectionate character. Not every meeting of the Church will have the same flavor. Some are going to be more 'paternal' and others more 'maternal'. 

14 Salute Asyncritus ['incomparable'], Phlegon ['burning' or 'zealous'], Hermes ['way-marker'], Patrobas ['a father's step'], Hermas ['teacher for gain'], and the brethren with them. v.14 The first gathering has five names listed that are all of a very active character: one who was impossible to criticize, another burning with zeal, then a provider of guidance, a fatherly example, and one who could teach others the unsearchable riches of Christ. Notice that there are no sisters mentioned in this assembly, and it even says; "the brethren with them" (c.p. 'saints' in v.15). This assembly would perhaps have a more paternal character to it, being strong, energetic, well directed, and knowledgeable.

15 Salute Philologus ['lover of words'], and Julia ['soft' or 'downy'], Nereus ['one who shines'], and his sister, and Olympas ['gatherer into one'], and all the saints with them. v.15 The second gathering also has five ones listed, and they are all of a more passive character: a talkative brother, a tenderhearted sister, a wise older brother with his sister, and a brother that tends to unite everyone. Notice that two of the them are sisters, and it even says; "the saints with them" (c.p. 'brethren' in v.14). This assembly would perhaps have a more maternal character to it, being communicative, affectionate, and close-knit.

16 Salute one another with a holy kiss. All the assemblies of Christ salute you. v.16 Paul did not want the salutations to cease when they finished reading his epistle. He wanted them to go on displaying mutual love in the Lord toward each other. There was to be a 'kiss', or display of affection; but it was to 'holy' as well. To encourage them, Paul sent greetings from "all the assemblies of Christ", for he could so speak having traveled to a great extent.


Closing Exhortations (16:17-20)

17 But I beseech you, brethren, to consider those who create divisions and occasions of falling, contrary to the doctrine which *ye* have learnt, and turn away from them. v.17 While it does not read well in English, Mr. Kelly says that the definite article belongs in two places in this verse;  "who create the divisions and the occasions of falling…". Satan was already at work in Rome, seeking to destroy their unity and fruitfulness by his divisive activity. They were to be on their guard against those who had a tendency to gather people around themselves and form cliques. These movements of Satan often have a misleading outward appearance, but the error could be properly identified only by comparing with "the doctrine which ye have learnt". Paul warns in 1 Cor. 11:18-19 that a "division [inward schism]" will lead to a "sect [outward heresy]" if it is not judged. We are not told to excommunicate a divisive brother, but to "avoid" him. Putting out a divisive brother will lead to an outward division, because many will go with him. Instead we are to avoid that brother, and reach out to those who are following him. Eventually he will repent or he will leave, in which case he will become a heretic.

18 For such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly, and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. v.18 Paul now gets at the motives of the divisive brother. He is not serving the Lord, but himself. He wants a following, and does not have our best interests at heart. All he wants is our support, and he gets that by stealing hearts (see the "thief" of John 10). He would take our focus off of Christ, and have us follow a fleshly man. He will likely be a smooth talker, and those who are "simple" and "unsuspecting" can easily be swept up by him (e.g. 2 Sam. 15:1-6, 11). The way these things happen is by divisive persons capitalizing on doctrinal disagreements to form schools of thought around themselves.

19 For your obedience has reached to all. I rejoice therefore as it regards you; but I wish you to be wise as to that which is good, and simple as to evil. v.19 Paul would remind them of the good testimony that the Romans had rendered over the known world. He didn’t want to see that testimony spoiled through division. What is the remedy? Be well-acquainted with what is good, and know as little as necessary about what is evil. As the Lord put it figuratively; "be wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Matt. 10:16). Occupation with evil is unhealthy for a Christian. Staying close to the side of Christ is the only way to be preserved. If we rely on human wisdom, we are sure to fall.

20 But the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. v.20 Like an experienced soldier up ahead, Paul shouts back to us (his comrades in arms) "the final victory is coming… and coming 'shortly'!" Evil still appears to have the upper hand, but the victory is near. Satan will not be finally dealt with (crushed in an absolute sense) until the end of the Millennium, but as to our final deliverance from sin, the world, and Satan, we will have that at the rapture; "crushed under your feet". We have justification now, deliverance from sin now; but the final victory will not be complete until we hear that shout and our bodies are changed. What an encouragement; the Lord is coming SOON! But in the meantime, to navigate the challenges of the wilderness pathway we need "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" to be with us.


Closing Salutations from Paul's Companions (16:21-24)

 21 Timotheus ['honored of God'], my fellow-workman, and Lucius ['light'], and Jason ['healer'], and Sosipater ['defender of the father'], my kinsmen, salute you. v.21 Next we have the salutations of Paul's companions passed on to the Romans. Here are four men that were traveling with Paul on his third missionary journey. Timothy was his "adopted" son, and the other three were natural relatives of Paul.
  1. Timothy. The young man from Derbe whom Paul calls "my own son in the faith" and to whom Paul addressed two pastoral epistles. He has accompanied Paul on many of his journeys, and was left by Paul at or dispatched to: Berea (Acts 17:14), Thessalonica (1 Thess. 3:2), Corinth (1 Cor. 4:17), Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3), and finally to Rome (2 Tim. 4:9).
  2. Lucius. H.A. Ironside believed that 'Lucius' is the same as Luke the physician, who likely would have been travelling with Paul at this time. However, the name 'Lucius' is used in Acts 13:1 for a prophet or teacher of Cyrene, one of those at Antioch who laid their hands on Barnabas and Paul and sent them on the first missionary journey. Evidently this was a common name. Most likely it was a different person than Luke the physician, as this 'Lucius' was a kinsman of Paul.
  3. Jason. Most likely this is the Jason who welcomed Paul in Thessalonica, and as a result his house was assaulted by the Jews (Acts 17:5-9). We learn for the first time that Jason was a close relative of Paul.
  4. Sosipater. It is possible that this is the same person as Sopater mentioned in Acts 20:4, who was from Berea, son of Pyrrhus, and accompanied Paul from Greece into Asia. He also is here described as a kinsman of Paul.
 22 I Tertius ['the third'], who have written this epistle, salute you in the Lord. v.22 Christian love on Paul's part made room for Tertius, who had penned the letter, to add his own greeting. Paul's standard procedure was to dictate each epistle to an amanuensis, or scribe. Then he would write the salutation in his own handwriting so the recipients would know for sure it had come from Paul. This was his "mark in every letter" (2 Thess. 3:17). It was important because there were some that had written false epistles in the name of Paul (2 Thess. 2). There were two exceptions to this order; Galatians and Philemon. Paul wrote Galatians with his own hand because the error they had fallen into was so serious (Gal. 6:11). He speaks there of "so large letters" or 'block letters', which are indicative of poor eyesight. Philemon also was written by Paul's own hand due to the sensitive and personal nature of the content (Philemon 1:19).

23 Gaius ['to rejoice'], my host and of the whole assembly, salutes you. Erastus ['beloved'], the steward of the city, salutes you, and the brother Quartus ['born fourth']v.23 In v.21 we had salutations from Paul's companions, in v.22 we had salutations from Paul's penman, but in v.23 we get salutations from local brethren in Corinth. Three are mentioned:
  1. Gaius. He was Paul's host in the city of Corinth, and also had the assembly meeting in his home. He had filled in the void that would naturally have been created when Aquila and Priscilla moved to Ephesus.
  2. Erastus. He was a city official that had gotten saved. However, he is identified merely as the "steward of the city", nothing is said of his connections with Paul, the saints, or Christ. Mr. Kelly suggests that Paul leaves room for growth with Erastus. Perhaps he did not have the courage to more boldly identify himself, being in a position where the confession of Christ could put him in danger. It is good to "provoke unto love and to good works" but not to force them.
  3. Quartus. Both he and Tertius were most likely slaves, or at least had been slaves. Instead of names, they were given numbers. How wonderful to hear his commendation; not "Quartus, a number" but "Quartus, a brother". Those whom this world values little are highly valued by God, and ought to be embraced by Christians as "brethren" in the family of God.
No Primus. In the New Testament we have the names of Quartus ('fourth', Rom. 16:23), Tertius ('third', Rom. 16:22), Secundus ('second', Acts 20:4), but no Primus ('first'). That is because there is only One who has the first place... Christ! "That in all things He might have the preeminence" (Col. 1:18).

24 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. v.24 The Apostle Paul seals these salutations from others with the same words as he used to seal his own salutations (v.20). How encouraging! Paul esteemed the communications of his companions as worthy as his own. The twice repetition of Paul's prayer for grace is instructive. We cannot live without Christ's grace, His high-priestly work, pictured by Aaron's rod that budded. No matter what the circumstances, the "grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" can rise up to meet each need.


Closing Doxology: Two Parts of Paul's Doctrine (16:25-27)

Two Parts of Paul's Doctrine. Paul closes with a burst of praise to God, and reveals his desire (and God's) that we might be established in the two parts of Paul's doctrine. Paul is drawing a connecting line between the Gospel (Rom. 1-8), all of its dispensational implications (Rom. 9-11) and practical implications (Rom. 12-16), with the truth of the mystery, which he later develops in Ephesians and Colossians. Romans truth forms a conceptual work-space into which the Mystery fits. We learn of God's righteousness in justifying Gentiles as well as Jews, and indications from Old Testament prophecies that Gentiles would one day be blessed. This prepares the mind for the truth of the mystery. Here we get the two parts, which, if taken together, are what establish our souls in the full revelation of Christianity. Notice the order though: first the gospel, then the mystery. Paul knew that the Romans needed the gospel at this time, but when he arrived they would be taught the mystery as well, "in which are hid all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge" (Col. 2:3).

  Romans 16:25-26 Ephesians 3:8-9 Colossians 1:23-28
Paul's Gospel  v.25a …according to my glad tidings and the preaching of Jesus Christ…  v.8 …that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…  v.23 …the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature...
The Mystery  vv.25b-26 …according to the revelation of the mystery, as to which silence has been kept in the times of the ages…  v.9 …And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God…  vv.25-26 …according to the dispensation of God… Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations…

 25a Now to him that is able to establish you, according to my glad tidings and the preaching of Jesus Christ, v.25a The gospel Paul preached is the first thing we need in order to be established. In short, we get Paul's gospel in the book of Romans. We are told about God's righteousness in justifying the sinner, faith as the means of obtaining justification, the joy of reconciliation, deliverance from sin, the indwelling Spirit of God, and the privilege of sonship. Yet many believers stop here. They do not go on to understand the mystery, and end up like "the untaught and ill-established" who "wrestle" with not only Paul's epistles, but "also the other scriptures" (2 Pet. 3:16). They make evangelism the greatest purpose of God, and end up twisting the Old Testament prophecies to include the Church, etc.

25b according to the revelation of the mystery, as to which silence has been kept in the times of the ages, 26 but which has now been made manifest, and by prophetic scriptures, according to commandment of the eternal God, made known for obedience of faith to all the nations -- vv.25b-26 Often we think of a “mystery” as something that is difficult to discover or decipher. Paul does not use the word in this way. Rather, it refers to a secret that was previously unknown, but now revealed and made plain. There are at least five different aspects of the mystery in Ephesians and Colossians; see encyclopedia entry for the Mystery. The "prophetic scriptures" alluded to here, are New Testament scriptures, written by the New Testament prophets (see note). The revelation of the Mystery was commanded by the "Eternal God". It is God's purpose from a past eternity that Christ would have a bride, taken out from "all nations", not merely Jewish believers. The gospel commands "obedience of faith" (Rom. 1:5), and here we find the Mystery does also! This means we are to preach the Mystery just as we preach the gospel, however souls must be established in the gospel first.

New Testament Prophets. These are part of the “foundation gifts”, along with apostles (see Eph. 2:20; 4:11). Some of the New Testament writers were not apostles, and yet their writings are just as much inspired. They are called prophets. They were prophets in the sense of speaking the revealed mind of God (forth-telling, like Judas and Silas; Acts 15:32) and even foretelling the future (like Agabus, Acts 11:28, 21:10) and receiving divine inspiration (like Mark, James, etc.). We don’t have New Testament prophets with us in person, although we do have their writings. It is clear that "prophetic scriptures" (v.26) could not be Old Testament prophetic scripture because he just said silence had been keep in past ages! Some of these writings were already in existence (e.g. 1 Corinthians), some of them followed after the epistle to the Romans, such as Ephesians and Colossians.

27 the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever. Amen. v.27 The doxology closes by addressing God in His wisdom (c.p. Rom. 11:33-36), in connection with His eternal purpose. And yet it is all brought to pass "through Jesus Christ", on the basis of the work of Calvary. Surely, the glory of God in the person of Christ is to be the undying purpose of the Christian's life, in light of the scope of our blessing.