…and so we came to Rome. And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius & Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God, & took courage… Acts 28:14-17
Paul was in Rome.
And the first thing he experienced there was an in person meeting and greeting with fellow Christians who had traveled 50-60 miles to visit him (from the Forum of Appius.)
Put yourself in Paul’s shoes – in the previous years, he had experienced abandonment, rejection, constant persecution, wrongful accusations. He was treated like a criminal, had survived several assassination attempts, and even recovered from a stoning. He’d been imprisoned in Jewish & Roman strongholds, had weathered the temperamental whims of Caesarean governor & had even lived through a shipwreck.
Then, upon arriving in Rome, he encounters brothers & sisters in Christ, a vivid reminder that he isn’t (& won’t be!) alone in this place; they are a flesh & blood fulfillment of God’s promises & goodness to Paul; their very presence caused him to give thanks to God, & also to be encouraged. He was filled to overflowing, & his time in Rome was characterized by his “proclaiming the kingdom of God & teaching about the LORD Jesus Christ with all boldness, & without hindrance.”
This is fellowship. Mutual encouragement. Being strengthened, & strengthening others in return. Based fully on the commonality of having been brought from death to life, darkness to light, by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Years ago, I traveled to Birmingham, Englad with a couple of friends in preparation for a mission trip; we didn’t know a soul there, but had heard that there was a Christian church that we could visit. We made our way there, & found a small group of brothers & sisters meeting together for a meal & worship.
Though they’d never met us, they welcomed us to their table & into their midst with open arms. There was a tangible feeling that we were among family, & that we had something in common that bound us together in a way that only happens with the fellowship with other believers.
We talked, laughed, sang, & prayed. They prayed for us, speaking words of knowledge, encouragement, hope & faith that touched our hearts to the very core. I can remember looking across the room through the candlelight at this gathering of believers, knowing that we were bound together, in Christ, & that I knew I loved them & what’s more, that they loved me.
A few days later, when we parted, I had the distinct sense that I wouldn’t ever see many (most? All?) of these people again. But I also knew that when I did, here & in Heaven, that we’d run to embrace each other, & to celebrate the goodness & grace of our LORD Jesus Christ that sustains us from day to day.