In the previous post, we saw that, for Paul, the ideal Christian existence is not a fulfilling marriage but is fully committed discipleship to Christ. When we begin to view discipleship to Christ as the chief aim of the Christian life rather than happy families, a couple other insights regarding singleness and marriage emerge. To draw out these points, consider Paul’s final greetings to the church in Rome found in Romans 16 (all biblical references are to the NIV):
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she many need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.
Greet also the church that meets at their house.
Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.
Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord.
Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.
Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test.
Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus.
Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew.
Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.
Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord.
Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.
Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.
Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them.
Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord’s people who are with them.
Greet one another with a holy kiss.
All the churches of Christ send greetings. (Romans 16:1–16)
Oftentimes when we come to this passage, we are tempted to skip straight over it, or maybe to at best stop long enough to speculate what Paul means by a “holy kiss.” (Was that on the lips or what?) But this passage is actually extremely instructive regarding the biblical perspective of marriage and singleness. For in this passage Paul not only greets married couples and entire households who serve the Lord together, but he more often greets individual men and women who are serving the Lord alongside him. He commends the woman Phoebe, as a deacon and benefactor. He greets the man Adronicus and the woman Junia, both of whom he calls “outstanding among the apostles.” He greets Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis, all presumably single women who Paul states have “worked hard in the Lord.” He even greets the mother of Rufus, presumably a widow, since Paul does not also greet her husband as well. Along with the households and married couples, Paul greets a number of single women and men as his fellow co-workers in the Lord.
In short, according to Paul’s greetings in Romans 16, discipleship to Christ is more fundamental than marital status or even gender identity.