I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also. (Romans 16:1-2)
The Sister At Cenchrea
Paul was a very busy man with many things to accomplish in the kingdom of God. He was an incredible force of teaching, planting, instructing, rebuking and establishing the word of God throughout the Roman world. His schedule was an intense regimen of going from city to city preaching the gospel to a sometimes hostile world. In some places he would be received with gladness while other times he was persecuted by his detractors who sought to kill him. There were many disciples involved with Paul in his work. Men like Barnabas, John Mark, Silas and Timothy worked side by side with the exhaustive preacher as he labored from field to field. Luke the historian and gospel writer accompanied Paul on his journeys transcribing the exploits of this messenger of grace. There is a great host of early disciples with who little is said and known. The group of disciples that helped the apostle included women like a saint called Phoebe who was a servant of the church in Cenchrea. Paul inscribes her name but once in his epistles but he commends the hearty spirit of a woman who had impacted his life in many ways.
Closing his letter to the Roman Christians, Paul begins his commendation with his sister in Christ and diligent worker, Phoebe. She was special to him as were the many others named in this final part of Romans. Her story is confined to the fifty-five words in his closing remarks. In the work of Paul there were many people that had helped him along his way on his busy work of missionary journeys but Phoebe stood out in his mind as one individual that needed to be remembered through the Holy Spirit. She was special because of her love for God and her willingness to serve the Lord with devotion. She was a servant of the church showing her passion for hard work and diligent effort for the cause of Christ. Phoebe was not satisfied to sit on the side lines and let everyone else do the work. Her heart was filled with a servant’s spirit to do what she could to help Paul and to further the work of God. It is assumed she was a widow and while this could be true her hands were busy in doing everything she could do for the work of the church. Later when Paul writes to Timothy he reminds the young preacher there are some things women were not permitted to do in the church of God like teach or usurp authority over the man. This would not have dissuaded Phoebe from her work. She may not have been able to preach and teach like the man but there was so much more she could and would do for the church. Her life was a servant’s spirit of serving others and doing whatever she could do to assist those in need. She was person of business. Paul told the Romans to receive her in the Lord and to assist her in whatever business she has need of them. Her life was filled with activity. One could wish Paul would have enumerated what Phoebe was doing but the Romans knew and the early church like the saints in Cenchrea knew who this beloved woman of God was and what she was capable of doing.
The story of Phoebe is not whether she was a “deaconess” or held some office in the church as so often the focus of this saintly woman is directed. Paul commends a woman who did not let the grass grow under her feet. She was a busy woman who wanted to help the work of the church in whatever capacity her life could impact the furtherance of the gospel. Her life was about serving others as she served Jesus Christ. She helped many people including preachers like Paul. Whatever that assistance became is not the story of her life but that she was commended by the apostle because of her love for God. Her name is preserved for two thousand years as a beacon of light to shine for others to be busy in the work of the church. There is much to be done. Women like Phoebe are an important part of that work to show the glory of God in their lives and the example they give in being a servant in the work of bringing lost souls to Christ. She died and was buried in a place long forgotten and lost in the dust of time but her memorial remains as testimony to a faithful life dedicated to the church of Christ. Every generation needs women like Phoebe who expend themselves in the work of the church doing everything they can to show the grace of God in their lives and to help lead others to Christ. Paul inscribed her name in his book to the Romans. The Lord God inscribed her name in the Book of life where she now dwells among the blessed in the bosom of Abraham. A life well lived. Thank you Phoebe. See you soon.