Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. (Rom 16:5)
It’s not always easy to be “the first.” The first to decide. The first to turn. The first to leave. The first to “go all in.”
“The first” stands out, maybe in uncomfortable ways. What if I’m the only one? “The first” is vulnerable. What will other people think? “The first” runs a risk. What will everybody else say?
Sometimes, it takes a lot of guts to be “the first.”
Many centuries ago, there was a “first convert to Christ in Asia.” His name was Epaenetus. Can you imagine when this incredible letter from the apostle Paul was shared with brothers and sisters in Rome and Epaenetus first heard his name read? What was his story? How did he hear the good news? Was it tough for Epaenetus to go first? What did he have to leave behind? What did his family, friends, and neighbors think about his new allegiance to Christ? How did “the obedience of faith” (Rom 16:26) change his life? What sacrifices did he have to make? Where did his walk with Jesus take him? We don’t know. This is the one and only time we read his name in the Bible.
But we do know the word that came to Paul’s mind when he thought of Epaenetus. “Beloved.” Epaenetus was loved by God and God’s people.
You live in a different place, at a different time, under different circumstances, but maybe Epaenetus is exactly the person you needed to cross paths with today. What would he say if he had just a brief moment to encourage you? I’m guessing it would be something like: “No regrets. It was worth it. Don’t be afraid to be the first.”
The first to say, “I’ve decided to follow Jesus.”
The first to slow down. “That sounds like a bad idea. I can’t go along with that.”
The first to share. “I have good news. Could I tell you about the One who has changed my life?”
The first to invite. “Come and see.”
The first to reach out. “How can I help?”
The first to welcome. “What’s your name? I’m glad you’re here.”
The first to empathize. “You’re not alone. I’m so encouraged by your honesty.”
The first to object. “I’m not sure we should be talking about her like that.”
The first to be distinctive. “That used to be me, but I’ve left those things behind. Could I tell you why?”
The first to contend, “I don’t think that’s in the Bible.”
The first to admit, “That’s a great question. I honestly don’t know, but why don’t we dig for answers together?”
The first to humbly express, “I’m sorry.”
The first to sincerely ask, “Will you forgive me?”
Don’t be afraid to be the first.
Epaenetus was “the first convert” to Christ in Asia. The word Paul uses in Greek can be more literally translated “firstfruit.” The seed of God’s word came in contact with a good, honest heart and it changed Epaenetus’ life. He wouldn’t be the last. Countless others followed, resulting in a great harvest throughout Asia and beyond.
What about you? Who knows the impact you could have today? What if you took courage from Epaenetus’ example and just did the next right thing, even if you had to go first?
One thing is certain. “Beloved” is the word your Creator uses to describe such people of faith.