Phoebe the Patron
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. Romans 16:1-2
“A “PATRON” WAS ONE WHO CAME TO THE AID of others, especially foreigners, by providing housing and financial aid and by representing their interests before local authorities. Cenchreae’s status as a busy seaport would make it imperative that a Christian in this church take up this ministry on behalf of visiting Christians. Phoebe, then, was probably a woman of high social standing and some wealth, who put her status, resources, and time at the services of traveling Christians, like Paul, who needed help and support. Paul now urges the Romans to reciprocate.” (Douglas J. Moo in The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) 916.)
Phoebe is one of many servants named in the New Testament whose generosity fueled mission but whose reputations are not widely known. Their stories inspire us to follow their example.
Phoebe, the deaconess (cf. 1 Timothy 3:11) and patron, ranks among these New Testament servants. Why does Phoebe get this formal commendation from Paul? We surmise from this internal attestation that we have her to thank for delivering the letter we know as “Romans” from the home of Gaius in Corinth to the church in Rome. This would have been no small undertaking.
While we don’t know her travel route, as the crow flies it’s over 600 miles or 1,000 kilometers over land and sea from Greece to Italy. Perhaps she was a seasoned traveler and up for the challenge. Undoubtedly, she invested time, energy, and money on the trip. So, Paul wanted them to receive her warmly, even as she had a reputation for receiving others. How does Phoebe relate to us and our generosity?
May we follow in Phoebe’s example of active hospitality and service. This comes into view as putting God’s resources to work locally to extend hospitality and globally to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s easy for our participation in the gospel to be passive: to go to church, drop a check in the offering, slip out the back of the assembly, and go on with life. Not Phoebe!
While many patrons want to remain ensconced in comfort and not get their proverbial hands dirty, she appears to take on the hardest of assignments. During a time of rising Roman opposition against Christianity, I envision her delivery of “Romans” as a bit of a “Mission Impossible” adventure. The Lord only knows. What we do know is that Paul wants the church in Rome to care for her needs upon arrival!
If you want to be like Phoebe the patron, get out of your comfort zone and, as God leads, put the resources you have to work to serve others locally and advance the gospel globally. Regardless of the risk, you will experience sweet fellowship and find joy on the journey. Can you imagine what it must have been like to host Paul as Phoebe did? You can, at least in present times, by hosting and serving God’s workers generously.
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