Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. (Romans 16:13)
Too often I skim-read the greetings in New Testament letters. But in doing so, I can miss out on wonderful truths from God’s word. The entire letter to the Romans is God-breathed, not just those verses which make it onto fridge magnets and calendars. And in the final greetings, we get insight into the Apostle Paul’s personal life and the lives of early believers more generally.
Paul’s letter contains important theological truths. It’s important to remember, however, that they weren’t penned in a vacuum. Paul had real Christians in mind, people that he loved deeply, including Rufus to whom he extends a greeting. A greeting that Paul broadens to the mother of Rufus who “has been a mother to me as well”. What a lovely insight into the Apostolic church.
Paul, although unmarried according to 1 Corinthians 7:8, was by no means alone. Far from it. He was close to Timothy his “true child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2), to Persis “a dear friend” (Romans 16:12) and to Tychicus “a dear brother” (Colossians 4:7), among many others. We see in Paul’s relationships a vision for the church as the family of God, which is characterized by close friendships, intimacy, unity, practical commitment and a deep love for one another.
God’s word does urge us, of course, to care for our own families: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). So commitment towards our church family is not to lead to neglect of our relatives. But each Christian should also look beyond his or her own family. All believers have had their families wonderfully enlarged and we are now part of the bigger “household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). What a positive truth for those who are lonely or don’t have a family of their own. In fact, what a marvellous message for anyone who longs to belong.
We don’t know what impact the mother of Rufus had on Paul’s life and ministry. And we may not realize the full impact we can have on other Christians through our relationships with them. Despite that, we should ask ourselves how we can play our part in God’s family. Who knows what influence you might have through following the example of the unnamed mother of Rufus.
So, can you be a mother figure for a fellow believer or can you be like a father, or a son, or a brother, or a sister? What if more and more people in our churches were able to say ‘that person was a mother to me’? How encouraging that could be for one another’s faith. What a great answer it would provide to those who look at your church and ask ‘is there anything different about Christians?’ Just imagine how much your church leaders – married or unmarried – might be blessed too, by being viewed and treated as members of your family. If we’re able to take up this challenge and extend our families, then we fulfil the words of Jesus:
“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29).
As Christians, we can be a blessing towards one another by realizing that we are members of an enlarged family, in which we are called to “love one another deeply” (1 Peter 1:22). So why not put the example of Rufus’ mother into practice this week?