Notes on Romans (114)

“Wrestling With Romans”

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Phoebe, a Servant of the Church – (Chapter 16 Verses 1-16)

The final straight. Paul concludes his letter with some greetings, admonitions and a final exhortation. The commendation of this lady Phoebe (vv1-2), along with other female servants in the gospel is very instructive, as well as interesting. The sheer amount of female workers that Paul had, surely defies our attitude to the service of women in the Church today? Of course there are some missionary enterprises which have progressed somewhat. For instance the London City Mission now employ female evangelistic staff, and why not? There must be a countless number of places and situations where women can go that it would be unhealthy, or even impossible for a male to go. But what about the Church, when will she catch up? Aren’t there areas of service in the life the Church where a woman’s service would be of great value? What about this woman Phoebe? She is described as a servant, a deaconess here (Acts 6.1-6). Was that in an official capacity? Perhaps not. But there is a great need for diaconal service in the church, and for women to be involved in that, without them necessarily holding the office of Deacon. By the fact that such an officer, if married, had to the husband of one wife (1Timothy 3:12), suggests that it could hardly be a female appointment? But we do need be reminded that the proper function of a deacon, is non-teaching, non-authoritative.

What about other functions in the Church that we automatically assume must be done by males? For example, meeting people at the door, and handing out the Psalm or hymn books? What about stewards at the Lord’s table distributing the elements, does it have to be done by a man, where does the Bible say so? Paul’s gratitude here towards the women folk who, it seems ministered alongside him, is so obvious, and so abundantly over-flowing as he expresses himself in these greetings here. But even the way Paul mentions Phoebe’s role in this letter signifies that it was no novelty, but something that was already quite natural, an acceptable thing. Well whatever her capacity, this woman comes with a very high commendation from the Apostle, a most godly and useful lady.

(© James R Hamilton, written September, 1997)

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