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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

Being Phoebe: What It Takes to Be a Woman of God

Hi, friends!


Do you ever feel like you’re tied up in knots trying to be everything everywhere all at once?


I’m so grateful for our brothers in Christ who read these letter-posts, but this week we’re due for a sister-to-sister chat.  Maybe you’re a mom or a grandma, and you really want to be there for your family whatever their current needs.


Your employer has needs, too – ones you’ve been hired to meet. And what about the church or parachurch organization you volunteer for? There’s so much to do and so little of you to go around.


But how can you step down when there are too few to step up?


March is, of course, Women’s History Month. Women’s achievements throughout history have often gone unrecorded because much of what we do has no monetary value attached to it. Here in Norway, we celebrated International Women’s Day last Friday—a global holiday that seems to attract more attention in Europe than it does in the US.

I loved gathering with women representing so many different nationalities: Pernilla and Kari from Norway, Elaine and Carlynn from Scotland, Dumebi and Patricia and Mo from Nigeria, Evalyn from Kenya. Katy from the Philippines. A few Americans, too, like me.


A little taste of heaven.


We focused that evening on what it means to be a woman of God, to intentionally build a life centered around kingdom priorities so different from those imposed by our culture – whatever that culture might be.

The women nodded in recognition when I read a brief clip from the movie Barbie in which Gloria, the Mattel employee played by America Ferrera, talks with “Barbie” about the challenges women face in the real world.

Gloria with her teen daughter in "Barbie"
"You have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin. You have to say you want to be healthy…You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass. You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas. You’re supposed to love being a mother, but don’t talk about your kids all the… time. You have to be a career woman but also always be looking out for other people…I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us.” 

Can you relate? Do “dolls” (a term that’s also been used for women) have anything in common with the real women immortalized in Scripture?


I’ve recently taken a closer look at the woman who is the lead-off hitter in the apostle Paul’s lengthy list of believers and church leaders whom he commended in Romans 16 — Phoebe.


"I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea.  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."


Can you spot the four significant ways in which Paul affirms his friend Phoebe?


SISTER. Phoebe is not only a fellow believer but, in every sense, a relative of his in the Lord. She is family. How might she have demonstrated her family resemblance? How do we?


“Love —self-sacrificing, costly, inconvenient love —was the way believers demonstrated their family resemblance to their heavenly Father.” Sharon Garlough Brown


What’s one thing you can do today to reflect our Father’s love to a skeptical world?


DEACON.  (Greek: dia konos, or servant.) By definition, diakonos refers both to a Christian recognized as a servant of Christ and specifically to someone who holds the office of deacon in a particular church. Phoebe was a servant-leader in the church in Cenchrea, a port-city five miles from Corinth.


Whether you are a titleholder or not, what ways are you serving your local body of believers? If caregiving or physical incapacity currently prevents you from active participation, please know you can play the most vital role of all right from your home: that of prayer-intercessor.


WORTHY OF HONOR. Paul instructs the church to welcome Phoebe in the Lord, or as the RSV puts it: “receive her in the Lord as befits the saints.”


Even though we recognize that the designation “saint” refers to the position of the soul in Christ, most of us are uncomfortable identifying ourselves as one. Yet the prophets and apostles consistently refer to church members as saints, with at least 36 references in the Old Testament and 62 in the New.


We have our marching orders, fellow saints!


BENEFACTOR. The fourth way in which Paul commends Phoebe is as one “who has been helpful to many,” or in the NIV, a benefactor. 


This suggests Phoebe to be a woman of independent means who used whatever resources were at her disposal to help others, likely advancing Paul’s ministry as well. When it comes to giving, my pastor in North Carolina has said, “Pick a percentage – whatever God leads you to give. You won’t miss what was not yours to begin with.” 

When we use our time, spiritual gifts, and monetary resources for the kingdom, we physically touch others whom we otherwise couldn’t reach.


Sister. Deacon. One Worthy of Honor. Benefactor. Paul’s friend Phoebe was all this and more.


But did you notice what Paul did not commend her for?





Marital Status.



Not that these factors don’t matter. They affect every aspect of our lives. But unlike cultural standards of worth or beauty, they are not what makes us worthy of commendation. 


Let’s untie the knots our world has us tied up in, friends. We don’t have to be everything to everyone everywhere all at once.


We’re sister-servants who can be helpful to many. And that’s enough.


More than enough.


With so much love,




 Maggie Wallem Rowe is a Bible teacher, speaker, and dramatist currently writing from Norway, where she and her pastor-husband are serving an international church in an interim capacity. The author of two books, Maggie is passionate about connecting people with God and each other. She has never aspired to be like Barbie, but she prays that some of Phoebe's attributes will rub off on her.








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