Every believer needs the spiritual gifts that God has given to other believers. God's grace can enable a Christian to serve alone when necessary, but such is an exception and not the norm. The Lord has structured the Church in such a way that each believer is to play a vital role in the help and edification of the other, as the Holy Ghost declared earlier in the book “...ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.” Pride and human independence are discouraged in the church when a man realizes that the Holy Spirit uses others in the process of an individual's sanctification. Paul recognized this truth, and he was always quick to acknowledge the value of Christian companionship.
“I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.” (Romans 16:1-2)
It is commonly believed that Phebe is the one who carried this letter to the church in Rome. She is called a servant. This is the same Greek word used for deacon. Because of this, many have attempted to justify the employment of female deacons in the church. Such misinterpretation of the Scriptures has lead to many ladies occupying positions of authority and leadership for which they were never intended. The Holy Spirit's employment of the word diakonos is no reason to disregard that fact that only males are given qualifications for the position of deacon (I Timothy 3:8-13). Also, in Romans 15:8 when the Holy Spirit calls Christ a minister, He used the Greek word diakonos (deacon). Does this mean that Jesus officially occupied the position of a deacon? Of course not. It simply means that He had the heart and ministry of a true servant. The context makes that clear. Such is the case here with Phebe. She did not hold a position intended only for males. She simply had a servant's heart; she was willing to do anything in order to serve others; therefore, she is called a servant by using a word which clearly describes the heart of a true servant. Her attitude should be the attitude of every believer. Every Christian, male or female, should have the heart of a diakonos with only qualified males holding the actual office; but whether the office is held or not, every believer should desire to serve with the same self-sacrificing example of Phebe.
Cenchrea was a seaport of Corinth, the city from which Paul wrote this letter. Paul encourages the believers in Rome to receive this lady in a way that becomes God's saints. Believers of like mind and faith should be received with warmth and charity. What difference does it make if they attend another local church? If they are walking in obedience to Christ, there should be a warmth in the fellowship and an appreciation for the sacrifices which they make on behalf of others.
In certain circles of professing Christianity, an ungodly sexist attitude exists toward females. Paul did not treat female saints in such a way. Although ladies are not to be leaders in the church, they serve a vital role, and there service is much needed. Paul appreciated male and female alike. He loved anyone who was willing to be like Jesus. The word succourer means a helper or benefactor. This lady brought spiritual and physical help to the lives of people, including Paul, who was not to high and lofty to need the gifts of a female saint. Her example should be the norm in God's people. Unfortunately, many saints do not bring help; they bring confusion and chaos. There are some saints, who are not pleasant to be around. Their lives breed confusion, tension and disorder. They are not at peace. They are worldly, and unhappy. Such was not the case of Phebe. Rather than attempt to use her as a means of justification for the establishment of unbiblical female leadership in the church, her heart attitude and actions should be emulated.
“Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my wellbeloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.” (Romans 16:3-5)
Paul has a warm greeting for Aquila and his wife Priscilla. This is the couple with whom Paul lodged and worked (Acts 18:1-3). These are the believers who graciously took Apollos aside and explained to him that the baptism of John was not the complete story (Acts 18:24-26). They are also mentioned in I Corinthians 16:19 and II Timothy 4:19. Truly, their lives impacted many. Apparently, as was often the case with the early church, their home was a meeting place for the believers. This was a common practice in that society, especially due to the fact that hostility existed toward Christians and people were forced to be less public in their meetings.
Achaia is the region near Corinth. Epaenetus was the first, or one of the first, to be converted to Christ in that area. This is what is meant by the phrase firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.