Monday, 10 February 2014
Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. Romans 16:5
After first noting Priscilla and Aquila, Paul takes the time to ask that those who receive his letter to, “Likewise greet the church that is in their house.” If Paul is writing to the saints in Rome, then why would a separate address be made to these two and the church that met in their home? The answer is that, as Vincent’s Word Studies notes, “The expression here denotes, not the whole church, but that portion of it which met at Aquila’s house.”
At this time, there were no established buildings used specifically for churches. Although there may have been an overall church, among whom there were all known members, there were individual locations where people would go to meet, one being the house of Priscilla and Aquila.” They were tireless in their approach to spreading the word and teaching the truth. Wherever they are noted, they are always shown to be instructing and accommodating others. In Rome, instead of their house being a private sanctuary away from the commotion of life, it was a place where believers would come and share in the Lord. The same is true when they lived elsewhere. In 1 Corinthians 16:19, Paul noted this concerning them –
“The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.’
Paul’s next greeting was to his “beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ.” He certainly had dear affections for this person and yet this is the only time that he is specifically mentioned in the Bible. However, he could be mentioned elsewhere under a different name. Epaenetus is a Greek name, but often (noted several times even in the New Testament) Jewish people had two different names, one Hebrew and one Greek. Epaenetus means “praised” which in Hebrew would be the name Judah. So he could have been known to Paul by this, or another name.
Regardless of the certainty of this, he is called “the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ.” The term firstfruits comes from the Old Testament. At the beginning of a harvest season, the first ripe grain was cut and then taken as an offering to the Lord. This offering was to acknowledge God’s provision and looked forward to the greater harvest which was soon to ripen. When this was presented, the following ritual noted in Deuteronomy took place –
“And it shall be, when you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it, that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground, which you shall bring from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and put it in a basket and go to the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide. And you shall go to the one who is priest in those days, and say to him, ‘I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the country which the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.’ “Then the priest shall take the basket out of your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God. And you shall answer and say before the Lord your God: ‘My father was a Syrian, about to perish, and he went down to Egypt and dwelt there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. But the Egyptians mistreated us, afflicted us, and laid hard bondage on us. Then we cried out to the Lord God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and looked on our affliction and our labor and our oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, “a land flowing with milk and honey”; and now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land which you, O Lord, have given me.’ Then you shall set it before the Lord your God, and worship before the Lord your God. So you shall rejoice in every good thing which the Lord your God has given to you and your house, you and the Levite and the stranger who is among you.”
This firstfruit offering then was made to God in gratitude for how He has cared for His people. The implication is clear. Epaenetus is that offering, being of the first of the converts, and he was offered “to” Christ. This then implies the deity of Christ because the offering is made to Him as Lord. But Jesus is also called the “Firstfruits” in 1 Corinthians 15:20. Thus Christ is the fulfillment of the Feast of Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:9-14) in His resurrection. After that the harvest then continues in Him to God (Leviticus 23:15-22) as began at Pentecost in the giving of the Holy Spirit.
Epaenetus is that first offering of the area of Achaia. But, it should be noted that even though this is so, Paul also uses this term in 1 Corinthians 16 –
“I urge you, brethren—you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints—that you also submit to such, and to everyone who works and labors with us.” 1 Corinthians 16:15, 16
Because the term is used of the household of Stephanas, it is very possible that Epaenetus was of this household and this would explain why Paul singles him out in this way. This cannot be determined for certain, but it would clarify why the same term is used of both.
Life application: Priscilla and Aquila were tireless servants of the Lord, opening their home to the saints in their area as a church. Epaenatus was the “firstfruits” of Achaia. Paul has noted these people for their impact upon his life. In this we can learn these two things – 1) We should take note of, and acknowledge, those who are faithful and tireless in their work for the Lord; 2) Those who are faithful and tireless in the Lord are not forgotten by others and their deeds are, in fact, remembered. If this is so, then how much more does the Lord remember their deeds!
Lord, it is so good to read through the comments on Facebook or to turn on the news and to see that there are still people who are willing to honor You openly and without timidity. Today, I’d like to say a special prayer for each of them who is willing to do this. Give them an out-of-the-ordinary blessing and make Your presence known to them so that they will continue the good work! Amen.