I commend to you our sister Phoebe…she has been a great help to many people, including me. (Romans 16:1&3)
Today I’d like to do a biographical study of another person mentioned in Romans 16. Phoebe is mentioned by Paul in verses 1-2: “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.”
Since this is the only mention of Phoebe in the New Testament we need to search for everything about her in these two verses. She was “a servant of the church in Cenchrea.” The word servant in the Greek is deaconess. Whether this was an official title she held in the church or not is debated by some. But the fact that she served is not. In fact, she served so faithfully that she is mentioned first among all the people listed in this chapter.
Some scholars feel she was entrusted with this Roman epistle to be delivered to the church in Rome. That would be recommendation enough, but Paul specifically commended her and affirmed her worthiness. He asked the church to give her all the assistance she needed when she arrived.
The words, “she has been a great help,” come from a word that means, “patroness,” or “protectress.” This would suggest, according to a commentary I read, that she was a wealthy woman who looked after the needs of less fortunate persons.
This study suggests the following applications: encourage respect and support for those who have been faithful in their service for God. Entrust important assignments to faithful, self-giving servants.