At some point in eternity, when we all stand before God to give an account for our stewardship, there will be one woman whose answer will be breathtaking. “I used my wealth to help the Apostle Paul accomplish his ministry,” she will say.
That woman is Phoebe.
Out of all the thousands of verses in the Bible, Phoebe gets two all to herself, Romans 16:1-2,
“I 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.”
Phoebe was traveling to Rome from a city over 700 miles away. It is likely she was hand-delivering Paul’s letter to the Romans and thus Paul wrote these verses to introduce her, wanting the church in Rome to know three things about his friend Phoebe.
1. Our sister Phoebe. This is Paul’s first description. Although the church in Rome would not have known her, Paul knew her and vouched that her faith in Jesus was genuine. Paul was saying to the Romans, “Phoebe is one of us.” She could be trusted because she was a true sister in the faith.
2. A servant of the church. Phoebe was more than a courier for Paul’s letter, she was known as a servant in her church. Paul wanted the church in Rome to know that they were meeting a woman who served, possibly a deacon, who took responsibility for the needs in her church.
3. She has been a patron. This is the one time the word patron is used in the Bible. Some versions translate this Greek word as “benefactor” or “helper.” There were not many wealthy people among the first-century Christians, but Paul highlights Phoebe as one. He wanted the church to know of her generosity, that Phoebe was a woman who used her wealth in a godly way, as “a patron of many and of myself as well.”
Phoebe’s well-being was personal for Paul. He cared for her and urged the church in Rome to “welcome her” and “help her.” In his letter Paul introduced Phoebe first, before mentioning the other twenty-six people he named in Romans 16. To Paul, Phoebe was a very valuable ministry partner.
I picture Phoebe as a successful businesswoman, able to travel, trustworthy with a very important letter, and extremely generous to ministry leaders. We’re not told how Phoebe made her wealth, but it does seem she gave her time, her talents, and her treasure to build up God’s kingdom.
There were times when the Apostle Paul made tents to support his ministry. But other times people like Phoebe came alongside him and said, “Paul, your tents are good, but your preaching is better. Let me handle your ministry expenses, while you focus on advancing the gospel.”