Romans 16:1, 2
I commend to you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:…
It is an honour and a help to receive an introduction from one high in authority. Men of exalted station incur a serious responsibility in the matter of granting or withholding letters of recommendation. The Apostle Paul had known what it was to be treated with scant courtesy by the Church at Jerusalem, until he was warmly taken by the hand by Barnabas. Doubtless this remembrance quickened his desire to support and shield others in a similar position. How strongly he advocates the cause of Phoebe!
I. CLAIMS TO THE REGARD OF A CHURCH.
1. As a fellow-believer, a "sister" in Christ. To the instinctive sympathy which nature fosters, grace adds a further reason in the reminder of the one communion to which all belong who have professed loyalty to the one Lord. "Work good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of faith." This mark of distinction is of necessity more visible where the surroundings are not even nominally Christian, and where a confession of faith in the new doctrine is a signal for tribulation and persecution.
2. As an officer of a sister Church. She was a deaconess, a servant of the Church, set apart for special ministration to the female portion of the community. "Render honour to whom honour is due." Office is prima facie an indication of worth, of high estimation by the electing body. There are ranks and orders in the heavenly hierarchy, as on earth.
3. As one in need of hospitable succorer. Need is itself an argument for attention and aid. Other things being equal, the call of the necessitous is paramount. The prosperous can manage well enough, whereas the situation of the distressed is an opportunity for benevolence. Phoebe's errand to Rome implied difficulty and insufficiency, whether she sought redress in an imperial court of law, or the discovery of some lost relations, or the pursuit of some handicraft, or surgical assistance.
4. As having herself contributed to the relief of the suffering. This is the lex talionis in its benignant form. Who is such a proper recipient of charity as the man who has done good according to his means? With the merciful does God show himself merciful. "Give, and it shall be given unto you." The idle vagabonds are not the deserving poor. Charity organization can alone bestow alms without pauperizing.
5. As having ministered to the writer. Though Phoebe's privilege of tending the apostle in one of his sicknesses was also a duty, the grateful invalid by no means forgets her services. What is done to ourselves strikes us more forcibly than the aid we witness rendered to our neighbours. It is like a lantern whose rays are turned full upon our face; we perceive its brightness. Hence the impulse to Christian devotedness felt when with individual consciousness of indebtedness to Christ we say, not only, "He died to save sinners," but also, "He loved me, and gave himself for me."
II. THE RECEPTION BEFITTING THE CHURCH. This is an illustration of the general maxim insisted on in Romans 15:7.
1. A hearty welcome beseems the saints. Reserve and coldness melt away under the inspiring beams of kinship to the Saviour. The deeps of apathy are for ever broken up by the entrance of Christ into the heart. To receive a fellow-member "in the Lord" is to display some of the love and tenderness which Christ manifested towards his disciples. It is quite incompatible with that frigid etiquette which suspects new-comers, and resents as vulgar every outward token of emotion.
2. To render aid to the whole body of Christ is an essential part of every Church's functions. A Church exists, not for its own aggrandizement and glorification, but as an instrument for strengthening and enlarging the one kingdom of Christ. And every power at its command must be utilized as the very law of its life. Where a community or an individual wraps itself up in seclusion, indifferent to the welfare of others, there the process of decay and death has begun. And it is not in the mass, but by single persons, that the world is regenerated and service rendered. The recognition of the real brotherhood of Christians will usher in millennial days. Affection is the central fire of sainthood, burning up what is mean and selfish, and glowing like a coal from the altar of him whose incarnate love is our clearest revelation of Deity.
3. That is poor admiration of an apostle which is content with a grudging compliance with his bidding. Here was a chance presented to the Roman Christians at once to be generous to a visitor, and to fill the apostle's heart with thankfulness. And we today do best mark our reverence for apostolic authority and for the Master whose instructions are thus communicated by a whole-hearted endeavour to carry out the principles of New Testament liberality and beneficence. They have good security who lend unto the Lord.
4. To honour woman for her place and work is a sign of high civilization. It may not be true that only Christianity has treated woman with befitting dignity, but it is certain that Christ paid her signal respect, and that she has been foremost in the acceptance and promulgation of the faith. The prominence of woman in the primitive Church was succeeded by somewhat of obscurity and depreciation; but the Christian idea has again triumphed, and woman's special mission to soothe the aching head, and succour the weary, and to minister to distress as an angel of God, was never so fully discerned and so warmly appraised as now.
"Rise! woman, rise
To thy peculiar and best altitudes
Of doing good and of enduring ill -
Of comforting for ill, and teaching good,
And reconciling all that ill and good
Unto the patience of a constant hope." Female labour in schools and missions affords the brightest prospects of evangelizing the world. - S.R.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: