“Meet the Hatfields: Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and their brothers who are here in the audience. And meet the McCoys: Philologus, Julia, Nereus, and his sister—how are you, darling?—and Olympas, and all their family with them in the studio today. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the families greet you.” (Romans 16:14-16, my paraphrase)
We know more about most families who have appeared on Family Feud than we do the final cast of characters that Paul commends in Chapter 16 of Romans. William Barclay may have a novel thing or two to say about Nereus, but really, we know little about these folks other than Paul’s high regard for them all. At least we learn a little bit about the occupations and interests of individuals who appear on Family Feud as Richard Dawson (and Louie Anderson, Richard Karn, John O’Hurley, and Steve Harvey—the whole list of hosts over the years) greets each person right on down the line. In Romans, we don’t get to know even that much about Asyncritus and company, or Philologis and the others. You see, it’s not about them.
The main point of this whole passage in Romans 16 is that Paul is recollecting these saints, commending these saints, loving these saints, as he considers those who have “risked their necks” for the sake of the Gospel: Greet one another with a holy kiss.
For those who might think it unimportant to confront Osteenism and his not so equally prosperous ilk, consider what topic Paul turns to right after asking the saints to greet one another in the customary kiss. He warns all in Rome to do what?
— watch out for those who cause divisions (Romans 16:17a ESV) or as James Boice comments on this phrase, “those who divide churches into factions that will be loyal to themselves”
and those who
— create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught (v. 17b), who cause skandalon, or again as Boice puts it, “[not] scandalous behavior… but rather of adding things to the gospel that get in the way of those who are merely trying to obey the Bible and follow Jesus Christ.”
Could any two phrases better capture the essence of the psychobabble that Joel Osteen parades as Bible teaching?
And what does Paul say next? Avoid them (v. 17c). Flee Houston, we have a problem!
Moreover, Paul (who I’d like to believe had really bad teeth and unkempt hair) goes on: for such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites (v. 18a ).
Wow. How harsh. And how does Paul say these scandalous scoundrels operate? By smooth talk and flattery. (v.18b)
To all in Houston, who are loved by God and called to be saints: Can’t you see the parallel here? Those of us who warn about Joel and Victoria (“Avoid them!”) do not do so because we somehow have it out for the Osteens. No. We’re simply greeting you—one another—with a holy kiss.
Note how Paul concludes in characterizing these smooth talkers: they deceive the hearts of the naïve. (v. 18b) That is the crime of it all. The false gospel feeds on the naïve. All the more reason to know what you believe and why you believe it!
Now hand me that remote…
James Gilmore is the co-author of the bestselling book, The Experience Economy. A prolific speaker and popular business consultant, Jim has also been a guest on White Horse Inn and has recently written for Modern Reformation. Jim is a Batten Fellow and Adjunct Lecturer at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. He is also a Visiting Lecturer in Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, where he teaches a course on cultural hermeneutics.