Posts Tagged ‘Early Church leaders’

A Note About the Holy Spirit and Women:

The Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost on the whole church, men and women. Peter makes it clear when he quotes from the prophet Joel that men and women will prophesy or speak the word of God.

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:17,18)

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, not is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.(Galatians 3:26-28).

Every believer no matter their ethnic background, economic condition, or gender has the privilege of serving in God’s kingdom.

The Holy Spirit has distributed gifts, or abilities, on all believers for the building up of Christ’s church. These gifts are not for personal aggrandizement but for service.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. (I Corinthians 12:4-6).

One Lord, one body of Christ, one message. All of the members of the body work together to take the Gospel of reconciliation and peace to the world. There are a number of places where the gifts of the Spirit are listed (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10; Ephesians 4:11-13; and 1 Peter 4:11) but in no place does God tell us that any of the gifts are for men only. All of the gifts or graces were given to every believer.

In our last lesson we looked at the life of a gifted teacher that Paul commends to the Church – Priscilla. This week we will study about the life of an early deacon – Phoebe. These women used the spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit gave them for the benefit of the church.


We read about Phoebe in Romans 16:1,2:

 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.


These words were addressed to the church at Rome by the apostle Paul. Perhaps it was Phoebe who carried this epistle to the Christians in Rome. We know that Paul entrusted his epistles to others when he could not deliver them himself. For example, Tychicus delivered Paul’s letters to Ephesus and Colossae (Ephesians 6:21,22; Colossians 4:7-9).

Paul chose his co-worker Phoebe to deliver this letter and he had confidence in her. He asked the Roman Christians to treat her with respect when she arrived with his epistle. This was because Phoebe had been a faithful helper both to her church and to Paul himself. The Roman Christians were asked to show her kindness and give her any aid that she required.

There has been much controversy over the position that Phoebe held at her church in Cenchrea. Depending on which version of the Bible you have, the word diakonoshas been translated as “servant” or “minister” or “deacon” (the most accurate translation).

In the New Testament Church the term “deacon” became synonymous with selfless service to God for others. For example, in Acts 6:3,4, we see that seven men are called to “serve tables” so that the apostles can be free to pray and preach the Gospel. This same word is used by Paul to describe Phoebe and many of his other co-workers. Many women served in the early church in this way.

Phoebe was probably a wealthy businesswoman. She was from Cenchrea, the eastern harbor of Corinth. This was a major passage for trade along the shores of the Mediterranean. Perhaps Paul met Phoebe on his second missionary journey to Syria when he went through this port.

Paul wrote his letter to the Romans during his third journey. He was in Corinth when he wrote
this letter. How he learned that Phoebe was going on a journey to Rome is not explained to us. We only know that he heard that she was going and that he knew that this trustworthy sister had independent means and could travel. Paul sent her with the letter and it included his commendation.

Travelers often took letters of commendation with them when they traveled. This gave them protection. It also certified that the person carrying the letter was indeed a legitimate envoy for the person who was sending the important message. Since Phoebe had been Paul’s helper, he could vouch for her. The Roman Christians could trust her as a faithful and dedicated servant of the Lord.

We don’t know as much about Phoebe as we would like. We don’t know if she had been married, or widowed, or was always a single woman. We do know that her service for the Lord in her church was so outstanding that Paul entrusted her with an extraordinary task and commended her to others. What high words of praise!

In our day, many churches have turned diakonia into an office only available to men. The men meet once a month and decide how to distribute the donations. They let the women do the actual serving. The women are glad to be faithful servants without any title.

The deacon is supposed to be a servant. The original deacons waited on tables. Today the people in the church who actually serve are mostly women. The ones who take meals to the sick and visit the lonely are women. Many churches will not recognize these women by giving them an office. But do women really want an office? Most women serve because they love Jesus.

“Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’’” (Mark 9:35)

Those who want to be honored in the church should be known for their service, not for the office they hold.

Phoebe was just one of many men and women who served faithfully in her church at Cenchrea. As time went on, women took their place among the men as servants in the early church.

Women had more freedom to serve in leadership positions while the church was growing. In contrast to the modern hierarchical belief that women were never allowed to be in leadership positions is the fact that women were ordained as deacons in the early church. When Origen wrote about Phoebe in Paul’s letter to the Romans he understood her to be officially ordained for the ministry of the church. Later John Chrysostom also wrote that women should not be hindered because of their sex since in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female. During the fourth century, the Apostolic Constitution still recognized female deacons but women began to be gradually pushed out. When the clergy began to impose itself between God and the community, it became a male-only privilege. The term ‘deaconess’, a diminutive of deacon, was retained to refer to women doing menial tasks, but women were stripped of the clerical office.

As we have seen in the Gospels and the book of Acts, men and women were to work side by side in the new community of faith. Jesus started it. The apostles continued it. Paul assures us that men and women would be equal partners in the kingdom. All have the responsibility to take the Gospel to sinners. All are to do these things in the name of the Lord, not in their own names. True servants are like Jesus –they are concerned about God and others, not their position.

The most important thing about Phoebe was that she was a faithful servant – so faithful and trustworthy in fact that the apostle Paul commended her. God has given us her example of faithfulness for all eternity in His Word. Phoebe did her work for the glory of God.


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