Acts 28:1-2, 7-10 (NIV)
[Paul on Malta]
“Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold… There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. They honoured us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.”
So, be honest: if I’d asked you yesterday to name as many biblical characters as you could beginning with the letter ‘P’, would Publius have been in your list? He certainly wouldn’t have been in mine. Let’s face it, Publius is an answer that would win you the main prize on Pointless, and probably ensure you won £1million on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire!
Yet, Publius is at the heart of an amazing story of generosity. He is the catalyst for a series of wonderful acts of compassion, kindness, and service, which offer glimpses of God’s kingdom values breaking through to all involved in the events.
And what incredible act of generosity achieves all this? What is it that the chief of the island of Malta does to set off this inspiring chain of events? He gives hospitality. Generous hospitality. He opens up his home and welcomes strangers in. He provides a bed for three nights, puts out extra towels, offers food and drink, buys extra soap and scented candles for the bathrooms, and makes sure that his guests are as comfortable as possible.
Maybe a little money was spent, maybe it cost a bit of time, and maybe a few plans had to be changed at the last minute. Ultimately, though, it was as simple as opening the front door and saying, ‘Come in; please, be our guest.’
I get the feeling that this offer of hospitality came from a genuine desire to help and serve Paul, a need to respond and act that Publius felt deep within himself. Having his act of welcome and kindness recorded as ‘generous hospitality’ tells me that Publius was doing more than simply following protocol and being seen to do the right thing as the island’s big chief. The spread and growth of his act of warmth and friendship, as recorded here in Acts, tell me that God was at work in honouring and blessing such generosity.
Prayer becomes central to events on Publius’ estate. Publius’ father is healed. Word gets out. People share the news; they witness to family and friends. Other people arrive from across the island and receive healing. Paul and those he was travelling with are honoured in many ways, and they end up leaving Malta blessed with all the supplies they will need for their forthcoming journey.
God’s multiplication at work. God’s rich blessings. God’s love and grace and provision. God glorified, honoured.
One other thing to note from this little story with a big message: did you notice that it wasn’t just Publius who demonstrated the fruit of the Spirit at work in his life? It was evident in the islanders’ actions too. They showed Paul and his travelling companions ‘unusual kindness’. I’d never paid any attention to that phrase before writing this. Now, it’s the one phrase that really jumps out of the text and challenges me. What does ‘unusual kindness’ look like coming from me? How can I be generous in that way? How can you?
So, don’t forget Publius’ example of generosity. Don’t forget the impact his generous hospitality had – the ripple effect of kindness, which spread across the island. Don’t forget Publius’ story, and how God worked in his and others’ lives. Don’t forget the name of Publius – one day it is bound to help you win Trivial Pursuit!