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Posts Tagged ‘Paul’s letter to the Romans’

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well. (Romans 16:1,2)

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 sister Phoebe to deliver this letter and he had confidence in her. Hephoebe - deacon 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 diakonos has been translated as “servant” (as in the NASB above), 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.

cenchrea mapPhoebe 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. The deacon is supposed to be a servant. The original deacons waited on tables. Today the people in the church who wait on tables 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 they really want it? Most women serve because they love Jesus.

In many churches the men who hold the office of deacon meet twice a month and dole out the donations to various ministries. This is not the picture of a servant that the Lord Jesus Christ gave us.

“And sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and 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. Actually, we don’t really see that the deacons were office bearers; only the elders had an office. Are many of our churches today overly structured? Have we unwittingly given opportunities for those who just want to “be first” to have a position that makes them feel like they are important when the really important people are the ones who are serving others?

Phoebe was just one of many men and women who served faithfully in her church at Cenchrea. The feminists who want to see her as an office bearer are missing the point. The seven men in Acts 6 who were appointed (note: not elected) to wait on tables were servants. I don’t believe that New Testament deacons saw themselves as office bearers. If I am wrong and the deacon was an office bearer, then Phoebe was an office bearer.

Women took their place among the men as servants in the early church. As we have seen in the Gospels and the book of Acts over the last few months, 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. A true servant is like Jesus – she is concerned about God and others, not her 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. What a wonderful example for us.

 

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