Sometimes we are tempted to skim past certain parts of the Bible. The many laws of Leviticus, for example, or the genealogies (family lines), like those at the beginning of Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels, we might read quickly to move on to other passages that seem more interesting or relevant to our daily lives. The endings of Paul’s New Testament letters, like today’s final passage from 1 Peter, often include references to people that the apostles knew personally, but whom we will never meet until we reach heaven. Some are famous from Acts; “Silvanus” in 1 Peter 5:12 of today’s passage is probably Silas, a traveling companion of Paul. Similarly, Peter’s “son Mark” in 1 Peter 5:13 is probably John Mark, who wrote the gospel of Mark based on the sermons and memories of Peter, his father in the faith. But other names that Paul drops in places like Romans 16 are mentioned only there and nowhere else in the New Testament or church history. Either way, we may feel like asking God, “Why are all these names in the Bible?” or “What can I learn from all of these personal references to people in the early churches?”
I think what all these names in the epistles show us is that ministry is about individual people. Churches are not made up of numbers, but unique Christians with names and stories known to God and each other. Our God is a personal God. He saves and redeems people one soul at time. Christ’s call of salvation and love and grace is personal to every hearer. Peter and Paul were the lead founders of the churches, Peter being the lead apostle to the Jews and Paul the lead apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jews). They were important men with important work to do for God. But here they are, mentioning individual Christians whom they knew and cared about personally. Peter and Paul knew these people well enough to make remarks about their locations and plans as well as their characters and service in the church. This shows us that God’s churches are made up of people who had real relationships with their leaders and with each other. These names were actual Christians who knew each other and were known by each other. As we close out our study on 1 Peter, we see again the importance of living for Christ together in communities of believers called “churches.”
The Text (1 Peter 5:12-14)
12 By Silvanus, our faithful brother as I consider him, I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand.
13 She who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you; and so does Mark my son. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to you all who are in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Background and Observations
• Most of Paul’s letters contain personal references likes we see here at the end of 1 Peter. Romans 16 is by far the biggest example; in that chapter, Paul mentions 34 different people, with at least one detail about each one! This is surely an example for us. Could you name 34 people that you know something about at your own church?
• Many church growth researchers have long noticed that when new attendees visit a church, they need to make meaningful connections if the church wants them to stick around. Relationships are what keep people wanting to come back to church. The magic number that has often been mentioned is seven; if a person can become friends with at least seven active members of a church, they are very likely to become active members themselves.
• The reference to “she who is in Babylon…greets you” is probably talking about the church in Rome, where Peter was known to spend at least some of his ministry time after he disappears from the story of Acts in chapter 15. By this point in history, Rome was the capital and most important city of the known world and famous for its wealth and wickedness, just like Babylon was near the end of the Old Testament era. The real Babylon has become small and unimportant by the first century AD.
Questions to Think About
1. Do you ever feel lost in the crowd at church? What could you do to get to know and be known by more people at your church?
2. If your pastor, youth pastor, or small group leader were to mention you in a letter to another church, what would he or she say about you? What would he or she say about your character and service at church?
3. If a student says or thinks, “I go to a Christian school, so I don’t need to be active in a local church,” what would you say to him or her? What is wrong with such thinking?