While the Apostle Paul had many brethren who were helpers and co‐labourers with him, such as Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Epaphras, etc., he had also sisters who laboured with him in the Lord. We find him commending to the Romans, “Phebe, our sister, who is a servant (or deaconess) 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.”
Here is a woman worker, with a distinct office, recognised by the Apostle Paul, recommended just as fully to the Church as though she had been a pastor or a teacher. She is to be received “in the Lord;” and the Cenchrean Church is to receive her “as becometh saints.” The introduction of the Apostle might have been a powerful recommendation to this woman evangelist in those early times, and it would never have been given except he knew that the coming of this woman meant some real blessing to the Church which was in Rome. O, how much may the presence of a man or woman filled with the Holy Ghost be to a little community of Christians, and how much we are taught in this verse to receive God’s messengers in the Lord, not with the thought of refreshment to our own souls, not with the thought of the gain to the work, but as sent of God on a visit which is part of His purpose and His will! It is thus we can receive a worker “as becometh saints.”
Paul exhorts that Phebe shall be assisted in whatsoever business she hath need, and gives as his strong and potent reason: “She hath been
A SUCCOURER OF MANY,
and of myself also.” How far this succour was spiritual, and how far temporal, does not appear; probably, it was in both lines that Phebe was “a succourer of many.” She may have had a quick eye to perceive the leadings of God, even as the Apostle had, and she may have given many a word of warning, in the spirit of humility, which may have helped even an Apostle Paul!
No woman has lived in vain who has been a, succourer of many. Such was Dorcas in things temporal. But how many an unknown and how many a well‐known woman might have earned this testimony. How many souls have been led to the Lord by a woman! How many a young preacher owes his success to a faithful woman!
Next to Phebe, Paul mentions Priscilla and Aquila, the wife’s name coming first, and he calls them “My helpers in Christ Jesus,” not “My helper and his wife,” “who have for my life laid down their own necks,” and he claims for both of these the thanks of the Churches. Paul was peculiarly bound to these two, and the one is never mentioned without the other.
Again, he speaks of “Mary, who bestowed much labour on us.” We are left in doubt as to the kind of labour; but O how much in the city of Rome, when Paul was a prisoner, the help of a devoted woman may have told both for his spiritual and physical comfort? It is no light honour that the name of this unknown Mary should be introduced into the Word of God as bestowing much labour upon the great Apostle of the Gentiles. This Mary did not spare herself: it was a
WILLING AND HONOURABLE SERVICE.
Then Paul salutes “Tryphena and Tryphosa,” who labour in the Lord, and “the beloved Persis, who laboured much in the Lord.” Three more women workers, not standing idle in the market‐place, but yielding themselves to the very full as instruments for the spread of the precious Gospel. Paul does not flatter, he knew what labour was, and that it was no mere amateur work which was done by these godly women evangelists.
And Paul salutes also Julia, who is supposed to have been a British lady, and a sister of Nereus, both of whom may also have been workers, although it is not mentioned. In any case, we learn that the women workers in the early church were as fully recognised, as truly valued by the Apostle as any of their brethren, and we little know how many of these patient women kept together the converts which had been made under the preaching of the brethren, as well as through their own testimony, and how much, in many ways, they strengthened the faith of the disciples. We little know how, in quiet acts of hospitality, they would make it easy for some half‐awakened ones to decide for Christ. We little know how they would follow up any conversation which had been entered into by Paul and others, and so glean the ears of corn among the sheaves.
Let no woman worker be dissatisfied because her sphere is small. God may count that much help in the Lord which men can hardly recognise, and Paul would call his helpers in Christ Jesus those whom some church pastors would hardly know by name. Let every woman worker be contented with her sphere, and glorify God to the full, just in the place where He has called her to be.