As I was challenged to dig deeper into Phoebe, this woman from the Bible, I couldn’t help but think: “She is only mentioned once in the Bible. What could I possibly gain from Phoebe’s story?” My God, I was so wrong. Though she is only mentioned once in the Bible, this was a woman of phenomenal Godly character, a woman who knew her worth, a woman who had an encounter with Jesus Christ.
Phoebe is revealed in Romans 16:1–2 where Paul writes,
“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.” NIV
In biblical times, letters of introduction to strangers were common. The mention of Phoebe in this way means that she was probably the bearer of the letter that went to Rome. The name Phoebe means bright and radiant. From Paul’s comments about her, it seems that those words characterized her personality and her Christian life.
This gives so much context as to who Phoebe was, and if God would use her, He can use us too! Paul writes, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe.” This is super profound here. This speaks volumes of the intimate relationship in which she and the apostle Paul had. Paul associates himself with Phoebe like a brother. An authentic partnership, one without hierarchy between them. The gender difference didn’t restrict either Paul or Phoebe from the mandate God had on each of their lives.
We so often will allow the fact that we aren’t this or we aren’t that to stop us, and we miss the opportunity to be used to the ultimate level God has ordained over our life. Here we see Phoebe being Phoebe, not allowing societal norms to hold her back from everything God has called her to be. Phoebe isn’t waiting for permission to fill the needs she sees within the body of Christ. Instead Phoebe just does.
The word commend is expressively loud and a word of praise. With an exclamation of admiration, this is how Paul affirms all that she is and all she has been. He immediately gives her title, so no one is deceived that though she is a woman, she is less than a leader of the Cenchreae church. Her discipleship counts. Any brother or sister who has confessed Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior has discipleship that counts, in Jesus’ name.
The Scriptures also call her a deacon. If God calls one that typically wouldn’t be qualified by cultural standards a deacon, He will call any of us who follow Him despite opposing cultural standards. His blood covers us just like it does anybody else. We must look back and understand the gospel liberates us, the gospel frees us.
Paul than ask in the letter to the Romans to “receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need.” This implies she held a position of great responsibility. She had never been to the church of Rome, but she was to be received. To deny Phoebe as part of the Church would be to deny Christ.
Paul is stating, “Even if she is not who you were expecting, accept her in the Lord.” Jesus came that life would be done more abundantly. That abundance is for each and every follower alike. What met their eyes is a woman, Phoebe, verses what they may have assumed would arrive, a man. We can understand this thinking because in those times women would not normally take on these types of travel from seaport to seaport. Nor would one expect that she would have the funding to do so. But God, Phoebe was an unusual woman. She not only had resources, she also had talent. Phoebe never waited for permission to serve because she acted in accordance with a need and immediately sought to meet it.
Asking for her to be received “in a way worthy of [God’s] people” means that the church was expected to treat Phoebe with a special respect and the Christian love that should characterize all believers’ interactions with one another. Even believers we have never met before should be welcomed with love, for we share a bond in the Lord. Phoebe was to be given aid in whatever business she would be conducting in Rome.
Because Phoebe was a self-starter, driven by needs and compassion, we must honor her investment. Because she is a woman of Godly means, we must receive her in a way worthy of the saints. Phoebe was not only a great help to many people, but especially to Paul. This woman invested heavily in the church using nobody else’s stuff, but her own stuff. She didn’t rely on others. She made her own way. Phoebe is a woman that demands a paradigm shift! What if she or the church had disqualified what God had already pre-qualified?
Don’t wait for permission to fill a need. Just do it! Don’t wait for someone else to open the door for you to go through. Open it yourself! If they won’t receive you, know that God has received you. Know that God will bless you beyond measure for your obedience because Christ died on a cross for you to have not just a life, but a life of abundance. Sister take your place, go on and be who God has called you to be.
Written by Stacha Ashburn, founder of “I AM” Code Sisterhood.
Please note all scripture was taken from the NIV – New International Version
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