There we found some brothers who invited us to spend a week with them. And so we came to Rome. The brothers there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged. When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. (verses 14-15)
Imprisonment and transfer of prisoners seems to have been done a little differently in those days. Clearly the centurion gave Paul leeway to experience the hospitality of friends while he was still en route to Rome. Even once he’d arrived in the imperial city, Paul had more freedom than we would expect today, being allowed to live on his own with only a soldier to guard him. Of course, at the other end of the spectrum, if found guilty you could be thrown to the lions. All things considered, I think we’re better off now.
But that’s a digression. The thing I notice in this passage is the profound encouragement of fellowship. These “brothers” that meet up with Paul are faceless to us. We know nothing about them. But for Paul, they brought life. To him, their faces brought encouragement and strength and compassion and grace, when he most needed it.
Presumably, none of them had ever met Paul before. Yet they extended fellowship, welcoming Paul and company into their homes and lives, and extending the love of the Saviour. There is a group that does this in the town of Puteoli, about 75 miles from Rome, welcoming Paul to stay for a week. Similarly, as he travels closer to Rome, Paul is met by others both at the Forum of Appius, some 43 miles out, and also at the Three Taverns, still 33 miles outside the city – all of them offered friendship to this weary, worn traveller.
I think we forget the power of fellowship and simple friendship, especially for strangers who are disconnected from home and normal networks of support. These “brothers” went out of their way to make connection with Paul, and it produced in him deep gratitude to God, springing up from a fountainhead of encouragement within.
The word that best describes what these “brothers” did is the word “hospitality.” Not in our modern sense of lavish entertainment or professional hotel industry or rented suite set aside for schmoozing with business associates. No. Instead, it’s the sense best captured in the Greek word used in the New Testament. It’s a compound word, bringing together the word “love” and “stranger.” That’s what these “brothers” did – they expressed love for the stranger, Paul himself. Or, to put it differently, they made a stranger into a friend. Yes, Paul was known to them by reputation, but they didn’t know each other in personal relationship, not until now. Not until these “brothers” offered hospitality, the essence of which was simple friendship that brought encouragement.
This brief sighting on the road to Rome gives tangible expression to the ongoing command of the New Testament. “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:2). “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9).
If the Apostle Paul needed it, others will, too. If those early believers walked miles to extend it, we can go out of our way, as well. Making a stranger a friend – that’s the point.
Dear Lord, give me eyes to see those in need of friendship. Fill me with your grace and compassion to reach beyond myself – help me express your love. Give me a heart for the stranger. Give me an eagerness to make them a friend. In Jesus’ name.
Reflect: Ask the Lord for someone you can extend hospitality to this day. Don’t hold back. Reach out.