Monday, June 4

Commending Phoebe

Scripture: Proverbs 28-29, Psalm 60, Romans 16

Romans 16:1-2 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church in Cenchreae. 2 So you should welcome her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints and assist her in whatever matter she may require your help. For indeed she has been a benefactor of many—and of me also. 

Observation

Believe it or not, much has been written about the first two verses of Romans 16 and Phoebe!  Lots of ink has been spilled on these two verses, going all the way back to the early centuries!

Paul ends his letter to the Romans with personal greetings, starting with this commendation of Phoebe, who was likely the courier who brought Paul’s letter from Corinth.  Cenchreae was a seaport six miles east of Corinth.  It is mentioned only once in Acts 18:18, when Paul departed Corinth and sailed from Cenchreae for  home (Antioch of Syria) via Ephesus.  While in Cenchreae, he got a haircut!  It is possible that Paul’s brief stay there resulted in a church being planted—although it is much more likely that the gospel simply spread there from nearby Corinth, only a couple hours walk away.  

Either way, there was a church in Cenchreae and Phoebe was “a servant (deacon) of the church.”  The meaning of this is debated.  Some scholars take it in the most informal sense: she was a servant of the church—a fine volunteer.  Others take it more formally: she was a deacon, a leader in the church.  Some even suggest that the church met in her home and she was its “president.”  It seems that Paul knew her, respected her, and entrusted her with the important task of taking this letter to Rome.  

Evidently, she could afford to travel. She is described as a “benefactor”—another much debated term.  Many scholars believe she was a woman of some means, and was able to help Paul and others financially.  If this is so, Paul may have asked her to carry the letter knowing she had the means to travel.  

All of this suggests a formidable lady—a woman of character, means, influence and courage (travel was dangerous).  Paul commends her to the church in Rome, and asks them to do two things.  First, welcome her in the Lord in a manner worthy of God’s people.  Receive her as Christians should!  Second, assist her in whatever way she needs.  We don’t know what Paul had in mind, but he is saying that this woman is worthy of their assistance. 

Application

First, here is another example of women in significant roles of leadership and influence in the early church.  Paul, who is often accused of suppressing women, celebrates one here.  (Actually, he celebrates several in the following list as well.)  I want to champion both women and men in ministry.  

Second, wherever Paul went, churches sprung up.  He introduced people to Christ and left a church behind—even in Cenchreae!  Paul was on mission everywhere—even when traveling, even in the barbershop!  I want to be that kind of contagious believer that leaves a wake behind me of new believers and new churches!

Third,  I want to receive people as a Christian should.  As God’s people, we should be offering others the kind of welcome, warmth, love and acceptance that God has offered us.  Romans 15:7 “Accept (receive) one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

Prayer: Lord, thanks for Phoebe, and may her tribe increase.  Help us to champion women in ministry, to be contagious Christians and to welcome others as You have welcomed us!