A network of believers

Paul’s ministry of preaching the gospel resulted in a vast network of believers that supported one another in an effort to go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15). Paul took time at the end of his letter to the Romans to acknowledge some of the faithful saints that had been by his side throughout his work in Asia. Paul started by mentioning a woman that lived in Cenchrea, a port located about six miles east of Corinth on the Saronic Gulf. Paul said, “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. ” (Romans 16:1-2, NKJV).

Phoebe’s prominent role in the church in Cenchrea and Paul’s mention of her first in his acknowledgment of people that had helped him suggests that Phoebe was a key member of Paul’s ministry team. It seems likely that men and women served side by side in their positions of serving Christ. The Greek word Paul used that is translated servant in Romans 16:1, diakonos (dee-ak’-on-os) specifically refers to a Christian teacher or pastor (G1249). Diakonos is also translated as minister. Phoebe was most likely a deaconness in the church at Cenchrea and held the highest position a woman could be appointed to in the first century churches.

Next on Paul’s list of acknowledgments was a couple, Priscilla and Aquila. It was likely an intentional effort on Paul’s part to mention the wife first in order to display his respect and admiration for her work and to show that she was at least an equal if not superior contributor in his ministry. Paul obviously wanted people to know that women were just as important to his ministry’s success as were their male counterparts. One of the things that Paul said about Priscilla and Aquila was that they risked their lives for him (Romans 16:4). This may have been why Paul gave Priscilla first place in his mention of the couple. She may have taken the lead role in getting Paul safely out of Corinth (Acts 18:6). Priscilla and Aquila traveled with Paul at the end of his second missionary journey and most likely played an important role in continuing his work after he was imprisoned in Rome.

Paul concluded his salutation to his fellow believers with a benediction that may have been the inspiration that kept his network of believers going long after his death. Paul declared, “Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandments of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: to God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen” (Romans 16:25-27). Paul made it clear that it was God’s power and his intentional effort to spread the gospel that made it possible for his network of believers to accomplish their work. That is why Paul’s death didn’t put an end to his ministry.