She was a woman of noteworthy character. She had a servant’s heart. She was commended by the apostle Paul himself. Her name was Phoebe. Although Phoebe is mentioned only once in the Bible, that one reference to her reveals much concerning her character. As we examine why she was such a noteworthy woman, let us learn from her example, that we, too, might be noteworthy women.
In Romans 16:1-2, at the beginning of Paul’s list of greetings to the believers in Rome he writes the following, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.” Let us take a closer look at what Paul has to say concerning Phoebe.
The first thing that Paul mentions concerning Phoebe is that she is “our sister.” This is significant, for it denotes that Phoebe was a fellow believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. The term “brothers” was often used by Paul and also other New Testament writers to signify that they were talking to fellow Christians. Phoebe’s belief contained two key elements. First of all, she believed that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God Who came to die and to rise again in order to take away the sins of the world. Secondly, she believed that He had done it for her sake and that by accepting His free gift of salvation, she had received eternal life. This belief is foundational. Anything else that is told about Phoebe is significant only because of this one key fact that she was “our sister.” Without Phoebe’s faith any of her actions would have been worthless. Thus, as we look at Phoebe and seek to follow her example, the first question we must answer concerns our faith.
In continuing his commentary on Phoebe, Paul states that she “is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea.” Phoebe’s reputation was one of service. Let us look deeper into what exactly this service entailed. First of all, the word “servant” in the Greek is diakonos. This word, which can be descriptive of either a man or a woman, is the word from which we derive our English word “deacon.” Whether or not Phoebe actually held a church office within the church at Cenchrea, is debatable. However, the key point is that Phoebe was characterized by her heart for service. In this capacity of service, it is clear that Phoebe did occupy some sort of position (whether formal or informal) within the church at Cenchrea and that she quite possibly was at least a lay teacher to the women within her realm of influence.
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