PRAYER OF CONSECRATION
Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
Jesus, I belong to you.
I lift up my heart to you.
I set my mind on you.
I fix my eyes on you.
I offer my body as a holy and living sacrifice to you.
Jesus, We belong to you.
Praying in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.
Romans 16:1–2 (NIV)
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.
Phoebe was a rockstar. She was a deacon, which in New Testament terms means she was set apart by Jesus and marked (anointed) by the Holy Spirit in an extraordinary way to do the ordinary work of servant leadership in the kingdom of Jesus. She was a recognized leader in the church in Cenchreae—which in biblical times was the eastern port of the ancient city-state of Corinth. I have never explicitly noted it, but Paul wrote the letter to the Roman church while he was in Corinth.
From all we can tell, she was a linchpin kind of leader in the early church. You know the type. (On the Seedbed Farm Team, her name would be Micah!) Paul identifies Phoebe as dedicated, hardworking, wealthy, and generous. He called on her to deliver the letter to Rome and most likely to read it for the church, with the same kind of passion, emphasis, and nuance with which Paul would have done himself had he been there.
I love how he referred to Phoebe as, “our sister,” rather than just “my sister.” Here’s my question. Why did Paul feel the need to write this?
I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you,
Could it be because Phoebe was a woman? I’d say probably so. Throughout human history, as a rule, women have been treated as lesser than men, inferior to them, and thereby restricted from full participation in society. Sadly, the church has not only followed suit but often led the way in such treatment.
This is not how it was (or is) in the New Testament church. Of the twenty-six people named in chapter 16, nine of them are women. We should remember Jesus’s inclusion of women among his disciples was rabbinically revolutionary. Is it any wonder it was the women who were the last to remain at the cross and the first to arrive at the empty tomb? It was a woman who first proclaimed the resurrection. It turns out Mary Magdalene was the apostle to the apostles. Let’s not forget our dear sister known to history as “the woman at the well,” (aka Photine) whose witness was so great in the early years of the church she (along with Mary Magdalene) was given the title, “equal to the apostles.” It turns out there were at least seven women among the twenty-eight witnesses given this designation to date in church history. Among the nine women named in this chapter, he also names Junia, a woman who was regarded as an apostle in the New Testament church.
So what about the seemingly contradictory texts from Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 where he seems to limit women and forbid them from speaking in churches? Christians have generally taken three approaches to these (and other difficult texts). 1. Dismiss the text or the author as misogynistic or homophobic or an otherwise inferior product of their times and culture. 2. Follow the surface or plain reading of the text (and often with fundamentalist zeal). 3. Follow the deeper interpretive and contextual reading of the text. Granted, the plain reading is often the correct reading, but there are many times Scripture requires a deeper dive given the time passed and cultural distance. This is one of those times.
As we have witnessed in Romans, Paul was writing his letters with the particular purpose to solve specific problems in the little churches. Of course, I can’t go into the particulars here, but I will point you to these resources (Craig Keener article; Ben Witherington videos Part I and Part II; Gary Hoag video) from some of the best bible scholars in the history of the church for a deeper treatment. Suffice it to say, when these texts are read in their biblical and first-century context, not to mention the larger biblical narrative, a clear picture emerges that not only supports women in the fulfillment of their various callings to servant leadership across the church but emboldens them.
Phoebe was a rockstar.
May her tribe increase.
Abba Father! Thank you for the way your Son, Jesus, called women into the ranks of his disciples just as he called men. We confess our own personal history formed by cultural stereotypes and plain, bad teaching has led us to come to the table with a jaded vision. Cleanse us of such prejudices that our vision might be purified to receive and behold revelation in its nuanced depth. You formed us in your image, male and female. Forgive us for all of the gendered chaos we continue to foment from such simple and divine origins. Awaken us to your creational intentions that we might be fully aligned in your kingdom will for the whole world. We pray especially for our daughters today, from infants in our arms, through their girlhood and into womanhood. We want them fully invited and invested into your kingdom to claim their callings and vocations to serve and lead at every level, in every sphere, and in full scope—in the church and as the church in every sector of society. And yes we pray for our sons to grow up in a divine understanding of manhood as well as respect for womanhood. All of this for the glory of God in all the world. Praying in Jesus’s name, amen.
How does this teaching today resonate with your understanding? Does it challenge you to deeper and perhaps better reading of Scripture? Does it open your eyes to the possibilities we might be missing out on?
Today we will sing “In the Garden” one of the favorites from the early twentieth century. It is hymn 342 in our Seedbed hymnal, Our Great Redeemer’s Praise. Let’s sing it with the scene of Mary coming to the garden that first Easter morning.
For the Awakening,
J. D. Walt
P.S. A Resource of Interest in Light of Today’s Entry
As we started our publishing work with Seedbed, we immediately reached out to two rockstars, who happened to be women—Sandra Richter and Carolyn Moore. I wanted to make sure you were aware of the most recent book Seedbed (along with our Zondervan partners) published by Carolyn Moore. When Women Lead: Embrace Your Authority, Move Beyond Barriers, And Find Joy in Leading Others. This is kingdom gold. I commend it to you. And here’s a Wake-Up Call bonus—use my code JDW50 and get 50 percent off this week only.