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38. A Biblical Look at Leadership (Acts 27:1-44)

Introduction

When I come to Acts chapter 27, it is like a breath of fresh air to me. I have always looked upon the Apostle Paul as a godly man, a zealous servant of Jesus Christ, and a powerful preacher of the gospel. But it is here, in our text, that I see Paul as a very wise man in practical matters, a man who is a leader of men, and whose counsel is taken seriously because he knows what he is doing.

Paul’s leadership emerges on board the ship, on which he was headed toward Rome. As time went on, as Paul was better known, and as the crises on board the ship became more pronounced, Paul stepped forward, giving both direction and hope to all the others on ship. Paul accomplishes all this without any formal leadership position or authority. He was not the captain of the ship, nor one of the soldiers. He was not a sailor; in fact he was not even a paying passenger. Paul was a prisoner, on his way to stand trial before Caesar in Rome.

What was it about Paul that made him a leader among men, even in matters pertaining to sailing and storms? What kind of leadership did Paul exercise, and how did this impact the gospel? What is the relationship between “spiritual leadership” and “secular leadership”? What can we learn about leadership, which can benefit others, and can promote the gospel? These are questions that we shall seek to answer in our study of Acts chapter 27.

Overview of the Passage
and the Structure of the Text

The first 8 verses of the chapter take Paul from Caesarea to a harbor named Fair Havens, not far from the city of Lasea. This journey began on an Adramyttian ship, which took them as far as Myra, where they boarded an Alexandrian ship, headed for Italy. The journey was delayed by unfavorable winds. Verses 9-13 describe a crucial decision that was made. It was too late in the sailing season to travel on to Rome by sea. The question was where the ship would make port for the winter. Paul strongly urged them to stay where they were, at Fair Havens. Since this was not an ideal place to spend the winter, and sailing conditions looked favorable at the moment, they decided to press on to a more accommodating port. Verses 14-20 describe the sudden onslaught of the storm, the steadily deteriorating conditions, and the complete loss of hope of those on board. A late night visitation by an angel of God and Paul’s words of encouragement to his shipmates is reported in verses 21-26. In verses 27-29, Luke describes the ship’s approach to some body of land. Verses 30-32 describe the sailors’ attempt to abandon ship, which they aborted, due to the action taken by the soldiers, who heeded Paul’s words of warning. Verses 33-41 report Paul’s encouragement, in words and deeds, and the grounding and breaking up of the ship. The final verses (42-44) tell of the plan of the soldiers to kill the prisoners, of the intervention of the centurion, and the safe arrival on land of all 276 passengers.

The chapter may therefore be outlined in this way:

  • Verses 1-8: From Caesarea to Fair Havens
  • Verses 9-13: A Critical Decision
  • Verses 14-20: A Sudden Storm and Lost Hope
  • Verses 21-26: Paul’s Night Visitation and Words of Encouragement
  • Verses 27-29: Nearing Land
  • Verses 30-32: Sailors Stopped From Abandoning Ship
  • Verses 33-41: Paul’s Encouragement and the Ship’s Grounding
  • Verses 42-44: Prisoners and Passengers Spared From Death

From Caesarea to Fair Havens541
(27:1-8)

One way or the other, Festus must have found some way to explain Paul’s appearance before Caesar. Paul and a number of other prisoners were put aboard an Adramyttian ship,542 which was setting sail for ports along the coast of Asia. A centurion of the Augustan cohort by the name of Julius543 was placed in charge of the prisoners. This centurion was to develop a deep respect for Paul, so that he would extend considerable liberties to him, take seriously his advice, and make every effort to protect him. Accompanying Paul were Luke544 and Aristarchus, who was from Thessalonica.545

They made port in Sidon, a city about 70 miles north of Caesarea. Here, Julius, the centurion in charge of Paul and the other prisoners, allowed Paul to go to his friends and be cared for by them (verse 3). From here on, sailing will not be smooth. When the ship set sail, they began to encounter unfavorable winds. This necessitated sailing close to the coast of Cyprus, which, to some degree, sheltered them from the contrary winds (verse 4). Sailing past Cilicia and Pamphylia, they landed at Myra in Lycia (verse 5).546 It was here that they had to change ships.

The centurion found an Alexandrian ship,547 laden with wheat that was headed for Italy. They boarded this ship and set sail. Progress was slow, due to wind conditions. With difficulty, they finally arrived off Cnidus, but were then forced by the winds to sail under the shelter of Crete, off Salmone. Passing it with considerable difficulty, and apparently not being able to make port there, they finally were able to make port at a place known as Fair Havens,548 which was not far from the city of Lasea, where they could have spent the winter. Their arrival had not been without difficulty, but things were only to go from bad to worse. Their troubles to this point would seem insignificant compared to what was soon to come.

A Crucial Decision
(27:9-13)

A crucial decision had to be made at Fair Havens.549 Sailing was not safe in the winter, due to wind conditions and seasonal storms. The time which had been lost, due to unfavorable winds, made it evident that they would not be able to reach Rome, not without wintering at some port, and finishing the journey in the Spring.550 The only question now was where they would winter, and whether or not they would press on to some more favorable port.

The decision that faced these sailors is not an uncommon one, even in our day. Airline pilots must constantly monitor weather conditions, and make decisions as to the route they will take, their altitude, and even their destination. I read in the paper the other day that when faced with the decision as to whether he should change to an alternate airport or press on to the original destination, the pilot of a commercial airliner left the choice with his passengers. Some things don’t change.

Apparently Paul discerned that those in charge were predisposed to sailing a little further. Paul had a fair bit of experience with sea travel. He had already survived one shipwreck, and he knew the dangers of sea travel:

Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. {I have been} on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from {my} countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren (2 Corinthians 11:25-26).

Paul spoke up, cautioning them about sailing on any further, and warning them that if they pressed on this would result in the loss of lives and property. Paul did not seek to “sanctify” his words by giving them any spiritual flavor. He did not claim to have a certain (prophetic) knowledge of what was going to happen. Indeed, the fate of the ship was not exactly as Paul had warned, for there was no loss of life.551 He simply spoke as a seasoned traveler, an astute observer, and one who had experienced dangers at sea. Simply put, Paul warned those making the decision about whether or not to press on that continuing on was not wise. They were not going to get to Rome until after winter was over anyway, and they could stay right where they were, with no real problems. They had little to gain and much to lose. Time would prove Paul right.

The centurion respected and trusted Paul a great deal, as can be seen by his previous dealings with him (see verse 3). He took Paul’s warnings seriously here, too. It is not surprising, though, that he would take the advice of the ship’s captain and its pilot as being more expert. After all, the ship’s captain and the pilot had more experience, and they also had more to lose.

Paul’s caution is rather interesting. I would think that Paul would have more reason to be reckless than these seasoned seamen and the centurion, because he was a Christian. He had “God on his side.” His God was in control of all things, including the sea. But more than this, God had already assured Paul that he would reach Rome. Paul was as secure as any man could be. But Paul’s concern here was not for himself, but for others. Paul knew that he would reach Rome, but he also strongly sensed that the ship and some of its passengers would not. After all, a number of the passengers could not even swim (see verses 43-44). It was needlessly endangering others that Paul was trying to avoid.

Furthermore, Paul was an apostle, a man through whom God had worked many signs and wonders. As the journey to Rome continues, there are yet to be more signs and wonders accomplished through the hands of Paul (see 28:3-10). But Paul did not presume to have “God on tap” and thus to be able to perform some miracle any time his wished. To Paul (in my opinion) this would be akin to “jumping off the pinnacle of the temple,” and thus “putting God to the test” (Luke 4:9-12). God’s power and His sovereign control are no pretext for carelessness or recklessness. To sail on, therefore, was a foolish decision in Paul’s opinion, and thus he discouraged it as strongly as he could, but to no avail.

Paul was overruled. In fact, it seems that virtually everyone voted against him when the decision was made. Several factors contributed to the decision to sail on. First, those who were considered the experts favored doing so. Second, the majority of those who voted on this issue favored going further. Third, the port where they were anchored was not as ideal for wintering as some other ports, which were not that far away. Fourth, a moderate south wind had come up,552 which seemed to promise fair sailing to a better port. Given all these factors, the ship set sail from Fair Havens. How this decision would be regretted, and soon!

A Sudden Storm and All Hope Lost
(27:14-20)

The ship’s crew tried to “hug the shore” of Crete, until they could reach Phoenix, a harbor not all that distant. It did not take long at this time of year for a storm to brew at sea. The storm caught the ship in its force, and so they could do nothing but allow the ship to be driven along by it. The winds seem to have blown the ship away from the island of Crete. They would hardly wish to be close to shore in the storm anyway, for there was more danger of the ship breaking up on the rocks than of it breaking up in the open sea. Even running under the shelter of a small island (Clauda, verse 16), they could hardly get the ships dingy on board. It seems as thought they had left it in the sea, towed along behind, when the storm suddenly came upon them and swamped it.

With great difficulty, the dinghy was hoisted on board, and then supporting cables were used to undergird the bottom of the ship, so that it might not break up under the weight of its cargo and the stresses of the storm. Fearing that they might drift into shallow and dangerous waters some distance to the south,553 they put out a sea anchor of some kind, perhaps something like a parachute, which filled with water and slowed the ship down.554

The storm continued through the night, and the next day things looked even worse. Until now, they had been trying to save the ship’s cargo, but now some of it555 was thrown overboard, lightening the ship and reducing the stress on the hull. On the third day, some of the unnecessary tackle on board the ship was thrown overboard. It seems as though the passengers, including Luke and Paul, were needed to help carry out this operation (see verse 19).556

Three days have already passed, and Luke provides us with the description of some incident for each day. Luke now passes over the details of a number of the days that followed, indicating only that many days passed, and that the storm continued to abuse the ship and to terrify its passengers. By the end of this time, all hope had been lost, either of the storm abating, or of any rescue. Except for Paul, they had all reached the conclusion that the situation was hopeless and that they were doomed.

Paul’s Encouragement
(27:21-26)

It is only when all hope is lost that Paul addresses his fellow shipmates.557 Much time had passed, the storm had not diminished, the ship was being constantly mauled by the storm, and the passengers had gone a long time without food. This was probably due to seasickness, and perhaps to the difficulty of cooking under such circumstances. Food supplies may have been washed overboard or ruined by moisture.

Paul reminded his shipmates that they should have listened to him sooner. The danger in which they found themselves was unnecessary. Had they heeded his warnings, this would not have happened. I do not think that Paul’s words were meant as a typical “I told you so” so much as they were spoken to motivate his peers to listen to him now. If Paul had been right before, and his words had come to pass, he had even more important words to speak now, not from his own perception or judgment, but from the God whom he served.

During the night, an angel of God had appeared to Paul, with a sure and certain word about the future, a word that would bring encouragement to all on board ship. If Paul was completely right in his previous warning, then many were about to die. The encouraging news that Paul was about to tell them was that he was both right and wrong when he had warned them not to sail. He was right in that a great storm had swept down on this ship, and that both the ship and its cargo would be lost. But he was wrong about the loss of passengers. His previous warning did not take into account the intervention of God, resulting in the escape of every person on board the ship.

The “God” who was to rescue them was Paul’s God, the God whom he served, and to whom he would bear testimony before Caesar. Paul was told by the angel not to be afraid, because he was going to stand before Caesar. He was going to survive. But in addition to his surviving this storm, God promised to spare all the other passengers on board as well, not for their sakes alone, but for Paul’s sake. Imagine this, they would have Paul to thank for their deliverance. Because of one prisoner on board that ship, all the other passengers were spared.

The passengers were not to lose hope, but to keep up their courage. Paul encouragement the passengers to trust God to do all that He promised. The ship would be lost, but not one of the passengers would perish. One more detail about the future was revealed by Paul: the ship must run aground on a certain, but unnamed, island. Looking back on these words would demonstrate that this was indeed prophecy. The “God whom Paul served” was a God who was (and is) in control.

Allow me to make one last observation here. While Paul had not lost hope, as had his shipmates, he must have been afraid. The angel of God told Paul not to be afraid, which would indicate that he was afraid. And who would not be afraid in such a storm. There is nothing wrong with a healthy fear of danger. But we can still have hope, even when we are afraid. Paul need no longer fear, because he knew the outcome of this storm. When the outcome is known, and the One who determines it is both faithful and sovereign (in control), the danger of harm is removed, along with the need for fear. By the way, Paul may not have been frightened so much for himself as for the others.

Nearing Land
(27:27-29)

Fourteen days have passed since they left Fair Havens and the storm first struck the ship.558 The sailors now have little idea as to where they were, or how far they might be from land. Nearing land in a storm is a very dangerous thing. A ship can be tossed about in the sea and survive much better than it can survive being dashed upon the rocks. In a storm, control of the ship is limited, and so navigating a narrow entrance to a port would be almost impossible. All in all, it would be best to wait out the storm at sea. But there was a problem. They were not in control of the ship. It was drifting wherever the storm carried it. Because of their very limited visibility, they might not see the land until it was too late. Thus, the sailors continually took soundings, measuring the depth below them, so that they could discern, far in advance, their approach to land (which would be indicated by progressively diminishing depths).

About midnight on the fourteenth day, the sailors determined that land was nearing because the depth of the sea below had diminished from twenty fathoms to fifteen. As it was the middle of the night and the storm was still fierce, the sailors put out anchors, to drag along the bottom, to slow down their drifting. They hoped that daybreak would come so that they could visually navigate the ship, rather than to attempt to make port (or even to ground the ship) in the dark. The approaching land brought a new temptation to the sailors, who better than anyone else knew they were coming upon land.559

The Sailors Stopped From Abandoning Ship
(27:30-32)

When the ship was far out at sea, and no one knowing how far they might be from land, abandoning ship was no temptation. Doing so would be certain death, for the larger vessel offered more protection, so long as it held together. But once the sailors discerned that land was nearby, staying on board ship became increasingly dangerous. They could not handle the ship in the stormy waters. Because of its size and cargo, it required deeper water. The smaller boat, was much more easily handled, and would have been the logical choice when trying to make shore, especially in such circumstances.

In so doing, the sailors would not only be abandoning ship, they would be abandoning all the passengers on board ship, leaving them helpless. There would be no one left who was an experienced sailor, who could help land the crippled ship. Handling the ship in this storm was almost impossible, and any attempt would require an expert crew. (This also required a small boat, which was going to be taken by those abandoning the ship.) What the ship’s crew intended to do was a cowardly thing. They planned to slip away, on the pretext of laying out anchors, but they were going to take the “lifeboat” (as it were) and leave the people to fend for themselves in the ravaging storm, in a ship drifting ever near the rocks of the approaching shore. Their actions revealed that they did not believe Paul’s words of assurance, that all would be saved, though the ship would be grounded and destroyed.

Whether by divine revelation, intuition, or by learning of their plans from some human source, Paul became aware of their intentions. He turned to the centurion and the soldiers and gave them what were really orders: “Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved” (verse 31). If this was all that Paul said to these soldiers, he did not tell them that these men were attempting to abandon ship. He only said that their remaining on ship was necessary if these soldiers wanted to survive. The soldiers were thus acting to save themselves, as well as the rest on board. The soldiers were acting, as it were, on Paul’s orders. If the sailors didn’t believe Paul, the soldiers did. It seems that there was no protest from the sailors when the ropes to the lifeboat were cut. Now, no one had the use of this boat.

Paul’s Encouragement and the Ship’s Grounding
(27:33-41)

It was still late at night, too dark to try to make shore until it was light. They all waited for the morning light. No doubt there were some anxious thoughts racing through the minds of the passengers. It was time for another word of encouragement. Paul once again stepped forward, speaking out to all aboard, so as to assure and encourage them, as well as to persuade them to prepare themselves for the rigors and physical demands of the hours that were to follow.

Several days before, Paul had told the passengers, who had lost all hope, that they would all be saved, although the ship would run aground (verses 21-26). Up to this point in time, they had gone a long while without food. In spite of Paul’s words of encouragement, the passengers had still not eaten. It would seem that they had “fasted’ nearly two weeks—throughout the entire time the storm was raging. If they were to have the strength necessary to make it to shore, they would need to “start the day with a good meal.” I know it sounds more like mother or a TV commercial, but Paul was dealing with a very practical necessity.

Had people ceased eating, in part perhaps, because they thought they were going to die anyway? Paul assured them that “not a hair from their head would perish” (verse 34). If their safety was assured then let them do what they could to help themselves—let them eat. To reinforce his words, Paul now did what he urged each of them to do—he ate. Paul took bread, and giving thanks to God before all, he began to eat. Did Paul pray for their meal, as well as his own? I suspect so. I would like to have heard that prayer, but Luke’s silence here requires us to wait till heaven to find out what was said.

Paul’s faith and his courage were contagious. The others—two hundred and seventy-six in all—followed his example. And so they were strengthened, both in spirit and in body. Now they were ready for the day’s activities. With renewed strength, the passengers set about lightening the ship by throwing the remainder of the cargo – the cargo of wheat – overboard. This was, I think, to cause the ship to draw less water, and thus to float higher in the water, so that it would not as easily drag bottom.560 The ship would therefore be closer to shore when it struck bottom, making it a shorter swim (or float).

They did not know exactly where they were and they could not recognize anything familiar about the land, but they did resolve to run the ship aground in a bay which they could see ahead. Then the passengers would have a better chance to reach shore. They cut loose the anchors, which set the ship free, as wind and waves propelled it toward land. They also loosened the ropes which lashed down the rudders and hoisted the sail.561 They were on their way toward land.

As Paul had already informed them, neither the ship nor its cargo would survive, only the passengers. The ship did not make it all the way to that beach toward which they were steering it. The ship ran aground on a reef, where it would be broken up by the action of the still raging waves. They just happened to run aground at the place where two seas met.562 It seems that the action of the water created some kind of sandbar or shallows, on which the ship stuck fast. The stern of the ship began to break up. They had to move quickly now to get off the ship and to swim to shore.

Prisoners Spared and All Ashore
(27:42-44)

All must abandon ship now. This created a serious problem. The prisoners (at least the dangerous or violent ones) may have been in chains. If the prisoners were to make it to land, the soldiers would have to release them. The soldiers who were guarding them were not as concerned about their survival as much as the possibility of an escape. They intended to put all the prisoners to death,563 thus eliminating the risk of an escape.

The centurion did not seem to be concerned with any of the prisoners, except one – Paul. He wanted to spare him, and so he forbade them from killing any of the prisoners.564 All of the prisoners were spared, on account of one person—Paul, just as all of the passengers were spared for Paul’s sake. These prisoners were (pardon me for this) “twice pardoned.”

The centurion commanded that all should make it to land if they could. Those who could swim should jump first, and make their way to shore. The non-swimmers could wait a little longer, perhaps for the ship to further break up, and then clinging to some piece of floating wreckage, paddle their way to shore.

Every passenger made it safely to shore. All 276 passengers were saved. Not one soul was lost. God’s promise was fulfilled, just as Paul had said He would.

Conclusion

(1) A look at leadership. I do not believe that Luke’s central purpose in Acts 27 is to teach us about leadership, but I do think that Paul’s leadership is very apparent in our text. Think of it. Paul is one of a number of prisoners, on his way to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. The death penalty is certainly one possibility. Paul’s circumstances certainly do no give him any status, any “clout,” with anyone on board that ship. At the beginning of the chapter, Paul is the object, the one who is acted upon. Others decided Paul and the other prisoners should set sail, and so Paul and they were turned over to Julius. But by the end of this chapter, it is Paul who is active, Paul who is leading, and the others are following him. Paul tells the soldiers that the sailors must remain on board ship, if they themselves are to be saved. The soldiers heed Paul’s words and cut the ropes to the lifeboat, letting it fall away. Paul encourages all on board to eat, and they do.

What has happened over the course of these events, so that a lowly prisoner, a man at the bottom of the ladder, so far as position and influence are concerned, is now the outstanding leader? What are we to make of this dramatic change in Paul’s standing before his fellow-shipmates? What did Paul do to bring about such a change? Did he do anything? The broad issue is that of leadership. How can Paul, a prisoner, emerge as the leader on board a ship, while in the midst of a storm? Let me suggest a few characteristics of Paul’s leadership in this crisis, which may provide fuel for future thought.

Paul was not striving to be a leader here, but simply trying to be of help. Too often, I hear leadership spoken of as a place of status, rather than a place of service. I see leadership held out to men and women as a prize, rather than as a humbling responsibility. I see people working for a place a leadership, rather than working to serve others, and letting leadership develop or not on its own.

Paul’s leadership was not viewed as “spiritual leadership” by those on board the ship. No one followed Paul because he was a “man of God,” or even because they concluded the God was with him. They followed Paul because he knew where he was going and inspired confidence in others to follow him. Julius and the others did not seem to look upon Paul in religious or spiritual terms, but only in terms of practical and proven ability and knowledge.

Paul did not have a formal position as “leader,” but was rather a functional leader. Paul was a leader here because people followed him. I am not certain that anyone ever thought of Paul as the leader, but he did lead and they followed.

Paul’s leadership emerged in a time of crisis, in an hour of need, when no one else seemed to have any answers.565 Functional leadership (as opposed to formal leadership) emerges in times of need. We live in a time of great crisis. Our world, like that ship of Paul’s, was headed for destruction. If there was ever a time for Christians to emerge as leaders, it is now. The need is great. The hour is hopeless. Unsaved men do not have the answers. God’s Word gives us those answers. Let us, like Paul, have a word from God for such needy times as ours.

Paul’s leadership emerged in a “democratic society.” We are told that “the majority reached the decision” to sail on, rather than to winter in Fair Havens. I take it that this was a form of democratic rule. In spite of this fact, one man, Paul, emerged as the leader. When he spoke, there was no vote taken.

Paul’s influence was not the result of his political maneuverings, but men’s response to his personal competence. I confess, I am distressed at the ways in which Christians are trying to “take control” of the political and governmental positions of authority. They want to use numbers and influence decisions based upon voting power. The great leaders of the Bible, men like Joseph, Moses, David, and Daniel, were men who had an impact because they were men of God, men of great skill and ability, and men who God raised up. They were not men who manipulated people or their circumstances in order to further their own power or position.

Paul’s leadership enhanced the preaching of the gospel. If Paul had been incompetent and impotent in this time of crisis, who would have wanted to hear him tell about faith in Jesus as the Messiah? Paul’s skillfulness and leadership gave the gospel a credibility it would not have otherwise have had in the eyes of these people.

(2) The Sovereignty of God and Man’s Safety. There is no place safer than the place of obedience to the Word of God. Humanly viewed, Paul was constantly in grave danger, but he was never more safe or secure than when he was on his way to Rome. God’s mission for Paul was to go to Rome and there to preach the gospel. The angry mob, which the Asian Jews had incited in Jerusalem, were trying to kill Paul, but God used Claudius Lysias and his soldiers to save his life. Paul’s execution was sought by the Sanhedrin, which first tried to execute him legally (like Stephen) and then by assassination, but God used Roman soldiers once again to spare His servant. The assassination conspiracy was still the main hope of the Sanhedrin as Paul was imprisoned for two years by Felix, but God kept Paul from Jerusalem. God used this two-year delay of Felix and the bungling of Festus to bring Paul to the point where he would appeal to Caesar. In all of this God protected Paul.

Now, in our text, Paul is again in great danger. The storm threatens not only the life of Paul, but also the lives of all on board his ship. When the ship is grounded and the passengers must swim for their lives, the soldiers plan to kill Paul, along with the other prisoners, to prevent any from escaping. God used the centurion, who had come to deeply respect and admire Paul, to spare him, along with the rest. The grounding of the ship, some distance from shore, and then its breaking up poses another threat, which all survive. Finally, in the following chapter, there will be the snake bite, from which Paul will be spared as well. Paul lived dangerously, in one respect, but no one could have been any safer.

Paul’s safety and deliverance was so certain that it was sufficient for others as well. For Paul’s sake, all the passengers on board his ship were spared from the storm. And also for Paul’s sake, all of the prisoners were spared from execution by the soldiers. How often, I wonder, are others benefited by the presence of a believer? Such would have been the case in Sodom and Gomorrah. If there were but ten righteous in the city of Sodom, God would have spared the city for the sake of those righteous (Genesis 18:22-33). Is this principle of extended “deliverance” perhaps an explanation of Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 7, that the unbeliever is sanctified on account of the believer?

And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, let her not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy (1 Corinthians 7:13-14).

How does Paul’s safety relate to you? If you are a Christian, the same safety is yours, when you are walking in obedience to His commands, and within His purposes. Whatever God has promised to do, He will do. When you are walking in accordance with God’s purposes, whatever obstacles to the accomplishing of His will are encountered, He will overcome. Whatever dangers might arise, He will protect His people, in accordance with His purposes and promises. But what are some of these purposes and promises? Let us consider just a few:

8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath {of God} through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Romans 5:8-10).

28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to {His} purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined {to become} conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; 30 and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God {is} for us, who {is} against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written, “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:28-39).

{For I am} confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to {obtain} an inheritance {which is} imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 that the proof of your faith, {being} more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:3-9).

As the song goes, “More secure is no one ever, than the loved ones of the Savior…”

(3) The Sovereignty of God and the Ultimate Peril of the Lost. Paul was kept safe, and as a result, all of those with him were saved as well. Their safety was relative, however. Their safety was contingent on the presence of Paul and the patience of God. There will come a time, however, when God will take His own to the full and final safety of heaven. When this happens, there will be no protection for the lost. The sovereignty of God will then result in the overthrow of His enemies and in the judgment of the wicked. If God’s sovereignty is the source of comfort to the Christian, it is the source of terror for the unbeliever, for God has warned of His coming judgment. It is as certain as the salvation of His own. Flee to safety today. That safety is only in Christ. If the relative safety of the passengers was in being on board ship, with Paul, our certain safety is in being “in Christ.” He has weathered the storm of God’s wrath on the sinner. He has been beaten by the storm of God’s anger toward sin. And He has come forth from death and the grave, to give us new life. If we are not in Christ, who has weathered the storm, then we must endure the storm ourselves, to our eternal destruction.

(4) The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility. The sovereignty of God is the basis for our safety and security, but it is not an excuse for our sloppiness. It was the crew of the ship who lived dangerously, foolishly risking the ship, the cargo, and the lives of all on board, just to “get ahead” a little. The potential gains were minimal, while the potential loss was great. Nevertheless, they decided to press on to a better harbor.

Is there not a kind of parable here? Isn’t it true that men do those things which they know to be risky, partly for the love of the risk, and often due to some small gain they wish, prompted by a false sense of assurance, and by the hope for some small gain? Take aids, or drugs, for example. All one needs is a “clean needle” or a “condom” or possibility an abortion and they’re off and running, seeking a little pleasure, at the cost of the loss of their life, and of their soul.

The one whose fate was sure and certain, was the most cautious; those whose ultimate fate was most uncertain were those who lived most dangerously. It was Paul who showed caution, warning those in charge of the dangers ahead. Here is a man whose personal safety was assured, and yet who lived with care and caution. The sovereignty of God is no excuse for careless or reckless living.

Some Christians are inclined to live their lives sloppily, believing that because God is sovereign He will, on demand, produce a miracle to deliver us from the fruits of our own foolishness. Paul believed in the power of God and in His infinite control over all things, in heaven and on the earth. Paul was frequently the instrument through which God’s power was manifested. He spoke prophetically of the fate of the ship and its passengers. He would later, on the island, work signs and wonders. Nevertheless, he did not presume that God would intervene in this instance.

The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is multi-faceted, something which careless and thoughtless Christians often forget or set aside. The sovereignty of God means not only that God is able to intervene supernaturally, but that He is also able to work naturally, through human instruments (like the Roman soldiers, and in our story, like the centurion, in Paul’s behalf). Beyond this, God is free to act or not to act in any way that He chooses. The sovereignty of God means that He is not at our disposal, to carry out our whims or wishes, but that we are at His disposal. The sovereignty of God means that we dare not presume that God will work a miracle for us, at the time and in the way we choose, due to our foolishness, carelessness, or sin. God does not “jump through our hoops” and thus Paul never presumed that he had God’s power “on tap” to use when and how he chose. Thus, he did not expect a miracle, nor did he even ask for one. He left this to God. Because it was a part of God’s sovereign plan, God did purpose to spare Paul and the ship’s passengers, but in a way that would to some seem only like “good luck.” The miraculous aspect is seen in Paul’s prediction of what happened in complete agreement with all that did happen, even to the minute details.

To Paul, the sovereignty of God was not an excuse to avoid his human obligations or his personal responsibility; it was the motivation for him to live responsibly. Thus, the safety of the ship, according to Paul’s words, required the presence of the crew. The safety of the passengers, involved their actions, in eating a good meal, in lightening the ship, and in swimming to shore or in clinging to some wreckage and floating to shore. The sovereignty of God is no excuse for us not to work, but the assurance that our work is not in vain, in the Lord.

(5) The storm, and the gospel which leads to salvation. It was, I believe, for the sake of the gospel that Paul and these passengers were saved. Paul was spared so that he could go to Rome, and there proclaim the gospel. These passengers were spared, I suspect, so that they could not only hear the gospel, but experience the hope which the gospel gives, and the power by which the gospel saves unworthy sinners. These people saw first hand the hope of the gospel in Paul, when all hope was lost. Christianity is not a “fair weather” religion. The gospel sustains men in the greatest storms of life. Would any have heeded Paul or the gospel as seriously as they did, had the trip to Rome gone quickly and smoothly? I think not. But the storm brought men and women face to face with death, and with the truth of the gospel. What grace was made evident in this storm! The storms of your life may not have been sent your way to destroy you, but to turn you to God’s salvation.


541 “Luke’s narrative of the voyage and shipwreck of Paul on his way to Italy is a small classic in its own right, as graphic a piece of descriptive writing as anything in the Bible. It has long been acknowledged as ‘one of the most instructive documents for the knowledge of ancient seamanship.’” F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), p. 474.

542 “The ship in which they embarked belonged to Adramyttium (modern Edremit), a seaport of Mysia in northwest Asia Minor, opposite the island of Lesbos. It was a coasting vessel, which was to call at various ports of the province of Asia; at one of these Julius knew he would find a ship, preferably a grain ship, bound for Italy.” F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), p. 477.

543 “The centurion Julius, into whose custody he was delivered, belonged (we are told) to the Augustan Cohort. (The term “Augustan,” i.e., “His Imperial Majesty’s,” was a title of honor bestowed on several cohorts of auxiliary troops.) The precise status of Julius is difficult to determine: from the authority which he assumed when once (from Myra onward) he found himself on board a ship of the Alexandrian grain fleet, it might be inferred that he was a frumentarius, an officer charged with supervising the transport of grain (frumentum) to Rome.” Bruce p. 477.

544 We know that Luke was on board ship because of the “we” references, and because of the great detail that he includes, as an eyewitness of the journey, the storm, and the safe landing of the passengers.

545 This seems to be the same Aristarchus mentioned in Acts 19:29; 20:4; Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 24.

546 “‘With the westerly winds which prevail in those seas,’ says James Smith, ‘ships, particularly those of the ancients, unprovided with a compass and ill calculated to work to windward, would naturally stand to the north till they made the land of Asia Minor, which is peculiarly favourable for navigation by such vessels, because the coast is bold and safe, and the elevation of the mountains makes it visible at a great distance; it abounds in harbours, and the sinuosities of its shores and the westerly current would enable them, if the wind was at all off the land, to work to windward, at least as far as Cnidus, where these advantages ceased. Myra lies due north from Alexandria, and its bay is well calculated to shelter a windbound ship.’” Bruce quoting J. Smith, Voyage, pp. 72-73, p. 480.

547 “Ramsay is of the opinion that the ship was a government vessel of which the centurion, as senior officer, was properly in charge. This may have been the case, and if so the calculations upon which the shipmaster (not owner as AV and RV, according to Ramsay) based his rash advice are less apparent.” E. M. Blaiklock, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company [photolithoprinted], 1966), p. 191, quoting Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen, p. 319.

548 “This harbour is named Kalus Limeonas, a small bay two miles east of Cape Matala. It opens to the East and Southeast, but is not fit to winter in. This harbour would protect them for a time from the winds. . . . Neither Lasea nor Fair Havens is mentioned by any ancient writer, two of the hundred cities of Crete.” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930), III, p. 460.

549 “Smith observes ‘that Fair Havens is so well protected by islands, that though not equal to Lutro [Loutron, a port some 40 miles farther west along the coast], it must be a very fair winter harbour; and that considering the suddenness, the frequency, and the violence with which gales of northerly wind spring up, and the certainty that, if such a gale sprang up in the passage from Fair Havens to Lutro, the ship must be driven off to sea, the prudence of the advice given by St. Paul may probably be supported even on nautical grounds.’” Bruce, pp. 482-483.

550 “As they waited for a change of wind at Fair Havens, it soon became clear that they could not complete the voyage to Italy before the onset of winter. The dangerous season for sailing began about September 14 and lasted until November 11; after the latter date all navigation on the open sea came to an end until winter was over. They were now well into the dangerous season; as Luke notes, even the Fast had now gone by. The Fast is the day of atonement (Yom Kippur), which falls on Tishri 10. Luke’s remark has point only if it fell rather late in the solar calendar that year. In A.D. 59 it fell on October 5, but in all the neighboring years from 57 to 62 it fell earlier. A late date for the day of atonement is required also by the time notes of the subsequent journey to Italy. When they set sail from Fair Havens, fifty or sixty miles brought them under the lee of Cauda (v. 16); on the fourteenth night from Cauda they drew near the coast of Malta (v. 27), and the next day (v. 39) they landed on that island, where they spent three months (28:11). The seas were closed to sailing until the beginning of February at the earliest; the three months spent in Malta must therefore have corresponded roughly to November, December, and January, so they must have left Fair Havens not much before mid-October. The solar date of the day of atonement in A.D. 59 thus accords well with Luke’s implication that the Fast took place while they waited at Fair Havens.” Bruce, p. 481.

551 Although there almost certainly would have been some loss of life, apart from divine intervention. The lives which Paul warned would be lost were those lives which were spared by God, for Paul’s sake (see verses 22-24). And so Paul was correct, though not speaking at the moment with prophetic inspiration, authority, or inerrancy. There is no “thus saith the Lord” here, but Paul’s words were worth heeding.

552 “‘A south wind having blown gently,’ in marked contrast to the violent northwest wind that they had faced so long. They were so sure of the wisdom of their decision that they did not even draw up the small boat attached by a rope to the vessel’s stern (verse 16). It was only some forty miles to Lutro.” Robertson, p. 461.

553 “The storm was now heavy upon the lumbering vessel, as it came roaring out of the north-east. Far to the south, off the African coast, lay the notorious Syrtes (17), the graveyard of many ships, as underwater archaeology has vividly revealed in recent years. Hence the battle to maintain a westerly course, aided, it appears, by a veering of the wind to the east, as the cyclonic disturbance shifted its centre.” Blaiklock p. 190.

554 The wind would tend to blow the ship much more quickly than the current, and so a sea anchor would reduce the force of the wind on the ship by using the sea as a brake. Bruce writes,

“The Greater Syrtis was still a great distance away, but the wind might continue to blow for many days, and that was the direction in which it was blowing them. So, says Luke, they ‘lowered the instrument,’ not being more specific perhaps because he did not know, or did not remember, the technical name for whatever it was that was lowered. The most probable account is that they dropped a floating anchor or drift anchor, which was dragged astern at the end of a rope of suitable length so as to offer the maximum resistance every time the ship plunged down from the crest of a wave.” Bruce, p. 486.

555 From verse 38 we know that all the cargo was not thrown overboard at this time.

556 “The following day, a more drastic measure was necessary: the spare gear had to go if the ship was to have any chance of surviving. Smith suggests that ‘the mainyard is meant; an immense spar, probably as long as the ship, which would require the united efforts of passengers and crews to launch overboard.’” Bruce p. 486.

557 This is not to suggest that Paul now emerged because he knew that this was the low-point of his fellow-passengers, but because the night before the angel of God had appeared to him. He arose, then, for two reasons: (1) his shipmates were in desperate need of encouragement, and (2) he now had a word from God for them.

558 “The fourteenth night is reckoned from the time they left Fair Havens. In the sea of Adria (en toi Hadriai). Not the Adriatic Sea as we now call the sea between Italy and the mainland of Illyricum, but all the lower Mediterranean between Italy and Greece.” Robertson, p. 469.

559 If the soundings were made at midnight, and if the passengers were at least inside the ship, rather than on deck, only the sailors would have known that land was approaching. This “inside information” was, I think, a factor in their plan to abandon ship.

560 The higher the ship floated in the water, the closer to shore they could get before the ship grounded.

561 Before, adrift in the sea, they made no effort to guide the ship. They could not see the sun nor the stars (verse 20) and so they were unable to navigate. They took down the sail, which would have been ripped to shreds by the winds, and lashed down the rudders, which would have been broken up as they were smashed against the ship by the waves. Now, when they knew where they wanted to go, they again began to rig the ship for sailing, to whatever degree this could be done in such a storm.

562 “St. Paul’s Bay is sheltered on the northwest by the island of Salmonetta, which is separated from the Maltese mainland by a narrow channel about a hundred yards wide. This channel is the place ‘between two seas.’ Here the ship, in Smith’s words, ‘would strike a bottom of mud graduating into tenacious clay, into which the fore part would fix itself and be held fast, whilst the stern was exposed to the worst of the waves.’ After the long battering which the ship had endured for the past two weeks, its exposed part could not take this further punishment, and it quickly disintegrated.” Bruce, p. 494.

563 This seems to suggest that the charges against these prisoners were serious. There were no petty thieves on board this ship.

564 Would he not have dared to command the soldiers not to kill Paul, but to have allowed the others to be put to death? It was simpler, it seems, to forbid them from killing any of them.

565 “In particular, much may be learned from Luke’s portrayal of Paul’s character and behavior in circumstances in which the real man is most likely to be revealed. He portrays Paul in many roles throughout Acts, but here he shows him standing out as the practical man in a critical emergency--keeping his head when all about him are losing theirs. Not once or twice the world has had to thank the great saints and mystics for providing timely help in moments of crisis when realistic, practical men of affairs were unable to supply it.” Bruce, p. 475.

Related Topics: Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Leadership