In these days of pandemic paralysis, nothing seems to be “usual” anymore, including the way we celebrate the most important women in our lives on Mother’s Day. So in light of that, we’re revisiting an article we published earlier that encourages a different approach to honoring our mothers and suggests expanding it to include those women whose faithfulness and tireless efforts to serve others makes our burdensome tasks a little lighter. They deserve special recognition, too, but they deserve something more than that. Our hope is that taking a fresh look at this article might stimulate some creative thinking about a different way to honor those special women who are unsung heroes in our lives.
Turning the Tables on Phoebe
Some parts of the Word of God are intellectually gripping the moment we read them. They sound like what we think inspired Scriptures ought to sound like, and we recognize their unique nature without some impassioned orator prodding us about their deep theological implications. When we read a statement like this, for instance: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…,” we don’t need an annotated study Bible with a footnote in bold type to alert us that those are important words. People with keen spiritual sensitivities like us, and folks with an IQ score greater than their shoe size, notice right away that these words are significant, because they’re saying things outside the normal range of ideas. Unfortunately, though, not every comment in the Word of God is as quick to set off our “spiritual content alarm” and have us reaching for a highlighter. Some verses in the ‘Book of Books’ sound pretty commonplace and ordinary, like something we might have said or written ourselves. We might even wonder why some of those passages were included at all, and what we’re supposed to do about them, if anything. I ran across one of them again this week, and it claimed squatter’s rights in my head and heart for a while. Here’s the passage:
I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also. Romans 16:1-2 NKJV
Unfamiliar Behavior ~
OK, so Paul is saying some nice things about Phoebe, but what makes that so special is that earlier in his life Paul was a brutal religious tyrant who would have reacted to her quite differently. After meeting Jesus, instead of throwing Phoebe in jail, or maybe having her stoned to death, he’s saying nice things about her. But there’s more he had in mind than passing out a compliment.
When these words were written, Paul had just penned the bulk of one of the most profound spiritual documents ever written, or that ever would be written. The Book of Romans has been called a manifesto of the Christian faith, and represents a composite of New Testament doctrine that is unparalleled. Now as Paul adds the final, concluding section, it sounds very different from the 15 chapters that precede it, but it is no less inspired by God than the rest of it. No exciting doctrinal expositions unfold in this section, and there’s not much that just seems to leap off the page at us. It’s mainly a collection of personal notes to folks whose names sound really unfamiliar. I’ve never met anybody named Amplias, for instance, or Tryphosa . . . , and Philologus sounds more like a medical term than somebody to share a cup of coffee with. So, what does God want us to do in response to these comments?
Time to Start Giving Back ~
Paul’s simple remark about Phoebe wouldn’t let me alone this week. She was obviously important to him, though we aren’t given any details about her specific contributions, just her name, and that her helpful efforts had benefited him and lots of other folks as well. Paul pointed her out to all those who would read his inspired treatise, and said, “Accept her.” That meant that she was an approved and trusted follower of Jesus and that they were to receive her, embrace her, and welcome her. Then he suggested that the tables be turned on this exceptionally helpful servant of God. “Whatever she’s doing,” he said, “help her.” After years of faithfully giving out to others, it was time that she started to get back some of what she had been so willing to do for others. Paul directed everyone to pay attention to Phoebe’s needs for a change, and if she needed anything for whatever she was doing, they should see that she got it.
Phoebe’s role was important to God and to Paul. It was important enough to be permanently inscribed and to stand alongside all the rest of his inspired insights and doctrinal expositions. Paul wanted everyone to know that his incredible ministry was not a one-man show. Others had been there every step of the way, traveling with him, laboring with him, and often sacrificing and suffering alongside him. Phoebe, like others Paul named, was a vital part of all that had been accomplished.
No Showboat ~
Phoebe’s work was vital, but not ostentatious. She was a behind the scenes person, left unknown or overlooked by most. She wasn’t in the limelight, didn’t write lofty epistles, didn’t preach, or expound at length on doctrinal issues. She didn’t plant churches. She didn’t engage in theological debates, or publicly challenge those in power. She simply “helped”. Probably few even knew what that really meant, but those she ‘helped’ knew. Maybe no one but Paul and God knew how many times her help made the difference in whether his task at the moment succeeded or failed. Regardless, neither God nor Paul were content to leave this quiet helper unacknowledged.
I’ve thought a lot about Phoebe this week, because I live with her. Well… OK, someone like her. The Phoebes in our lives don’t like to hear themselves mentioned, but God made it clear that He wants them pointed out, and Mother’s Day is a good time to comply with His wishes. My version of Phoebe also had a birthday a few days ago, so it’s an even more appropriate time for me to step up and be obedient, even though, like all Phoebes, she won’t like being singled out and recognized.
If there are unique “Phoebe genes” that exist in some women, my wife got a major crop of them. Like the Phoebe Paul mentioned, helping is not just something she does now and then. It’s simply who she is all the time. She’s never guilty of self-promotion and manages to find the last place in any line. She’ll give her portion of anything to anyone around who seems not to have one. She avoids spotlights, stages, platforms, and podiums. She doesn’t teach, though she could. She doesn’t make speeches, but not because she has nothing interesting to say. She takes nothing that isn’t hers except the burdens and struggles of those around her. She loves much louder and more often with her hands than her mouth. Like Paul’s Phoebe, mine has faults, or so she claims, but like Paul, I have no interest in wasting my time trying to figure out what they are. Her name may not appear on things I publish, lessons I teach, or messages I deliver, but nothing I do is minus her touch, and her help.
A Different Kind of “First Responder” ~
This pandemic has unveiled a lot of Phoebes in this country. All of them are “first responders”, but not necessarily as healthcare workers or other trained professionals. Phoebes are women who don’t hesitate to step up and help when they see someone in need. If there’s a special Phoebe in your life this Mother’s Day, whether she’s your mom, or your wife, or just someone you know, honor her with something more than a few flowers and a Hallmark card. Let’s turn the tables on the Phoebes in our lives and focus on their needs for a change. And like Paul, let’s declare to all who know us, that without her, we’d be a much poorer version of who we are.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to Tweet & Share from the pull quotes below. Each quote links directly to this article through Twitter.
“Phoebe’s role was important to God and to Paul. It was important enough to be permanently inscribed and to stand alongside all the rest of his inspired insights and doctrinal expositions.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“Paul wanted everyone to know that his incredible ministry was not a one-man show. Others had been there every step of the way, traveling with him, laboring with him, and often sacrificing and suffering alongside him.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“Maybe no one but Paul and God knew how many times Phoebe’s help made the difference in whether his task at the moment succeeded or failed. Regardless, neither God nor Paul were content to leave this quiet helper unacknowledged.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“This pandemic has unveiled a lot of Phoebes in this country. All of them are “first responders”, too. Phoebes are women who don’t hesitate to step up and help when they see someone in need.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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