Romans 16:1, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.”
The Bible only mentions Phoebe in two verses found in Romans 16:1-2. 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.” However, from these two informative verses we can gain much knowledge about this female church leader.
First, she was a woman leader in the church. The position that she held was that of a Deacon. Accordingly, some scholars even believe that since Paul had not formalized the distinction yet between Elder and Deacon as he did in 1 Timothy, 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.
Thus, this clearly shows despite Paul’s temporary cultural restrictions found 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. Plus, Paul mentioned many outstanding women by name in the ending of Romans 16 as well. Such women as Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis, are all commended for their hard work in the gospel, Romans 16:6,12. Not mention he also cited Junia and Pricilla, who were great women of God that worked along side their husbands in the ministry, Romans 16:3-4,7.
Second, Phoebe is said to be a ‘benefactor of many people, including me [Paul].” The Greek word for benefactor, “prostatis,” means to be “a helping leader.” In turn, she not only served as a leader in the church but also rose up leaders. And it is very possible that she could 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.
Therefore, whether she was simply helping Paul’s current ministry or she was apart of his spiritual growth, nevertheless, she 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 both a deacon and a benefactor in the church she is given the highest accolades a woman in the New Testament church had ever received.
As a result, all people, especially women, can be encouraged by the faith of Phoebe because she was a great leader and helper of God’s people. May we all desire to have the same faith she had to assist in the process of developing new disciples and leaders in the church of 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. Because just as Paul commended Phoebe as a Deacon to the church of Rome, many great Elders are presently commending great women leaders into today’s church.
- If you are a woman, ask the Lord to raise you up to be a great leader.
- Like Phoebe, by faith, be the best leader and helper you can be in the local church.