The next day we landed at Sidon, and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends, so they might provide for his needs. (Acts 27:3)
Paul is headed to Rome. He has appealed for trial before Caesar and has begun his long journey to the capital of the empire. It is a journey that will involve more time, more danger, and more disaster than anyone might have expected at the beginning. It would include a hurricane, a shipwreck, a snakebite, and eventually an arrival in Rome. Yet, at the first stop of the voyage, Paul, by the kindness of Julius, is able to visit some friends.
I had often skipped over this line in favor of the excitement of the shipwreck and of Paul’s unswerving faith in the midst of disaster. Paul had always seemed to me to be a strong, force of a man, standing up for the truth of the gospel, taking on leaders and magistrates, championing the faith and willing to die for Jesus. While all of this is undoubtably true, in his short visit to Sidon, we get a glimpse of a different side of Paul and an important lesson for our life in the church.
Paul does not travel alone. This entire story is narrated in the first person plural (we). “The next day we landed at Sidon.” Paul is traveling with others. With all of his gifts and conviction, Paul does not do Christian life or ministry alone. He travels with companions. At the very least, there is Luke (the author) and Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica (27:2). They join Paul for this important journey to Rome, because we cannot do the Christian life alone.
We need the church. Even if we don’t always like the church or the people in it, we need each other to walk well with Jesus. God’s work of reconciling all things in Christ includes the creation of a community called the church. And it includes our inclusion in that community. Paul knew this and did not travel alone, but followed his Savior with others by his side.
Paul also needed others. Community wasn’t so much a choice as it was a necessity. Paul was allowed to go to his friends, “so that they might provide for his needs” (27:3). Paul had needs that he couldn’t take care of himself. He was dependent, not only on the God who created him, but upon the people this God had placed in his life. Paul had needs that could only be provided for through friendship.
If we don’t look closely, we can easily have a vision of Paul as the impressive, solo missionary bringing the gospel to the far corners of the globe. If we don’t look closely, we can easily miss the church – the church as not only the object and creation of mission, but as the community that God had given us to help sustain and deepen our faith.
Paul did not travel alone and neither should we. God has given us the church – each other – so that we might provide for each other’s needs and grow up in all things into Christ our Lord.