Friday, July 22, 2011

Phoebe: A Servant of the Lord!

"I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has bee a patron of many of myself as well." (Romans 16:1-2, ESV)

One of the great things about the gospel is that it raised the status of women to where God had originally intended it to be. Unfortunately, at the time of Christ (it hasn't gotten much better yet) women were treated very badly to say the least and to say it correctly, like property. They were treated less than human. Although God has created a very definite order of authority and given very unique roles to both men and women, all women are created in the image of God, they bear His image and they are as loved and valued by God as any man.

It is great to see in the bible the women that God has used to accomplish His eternal purpose. Lydia is my favorite as you know, not for anything that she did or was, but for the very fact that she is the quintessential example of biblical salvation. The bible says that God opened her heart. Anyone who is or who has been redeemed is redeemed because God opened your heart.

Here we have Phoebe. Phoebe is a great woman of God and yet a bit controversial. She becomes controversial due to the description of the Apostle Paul, "a servant." or διακονος (dee-ak’-on-os.) There are some who want to translate this Greek word as deacon. They then want to create a third office in the church, Elder, Deacon, and Deaconess. I think they are wrong and don't have the exegetical foundation to support such an office.

First, the word comes from an old Greek word meaning "to run errands." Second the word is used 31 times in the New Testament, 20 times it is translated minister, 8 times it is translated servant, and only three times is it translated deacon. Third, we have no description of such and office in the New Testament or early church history. Fourth, we have no biblical qualifications given for this office. Naturally someone can make a case of whether the gift of evangelist is valid today since it has no list of qualifications either. There are a few who say that the evangelist passed from the scene with apostles and prophets.

I think that Phoebe was more than likely a very active component in the life of the church at Cenchreae. Cenchreae was a seaport that was seven miles from Corinth on the eastern side of the Isthmus of Corinth. During the time of Christ and Paul there was a temple dedicated to Aphrodite on one side of the harbor and temples to both Asklepios and Isis on the other side of the harbor. There was a church there of which we know nothing at all other than Phoebe served in that church and she knew the Apostle Paul. Paul sailed in and out of Cenchreae at least a couple of times.

Who was Phoebe? The KJV says that she "has been a succourer of many, and of myself (Paul) also." The ESV says, "...for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well." Some want to squeeze from the word προστατις (pros-tat’-is) that she was "appointed over individuals" therefore she was an official deaconess. The word succourer means  "a woman set over others; or a female guardian, a protectress, patroness, caring for the affairs of others and aiding them with her resources." Understanding the New Testament and Pauline ecclessiology and theology I don't think Phoebe had been appointed or set over Paul. She apparently was a woman of means, well to do and she used her resources to to help people in the church and people like Paul who traveled from church to church. She probably provided food, clothing shelter and basic needs from her own wealth.

What makes Phoebe stand out even more is the word "succourer" was used to indicate one who helped the unprotected and despised. She helped those whom no one else would help. Christans were certainly objects of contempt at this time and many were poor, uneducated, sickly, and despised by many. Phoebe helped them, she met their needs. She was a giving and compassionate woman.

Paul thought very highly of this generous and compassionate woman. He trusted her to carry the greatest letter that he ever wrote to the church at Rome. Timothy did not take it, Titus didn't carry it, and Tychicus didn't bear it, Phoebe did. Not only that, Paul told the believers at Rome to help her in any way that she needed it to conduct the business that she was on. Paul thought very highly of this true servant of the Lord. May we all aspire to be such a person in the church of Christ.


Join the Gospel-driven Disciples each Friday as we take a look at various men and women who have been used by God to shape Christian thought, theology, and teachings.


Larri @ Seams Inspired said...

Thanks for shedding some light on the very interesting Phoebe. I've often wondered if she was, perhaps, a widow who used her wealth to support the church after her husband died. Living in that day had to be such a challenge for a woman!

Happy Friday! ☺

welcome to my world of poetry said...

It's good to know that women have played a big part in the church as well as men. Pheobe sounds an Interesting woman, who did so much good.

Enjoy your week-end.

Trisha said...

Very helpful post in so many ways. I was just discussing the office of "Deaconess" with my Mom, as a church she visited had several. I appreciate your clarification, and your point about Lydia is beautiful!

Penned Pebbles said...

Very good article! Although gender roles are specific and different, they are not meant to degrade or to dehumanize, but to encourage, to help, to serve, and to lift, each for the glory of God and His kingdom.

Josh Litton said...

Good article, Gregg. This approach more or less seems the best in light of the evidence.