Romans 16:1–7 (NKJV)

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.

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house.

Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. Greet Mary, who labored much for us. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

Wow, Phoebe must really be awesome. She gets top billing here and that means a lot. Order is a form of emphasis, even more so in Greek than in English.

She even gets put before Priscilla and Aquila, whom we know are leading saints from Acts 18, 1 Corinthians 16, and 2 Timothy 4. And Paul heaps great praise on them here saying that they, “risked their own necks for my life.”

Notice that Paul’s instruction about Phoebe is different than his instruction about everyone else. Instead of merely telling people to greet her, Paul says, “I commend to you Phoebe our sister … and assist her in whatever business she has need of you.” We don’t know much about Phoebe—there’s no other mention of her in the Bible—but she’s obviously someone special. Many think she carried this letter to Rome.

But the larger point is the high place of women in this passage. Paul is sometimes thought of as being sexist but this passage counters that. There’s no bias here; women are given the prominence they deserve. Listing Priscilla before Aquila is noteworthy too.

Listing the wife first is rare even in modern US tax returns.

Humanity has a long history of sexism, but Christ torched it. In Matthew 28, the first witnesses to the resurrection were women—at a time when temple law didn’t even allow women to be witnesses in court.

But sexism, racism, and all the other things like that are just different facets of the root problem—sin. Our “long history” is a history of people taking advantage of other people. Who the “other people” are doesn’t matter. Christ calls us to love other people, be they friends, neighbors, fellow Christians, even enemies.

While this can be challenging, it does remove one tricky task from our in-basket.

We don’t need to judge who’s lovable and who’s not.

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Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.