I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. (Romans 16:1-2, ESV)
I read this verse a few weeks back in my quiet time. It’s a familiar verse, one that you and I have read many times before. But there were four particular words…and something about those four particular words that jumped out at me.
Worthy of the saints.
Is Paul telling the church at Rome to welcome Phoebe because she – as a saint – is worthy? After all, Phoebe was radically generous. She financially supported the work of the early church and particularly the work of Paul. Surely someone that generous should be singled out for honor, right? Surely Phoebe deserved a little extra hospitality because of how hospitable she’d been to others.
Well, maybe. But most likely not. Because that would seem to fly in the face of James 2, which clearly tells us not to show partiality to someone just because they have money.
Perhaps a better understanding of Romans 16 comes from other translations, which say something akin to “Welcome her in the Lord, as God’s saints should.”
Or Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, “Be sure to welcome our friend Phoebe in the way of the Master, with all the generous hospitality we Christians are famous for.”
Worthy of the saints seems to point us not to the worthiness of those receiving hospitality, but to the saints giving hospitality.
Hospitality isn’t something we begrudgingly give. It’s not something we form a committee to decide. It’s not something we flip a coin to see if today is going to bring a generosity of spirit.
No, hospitality is simply something we do. It’s a part of who we are. If you’re a follower of Jesus, showing hospitality is a worthy thing to do.
How does your hospitality stack up to your sainthood?
Special thanks to Chris Pappalardo – my friend and all-around Biblical scholar – who helped shape this post.