By Joseph Ametepe
"And when they had been brought safely through, then we found out that the island was Malta. And the natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all." (Acts 28: 1-2).
Paul and his fellow travelers had just come through a difficult and dangerous storm at sea. God had kept His word to Paul. During the storm, God made a promise to Paul. Not a hair of any those traveling on board the storm-tossed ship would perish (Acts 27:34). Paul experienced firsthand that God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should repent (Numbers 23:19). Perhaps, Paul had a journal in which he recorded the many times God kept His word to him. What a gracious God we have! He keeps His word to His believing child. This is the first lesson we discover in this passage. Let me ask you: do you have a record of the many times God has kept His word to you? If not, it's not too late to begin to do so. This practice will not only remind you of God's faithfulness, but it will also strengthen your faith in God and in His word. It will boost your confidence in God and in His truth. Your appreciation for God will also increase as you look back on how many times God had proved Himself to you.
There is a second spiritual lesson in this passage. That is: God shows His favor to His servants even through complete strangers. Having safely been brought through the storm of their lives, Paul and his fellow voyagers found themselves on an island called Malta. Malta is a small island in the Mediterranean Sea between the island of Sicily and North Africa, (to be specific, north of Libya) about 145 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Syracuse (which is on the southeast coast of the island of Sicily). With its fine natural harbors, Malta was a convenient haven for ships. First colonized by the Phoenicians, it was captured by the Greeks in 736 B.C. Later in 528 B.C., it was captured by the Carthaginians. After two hundred and eighty six years of Carthaginian rule, Malta was captured and conquered by the Romans in 242 B.C. The Romans were in control of the island when the story in Acts 28:1-2 occurred. Paul and his fellow travelers would be stranded on this island for three months (Acts 28:11). God knew what He had in store for Paul on this small island. If I am not mistaken, Paul never thought of visiting this island. But here he was.
Paul's first experience on this island was special and very encouraging. He and the others with him experienced God's favor through people who were complete strangers to them. The word translated "natives" is from the Greek word "Barbaroi," literally, barbarians. In other words, the islanders were foreigners to Paul and company. The stranded voyagers and the islanders didn't know each other. It's likely this is the first time they met each other. Yet, when Paul and company of over two hundred and seventy people arrived on the island, the islanders showed them unusual kindness. The word translated "kindness" is "philanthropia." It derives from "philos" which means friend and "anthropos," meaning man. It can be translated as human friendship. The word denotes that apparent and ready goodwill usually manifest in a friendly, considerate demeanor, and especially in the practice of hospitality, readiness to help, tenderheartedness, cherishing and maintaining friendship. Philanthropia, which is used in English as "philanthrophy," is that disposition which does not always think of self, but takes thought for others, their needs and wishes. ~Adapted from The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible.
Although the islanders had every reason to be wary of the new arrivals, they chose not to think of themselves. They could have taken arms to ward off the "illegals" from their island. But they didn't. Rather, they were eager and ready to help the stranded travelers. They took thought for their needs. They displayed extraordinary tenderheartedness toward the shipwrecked survivors. They practiced hospitality. They extended genuine compassion and kindness to all the travelers who were brought safely through the storm. The Bible was right to describe their kindness as extraordinary or unusual. Why? They knew nothing at all about the new arrivals, but they sprang into action to provide the help they desperately needed. Notice, the islanders didn't even ask Paul and company to tell them why they had come to their island. They didn't take them to a detention center to be processed by immigration officials before expressing kindness to them. Right then and there, they extended goodwill to them. How they did show their kindness and goodwill to the shipwreck survivors? It was pouring rain. The survivors were wet and cold. They needed warmth. So the islanders built a fire and welcomed all of them. On a cold and rainy day, nothing soothes like a warm fireplace. Paul and company had that fireplace on the beach. There is no doubt in my mind that God Himself put it into the hearts of the barbarian-islanders to show unusual kindness to the storm-survivors. He had purposed for His servant Paul to get to Rome safely and He would use every person and everything at His disposal to get him safely there. This is one of the blessings God extends to His messengers. In fact, the inspired writer of Acts, goes on to show us that the kindness they experienced on the island was not a one-time act. Later, in verse 10, he wrote of how the islanders honored them with many marks of respect. And when they were ready to sail from the island, the islanders supplied them with all they needed for their journey to Rome. This was God at work using complete strangers to show unusual kindness and to provide for the needs of His faithful servants. At least they had known each other now for three months. But before Paul and company left, they experienced God's favor through the islanders. Their three-month stay on the island was a season of experiencing God's kindness through others. How encouraging for Paul!
Missionaries, ministers, and messengers of God, who are called of God to serve His purpose can be assured of this: God can and is able to show them His favor even through complete strangers. Many of God's servants have testified of the many times God had shown them extraordinary kindness through people they rarely knew. Personally, I have experienced God's favor and kindness through people I've met just for the first time in my life. I've been received into homes and shown extraordinary kindness. I've been shown considerate tenderheartedness by people I barely knew who donated a vehicle or gave funds toward a purchase of a vehicle for me to use for my travels in spreading the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even the laptop I'm using today to write this article, and the previous ones' I've had, are an expression of God's unusual kindness to me through others. To God be the glory!
I am certain that God has also shown you unusual kindness through people you rarely even knew. Savor such stories! Save them! Share them with others to the praise of Gods glory both now and to the day of eternity!