Summary: Phoebe offers us a first-century example of what a Christian should be. Paul uses three key words to describe her: Sister,Servant, and Saint!
Phoebe: An Example For Our Time
by Scott R. Bayles, preacher
Church of Christ
Scripture Reading: John 13:12-15
It’s amazing today how many church growth schemes people have come up with. The Willow Creek Model, the Purpose Driven Church, and so many others tell us: just follow these simple steps and you too can have a mega-church. But real disciples, I think, know that there is no man-made formula to follow -- there is no get-growth-quick scheme that will turn a small congregation into a thousand member church.
On the other end of that, there are many Christians -- usually in smaller churches -- that boldly assert: we don’t have to grow numerically in order to grow spiritually. But friends, in most cases... that’s just an excuse. If our church is not growing numerically, then chances are you’re not growing spiritually either. The only consistently effective way to fulfill the mission Jesus handed us in the Great Commission, is to get our hands dirty and actually go to work: Churches grow when Christians go! Ira North, who helped the Lord turn a 400 member congregation in to a 4000 member church put it this way, "A going church, is a growing church" (North 97).
Jesus has given His church a tremendous task, and the only way to accomplish it is by moving, getting involved, taking action. But before the church can get right, we as individual Christians have to get going. We need to get involved in the Lord work’s and start living out His will -- or His plan -- for our lives on a daily basis. So what does God want from our lives? What would God expect from the ideal church member? What should we be doing, as citizens of God’s Kingdom?
While there are no examples in the Bible of the perfect Christian -- because "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," (Rom. 3:23) -- there is one woman, mentioned briefly in Romans 16:1-2, that just might give us some insight into what God wants from the ideal church member. Let’s read this together...
Romans 16:1-2 (NASB-u)
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea;  that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.
We know very little about this spiritual woman who carried Paul’s letter to the Romans. We have just the brief mention of her name and service. She was named, without change or reproach, after the Moon-Goddess of the Greeks. The goddess Artemis, known commonly as "Phoebe," was supposed to have been identified with the light of the moon. But the Phoebe whom Paul so highly commended shone as a light for Jesus, the "Light of the World"! In about fifty words, Paul gives a beautiful cameo of this saintly servant of Christ. But what can we learn from someone mentioned only so briefly? We can learn a lot. Paul, in these two verses, uses three powerful words to describe Phoebe. The first description he bestows on her is...
Take another look: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe." There is something very meaningful in that word. Now, whenever preachers come up to the pulpit we like to thank "Bro. So-and-so" for leading the singing, or thank "bro. So-and-so" for leading the prayer," or maybe thank "sis. So-and-so" so preparing the fellowship meal. And that’s good to call each other brother and sister, but sometimes we forget how significant those words are.
Paul was indicating a spiritual relationship. Apart from natural relationships, no woman is my "sister" unless she shares my experience of God’s saving grace -- through which alone we are made members of His redeemed family. To be a "brother" or "sister" in Christ, means to be a part of God’s family! That is something special. Everyone born of God has a family -- a place to belong. Surveys show that 1 out of 4 people feel lonely at any given moment. As of 1990, 23 million adults in America live by themselves. And of Americans who ate dinner last night, 22% ate alone. What a blessing that we don’t have to be alone! "As Christians we are called not only to believe, but to belong. We are not meant to live lone-ranger lives; instead we are to belong to Christ’s family and be members of His body" (Warren 105). One of the classic hymns -- a favorite among God’s people -- is Lanny Wolfe’s "God’s Family":
We’re part of the family that’s been born again;
Part of the family whose love knows no end;