Romans 16:1, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.”
The Bible only mentioned Phoebe in two verses, Romans 16:1-2, where Paul wrote, “1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. 2 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.” Despite there only being two verses written about this awesome female deacon, we know a great deal about her character.
First, she was a woman leader in the church. The position that she held was that of a deacon. Some scholars believe that since Paul had not yet formalized the distinction between elder and deacon as he did in 1 Timothy 3, written many years later, that by way of apostolic tradition found in Acts 6, a deacon was the highest position a leader could have in the church, equivalent to that of an elder in later times. Dr. Craig Keener even believes that Phoebe could have brought Paul’s epistle (Romans) to the church of Rome. Keener also states, “Phoebe held a position of considerable responsibility, prominence, and authority in her congregation.”
Despite Paul’s temporary cultural restrictions given to women in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, we see that in fact he did allow women to be leaders in the church. Paul mentioned many other outstanding women by name in Romans 16:3-16, such as Priscilla, Mary, Junia, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis and Julia. All of these mighty women of God were commended for their hard work in the gospel.
Second, Phoebe is said to be a ‘benefactor of many people, including [Paul].” The Greek word for benefactor, “prostatis,” means to be “a helping leader.” Phoebe not only served as a leader in the church but also was a leader to leaders. Some scholars even believe that Phoebe might have been instrumental in Paul’s transformation from a Jewish leader to a Christian apostle because he includes himself in the receiving end of her leadership.
Whether she was simply helping Paul’s current ministry or was essential to his spiritual growth, Phoebe was a committed leader in the Body of Christ that was instrumental in many people’s spiritual life. On top of that, by being called a deacon and a benefactor in the church, she was given the highest accolades a leader in the New Testament church could receive.
All people, especially women, should be encouraged by the faith of Phoebe because she was a great leader and helper in the church; everyone should aspire to be like her.
May we all desire to have the same faith Phoebe had to assist in the process of developing new disciples and leaders in the church of Jesus Christ!
Do you have faith to believe that women can be great leaders in the church?
- Remove the error of gender exclusivity from your life and ministry if you don’t believe women can have great leadership roles in the church. Just as Paul commended Phoebe as a deacon to the church of Rome, many great elders today are commending powerful women leaders in the church.
- If you’re a woman, ask the Lord to raise you up to be a great leader.
- By faith, be the best leader and helper you can be in the local church.
One Year Reading Plan
Daniel 5:1-31, 2 Peter 2:1-22, Psalm 119:113-128, & Proverbs 28:19-20. Click here to read online.