Welcome to the twelfth and final week of our Summer Bible journaling challenge, Women of Valor. Today, we will be studying and journaling Phoebe, mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Romans.
This week’s reading: Romans 16:1-2
This week’s journaling focus: Romans 16:1-2
It may seem strange to end a study of women of the Bible with Phoebe. We have studied Sarah, Miriam, and Mary — women who appear across chapters and books — and skipped over women like Eve and Deborah, who certainly play a large role in the narrative arc of the Bible. Phoebe, on the other hand, is only mentioned in a single sentence, in the Book of Romans. But through that sentence, we receive hints of a life dedicated to the church and its people, and we are inspired by an example of generosity and dedication. Today, we study and journal Phoebe as a means of looking back across the women of this study, and looking into our own lives.
Phoebe’s Story (in Two Parts)
Part One: A Life of Service
Paul mentions Phoebe at the end of his letter to the Romans, as she is the person who delivered his letter to Rome. He writes,
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.
From this short description of Phoebe, we can learn a few things about her life. First, we know that she was a servant of the church, though the word “servant” here has been debated by many scholars. A more accurate translation may be “deacon,” meaning that Phoebe would have had a position of authority in her worship community. Whether or not that was the case, we know from Paul’s description of her and from her willingness to make the journey to Rome, that Phoebe was deeply devoted to the work of the church. For a woman, this was quite an honor and a rarity at that time.
We can also tell from Paul’s description of Phoebe that he feels deeply grateful to her for the work that she has done. He calls for the Romans to treat her “in a way worthy of the saints” and “help her in whatever way she may need” because she has been a patron for many, including Paul himself. Phoebe’s generosity, then, is both in terms of her time, and in terms of her gifts. Like Mary Magdalene from last week, Phoebe was likely born into wealth and used her gifts to serve the church and maintain its servants. She also used her spiritual and earthy gifts — time, patience, and the freedom to travel — to serve the church in bringing Paul’s letter to the Romans.
Part Two: A Legacy of Inspiration
For the final week of our study, we are studying Phoebe because the brevity and openness of her story allows us to look into our own lives. We know next to nothing about Phoebe’s life: her marital status, potential children, work, finances, dwelling, or anything else. We know next to nothing about her character: whether she was kind, or serious, or gentle, or loud. But we know that, whoever she was, she used her gifts to serve her community and the worldwide church.
Today, the church encompasses many traditions and beliefs, from Orthodoxy to Catholicism to Protestantism and beyond. Sometimes, we may feel that those traditions and beliefs divide, rather than unite us. But wherever we may fall in the ‘family tree’ of the Christian faith, we all share a common heart: a desire to know Jesus and the life he lived, and to live like him in the world. His example of service and sacrifice should inspire each of us, as it clearly inspired Phoebe.
In the Women of Valor study, we have up to now learned the stories of eleven women: Hagar, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, Miriam, Ruth, Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth, and Mary Magdalene. Though themes and symbols may sometimes echo throughout multiple stories, each woman’s story is different, demonstrating different strengths and weaknesses of character. Not so for Phoebe, whose life and character we know very little of. Instead, her example of generosity and service allows us to look into ourselves and see how we may or may not be using our own gifts to better and bless the lives of others.
Throughout this study, we have seen several women who used their gifts of character or means to contribute to the world. Miriam, for example, was a prophetess who led her people, and Mary Magdalene used her earthly gifts to help fund and support the church. Phoebe seems to have given both spiritual and earthly gifts, in a true example of generosity. Her example of service allows us to look at our own lives, seeing where our own qualities may be being used to help others or contribute to the church.
Questions for Contemplation
- Take a quick look through the pages of your journaling Bible, stopping on the pages that correlate to our Women of Valor study. Reflect on these women and their stories. Many of them have strong characteristics, such as stubbornness, faithfulness, or humility. Which qualities, good and bad, do you recognize within yourself?
- Next, think about the different spiritual gifts that these women had. Some had a special gift for prayer, such as Hannah; for supporting a friend like Elizabeth did; or for leading others, as did Miriam. Which gifts have others pointed out in you? Are there any that you see in yourself?
- Finally, think about these gifts in the broader context of the world. You were given your exact combination of strengths, weaknesses, and qualities with purpose; because there is something about your place in the world, or lives that you will touch, that benefits from these qualities. How could you use them to serve like Phoebe did? Try not to limit yourself to practical ideas, like strictly donating money or time. Is there a skill you have that would help you mentor someone, or that you could use to raise money in a special way? Is there a quality or characteristic you have that makes you an especially good friend or parent? What is something about you that could be a gift to others?
Today’s journaling entry is unique because we are not journaling a story, but instead, a theme. You (yes, you!) have gifts and talents that were given to you just as they were to Phoebe and the many other women we have encountered in this journaling study. In today’s entry, journal as a way of expressing whatever gifts and talents you see in yourself and offering then up to God. Maybe you have a listening ear, and want to journal yourself listening to a child, or you listening to God’s voice in your life. Maybe you have a talent for crafting or baking, and want to journal about that as a means of saying thank you to God for the gifts He has given you. Or maybe you struggle to see your own best qualities, but know that God has given you the gift of His love and grace, and just want to express your gratitude for that. However you decide to journal the message of Phoebe’s generosity today, try not to let yourself get hung up on “shoulds” or “coulds.” You’ve made it through twelve weeks of this study – you really can do this!
This week’s entry in the Women of Valor series is intentionally much more open ended and personal than other weeks from this study, and for the first time, there is no printable! After twelve weeks of journaling and inspiration, you have the opportunity to look back and see everything you’ve done. Congratulations! Your commitment and devotion is inspiring, and I know that you have picked up the strength and imagination to design your own post this week, without the help of a printable.
On that note, I have something to share with all of you.
Friends: thank you! This study has been such a joy to put together. Through twelve weeks of art and creativity, I have so enjoyed seeing all your creations and contributions. This community and study have been a blessing for me, as I hope they have been for you, too!
Thank you for sharing this special time with us. I am so excited to experience the next step together. Check back soon to this site and the Facebook group for information on our biggest annual study: Advent Illustrated!