Word for Wednesday

I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is in Cenchrea. Romans 16:1

Like many of the people who are mentioned in the concluding chapters of Paul’s epistles, this is the only mention of the lady named Phebe. All we know about her is the information that Paul conveys in the first and second verses of Romans 16. She had come to Rome, possibly as the bearer of the epistle, but she had other business in the city as well. What that business was we are not told, but the fact that a woman was involved indicates she was a person of some wealth and status. Her commendation from Paul is very favourable, and there is very little doubt that the saints in Rome would have received her gladly, and assisted her wholeheartedly. This account is an excellent example for letters of commendation today and provides strong confirmation of the practice of such letters when saints visit or move to other Assemblies. A very interesting point in our text is the reference to Phebe as a servant of the Assembly in Cenchrea. The translation of the word ‘servant’ is a bit incomplete. The Greek word used here is the feminine form of the term ‘deacon’; in effect, she was a deaconess. Do we have such people in our Assemblies today?

In the next verse, Paul refers to Phebe having been a sucourer of many, including himself. It is fairly easy to read between the lines and determine that when the poor needed food and clothing, Phebe provided. When the suffering and grieving needed comfort, Phebe visited. When the preachers needed prayers, encouragement, and fellowship, Phebe contributed. While we know nothing of the Assembly at Cenchrea, we can be sure that there was ample opportunity for Phebe to be a help to the Christians whenever she could. If we watch the sisters in our Assembly today, we will see some of them behaving just like Phebe, and being a blessing to many of those who need help. Her godly example should remind other sisters of their responsibility to do what they can to help out. Thank God for the Phebes who are among us today. But what about that designation of deaconess, is that something that sisters should aspire to?

As with other so-called titles used in connection with New Testament Assemblies, the term deaconess does not refer to a specific office or to an Assembly appointment. Note that Phebe is referred to as ‘a’ deaconess, not ‘the’ deaconess. Others at Cenchrea functioned in the same capacity. Just as each Assembly has multiple elders and multiple deacons, so each Assembly has multiple deaconesses. But there is a very good reason why we don’t use the term, or at least don’t use it very often. The references to elders, deacons, and deaconesses in connection with a New Testament Assembly refers to the work that these people do, not to any title that they hold. And yet it is good to see the Assembly recognize those who perform such work. Deaconesses deserve our respect and our support.

Appreciate the Phebes among us and encourage others to join their ranks. – Jim MacIntosh

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