I want this letter to introduce to you Phoebe, our sister, a deaconess of the Church at Cenchrea. Please give her a Christian welcome, and any assistance with her work that she may need. She has herself been of great assistance to many, not excluding myself (Romans 16:1-2)
I’ll tell you what, the whole church should be grateful to Phoebe for her faithfulness. She is the one who carried and preserved this letter from Corinth to Rome. Paul refers to her as “our sister, a servant of the church in Cenchreae.” Cenchreae was the port of Corinth, located about nine miles east of the city. Evidently, a Christian church had grown up there, and Phoebe was a deacon in it. (That is really the term, not deaconess, as many versions put it. That is a rather sexist term. The word is the same for male or female.) What is important is that yes, a female can serve in this church. Phoebe had assumed a ministry on behalf of the church. She represented them, and whether it was material, physical, or spiritual, she was faithful to it. So Paul commends her to these Christians in Rome, and asks them not only to receive her, but to help her. ” She has herself been of great assistance to many,” he says, “and to me!”
For those of you who tell me women are not important to the church, you cannot read this chapter without being impressed by the number of women Paul mentions—many more than in any other literature of that day. Women actually filled a prominent place in these letters of the New Testament. Evidently, they handled some pretty important tasks within the church, according to the gifts they had. There is strong suggestion here that Phoebe was a teacher or an evangelist –a laborer for the gospel with Paul. History doesn’t give us a lot of information about her, but her name has been preserved forever because of being mentioned here.
Paul now turns to greet folks he knew in Rome, and he begins with a very well known husband and wife team, Verses 3-4:
Shake hands for me with Priscilla and Aquila. They have not only worked with me for Christ, but they have faced death for my sake, Not only I, but all the Gentile churches, owe them a great debt. Give my love to the little church that meets in their house (Romans 16:3-5)
We meet this couple in other letters of Paul. We see them first in Chapter 18 of Acts, where Luke tells us they were Jews, worked as tentmakers, who were driven out of Rome by the decree of the Emperor Claudius. (That is a historical mention, dated in 52 A.D.) They went to Corinth, took up their trade, and met this strange young Jew, also a tentmaker, who had come from the north. Evidently, Saul of Tarsus moved in with them and soon led them to Christ.
Theirs was probably the first home-church in Corinth. Luke tells us that after two years, Paul left to go to the great city of Ephesus, and Priscilla and Aquila went with him. Again, they took up their trade of tentmaking and again opened up a church in their home. For those of you involved in home-churches, here is the Scriptural support! When I was involved in starting churches, we always began in homes. The groups grew and eventually we needed to move to bigger buildings. In some respects I regretted that. I love the intimacy of smaller groups.
That being said, their ministry wasn’t only in their home, they also ministered in the synagogue. I say that because Luke tells us that one morning they heard an eloquent man named Apollos preaching, but, it was clear to them, that he did not understand the fullness of the gospel, because he was only preaching what John the Baptist taught, that “Someone was coming, who would do mighty things.” So after the service they invited him home to dinner (by the way, that is a great thing to do for a preacher! I’m available, especially if you are serving fried chicken or spaghetti. lol) and instructed him more completely about the work of the Holy Spirit.
Because of their ministering to him, Apollos went on to Corinth, where he had a tremendous ministry in the Word of God. Oh, as a side note, of the six times their names are mentioned, four times Priscilla’s name is put first—which indicates that she had the gift of teaching, rather than her husband. So those of you who have problems with that need to rethink your point of view.
Now they are in Rome, having traveled from Corinth and Ephesus. Paul greets them, and reminds the church that they had risked their lives for him. One time was probably in that uproar that broke out in the city of Ephesus, recorded in the latter part of Acts, when the whole city was upset, and a mob was intending to talk Paul’s life. He reveals the fact that everywhere this couple went they had a church in their home.
Now, I want to address that . . . in these early days, Christians did not meet in buildings like we have now. In fact, for 300 years you won’t find any mention of church buildings in Scripture. Personally I find it a tremendous relief to not be bothered with a church building program! People just got together where they could for larger meetings. But here in Rome there were at least three, and probably more, home churches where Christians gathered and one of them was in the home of Priscilla and Aquila.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome