I've read Romans, like, a bazillion times. Not because I'm more studious than the next gal, but because I'm mildly obsessive and decided I was going to read it, well, a bazillion times, until I knew it forward and backward and well . . . we're still not there.
It's a flawed method, granted. But it has its merits. And the amazing thing is that Romans still surprises me.
Take Phebe, for example. Ever heard of her? Did you even know there was a Phebe in the Bible? Even now, I often gloss over her portion of scripture, when Paul asks the Roman church to look after Phebe and to help her with whatever she needs, as someone who has helped many others (Romans 16:1-2).
That in itself—two verses addressed to the Romans about a woman we never see or hear from—is a testimony to the character of our dear first-century sister, Phebe. I mean, gals, wouldn't you love for someone to say that about you? "Hey, folks, make sure you help Jane or Amy or Kim or Lisa with whatever she needs and give her a saintly reception because she has helped so many people."
I don't know about you, but I feel like I could learn a lot from Phebe. I don't believe this woman was given two verses all to herself for nothing, and I find it so inspiring that those two verses alone are more than enough to convict and call us, as women, to greater service to others.
Interestingly, those two verses are not Phebe's last word, so to speak. In my particular Bible, at the end of the book of Romans, a final footnote calls our friend to mind once more by stating: "Written to the Romans from Corinthus, and sent by Phebe servant of the church at Cenchrea."
There she is again! Paul wasn't commending Phebe to the Romans' care as just a traveller—she was the very messenger by whom his words reached the Roman church. The messenger by whom his words reach us today. And when we consider the dangers faced by the early Christians—the hostility of non-Christians, the risk of discovery and torture and death—we find another piece of the puzzle that is Phebe.
Folks, this woman was brave.
My first thought, when faced with incredible people, is to be instantly discouraged. I am not an incredible person; I, therefore, cannot do what they do and must be lesser because of it. But Phebe is different. Phebe makes no claim to be extraordinary. She is first a woman who loves the Lord; second, a woman whose love for the Lord takes the form of love toward others; and third, a woman who does what needs to be done for the Lord, even if it comes with risk.
When we put it that way, we see Phebe for what she really was: a Godly woman. That is not out of our reach, ladies. Jesus is working in us daily to bring us closer to just that kind of heavenly daughter, and if we participate in that growing process with willing hearts that love the Lord, we will, in time, be Phebes of our own century.