"I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchrea. 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." Romans 16:1, 2.
Chapter 15 ends with a greeting as though it were the end of the letter. Chapter 16 adds personal details that show Paul's intimate connection with the Roman church (probably made up of many small house churches), even though the church was not founded by him. It also gives a glimpse of the interconnection between the churches though they were scattered far and wide across the empire.
He also shows us how closely he was allied to the yoke of his Master. Jesus honoured and respected women. He treated them with the same dignity that He treated men. Women were not inferior beings, nor were they second-class citizens, unreliable and at men's disposal to be at their beck and call. From Jesus' perspective, women were the crown of His creation, and to be treasured like fragile and delicate bone china.
Phoebe had a servant heart. She was a "deacon" in the church from which she came, not necessarily as an office but as a function. She must have been visiting Rome for some or other reason. It fell to Paul, who knew her and knew the value she was to her local church, to commend her to the Roman congregations so that she would have a home base while she was in their city.
"Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house..." Romans 16:3-5.
This is a puzzling verse. Priscilla and Aquila, a Jewish Christian couple, had been expelled from Rome, along with all the Jews in Rome during the reign of the Emperor Claudius. They moved to Corinth where Paul met them and stayed with them, working together with them as tentmakers, and preaching every Sabbath in the synagogue (Acts 18:2-4).
At some point, they moved to Ephesus where they met Apollos, a Jewish believer from Alexandria who knew only the baptism of John and whom they instructed more fully in the Scriptures. Apollos became a powerful teacher and ally of Paul in Ephesus.
Why were they back in Rome and apparently resident there again? Was it possible that many of the Jews, Priscilla and Aquila included, returned to their old home after Claudius' death? When Paul reached Rome under Roman guard, he preached to many Jews who came to his home where he was under house arrest (Acts 28:17, 23).
Priscilla and Aquila led a group of believers who met in their home. Paul was eager to pass on his greetings to them because they had meant a great deal to him in his travels and ministry in Europe. Priscilla appears to have been the more prominent of the two since her name is consistently mentioned first.
"...Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia." Romans 16:5b.
What a network of friends and colleagues Paul had across the whole empire, not just converts but dear personal friends whom he remembered with great affection! Probably because the church had become an offence to both Jews and Gentiles, and many superstitions had grown up around this "secret society" including the accusation of cannibalism because of their celebration of the Lord's death, the believers were isolated and stuck together, doing life together and connecting with each other as they moved around the empire.
They had a "social network" of personal interaction, not on the World Wide Web but of hospitality and letters and messages passed from one to the other to keep them connected and their faith alive as they supported and encouraged one another in a hostile environment. We can learn a great deal from the early church about the meaning of fellowship.
Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.