“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.” Romans 16:1-2 (NIV)
I have to confess, before writing this devotional I knew nothing of Phoebe. Nothing. And to be completely honest, I usually skipped over the final greetings and acknowledgments of Romans 16. I was too busy trying to digest and remember what I had just read! As Luther says in his Preface to Romans:
“This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian’s while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul. It is impossible to read or to meditate on this letter too much or too well. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes.”
Back to Phoebe. She comes from a small Greek fishing village near Corinth in Greece. I am impressed. She is listed as the first of those Paul wishes to commend or greet. Apparently, she was on her way to Rome, possibly entrusted with this important letter. Paul sends an advance recommendation of this sister in Christ so the Romans will receive her and support her during her stay with them. In the days before Air B & B, recommendations like this were necessary because there was a legitimate need for this kind of assistance. Many deceivers In those days would take advantage of the generosity of Christians. Paul is looking out for her.
Another interesting note, the name “Phoebe” is the feminine form of a title given to the pagan god Apollo, the title meaning “the bright one.” We are aware that when people convert to belief in Islam, they often change their names. However, Christians, on their conversion, seemed to feel no need to change their names even if there was some pagan significance to it. As Christians we take on the name of Christ, all else fails in comparison.
The word “deacon” is the same word translated as servant or minister in other places. Phoebe seems to be a female deacon in the church, either by formal recognition or through her general service. Paul gives Phoebe one of the best compliments anyone can give: “she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.” Seems that Phoebe made herself useful no matter what title she may have had, official or unofficial. Phoebe, in modern parlance, was a selfless, sacrificial Rock Star! :-)
While Phoebe serves as an excellent example to all of us regardless of gender, the thought did occur to me that if I were writing a letter and making a list commending all who had helped me come to faith or served with me in sharing and living out the gospel, who would be on it?
Questions For Reflection:
- Think about it. Who would be on your list of folks whom God used to bring you to faith, keep you there and support you as you served others? Who are the Phoebes in your life?
- Better yet, would you make the life list of anyone else following Jesus and serving in the Lord? Where are you a servant, deacon, or minister in our Father’s world? Maybe it is with your family, among your friends and coworkers, here at Southwood?
Lord God, Thank you for the many people around us who model the kind of servant leadership that Phoebe demonstrated. No matter what our gender or identity we are called to serve others and assist them in their faith, service, and calling. Forgive us when we have been self-centered or slothful and move us by your Spirit’s power to seek out and serve others. We ask this in the precious name of Jesus. Amen.