Phoebe- A Life of Service

When I hear the word servant, I usually think of Downton Abbey.  You know- the black dress and starched white apron, all the bobbing and curtseying and saying, “Very good, mum.” Scraping out fireplace ashes, getting up early, and doing every lousy job you’re told to do.

No, thank you.

Fortunately, we live in the twenty-first century and we’re provided with more job options.

But that doesn’t mean we’re excused from being servants.

Christians are called to be imitators of Jesus and He was the ultimate example of a servant- “…Though He was in the form  of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant.” (Philippians 2:6,7)

How does that apply to us?

If we move back in Philippians 2, we read these verses: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (verses 3,4)

You don’t have to don the black dress and the starched apron, but the Christian life is meant to be characterized by service.

A Life of Service

Phoebe was a woman who lived out this truth. I recently came across a reference to her in my Bible reading and was immediately intrigued. There are only about fifty words pertaining to her, but they are powerful:

“Í 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 been a patron of many and of myself as well.” Romans 16:1, 2

That’s it- the only mention of her in the entire Bible! However, these fifty words speak volumes.

She was a Fellow Believer

Phoebe was part of the early Christian church. Paul, the writer of the book of Romans, named her as a sister in Christ. Many Bible scholars believe that she was the bearer of Paul’s letter to the Romans. This was why he was commending her to the church in Rome. Phoebe’s life stood out enough to draw Paul’s attention and admiration.  

We also know that she was heavily involved in her church. The Greek word Paul used to describe her work is diakonos, which translates as a deacon or a servant. It tells us she wasn’t a woman who sat back and did nothing. At this time, the Christian church would have been a brand-new concept and the needs would have been great. Phoebe clearly dove into church life and set to work serving the people around her.

She was a Benefactor

Not only was she a servant, but Phoebe was also named as a patron to Paul and others. The word patron can also be translated as a helper or a benefactor.  So she was a woman of independent financial means, and she used those means to benefit others. Paul himself received help at her hands.

In one translation, the word “succourer” is used in place of patron. This is a weird word that means “one who stands by in case of need.” This word was typically used to describe a trainer who stood by an athlete and made sure he didn’t over-train.

“One who stands by in case of need.” Phoebe stood by others, ready to help. What a beautiful picture of her life.

She was a Traveler

Phoebe was far from home if she was meeting up with the church in Rome. Scholars tell us it was a 700-mile trip, an enormous distance for the time. To me, this says that she was brave and willing to take a risk. Since we know she was well-to-do, she was possibly even traveling for her own business ventures.

And… since no husband is mentioned in connection with her, people also assume she was single.

I like this woman!

Phoebe is the only woman in the Bible referred to as a servant and a patron. She’s just a brief mention, but her life had a big impact. Her name means “pure, bright, or radiant as the moon.” In her culture, it was also a name for the moon goddess. She may have had a pagan name, but this Phoebe shone brightly for Christ.

What does she mean to us?

A single life doesn’t have to be a quiet life! It also doesn’t have to be self-centered life.  

As we work on living intentionally this year, it’s easy to become focused on our own goals and miss the opportunities around us. But I absolutely believe the single life is intended for service.

 Our churches, our families, our coworkers, our neighbors- there are so many people who need us to step up and…serve.

Like Phoebe, I want to use my single life to be a person who stands by in case of need.

And just a thought that’s been running around my head this week-

If someone was asked to describe you in fifty words, what would they say?

What characterizes your life?

This week, I’m so thankful for the blessing of biblical women and what they can teach us. We have a lot to learn! Together, let’s celebrate every SINGLE blessing!

I’m thankful for the following resources:

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