Isaiah 43:2 tells us “I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” Romans 16, the concluding chapter of a long letter through the seriousness of sin, the wonders of grace and the challenges of sacrificial living, is full of names. Most of these names are not found anywhere else in the Bible and we know tantalisingly little about these people. Paul is greeting people in the Roman church with all the familiarity and affection of a friend and fellow believer. The names, unfamiliar to us in form as well as in detail, are many and varied: Priscilla, Aquila, Epenetus, Mary, Andronicus, Junia, Ampliatus, Urbanus, Appelles, Aristobulus, Herodion, Narcissus, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Rufus and his mother, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and others. People with Paul send their greetings too: Tertius, his amanuensis, Timothy, Gaius, Erastus. Both men and women are mentioned. Some details are there, but we know remarkably little of how Priscilla and Aquila risked their lives for Paul or why Adronicus and Junia are ‘outstanding among the apostles’.

The Bible teaches constantly and persistently that we are more than a National Insurance number or a statistic on someone’s database. It teaches us the value of each human individual. It teaches us that God knows us by name, numbers the very hairs on our heads and knows everything about us. It teaches us that no man is an island but that we need each other. Eugene Peterson says, in his commentary on Ephesians called ‘Practise Resurrection’, “church is the textured context in which we grow up in Christ to maturity. But church is difficult. Sooner or later, though, if we are serious about growing up in Christ, we have to deal with church… Many Christians find church the most difficult aspect of being a Christian. And many drop out… There are certainly plenty of warts in any church.” (Eugene Peterson, ‘Practise Resurrection’, P 11).

Romans 16 reminds us of the context of church. Church is made up of real people, often unnoticed by the world, often unnamed in the wider context of fame. But for every ‘named’ Christian leader or artist or ‘famous’ person, there are many more, labouring behind the scenes, praying, serving faithfully, loving graciously. Read any foreword in a book or the inlay card of a CD and you will see the artist’s thanks to people we will never meet. Nonetheless, these people support, love, envision and inspire others.

Never for one moment imagine that your life is insignificant or unnoticed by God. Take comfort from Romans 16, this glimpse into the lives of people about whom we know virtually nothing, but who were vital links in the Christian chain as far as Paul was concerned. We are not alone. Think of Hebrews 11, that great chapter on faith, where some of the names tucked in there with the spiritual giants of the faith are mentioned casually, in passing. God knows each one of us, calls us by name and values each one of us.