“I commend to you Phoebe…she has been helpful to many, and especially to me.” (Romans 16:1)
So who was Phoebe? We don’t really know, except that she was a deacon in the church in Cenchrea—which brings up a whole different matter about women deacons. I won’t go there for now, but, hey, the Bible sure does…
Anyway, we don’t know much about Phoebe, nor do we know a whole lot about the other people Paul names as he closes out the book of Romans—and there is quite a list. And I want to make a important point about these names that is especially relevant to you. Now you need to stay with me on this, because I want to first do something normally guaranteed to lose your interest—I want to list those names for you. But before I do, promise me that you’ll read each name on the list. You probably won’t be able to pronounce them correctly, but who cares! I can’t either.
Here they are: There’s Priscilla Aquila, Penetus, Mary, Andronicus, Junia, Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles, the household of Aristobulus, the household of Narcissus, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus and his mother, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and his fellow Christians, Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, Olympia and her Christian friends, Timothy, Lucias, Jason, Sosipater, Tertius, Gaius, Erastus, and last but not least, Quartus.
Whew! My spell-checker is smoking. I don’t think it will ever be the same again.
So what’s up with these names? Simply this: Paul, the great Apostle, the guy who deservedly gets his name in lights almost every Lord’s Day in churches around the world, knew very well that he couldn’t have done it without the help of his friends. If Paul were accepting an Oscar, he would be up there for minutes listing off all the people he’d like to thank—these names and many others he mentions in some of his other writings.
This great theologian who was largely responsible for the evangelization of the western world didn’t do it all by himself. He needed a little help from his friends in every city where he preached the gospel and planted a church. Though you will likely never hear a sermon or attend a Bible study where these names are given any mention, Paul gives them their props in the eternal Word of God.
The point is that it takes a team to do the work of the Kingdom. For sure, there are leading characters on the Kingdom team, but it’s still a team, mostly of unnamed, unsung heroes who are typically forgotten—except by God. God never forgets. He appreciates the contributions of each and every one—even the lesser lights. And he has stored up indescribable recognition and reward for them in the Kingdom to come. Paul’s mention of them here in the last chapter in Romans is a subtle reminder to us of their contribution to his efforts and of their value to God.
Maybe you are one of those unnamed, unsung heroes who goes unnoticed by everyone else, but your faithfulness is noticed by God. Perhaps you are a Phoebe to a Paul or a Patrobas to a Peter or a Junius to a John, and you wonder if you really matter. My response to you is, “Yes, you matter. We wouldn’t be effective in building God’s Kingdom without you! It takes a team—and no matter how you feel, you are an integral part of that team!”
Yet more important than my acknowledgement is God’s. He has written your name in a book too—one that’s even better than the book of Romans. It’s the Book of Life. And God himself will celebrate your name all eternity long. How’s that for recognition.
So just be faithful doing what you’re doing. Your day is coming!