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.