Are You A “Phoebe”? Why We Need More Women Like Her Today
“I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also” – Romans 16:1-2 (NKJV)
One day while reading the Book of Romans, I came across a woman I’d never heard of before: a woman named Phoebe. The Apostle Paul makes a special point of devoting the first 2 verses of Romans to Phoebe, commending this woman and requesting that the church roll out the red carpet for her – and that’s it.
This struck me, for some inexplicable reason. I didn’t remember reading anything more about Phoebe anywhere else in the Bible, nor had I ever heard anyone else mention her. In my curiosity about who she was, I decided to go online to find out more about her.
The basic dictionary definitions say that Phoebe is a (Greek) girl’s name meaning “bright, shining one” (Ancient Greek: Φοίβη). Other search results for Phoebe lead to – of all places – The Urban Dictionary! Even the “word on the street” defines “a Phoebe” as a shining example of womanhood:
- A friendly and amazing person, really adorable, beautiful, kind, and very loveable. Usually has a great energy…To find a Phoebe is a great achievement, so take care, or lose [her].
- Extremely gorgeous, incredibly confident and fascinating. Perfect in every which way and fun to be around. The most incredible person you will ever meet in your entire life and very down to earth…has an awesome personality. Just one of a kind.
- A woman who is completely beautiful in every single way imaginable; a human being like no other. 
But in seeking more answers still, I found that Phoebe’s truest description would ultimately lead me back to the Word.
“A Radiant Woman Minister”
The Kingdom Dynamics article on Romans 16 in the Spirit-Filled Life Study Bible titled “A Radiant Woman Minister” says this:
The name Phoebe means, “pure or radiant as the moon”. It is clear that through Phoebe the light of Jesus Christ shone brightly, for Paul calls her not only a servant of the church but a helper of many (vv. 1,2). Other versions translate the word “servant” as “deaconess.” Still, others have called her “minister” – inasmuch as in other scriptures where the Greek word diakoneo is used, it is translated “minister.”
According to many scholars, it was Phoebe who carried the written book of Romans to the [Roman] congregation. This is consonant to Psalm 68:11, which declares the place of women in the spread of God’s Word:
“The Lord gave the Word; great was the company [or host] of women…who proclaimed it.”
The inserted words are justified by the Hebrew, and most translators acknowledge this fact. Today multitudes of laywomen and Christian women leaders – licensed or ordained – and prophetesses are helping to carry the Gospel to the world (Luke 10:38-42, Acts 21:9).
Romans 16:1,2 is the only place in the New Testament where a woman is specifically referred to with the distinctions of “Deacon” (Greek: diakonon) and as a helper or patron of many (Greek: prostatis).
Sources also say that Phoebe more than likely held church services in her home in Cenchrea, a village in Corinthia, Greece. She was chosen to travel to Rome to deliver the book to the church there because of her great character, as Paul himself was still occupied with the Christians at Corinth and would make his first visit to Rome later. So he takes great care to make sure that Phoebe is well taken care of when she arrives there. In the remaining verses of Chapter 16 (3-16), he lists a host of other church leaders in Rome – many of them also women – who Phoebe must call upon with when she arrives there.
Now, this may not seem like such a big deal: until you consider what Rome was like at that time.
Rome’s History, and Paul’s Letter
The Book of Romans is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the early Christian church in Rome around A.D. 56. During that period, Rome was ruled by a godless government, and life in this chaotic city was at the height of depravity. Its ruler, Nero, was a bit of a self-absorbed tyrant. He’d killed his second wife, he’d killed his mother, and had castrated a male slave – then made him his wife. Nero himself would walk the streets, killing citizens at random. Rome was later ravaged by fire, which Nero blamed on the newly-formed Christian church. This gave him the excuse to persecute, torture, and martyr the saints at will. He would often feed them to the lions during gladiator matches, and light his garden parties with their burning bodies (Nero’s own life would end in suicide in 68 A.D.).
Written to bring strength, encouragement, and instruction to the church there, the Book of Romans was also to inform the church of Paul’s impending visit. The epistle is a statement of the great gospel principles That Paul preached, and would bring the light of Christ to the city itself.
Romans is considered by scholars to be the greatest exposition of Christian doctrine anywhere in Scripture. It illuminates Christian foundational principles such as redemption (1:18-3:20), salvation (1:16-17, 10:9-10), patience (5:1-11), spiritual growth and the effects of sin (6:1-7:25), evangelism (9:1-11:32), and hope (8:18-39). Romans contains general teaching which is applicable to all Christians for all time, teaching its readers about the magnificence of God and His grace towards us.
That this magnificent book of scripture was probably delivered by a woman to the Roman church at such a dangerous time in the city’s history, illustrates the importance of women in the life of the church, which remains true to this day. How courageous Phoebe must have been to have accepted such an undertaking; risking her very life to deliver the Word!
You Can Be A Phoebe Too
Through her character, her bravery, her commitment to our Lord and Savior, Phoebe became the ambassador of the Word, and the shining example of faith and devotion to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In discovering her, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Am I using my gifts, my skills, and my very being for the glory of God? Is my life devoted to the furtherance of the Gospel, to the manifestation the Kingdom of God on earth, and to bring the light of Jesus Christ to the rest of the world?”
In Romans 12:1,6-8 we are told:
I urge you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice—holy, acceptable to God—which is your spiritual service…
6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace that was given to us—if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; or the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 or the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who gives, in generosity; the one who leads, with diligence; the one who shows mercy, with cheerfulness (TLV).
So yes, ladies, each of us can be a Phoebe too; after all, it’s what God created us for. In finding Phoebe, I realized that the best definition for who we are is always with God.
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“SISTERS” – Please join us on Sunday, January 28, 2018, at 7:00 PM at the North Campus for a special service devoted to women! Watch the video below for more information:
DID YOU KNOW?
- The author of the Kingdom Dynamics article about Phoebe in the Spirit Filled Life Study Bible was a “Phoebe” too. Freda Lindsay co-founded Christ for the Nations Institute (CFNI) in Dallas, with her husband Gordon, to train Christians to “do exploits for God” around the world. The ministry has planted more than 12,000 churches worldwide and established 48 associate Bible schools in 33 nations.
- The Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America commemorates Phoebe on January 27. In the Catholic Church, Phoebe was made a saint and is celebrated on September 3rd. In the Lutheran Church, she is celebrated on October 25.
 -The Urban Dictionary, “Phoebe” https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=phoebe, Accessed 1/15/2018.
 – The Spirit-Filled Life Study Bible, Page 1684.
 – “Phoebe (biblical figure),” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoebe_(biblical_figure). Accessed 1/20/2018.
 -The Spirit-Filled Life Study Bible, Page 1714.
 -“The Roman Empire in the First Century, Nero.” PBS.org. www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/nero.html. Accessed 1/20/2018.
 -“Great Fire of Rome”. PBS.org -www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/great-fire-rome-background/1446/. Accessed 1/23/2018.