Recently as a congregation we studied Act 27 and observed how the apostle Paul faithfully and fruitfully responded in the midst of a terrible storm. As Paul, along with 275 other passengers, made their way across the sea towards Italy, they were met by a horrific typhoon that would eventually end in the destruction of the ship and the loss of the cargo. Yet amazingly there was not the loss of a single life. All made it to shore.
At some point during their 14-day ordeal the Lord sent an angelic messenger who revealed to Paul that not only would he survive, but so would all of his fellow passengers (vv. 22-25). Paul relayed this message to those on board; he fully believed God’s promise in spite of all observable evidence to the contrary. But not everyone believed this Word from God.
Some of the sailors tried to sneak the lifeboat off of the bow of the ship only to be discovered by Paul. It would appear that he had some revelation from God that the promise of their survival was conditional upon their remaining on the ship to endure the rest of the storm (v. 31). Therefore Paul gave the order to the Centurion (the prisoner commanding his guard!) to cut the lifeboat loose and to keep the would-be-escapees on board. He did so and in the end “they all arrived safely on land” (v. 44).
Much could be said about this scene, but suffice it for this article to highlight that Paul did something constructive to keep these men from jumping ship—and his action resulted in the salvation of everyone’s lives. Those who wanted to jump ship to save their skin were hindered from doing so and this proved to be the path to their deliverance. Paul did the hard thing but in the end no doubt those who were at first miffed were thankful. We need such pauls in our life. We sometimes are in need of such people, insightful people who know better at the moment than we do, to keep us from jumping ship.
Christians are not immune to the temptation to quit when typhoon like-trials assault us. Sometimes Christians are tempted to jump from the ship of marriage because all hope seems to be lost. Or we are tempted to quit on relationships or on ministries because we can see no fruitful future. Sometimes church members can be tempted to leave their church. It can be tempting to jump the ship of fellow sinful passengers in the hopes that things will be better if you do. At least, this seems easier than joining hands in the hard work of helpfully frapping (v. 17) their sin-tossed congregation as they sail towards eventual glory; a glory that awaits them beyond the storms of this sin-cursed world.
In each of these cases where we are tempted to “jump ship” we usually fail to realise that, as with this story, so often the very means for our eventual salvation (i.e. our sanctification) is the weather-beaten ship of a difficult marriage, or storm-tossed friendship, or difficult ministry, or a less than perfect local church!
When we are tempted to jump ship we should thank God for those like Paul who speak with conviction; a conviction arising from their belief God (v. 25). The sailors who wanted to flee quite obviously were focused on the storm rather than on the promise of the Sovereign who controls all storms. They needed someone with perspective to courageously keep them from what in the end would prove to be suicidal. Think about the risk that Paul took in standing up to these men. He was willing to be misunderstood and to be hated because he believed God. And I would imagine that, once they all arrived safely to shore, the hated one became the honoured one.
We need such individuals to speak the hard thing into our lives when we have lost perspective. We need those with the courage of conviction to tell us when we are wrong and who will do what is necessary to keep us from jumping ship. Those who take church discipline seriously understand the risks involved yet they are willing to do the hard thing of “cutting the ropes” because they know that the greater risk is the eternal loss of a professing brother or sister (see Matthew 18:1–20). The same can be said of Christian brothers and sisters who do the hard thing of telling us the truth rather than telling us what we want to hear. Yes, we need such people in our lives who will help us from jumping ship when every fibre of our being wants to scurry for the lifeboat.
But we also need to be such people. Like Paul, we need to so trust the Lord that we will compassionately and courageously come alongside those tempted to leave the boat and seek to persuade them by God’s infallible Word to stay put. To become such people like Paul we need to be those who pray and who study God’s Word with a view to knowing God and then making Him known.
If every believing member of the local church makes the pursuit of God their priority, then most likely we will all stay in the storm-tossed ship until such time the Lord gets us all safely to shore in glory.