The final chapter in the book of Acts brings Paul to Rome (Acts 28:14), it was probably the early spring of AD 61. Some brethren heard they were coming (Acts 28:15) and they came to visit Paul from as far away as the Market of Appius (43 miles away) and the Three Inns (or Taverns – 33 miles away). Paul had planned for some time to make it to Rome but with all that had happened to him along the way, he had been prevented (Romans 1:13). It is important to note that these were not old friends of Paul, but just fellow believers in Christ.
Rome was like nothing he had experienced before, likely a million citizens in his day; and the same number of slaves. As he approached the city, he may have been overwhelmed by the vast number of people. I remember the first Memorial Day weekend I spent living at the oceanfront. The beach was literally blanket to blanket with tourists and locals. My heart was overwhelmed at the vast numbers of people, most of whom probably had no relationship with Jesus. I was reminded of Jesus’ words as he looked over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37).
Paul had experience authentic Christian community, sort of a brotherhood. It is not masculine terminology as we use it today, but for those who shared koinonia, true community and the sharing a common life. How important are the brethren to Paul?
The Bible refers to a natural sibling of Paul only once (Acts 23:16) and a few other relatives (Romans 16:7, 11-12) yet there are at least 99 times in his letters that he refers to fellow believers as brothers. He uses the Greek word, adelphos. It came to designate a fellowship of care equivalent to a community of life.
Paul’s need is not unique. People are desperate for a sense of community, a place where “everybody knows your name.” We want to feel like we belong there. As Skip preached this past Sunday, the community of faith is so important in one’s spiritual life; we can’t do it alone (see the video below). Many people may believe in Christ as Savior but never get involved in a community of faith. What’s up with that? As Paul writes to the Romans, there are three things worth noting about Christian fellowship or community: constant prayer, Paul’s sense of obligation to other believers, and his strong commitment to equality.
- Paul believed in the power of prayer (Romans 1:9-10): remembering them in his prayers at all times. In many other letters we read the same things. Paul sought their best and asked God for big things, probably because Paul knew God had big things to give.
- Paul believed that part of his calling was to share his gifts and faith with other Christians (Romans 1:11-12): He was looking out for others. The church is a unit, a body, made up of many parts (1 Corinthians 12:12), so it is important to recognize how we are connected, and we need each other.
- Paul had a desire for all people to come to faith in Christ (Romans 1:14, 15, 16): no matter their background. Sometimes we struggle with equity, because prejudice (by race, gender, status) is an ugly snake that rises within a community. We tend to be selective on who we allow close to us.
Application: How are you when it comes to prayer? Do you regularly pray throughout the day? For decisions? For your witness to others? For integrity? For your marriage? How about praying WITH your wife? Do you intercede for lost people around you? For your children? For your neighbors? Prayer strengthens relationship.
When it comes to being a part of the community of faith, do you tend to ride like the Lone Ranger? Are you more like Superman or Batman? The difference you may ask? Superman is always alone, there was none like him, he had no superhero partner. Batman had a buddy, a partner in fighting crime. What part of the body of Christ are you? How are you serving God and others? What are your gifts and talents that can be used for the kingdom of God? Do you have a sense of obligation when it comes to other people and their spiritual growth?
When it comes to equity, are there hidden prejudices about which you are ashamed? Do you look at race, gender or economic status before you open yourself to people? Do you really believe that people without Christ are lost and in need of a Savior? Seek forgiveness for past attitudes and open yourself to the authentic community that comes from the brothers and sisters in Christ.
Being a part of a Christian community helps us to grow into the people of God he desires for us to become. The believers from the Market at Appius and the Three Inns may not have known Paul personally, but they had a common bound and offered encouragement to a man on a mission. He was encouraged by strangers that were a part of the community of faith. Their faces were unfamiliar but each one had been washed in the blood of Christ.