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Los Lunas Cornerstone

Church of the Nazarene

What is a Disciple: Warnings

Say "Yes" to Love


The Fig Tree

A Song of Complaint and Praise

Listen to Me


Guest Preacher Pastor Allison Storch


    It’s so funny, the things you think as a child. I grew up attending church regularly with my family until I was about 10, and I remember singing one of the songs we sang this morning, “Come Thou Fount”. It’s always been one of my favorite songs, even from childhood. But I remember always thinking that the line, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’m come”, was really weird. I didn’t understand it at all, and I remember thinking, “Why would this church song be talking about old Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol?”
    It’s funny to me the connections that children’s minds make sometimes. Of course, this song, and that line has nothing to do with Charles Dickens’s Christmas classic, but do you know what an Ebenezer is? Or do you just sing that line in that song like a good church member, singing without understanding?
    The idea of raising an Ebenezer is a Biblical idea and it’s one I want to preach about this morning. The word Ebenezer comes from a passage in 1 Samuel, and I’d love you to join me there this morning in your Bibles. 1 Samuel 7:12, “Then Samuel took a stone and placed it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “So far the Lord has helped us.” (NASB)
    Ebenezer is the combination of two Hebrew words, ‘ĕ’bĕn meaning STONE and hā’ē’zĕr meaning HELP. So combined the word literally means “stone of help” or “help stone”. Samuel was a priest of the Old Testament, dedicated to the Lord before He was born and given over to the Lord’s service in the Temple under the priest Eli. Samuel heard the call of the Lord very early, as a boy, and responded with a life lived in complete and total devotion for the Lord.
    The passage we just read from 1 Samuel 7 where Samuel took the stone and placed it between the two towns and named it Ebenezer happened after God had given the Israelites a great victory. See, the Philistines, who seemed to be constantly at war with the Israelites and a real thorn in their side, had years before taken the Ark of the Lord, the Ark of the Covenant, captive. God brought tumors and plagues upon the Philistines wherever the Ark went in their territory. Finally, the Philistines had had enough of the wrath of God and sent the Ark back to the Israelites.
    The Israelites recognized that the reason the Ark had been captured in the first place was because of their arrogance and disobedience to the Lord. So when the Ark was returned to them, there was great cause for celebration, but most importantly, humility.
    The Israelites humbled themselves before the Lord…and they remembered.
    What I hope you see throughout this message about the Ebenezer stone is that ultimately the Ebenezer is a place where God calls His people to remember.
    We have short memories, humankind does. Sometimes I come across these videos where an interviewer will be interviewing one or two people with some history questions that to me seem like they should be common knowledge. But, of course, these people, not all of them young people, have no clue what the interviewer is talking about. Things like, “What was Pearl Harbor?” Or “When was the Holocaust?” Or even more recent events, like “When did 9/11 happen?” You know, common knowledge events that are pretty big and well-known that are seared into our collective conscience even if we weren’t alive then? Sometimes I think these people need a help stone to help them remember, instead of living under a rock.
    The call to remember though is a theme that we see run throughout the Old Testament. The Ebenezer Samuel placed called God’s people to remember the way God responds to repentance and renewal of faith. The people had been in mourning because they were suffering under the hands of the Philistines, and this is what Samuel called them to, “Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you, and direct your hearts to the Lord and serve Him alone; and He will save you from the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the sons of Israel removed the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and served the Lord alone. 5 Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel to Mizpah and I will pray to the Lord for you.” 6 So they gathered to Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the Lord, and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the sons of Israel at Mizpah.” (1 Samuel 7:3-6, NASB)
    The people realized their mistake. They realized they had been arrogant and disobedient and here they turn their hearts back to the Lord. Samuel directs them to return, repent, and serve the Lord alone, and they do, from that day faithfully for 20 years under Samuel’s leadership. God responds to their repentance and the renewal of their faith by giving them victory over the Philistines. And what we see time and time again throughout the Old Testament, especially during this period of judges before the first king, and even in through the time of the kings of Israel, that if the leader was leading the people to serve the Lord faithfully, God always responded to their repentance and sincere faith with victory over their enemies.
    Samuel didn’t want them to forget what God had done, so he set up the stone, so that every time they looked at it, they would know and remember what God had done.
    Samuel raising an Ebenezer was also him calling the people to remember the ways God HELPS us. The Israelites were constantly being oppressed by the Philistines, and God was quick to help them when their hearts were humble before Him.
    But this was not the only time God stepped in to help His people. We see throughout the Old Testament He has a long history of helping us. He helps His people in big ways, like the Exodus clearly shows, and He helps His people in little ways, like when He comforted Hagar in the desert when she was outcast and alone.
    Joshua 4 has the account of God helping the Israelites cross the Jordan river, which was a rushing torrent of water that God stopped completely for them to cross. This is what is written about this account, “This shall be a sign among you; when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall say to them, ‘That the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.” 8 So the sons of Israel did exactly as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, just as the Lord spoke to Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel; and they carried them over with them to the encampment and put them down there. 9 Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan at the place where the feet of the priests who carried the ark of the covenant were standing, and they are there to this day.” (Joshua 4:6-9, NASB)
    Twelve stones, set up as a memorial. What do memorials do? They help us remember. Ebenezers, memorial stones, help stones, help us remember the ways the Lord has helped us.
    They also help us remember the way He spoke and revealed Himself to us. In Genesis 28, Jacob has an encounter with God. Before that encounter, he didn’t have a relationship with God. He knew of God, no doubt, from Abraham’s stories and Isaac’s stories about how God had revealed Himself and spoken to them and helped them, but He was not Jacob’s God, not until the Lord spoke to Jacob in a dream. “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “The Lord is certainly in this place, and I did not know it!” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” 18 So Jacob got up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had placed as a support for his head, and set it up as a memorial stone, and poured oil on its top.” (Genesis 28:16-18)
    Jacob set up a memorial stone to remember the way God had spoken to him and revealed Himself to Jacob, and from that moment on, the Lord became Jacob’s Lord.
    Ebenezers help us remember the way God CHANGED us as well. God appeared to Jacob a second time, and affirmed for Jacob that the covenant God had given to Abraham and Isaac would continue through Jacob’s line. God says He is Jacob’s God, and He changes Jacob’s name, “God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; You shall no longer be called Jacob, But Israel shall be your name.” (Genesis 35:10, NASB)
    This is not the only time in the Bible that God changes someone’s name to reflect their new identity. A few years ago, we felt nudged to change our own name, to reflect our desire for who we would be, what our identity would be as a church, that we would be a church built on the foundation of Christ, being built up into a holy temple for the Lord.
    Look at what Jacob, Israel, did in response to the way God changed him, “So Jacob set up a memorial stone in the place where He had spoken with him, a memorial of stone, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it.” (Genesis 35:14, NASB)
    A memorial stone. An Ebenezer, to help remember how God had changed him.
    We also see Ebenezers show up to help God’s people remember the way God witnesses His covenant lived through His people. Let’s look at some examples.
    In Genesis 31 we have a dispute between Jacob and Laban. Laban was not a fair man, and he had not treated Jacob fairly in many ways. First, he gave Jacob Leah as a wife when Jacob had worked for Rachel. Then we’re told in Genesis 31:7 we’re told that Laban had cheated Jacob and changed his wages ten times. God gave Jacob a dream for how to deal with Laban, including very detailed directions concerning speckled and striped sheep. Jacob does this and flees Laban, and Laban goes after him because it turns out it’s really not very nice to be cheated out of something. Finally, they seem to come to an agreement and come up with a covenant for how they can go their separate ways and be at peace as family who both say they serve the Lord.
    Starting in verse 44 we read, “So now come, let’s make a covenant, you and I, and it shall be a witness between you and me.” 45 Then Jacob took a stone and set it up as a memorial stone. 46 Jacob said to his relatives, “Gather stones.” So they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47 Now Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed. 48 Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me this day.” Therefore it was named Galeed, 49 and Mizpah, for he said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are absent one from the other. 50 If you mistreat my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.” 51 Laban also said to Jacob, “Behold this heap and behold the memorial stone which I have set between you and me. 52 This heap is a witness, and the memorial stone is a witness, that I will not pass by this heap to you for harm, and you will not pass by this heap and this memorial stone to me, for harm.” (Genesis 31:44-52, NASB)
    A memorial stone, for us to remember the covenants we make with one another, as family, to remember the love we ought to have between us in the name of the Lord, that He stands witness to.
    There’s another incident similar to this in Joshua 24, when Joshua is at the end of his ministry and he speaks to God’s people and again calls them to remember all that God has done for them, and to commit to serving the Lord because of all that God had done. “So Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen for yourselves the Lord, to serve Him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23 “Now then, do away with the foreign gods which are in your midst, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey His voice.” 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. 26 And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God; and he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. 27 Then Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, because it has heard all the words of the Lord which He spoke to us; so it shall be a witness against you, so that you do not deny your God.” (Joshua 24:22-27, NASB)
    Ebenezers are memorial stones. They help us to remember. We are not in the practice normally of collecting stones or setting up stones to remember what God has done, but I thought it might be a good way to have a visual cue for each of us to take with us. Pastor Allison is going to hand out Ebenezer stones to each of you, and as she does this, I want you to think through these questions as you look at the simple word written on your stone.
    How has God responded to your repentance and renewal of faith? Did He forgive you, or hold your sins against you?
    How has God helped you? Does He give you what you want or what He knows you need?
    How has God spoken to you and revealed Himself to you? What are some of the things He has said to you?
    How has God changed you? Though you might not have a new name, you are a new person in Christ. What are the signs of that new life in you?
    How has God witnessed His covenant promises lived through you? How has His love flowed through you to others? How has His freedom been proclaimed by you?
    The final thing we see in these passages is that each time that the person set up a stone to remember what God had done, it fueled their PRAISE. When I remember that God has always responded to my repentance with forgiveness and has forgiven things I thought were beyond forgiveness; and when I remember the way He helped me, just last week when I was struggling with feelings of loneliness; and when I remember how He spoke to me in that struggle and revealed His near presence to me; and when I remember the way that He has changed my nature from one that is judgmental and arrogant to one that seeks to let love flow out in everything I say and do; and when I remember the way He has moved through me to share Him with the least of these around me I am brought to my knees.
    How can such an amazing God do so much for me? How can I thank Him? His fount of every blessing has poured out on me and over me and through me. How do I respond? I ask Him to tune my heart, to make me sing of His grace. His streams of mercy flowing over me have never stopped and how do I respond? Songs of loudest praise. Not just songs sung by human tongues, but songs sung in the depths of my soul as I say to Him, “Lord, you have all of my heart, all of my mind, all of my body, and all of my strength. I am yours. Bind my heart to You. Here’s my heart Lord, take and seal it.”
    I want to end our service today, having these Ebenezers in our hands, by letting our remembrance of what He has done for each of us fuel our praise.

The Benefit of Wisdom

    The last two weeks I’ve preached about two people, Barnabas and Phoebe, who both had an influence of the early ministry of Paul, who ministered with Paul, and who seems to have been influential in the success of the early church’s ministry as well. We saw the importance of encouraging others, especially when they seem to be in vulnerable places in their walk with the Lord. We also saw how having courage through God’s call on our lives can give us strength when we face challenges and difficulties in obeying the Lord’s direction.
    This week I want to draw your attention to another “behind the scenes” person of great influence, this time in Moses’s life. It wasn’t Aaron, Miriam, the midwives, or Pharaoh’s daughter, though these people were certainly influential to Moses and gave him support in many needed ways. I want to preach about Jethro, because this is what Scripture tells us about his influence on Moses, that, “Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said.”
    If Moses, servant of God and great patriarch of faith, did everything his father-in-law said, then looking at Jethro’s life and what made him so influential to Moses is a worthy lesson.
    There’s two parts to understanding why Jethro was influential to Moses. The first part is understanding the relationship that Jethro had with Moses, and the second part is understanding what kind of wisdom Jethro had that Moses found so helpful.
    Let’s look at the first time we meet Jethro, which you can find in Exodus 2:15-21, “When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well. 16 Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock. 18 When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, “Why have you returned so early today?” 19 They answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20 “And where is he?” Reuel asked his daughters. “Why did you leave him? Invite him to have something to eat.” 21 Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage.” (NIV)
    This man, named Reuel in this passage, becomes the father-in-law of Moses. Moses had a fair number of father figures in his life at various points: he had his biological father, a man from the tribe of Levi, who we never have a name for; and he had Pharaoh, who even though he would have been old enough to be Moses’s grandfather, he would seems to have acted as a father figure; and he had his father-in-law, Jethro, or Reuel. Of the three father figures, Jethro is the one we see most, the one who actually acts as a father for Moses.
    It may be a little confusing that at first he goes by Reuel, and then later by Jethro, but this has a simple explanation. Reuel seems to be his actual name, and Jethro seems to be more of a title of honor or position.
    This goes along with the next thing we know about Jethro, that he was a priest of Midian. There’s debate about this, not about him being a priest, but about who he served as a priest. Was he a priest of God, or some foreign idol? The question is hard to answer, but we do have some clues that help us put together a picture of who Jethro served.
    The first clue is in his given name, Reuel. Reuel means “friend of GOD." Not gods, but God, One. Maybe he served only one foreign god, but that doesn’t seem likely, especially since the “El” ending on his name, the part that refers to God, is commonly used throughout the rest of the Old Testament to refer to the One True God. It’s more likely that his name reflects his relationship with the One True God, especially given what else we know about him.
    In Exodus 18:9-12, we get this picture of Jethro, “Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. 10 He said, “Praise be to the Lord, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for He did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.” 12 Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a meal with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God.” (NIV)
    Even if by some chance Jethro was a priest of a foreign idol God, we have this scene here where Jethro recognizes the ways that the Lord had rescued the Hebrew people from the Egyptians. He proclaims in front of Moses, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods,”. Even if he had served an idol, he at least has this aha moment where he recognizes that the Lord is the greatest God there is and goes on to bring a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God.
    There’s also this phrase at the beginning of that passage, “Jethro was delighted to hear”, which is a passage that presents a language barrier for us. In the Hebrew, this more accurately would be, Jethro was overjoyed and became as a Jew.” If you sort of read between the lines, what that means is that Jethro went through the process of becoming Hebrew, adopted into the family of God, through the covenant of circumcision. He saw what God had done, recognized God was the greatest, and desired to be brought into the family of God. So he truly does become a friend of God in every way. I feel confident in saying that by the time Jethro exits the story, he was a priest of the One True God.
    We know one more thing about the kind of man Jethro was, and that was his relationship with Moses. As we have seen, Jethro was Moses’s father-in-law, and of all the father figures that Moses had, Jethro was the one that most acted as a father to Moses. Exodus 18:7 says this, “Then Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and he bowed down and kissed him; and they asked each other about their welfare, and went into the tent.” (NASB)
    Moses and Jethro had great affection for one another. Even though at this point, they had been separated for a time as Moses had left his family in Midian to return to Egypt to do as God had called him to do, when they are brought together again, it is a cause for celebration and great joy. Before Jethro got to the business of worshiping God and recognizing what the Spirit was doing in the lives of His people, Jethro and Moses had a little chat, maybe over coffee or some other warm beverage, and caught up with one another.
    Perhaps their seemingly close relationship was due in part to the fact that Moses had stayed in Midian, son-in-law to Jethro, for about 40 years, as we are told that Moses was 40 when he fled to Midian and 80 when he returned to Egypt from Midian. So for 40 years he was living in the same area, as part of the same family, with Jethro. Moses was a shepherd for Jethro, so one can imagine that there may have been many late night, fireside chats as they led their flocks. Jethro had been around, maybe not immediately present, but definitely near, for the birth of his grandchildren by Moses and Zipporah. Jethro clearly got to participate in the formation and pouring into the lives of his grandchildren which you can read about some in Exodus 4. He took this man, a murderer and foreigner, and welcomed into his own family and became a father to him when he had been cast out of his other families because of the effects of sin and evil.
    This is the kind of man Jethro was. This is what we know of his character, his life, and his ministry. But like Barnabas and Phoebe, Jethro also poured out his gift which helped to form another person. What we see, is that Jethro was also a man of great wisdom. What I want to really emphasize in looking at Jethro’s wisdom is that we should do so through the lens of Psalm 111:10a, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;” (NIV) The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Jethro’s wisdom is no different, and it’s clear from the fact that Moses listened to Jethro’s wisdom and did as Jethro told him, that Moses recognized that Jethro’s wisdom came from the Lord.
    Look at Exodus 4:18, which happens just after Moses’s experience with the Lord at the Burning Bush, when the Lord called Moses to return to Egypt and lead the people out of slavery. “Then Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, “Let me return to my own people in Egypt to see if any of them are still alive. Jethro said, “Go, and I wish you well.” (NIV)
    Both here, and after God had delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, Jethro recognizes what God was clearly doing. It was perhaps easier for him to see what God had done with the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, but no one was with Moses at the Burning Bush. Moses was the only witness to those things, not thousands of people, one. When Moses told Jethro why he had to go back to Egypt, he makes no mention of the burning bush or God speaking to him, but still Jethro had the wisdom to recognize the MOVEMENT of God. Jethro was able to discern that the Lord was up to something in Moses’s life, and rather than remind Moses of all the reasons why he shouldn’t go to Egypt, he released Moses to go and do what God had told him to do.
    Exodus 18:9-12 which I already read has Jethro recognizing the movement of God, and then going on to take a rightful place before God in HUMILITY by worshiping the Lord through sacrifice and as I mentioned before, by becoming as a Hebrew through the act of circumcision. When he came to realize Who it was that had saved Moses’s people, he also came to realize that the only proper response he could have toward such an awesome God is to worship Him and devote Jethro’s own life to the Lord.
    Micah 6:9 tells us that to fear the Lord is wisdom, and in Jethro’s response to the Lord’s mighty power, Jethro showed wisdom in his humble place before God.
    Jethro not only released Moses on his path to faithfully obey the Lord’s call by releasing him to return to Egypt; Jethro not only recognized that God is worthy of worship and humility; but we also have this amazing scene in Exodus 18:17-18, but the context begins in verse 14, “When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” 15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.” 17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” (NIV)
    Even though Jethro was not called by God to lead the Hebrew people in the same capacity as Moses, Jethro still had incredible insight and wisdom given to him by the Lord to impart to Moses to guide Moses to minister effectively. And Jethro was right. Had the burden of being the only person for thousands of people to bring their disputes to continued, Moses would have burnt out, and then he wouldn’t have been any good to God’s people. Jethro’s wisdom directed Moses to delegate and share the load with other leaders Moses could entrust with the work of leading the people.
    Because of the affection Jethro had for Moses, and because of his relationship with Moses, Moses listened. Moses understood the truth of Proverbs 3:7, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” (NIV) Moses saw that Jethro had a wisdom that he did not, and because Moses feared the Lord, he took the wisdom Jethro gave and it helped him become a more effective leader.
    Finally, we see Jethro’s wisdom displayed in this verse from Exodus 18:20, where Jethro encourages Moses and all the newly appointed lay-leaders of Israel, “Teach them His decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.” (NIV)
    Jethro had the divine wisdom to know that even with Moses and the law-leaders guiding the people, that the people also needed to be taught what was right and wrong in the Lord’s eyes so they could live in God’s wisdom without always needing to come to Moses. The people needed to know that God is their source of wisdom, not Moses, not Jethro, not anyone else, but God.
    One of Jethro’s gifts was wisdom. That was a God-given spiritual gift, which means that Jethro was expected to use the gift of wisdom to build up and encourage the family of God. He did that, and his wisdom benefited Moses greatly. Without his wisdom, Moses may not have felt so free to faithfully obey God, and he may not have become the effective leader that we still study and learn from today.

Questions to form your quiet times this week:
1. Is there someone in your life who has modeled Jethro’s wisdom? How can you thank them this week to continue sharing God’s wisdom?

2. What can you take from Jethro to improve your influence on others in your circle?

3. Read James 1:5. What should you do if you lack wisdom? Is there some situation in your life right now that you need wisdom for? What does Proverbs 22:17 say about hearing the wise words of others?

The Strength of Courage

    You’ve likely heard the term “breaking the glass ceiling.” It was a term that was only coined in 1978, and it refers to difficulties faced by some in advancing to certain roles that have never been held before by someone like them. Originally, it referred to women having difficulties advancing to roles that were never available to them before, but now it has become a blanket term to cover anytime a barrier like this is overcome.
    Being the person who breaks the glass ceiling requires a lot of courage. Courage to step out into places where people like you have never been before and spaces where people like you have never been welcome before. It means speaking up for yourself and often standing by yourself. It’s a challenging thing to do. And even though the term has only existed for 45 years, breaking glass ceilings is something people have been doing for a very long time.
    I want to talk to you about Phoebe. She’s another person in the Bible who, like Barnabas, is not mentioned much in the Bible, but seems to have been very influential in the early church. There’s two verses in the book of Romans where Paul mentions Phoebe’s name. But in those two verses, he says a lot, that often we gloss over, not truly understanding all that Paul is saying about Phoebe because there’s a language barrier there. Let’s look at what he says about her in Romans 16:1-2,
    “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea, 2 that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.” (NASB)
    Just in these two short verses, Paul speaks very highly about Phoebe. He commends her to the church in Rome, and what he says about her is actually very impressive, especially when we consider that Paul also gives us the two verses in the Bible that allegedly bar women from preaching and teaching men. However, when we look at what he actually says about Phoebe, we see a different story, a story of Phoebe’s courage to be who God called her to be.
    Paul first says that Phoebe is a sister, so we are to understand right away, without question, that she is a believer in Christ Jesus. But Paul goes further to say that she is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea. It’s with passages like this that it is helpful to look at the original language, in this case, Greek. Because when we look at this word in English, and we read “servant”, it doesn’t tell us all that Phoebe actually was.
    When we read the word “servant”, it diminishes Phoebe’s role, because we think of a servant of the church as anyone who serves in the church. That should be all of us. We all have gifts and talents and each of us is called to serve the body of Christ with those gifts and talents. So when we read the word “servant”, we think of all of us, doing what we can to serve one another in love.
    Phoebe was definitely a servant, she did serve the church in Cenchrea, but the word “servant” in the Greek gives us a better understanding of how Phoebe served that particular church. In the Greek, servant is “diakonos”. That word might look familiar to you. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul uses the word “diakonos” to speak about the office of deacon in the church. A deacon is a minister of the church, one whose responsibilities in the church include teaching.
    “Diakonos” or deacon is the same word that Paul uses to describe himself, Timothy, as well as a few others in the New Testament who were doing the work of pastoring, teaching, and preaching in their local church groups. It appears that Phoebe was serving in her church specifically as a minister of the word, much like Paul and Timothy did. And Paul commends her to the church in Rome for the service that she had been doing for the church in Cenchrea.
    What we know about letters written during this time is that there was no universal postal system in Rome or the Middle East or Greece or anywhere really. There was a government postal system in Rome, but it was only for official government documents sent by politicians and other governmental officials. For a common citizen like Paul to send a letter through the government postal system wouldn’t have been possible. So Paul, and other citizens would have sent letters through a hired courier, or a friend, or in Paul’s case, trusted ministers of the word.
    The reason Paul commends and lists a list of Phoebe’s credentials in this part of his letter to the church in Rome is because Phoebe was the one Paul sent his letter with. Phoebe took his letter to the church in Rome, and Paul was telling the church in his letter all about this woman who was carrying his letter and how much he commended her and trusted her to carry his letter because of all she had done for her church as a deacon and for him.
    Not only was Phoebe a deacon in the church in Cenchrea, Paul also calls her a helper. He says, “for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.” Helper is another word like servant, where we have a language barrier. It’s not translated to encompass all it really means. The word here in the Greek is “prostatis”. The Latin equivalent is “patronus”, from which we get our word “patron”. A patron in ancient cultures was a leader in their community. They were the person that people went to if they needed help with something, like building an aqueduct, or showing hospitality to newcomers to a city. Many times, patrons would sort of have office hours at the city gates, where the business of the city was conducted and important persons met with other important persons to lead their city and make decisions for their city. The idea is similar to someone who was a benefactor. Paul says that Phoebe was such a person.
    She’s not the only patron that Paul commends either. Just a few verses later in Romans 16 Paul talks about the apostle, yes apostle, Junia, another woman who was also a patron. Archaeological finds also give the names of four other Christian women who acted as patrons in their community around the same time.
    What Paul seems to be asking here of the Roman church is that they will treat Phoebe the same way they would treat him, that they would help her with whatever she needs help with as she seeks to minister the word to them and with them and seeks to act as a leader of all in their community.
    You’ll notice in your bulletins this morning, I have also written that Phoebe was a preacher. This does sort of go along with the role of deacon in her church, but just to make it a little clearer that Phoebe was in fact a preacher of the word of God to men and women, we’ll return to her role as the deliverer of Paul’s letter to the Roman church.
    Here’s another thing we know through Scripture and other ancient documents and archaeological evidence, that very few people could read and write in these ancient times. Generally only the wealthy, upperclass, and well-educated could read or write or both. When Phoebe brought Paul’s letter to Rome, it was not likely that every person in that church would be able to read what Paul had written, the inspired words of God. And because this letter was the inspired words of God, they were important for the people of that church to hear.
    The book of Romans is one of the most influential books of the Bible in terms of Theology. The things we learn in Romans about who God is, particularly the nature of grace and the forgiveness of sins and salvation through Christ Jesus are the foundation of much of what the church knows about these parts of what we believe. It is so incredibly clear that the book of Romans was inspired by the Spirit to be written. The people of that church needed to hear what the Spirit told Paul, and Christians from that time on have turned to Romans over and over again to understand grace and repentance and salvation.
    When Phoebe brought this letter to the church in Rome, she would have read it out loud for all to hear. It’s important to note here as well, that the church in Rome wasn’t just one church. It was a network of house churches, each meeting in someone’s home where they would hear the reading of the Scriptures, pray together, eat together, and serve on another. So Phoebe wouldn’t have just read this letter out loud once, but multiple times in each house church. In the simplest terms, in reading this letter, she was preaching out loud the inspired word of God for the church in Rome to hear. Whether she preached in her role as deacon or not, she definitely was preaching when she read Paul’s letter out loud for the church to hear. That is what a preacher does, we read the Word of God aloud for all to hear, we proclaim the truth written in His Word. Phoebe did this.
    Finally, you notice that I have apostle listed in your bulletin with a question mark. This isn’t something we know for sure about Phoebe, but it suggested by what Paul says about Junia, whom I’ve already mentioned. This is what Paul says about Junia, “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” (Romans 16:7, NIV)
    Paul calls Junia an apostle, just like himself, as he uses the term to apply to himself more than once, and there are others as well, including Barnabas whom I preached about last week, who are called apostles. Our word “apostle” comes from the Greek “apostolos”, which in its most simplest meaning means one who is sent. This is the way Paul uses the word, to describe a person who is sent with a message. Junia was sent with a message, the message of Christ, and it was that very message that landed her in prison with Paul.
    So even though Paul doesn’t specifically call Phoebe an apostle, one who is sent, she was in fact serving Paul in the manner of an apostle, being sent by him to the church in Rome to deliver and preach his letter to them.
    All of these roles Phoebe stepped into took courage. To be a deacon, to preach and teach the word of God, to lead in her community, to welcome people into her community with hospitality, to be a benefactor to many to get them what they needed to minister, to do the important work of bringing and preaching the inspired word of God to the church in Rome, these were not usually things women did. But Phoebe had the courage to fulfill these roles as she served her Lord and Savior and His church.
    I imagine sometimes what women like Phoebe, and Junia, and Priscilla, and Chloe, and Lydia would say to church traditions that continue to persist in the idea that Paul forbade women from preaching and teaching when it is so clear from Paul’s own letters that these women were doing just that, and he was commending the work that they were doing in spreading the gospel of Christ. He has the some of the highest praise that he gives to fellow ministers when he talks about these women.
    They still face criticism today. There are still Christians that want to minimize the roles they had and try to explain the words Paul uses to describe what these women did as meaning something else than what they mean when Paul talks about other men. What we learn from Phoebe is that there will always be criticisms when you try to follow God and do things His way. There will be criticisms from the world certainly, but there will also be criticisms from those inside the church, just like I’m sure Phoebe faced. But she stepped into what God had for her with courage, knowing that as long as she was walking by faith in Him, she could stand firm.
    It takes courage to step out in faith and do what God asks, but we have confidence from His word that He never leaves us or forsakes us, and He equips us to do exactly as He calls us to do. He gives us the courage to rise to the challenges that sometimes come when we walk in faithful obedience to Him.

1. Phoebe’s work in the early church required a great deal of courage, to break through “glass ceilings” of her time. Where in your life do you need the same courage to follow through on something God is nudging you to do?

2. What criticisms might come with following God in this way? How can you stand firm even when those criticisms come?

3. Look up other places Paul uses the word “apostle” in his letters (Rom. 11:13; 16:7; 1 Cor. 4:1; Gal. 1:19; 1 Thess. 2:6). What insight does that give you about what an apostle in the early church was and what they did?

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