During Jesus’ times and also the early Apostles and disciples times, many rich and influential women were converted by the Good News of the Kingdom of God and they became very important in providing both care giving and material support services and also front-line house churches leadership (teaching the words, disciples training, shepherding the flock) roles. Phoebe, a deacon in the church in Cenchrea, the port of Corinth, was such a Christian woman leader.
Paul highly commended and respected Phoebe. He called her a “sister,” “deacon,” and “benefactor” to the church at Cenchreae as well as a sister and benefactor to Paul.
In the Greco-Roman world wealthy women sponsored and supported the arts, philosophers, writers, and politicians. Phoebe was a godly wealthy Christian woman who served the church as the women in Luke 8 served Jesus out of theirs. Paul called her his benefactor. It meant she had probably helped support his missionary travels financially. It’s also very likely she was known in Rome, and she has the appropriate social status and clout to introduce Paul to the churches in Rome.
Phoebe was a woman who had her own means, and served the church in a leadership role. In Romans 16, Paul comes very close to commanding churches he had no hand in planting, and Christians, most of whom he had never met, to welcome her and provide anything she needed. She was not only a deacon and a benefactor in the church, but Paul himself had also benefited from her generous leadership.
Being a commercial port, Cenchreae attracted commerce and wealth. Commercial shipping activities in the port may have played a role in the apostle Paul’s working as a tentmaker in Corinth. Greeks, Romans, Syrians, Egyptians, and Jews lived in Corinth. Through its ports, there was a constant flow of travelers, visitors to athletic games, artists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, and others. Those visitors made gifts to the temples and sacrificed to the gods.
The port contributed to the prosperity and fame of the Corinth city, but simultaneously posed a spiritual stronghold against godly Christians, besieging them with the corrupting influences of materialism and immorality. This had warranted Paul’s stern admonitions to the Christians in Corinth. Being a rich (possibly successful businesswoman) Christian leader in the church Phoebe had to have very close walk with the Lord, strong in faith and in the words of God.
Jesus has warned His disciples of how the corrupt world would treat them: “The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” (John 15:19; 17:14) And all churches and believers who want to live a godly life will encounter this. Phoebe was a faithful disciple. She was however, living under God’s supernatural protection, just as Jesus has prayed to the Father to protect his disciples: “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.” (John 17:17). By having and living the words of God in her, Phoebe stayed in God and lived the godly abundant life Jesus has promised.
Paul thought and spoke highly of this disciple and leader of the church:
Romans 16:1-2 New Living Translation (NLT)
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea. 2 Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God’s people. Help her in whatever she needs, for she has been helpful to many, and especially to me.