God’s little people – Phoebe and Her Friends

By Not Known

Romans is Paul’s most weighty letter. It gives a systematic exposition of the Christian message and includes a tough section on the issue of Jews and Gentiles (Rom 9-11). This weighty letter has been pivotal at some great turning points such as the sixteenth century Reformation and the turn from theological liberalism in the early twentieth century.

Readers of Romans may be forgiven for wilting under this weighty material and abandoning the read. However, it’s worth pushing on to the quite tender and personal closing words of Ch 16.

This is typical of most of Paul’s letters. He has a strong sense of being God’s appointed Apostle, yet in the end he is just a man. As such he values the people who loved and cared for him in very practical ways.

Hence his mention of Priscilla and Aquila (note that the wife comes first) who pop in and out of the New Testament story as a married couple who opened their homes, hearts and business to Paul and others over many years. Thus also the ‘mother of Rufus’ (v13) who had been a substitute mother to Paul. Paul’s language makes it clear that his ministry could not be undertaken without these little people of God playing their part.

Let’s look at one of these people … Phoebe (Rom16:1-2).  She belonged to the church at Corinth. Several things are interesting about her. Firstly, that she is mentioned first in the list of Paul’s helpers. Indeed, some have suggested that this marks her out as the one who couriered this letter to the Roman church. Secondly, she is labelled a servant. The Greek word is the term for deacon.  In our terms, Phoebe is among the elected lay leaders. Thirdly, the concern (v2) that she is well-treated in Rome as befits a person so useful to the non-Jewish church. We know nothing else about her, but these references make it plain that she is a ‘little’ person of God’s kingdom who packs a punch.

Phoebe, along with the others who are mentioned, challenges our sense of who is important in church. As we have seen, churches need all kinds of people doing all kinds of things. Men and women; young and old; majority and minority culture people; left-brain and right-brain; practical and conceptual; high and low born; well-educated and less-educated; taxi driver and theologian – all have their place in God’s church.

Let’s welcome and celebrate the diversity in our church members. This is Christ’s church – a kaleidoscope of Paul, Phoebe and the rest.

David Burke