David Letterman has his Top 10. College basketball it's Big 12. And the Apostle Paul has his Trusted 37+. You'll find them listed in Romans 16.
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea...Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus...Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia...
“Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you...Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me...Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord...Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.
“Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord...my dear friend Persia...Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too...
“Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them.
“Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (Romans 16:1-16a)
Whew! That's just a few of the faithful followers in the church at Rome. Another eight are listed in verses 21-24 who didn't make the trip with Phoebe, but sent their greetings. But why would Paul take the time to call them out individually and attribute compliments and character assessments? Because as much as Paul was a learned philosopher, he was also a loving friend.
This tender side is yet more evidence of the true transformation that opened his blinded eyes when He met the Messiah on the Damascus Road. Remember, before he was Paul, he was Saul who authorized the murder of Stephen when “...they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts. 7:57b-58) He watched an innocent young man, with the face of an angel, fall on his knees and cry out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 60) And then Saul watched him die and he walked away.
The Paul in the book of Romans is not the same cold-hearted legalist of early Acts. He is now a believer, a brother, a teacher and a friend. God put the humanity into the man and made it possible for him to love again. So by the time a letter is written to Corinth, Paul spells out the kind of friend he aspires to be; the kind of servant he is to the King. He defines true discipleship in agape terms of endearment.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
Paul learned how to love because he was first loved by God. Though he amassed great knowledge and garnered tremendous respect, this love factor softened his heart and fit him for service that would last thousands of years past his life on earth. That's the kind of lasting impact from a love that is perfect, a love that is patient and kind and does not envy or boast; a love that is not proud or rude or self-seeking and is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs.
The love of God that Paul felt toward his companions was love that “protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor. 13:7)
That's the kind of love that changed a killer's destiny into a blessed legacy where the numbers have grown from 37 in a local church to millions worldwide who read the Pauline letters and discover for themselves that we have nothing if we have not been changed by the love of God.