The Best Leaders Remember Your Name
Why I Love the Apostle Paul
You have heard it said, “It’s lonely at the top.” It means that CEOs, and senior pastors, and leaders of non-profit organizations, and politicians in positions of great authority, and scholars at the top of their field, and athletes and actors and musicians who are known by millions — all these live in a rarified atmosphere of isolation from real, relaxed, vulnerable, reciprocal relationships.
This may be owing partly to the way employees or fans put the leader on an unapproachable pedestal, and it may be owing partly to the leaders themselves acting like they are on such a pedestal as part of their persona and power. It may be owing to people’s experience of awe and perceptions of aloofness, and it may be owing to the leaders’ self-imposed schedule that leaves no room for relationships to grow. It may be owing to felt intimidation (real or unreal), and it may be owing to a leader’s personality that is at home with pressure and tasks and ill at ease in ordinary personal dealings that have no authority structures or productivity goals.
But then there is the rare leader who looks you in the eye, and remembers your name, and asks you questions about your life, and gets down to talk to your children, and doesn’t worry about the stain on his shirt from lunch. You marvel that he carries his power so unpretentiously. You like him.
Everyone knew that Paul wielded extraordinary authority in the Christian churches. He was at the top. Other apostles held equal authority, but none held more. None had greater gifts. You can feel the power he wields when he says in 1 Corinthians 14:37–38,
If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.
“From the most influential Christian in the first century — a man at the top — we see a relational connectedness that fills us with wonder.”
That statement would be arrogant if the Lord of the universe, Jesus Christ, hadn’t called and commissioned Paul as his ambassador (Acts 26:16–18). It would still be arrogant if Paul used this power to lord it over the churches. Instead, he was deeply aware, as he says in 2 Corinthians 10:8, that his was an “authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you.”
From this deep conviction, he said, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24). He did not crave for people to take note of his power. In fact, he said, “This is how one should regard us, as servants [literally slaves] of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1).
A Friendly Giant
Nevertheless, Paul moved among the churches as a giant, which makes his relational connectedness all the more remarkable. Consider one instance — namely, the closing chapter of his greatest letter, Romans. Scan your eyes over his personal greetings:
Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you. (Romans 16:5–16)
“Here is a man who did not let his authority, or his being at the top, choke off the affections that he felt for these friends.”
Sixteen times in twelve verses he says, “Greet.” Whenever we talk like this, at least three people are involved. In this case, there is Paul, and there are those he is writing to, and there is the person or group he wants them to greet. What’s happening in this three-part connection? Something is being carried by the middle person from Paul to the third person. What is being carried? Yes, a greeting. But what’s the point of a greeting? The point of the greeting is love.
Four times he says it explicitly: “my beloved” (Romans 16:5, 8, 9, 12). Paul loves these people. That’s what this text is about. Paul is saying, “I love these people, and I want my love to be carried from my heart to their heart by you. So please take these words from me and make them the bottle from which you pour my love into their lives — 26 different friends.”
What Leader Is Like This?
Amazing. I’ve never written a letter like this. I’ve never asked a friend to greet 26 people by name. Nor have I read anything like this in any biography or memoir. This personal connectedness is rare. From the most influential Christian leader in the first century — a man at the top — we see a relational connectedness that fills us with wonder. He had never even been to Rome, where all these people were living! He had met them elsewhere, but followed their travels and knew their situation.
Here is a man who did not let his authority, or his being at the top, choke off the affections that he felt for these friends. You cannot help but feel, as you read this final chapter of Romans (with all its exalted thoughts about God), that these friends were precious to Paul. This was not politics. This was personal affection and love. The kind of love that two thousand years later draws out the same in us — for him.