Romans 16:1-2 “I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.”
Phoebe, here spelled “Phebe,” was a Gentile Christian from the port city of Cenchrea. Her name, derived from Greek mythology, means “pure” or “radiant as the moon.” Paul described Phoebe as a “servant” (Greek-diakonon) and “helper” (Greek-prostatis). She may have been a patron of some sort.
In Greek cities, rulers routinely appointed patrons to look after the interests of foreigners. Therefore, Phoebe may have functioned in an official capacity to protect the rights and meet the needs of Cenchrea’s numerous foreign visitors and resident Jews. She was obviously a person of significance who used her wealth and influence in the service of the Christians there.
On this occasion, Phoebe had traveled to Rome, possibly on a business trip. Paul, knowing that she would pass through Corinth, took the opportunity to write to the Roman Christians. This letter commended Phoebe, its bearer, to the church in Rome. Paul knew that the Roman Christians would be able to provide Phoebe with hospitality and fellowship, as well as with advice on the state of Roman politics and law.
Paul spoke highly of Phoebe. He introduced her to the Roman Christians as “sister, “servant,” “saint,” and “succourer.” Though the word here translated “servant,” it also transliterated as “deacon,” note both generic and technical usages of the word. The Greek root means literally “one who ministers or serves.” Of course, taken in that sense, the word describes not only Phoebe and other “deaconesses” in the early church, but also countless women who have given and do give themselves untiringly to the work of the Kingdom through ministries within the local church.
However, the word is also used by some in a technical sense to describe a functional ecclesiastical office such as assigned to Stephen – Acts 6: 1-7 “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.” This office was created to equip a corps of Godly saints to meet physical and social needs so that the apostles would not be pulled away from the primary ministry of the Word – Acts 6:4 “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” Phoebe and other women like her ministered where needed, they did not “preach” God’s Word as the men did. They did work that freed the men to accomplish God’s spiritual work. Women are blessed with great help-meet skills as I believe God intended.
Certainly, in the New Testament sense of deacon or deaconess, women can find ample opportunity for service with or without an official title. On the other hand, if deacon or deaconess is considered a position of official spiritual leadership, there are other passages for consideration – 1 Timothy 2:11-15 “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” And, 1 Timothy 3:8-13 ” Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
In any case, Paul noted that Phoebe was a highly capable Greek woman of significant social status, and apparently through the Gospel, she had also overcome the pagan origins of her name to gain status–in Paul’s eyes–as a pure and radiant light for Jesus.
Phoebe was blessed with much, and after her conversion to a born-again child of God, she used her means to further God’s Kingdom!
“Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.”