In the Eye of the Storm
by Pastor Paul M. Sadler
DAY BY DAY
“Day by day and with each passing moment, strength I find to meet my trials here; trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment, I’ve no cause for worry or for fear. He whose heart is kind beyond all measure, gives unto each day what He deems best—lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure, mingling toil with peace and rest.
“Help me then in every tribulation, so to trust Thy promises, O Lord, that I lose not faith’s sweet consolation, offered me within Thy holy Word. Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting, e’er to take, as from a father’s hand, one by one, the days, the moments fleeting, till I reach [my heavenly home].”
Most of our great hymns of the faith were borne out of adversity. Like the gentle mourning dove that coos, they convey a message in song that streams forth from a broken heart that has found consolation in our Heavenly Father. The hymn, Day by Day, written by Lina Sandell, is a classic example. When Lina was a little girl she recalled how she rarely spent time with other children her age. Rather, she enjoyed sitting in her father’s study talking about the things of the Lord. Her father was the well-known and beloved pastor of a parish located in Froderyd, Sweden.
As the flames of revival swept across Scandinavia, Lina, now 26, accompanied her father on a speaking engagement at Gothenburg. For some unknown reason, the ship upon which they were traveling lurched to one side, tragically throwing her father overboard. He drowned before her very eyes. You may want to read her words again in light of her loss. The Apostle Paul would have suffered the same fate, but for the providence of God. Such times have a way of showing us our true character.
PAUL THE TRAVELER
“And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus’ band.” —Acts 27:1
The Lord had commissioned Paul to go far hence unto the Gentiles, but Paul’s heart’s desire was that Israel might be saved. It seems that he never forgave himself for persecuting the church and laying it waste. He thought within himself if he could simply return again to Jerusalem he could reach his countrymen for Christ. But the Lord had forewarned him that they would not receive his testimony concerning Him. Nevertheless, the apostle disobeyed the will of the Lord believing he could reach them for Christ if given another opportunity (Acts 21:4-14; 22:18-21 cf. Rom. 10:1).
Since God never imposes His will upon ours, He allowed Paul to return to Jerusalem, but it was with catastrophic results. God interrupted the ill-advised plan of James and Paul’s cooperation in it. We believe, had not the Lord intervened, the apostle would have lost his life at the hands of his countrymen (Acts 21:17-36). The lesson here is clear: disobedience has consequences!
Here’s a contemporary example to illustrate our point. The Scriptures are clear that the believer is not to be unequally yoked with the unbeliever, whether in business partnerships or marriage (II Cor. 6:14,15). But it is not uncommon to see an attractive young Christian girl engaged to a young man who looks and smells like he just fell off the turnip truck. In addition to being unsaved, he wouldn’t know what responsibility was if it were staring him in the face, having never worked a day in his life. You begin to wonder what this girl is thinking! But there is rhyme and reason behind her thought process, though misguided.
You see, the woman instinctively wants to nurture, so she firmly believes that she will be able to mold this young fellow into a well-groomed, responsible, church-going man who will eventually trust Christ. But there is one major problem: she will have to disobey God’s will to accomplish her purpose, a decision she is sure to regret. Nine times out of ten this type of marriage relationship ends in heartache and divorce.
While some tend to place Paul on a pedestal, he was not beyond stepping out of the will of God. He was a man of like passions as we—he, too, had feet of clay! Consequently, this one act of disobedience cost him dearly. He was imprisoned for two years as a result. These were lost years for the most part, years he could have more effectively ministered among the Gentiles. But thankfully God uses us in spite of our shortcomings and failures. Shortly after Paul was imprisoned, the Lord appeared to the apostle so he wouldn’t languish in despair.
“And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome” (Acts 23:11).
“Be of good cheer.” Imperative mood: the Lord commands Paul to be courageous and confident, for the hand of God was still upon his ministry. Although the apostle had testified of the Lord under the auspices of the permissive will of God at Jerusalem, it remained the directive will of God for him to continue his ministry among the Gentiles. Hence, “so must thou bear witness also at Rome,” at Rome’s expense mind you. There are times that God uses the unbeliever to accomplish His purpose, as demonstrated here. Interestingly, Paul is never said to be a prisoner of Rome, but rather a prisoner of Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:1). The Lord makes Paul His prisoner at this point in time and sends him to Rome, a Gentile city far from Jerusalem.
Having been bound over for trial at Rome, Paul is placed on a ship in the custody of a Roman centurion named Julius. There is good reason to believe that they may have known one another prior to the voyage. One thing we know for sure, Julius did not believe the apostle was a flight risk, since he allowed Paul the liberty to visit with the brethren at various stops along the journey.
As the voyage progressed they first experienced contrary winds, then an unsettling calm as they sailed under Crete. Thankful to have arrived at Fair Havens, the Captain and crew made arrangements to sail to the northwest side of the island to Phenice, which is a haven of Crete, where they planned to winter. But it was already late fall, when sailing on the Mediterranean could be hazardous. Thus, Paul, who was a seasoned traveler, stepped forward to advise against such a plan.
“Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading [cargo] and ship, but also of our lives” (Acts 27:10).
Of course the Captain and the owner probably surmised that Paul was merely a prisoner who was in no rush to get to his own execution. More importantly, there was wine, women and song at the next stop, commodities the world craves. But the apostle was speaking from experience, not selfishness. He had already suffered three shipwrecks and spent a night and a day in the sea; therefore, he was well aware of the grave dangers (II Cor. 11:25).
Here we see something of the character of Paul, which can be very helpful in our Christian experience. What was true of him should be true of us as well. This is what he means when he says to the Corinthians, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (I Cor. 11:1). You see, Paul is more than merely the pattern of the longsuffering of God in salvation, he is also God’s pattern of how to walk well pleasing unto the Lord.
THE CHARACTER OF PAUL
The apostle became the central figure on the voyage from this point forward. Paul was a man of conviction who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. Morally, he had no trouble, as some do today, distinguishing between right and wrong in both spiritual and physical matters. When he stood before the Sanhedrin and was falsely accused of sedition and insurrection, he responded: “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men” (Acts 24:16). In other words, he did what was right! He knew the charges against him had no merit whatsoever.
A young pastor approached a senior minister of the gospel with a serious concern. He shared with his elder friend how some of the brethren were spreading malicious lies about him. The venerable old pastor asked, “Son is any of it true?” “No sir! Not a word of it.” “Then don’t worry about it! Their sin will find them out soon enough. The important thing is that you have a clear conscience about the matter.”
Looking over the circumstances he now found himself in, Paul perceived it would be wrong to set sail and continue the journey, not merely because of the time of the year; he also sensed they had an ulterior motive. The Captain and crew wanted to continue the voyage to the next Port of Call so they could winter there in sin. In both of the foregoing cases, the apostle stood his ground in the face of opposition. We, too, must always stand up for what is right, whether it is wrongdoing in the local assembly, or in defense of Paul’s apostleship and message. The key word here is conviction.
As you read the record, once Julius agreed with the Captain to resume the journey, Paul didn’t press the matter. This is an indication that the apostle was a man of extraordinary tact. Webster’s defines “tact” accordingly: “a keen sense of what to do or say in order to maintain good relations with others or avoid offense.” Those who demand to be heard and refuse to leave an issue rest only serve to erode their credibility in the eyes of others. Oftentimes it is merely a matter of pride to have their way.
It has been said, “Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.” For “a brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city” (Prov. 18:19). Thus, Paul was careful never to be offensive for the sake of offense. It was his desire to keep the lines of communication open with those he engaged. This earned the apostle a level of respect and gave him a hearing on weightier issues, even though the response may not have always been favorable. When these principles are violated it only serves to alienate the hearer.
We’ve all encountered those who have had such a bad experience with the gospel that they won’t even give you the time of day when you endeavor to share it with them. The lesson here is this, we should faithfully share the gospel, but we should never attempt to badger someone into believing it, although some have done their level best to do so. Once we have put the unbeliever into a defensive posture he will be less receptive the next time someone has an opportunity to share Christ with him.
Another area in which we must be cautious is not to be overbearing when sharing Paul’s gospel. Don’t be like the car salesman who takes your keys and won’t return them until you agree to purchase a new car. Personally, I never return to these types of dealerships. It is incumbent upon us to speak the truth in love. Simply give the brethren a clear, concise presentation of the Word, rightly divided, without insulting their understanding of the Scriptures.
I usually share two passages that appear to contradict one another in the Scriptures, which they have probably wondered about themselves. If I sense they are sincerely interested, I give them some literature that they can read in the privacy of their own home without feeling threatened or intimidated. The key word here is tact.
As we continue the narrative, just when the crew thought they had accomplished their purpose, a storm loomed on the horizon. Not just any tempest mind you, but one that strikes fear into the heart of any sailor, a northeaster! This type of a storm produces gale force winds that can easily capsize a ship.
“And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive….And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away” (Acts 27:15,20).
If you study the record carefully it is obvious that this was an impressive ship capable of carrying 276 souls, cargo, and tackling. Be that as it may, that old ship was up one side of the waves and down the other as the crew encountered the perfect storm. It was all they could do to pull the skiff to safety when the ship started to take on water. They used “helps” to literally tie the vessel together to keep it seaworthy. With the waves sweeping over the bow and the helps unable to keep the water out, it became necessary to lighten the ship, which was accomplished by throwing the cargo overboard, followed by the tackling. When the sun and stars failed to appear for days, the crew lost their bearings and along with it any hope of surviving the ordeal.
“But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship” (Acts 27:21,22).
As all on board faced what appeared to be the inevitable, Paul stepped forward. The man who walks with God is never affected by circumstances; he rests in the sovereignty of God, that He is working all things out after the counsel of His own will. In this case the Lord intervened to reassure Paul that he would appear before Caesar and all those with him would be spared.
Even though the apostle shared this news with the crew, some on board decided to take things into their own hands and abandon the ship. They attempted to lower the skiff into the sea under the guise that they were lowering the anchors. Here the apostle exercised sound judgment. Rather than alert the other crew members which might well have resulted in a riot, Paul informed the centurion and the soldiers as to the intention of these seamen. He knew soldiers were men of action. Time was of the essence! Once Paul informed Julius that they could not be saved if these men abandoned ship, the soldiers responded immediately and cut the ropes. This shows us that Julius held the word of Paul in high esteem, especially after his warning came true. It would not surprise us to see Julius in glory some day.
Paul also demonstrated good judgment by encouraging the men to eat after fasting fourteen days. Even the hardiest of men would be weak after such an ordeal. He knew they were going to need every ounce of strength they could muster to swim to shore, if need be. Therefore, after he gave thanks to God, he took some bread and broke it and ate in the presence of them all. This scene has been called “The meal in the storm.”
In times of crisis, it is the spiritually-minded man who maintains his composure, as we see here with Paul. The storm may rage around him, some may even abandon him, but his confidence is in the Lord, who is a present help in time of need. Like Paul, we, too, must be objective in the Lord’s service. Unfortunately we’ve all endured those times in the local church when the tension was so intense you could cut it with a knife. But while others may lose their composure, and say things they will probably regret later, let us be of the number who honor and glorify the Lord in our actions and manner of speech. The key words here are sound judgment.
Had those in authority initially heeded the counsel of Paul they would have avoided the perils of the sea, which can be unforgiving. The same is true today, spiritually speaking. Sadly, the reason the faith of some has suffered shipwreck is due to their rejection of Paul’s apostleship and message.