The Measure of a Woman: Reflecting God's Character
- Friday, November 12, 2004
To be reverent in the way they live
A Biblical Portrait of Phoebe’s Exemplary Lifestyle
Though Paul’s reference to this woman is very brief, it’s amazing what we can learn about the way she lived her life as a Christian. Here are Paul’s words:
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me (Rom. 16:1-2).
A Typical Gentile City
Note that Paul identified Phoebe’s hometown as Cenchrea, which is located just seven miles from Corinth. Like Corinth, Cenchrea was a Roman city permeated with pagan practices. Describing Gentile behavior in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul pulled no punches:
They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more (Eph. 4:18-19).
Phoebe probably became a Christian during Paul’s extended ministry in Corinth (see Acts 18:1-18). Interestingly, her name is the feminine form of “Phoibos,” a name given to the god Apollo.1 In other words, Phoebe had been converted from a pagan lifestyle, although like many Gentiles, she may have initially become God-fearing because of her association with God-fearing Jews.
A Trip to Rome
t some point in time, Phoebe traveled to Rome and when Paul wrote his letter to the Christians living in this imperial city and extended a series of greetings, Phoebe was literally at the top of the list (see Rom. 16:1). In fact, some believe that Phoebe actually carried Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians, demonstrating how much Paul trusted this godly woman. This indeed would have been an awesome responsibility.
Think about it. How would you feel if you had been asked by the apostle Paul to deliver one of his personal letters that was inspired by the Holy Spirit? As you boarded a ship in Corinth and set sail for Rome, you would have kept this sacred scroll in your possession at all times. And as you disembarked near Rome, perhaps at Puteoli, and traveled by foot via the Appian Way (as Paul did later, see Acts 28:11-16), you would have felt an even greater burden to complete this sacred trust.
A Transformed Life
Paul wanted everyone in Rome to know that Phoebe had helped him personally. How, we’re not told, but we can assume she came alongside him in a very special way when he ministered in Corinth — perhaps offering her home in Cenchrea as a place to stay or as a place where the believers in that city could worship.
Without question, Phoebe was reverent in the way she lived. Whatever her lifestyle as a pagan, as a Christian she no longer lived “as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking” (Eph. 4:17). She had “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24).
A Faithful Servant
Phoebe definitely developed a good reputation in the Christian community. Not only did she help Paul but she helped many others as well. In fact, some believe this godly woman had an official position in the church in Cenchrea, serving as a deacon. In Romans 16:1, Paul used the Greek word diakonos to describe Phoebe’s ministry. This word, translated “servant” in the New International Version of the Bible, is also used to describe what all believers are to be and do. But in this passage Paul seemed to use the term in a more specific way: to describe her deacon role.
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