Paul’s Shipwreck: Acts 27
It has not been a low-key week. Change has been happening day by day, hour by hour as we try to respond appropriately to the COVID-19 situation here in the United States. I’m the Director of multiple pregnancy centers, so we have been in a constant state of analysis, trying to determine the best ways serve our communities while protecting and preserving the health of all. I’m a mom in a household of 7, trying to do what is best for my husband and children. I just had surgery to remove my gallbladder and appendix. Like many of you, we did not attend church services on Sunday morning. Instead, we utilized streaming services to worship and engage with our church community.
When I first started studying Acts 27, I intended to blog about Paul’s exemplary leadership. After all, Paul was one of the greatest leaders in scripture. He was a leader in the early church, and he wrote a large part of the New Testament. The narrative of Acts 27 begins with Paul being taken by ship as a prisoner to Caesar, and ends with him leading 276 men through a shipwreck. How does one go from prisoner to the leader who saves 276 lives? Fascinating stuff!
However, as the last two weeks have unfolded, and the COVID-19 virus has taken center stage in our lives, the Lord began to reveal new, interesting details from this narrative to me. I began to read this passage with new eyes. I noticed things that I hadn’t noticed before. I want to share those revelations with all of you today.
As I continued to study Acts 27, the Lord took me backwards through scripture. Back in Acts 23, the Lord revealed something to Paul that became very significant to my study as I have watched this COVID-19 situation evolve here in the United States. The Lord revealed to Paul that he would bear witness in Rome before Caesar. This seems like such a little detail, but it became significant as the narrative played out. He ended up getting arrested and put on a ship with a bunch of other prisoners, headed for Rome.
You see, Paul had inside information that nobody else on the ship had. Paul knew that he would arrive safely in Rome. He had no reason to be concerned about his safety during this long voyage because God had already revealed the next step to him- he was to bear witness before Caesar. Paul couldn’t exactly do that if he died on the way, right? He had to know that he was safe. If God intended for him to survive and bear witness, it would happen. Paul had seen God perform incredible, supernatural miracles. He had every reason to believe that God would ensure his safe arrival in Rome.
Traveling to Rome
The voyage was a long one. Along the way, the sailors made some choices that Paul disagreed with. He was a seasoned traveler, and he believed that they needed to stop for their winter break when the sailors believed they should press on, stopping later. Although Paul had earned the respect of his guard, Julius, the sailors overruled Paul and the voyage continued.
Then the storm hit. It was epic. It was one for the ages. It ravaged them, and through this crisis, Paul’s leadership and selflessness became apparent. He stepped into the crisis, and began to speak into the decision making. He looked at the situation, using wisdom to make decisions that would preserve all lives on board. He wasn’t trying to save himself- he was secure. He was advocating for others.
Later, an angel revealed to Paul that all lives aboard the ship could be saved, but they would need to run the ship aground.
What a scary thing to have to do. They had to crash on purpose.
Selfish or Selfless?
The sailors were not crazy about this plan. They were thinking about themselves, and they weren’t concerned enough for the other men on the ship to follow through on a plan that was less convenient and less ideal for them. They had a different plan… one that required less of them, but saved themselves. They planned to take the lifeboat for themselves, abandoning ship. With them gone, there would not have been any people skilled enough to safely bring the ship aground left on board. The crash would have been far worse. People would have died.
But Paul, in his wisdom and forethought, recognized the value of every person on board that ship. He understood that each person bore the image of God, and he was convicted- if all lives COULD be preserved, then Paul was going to do all that he could to ensure that they were. He was not willing to sacrifice some lives, even though he knew he was meant to make it safely to Rome.
He ordered the guards to cut the ropes holding the lifeboat. That left the sailors with no selfish choice- they had no good choice but to run the ship aground.
So they did. As the ship broke apart, those who could swim swam ashore. Those who could not swim grabbed a plank and floated toward the shore.
Nobody died. 276 men survived the shipwreck.
When facing a crisis, Paul unselfishly expected those who had more, were more capable and could contribute more to do so. He expected the sailors to stay and run aground even though that wasn’t the easiest for them. He expected everyone on board to contribute to getting the ship as close to shore as possible, so that those who could not swim would survive. It wasn’t what the sailors wanted to do, but it was necessary to preserve the lives of ALL. The lives of others are worth our inconveniences and discomforts.
Choosing Selfless Love
Paul knew that he was going to be fine. He knew that God would ensure that he arrived in Rome. Just like most of us know that COVID-19 won’t kill us. For most of us, we won’t feel well for awhile and then our lives will go back to normal. But we are not called to do the bare minimum to bring our lives back to some semblance of normal. We are called to radical, selfless love for the least of these.
We should be willing to do more, go further and be inconvenienced and uncomfortable in service to the least of these. For Paul, those were his fellow prisoners, the guards and the people on board who could not swim.
For us, in this crisis, the least of these are the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. They are the people who won’t just bounce back from a COVID-19 infection. Loving them well means willingly sacrificing our comfort, our normal, and our daily lifestyles in order to preserve their health and safety.
It’s not an issue of choosing between fear and faith. It’s choosing between self-preservation and self-sacrifice for others.
Jesus said that we would be known by our love. (John 13:35) We have been given an opportunity to display that love. We have been given a chance to show the world that our habits, routines, ceremonies, incomes and creature comforts are not more valuable than people. We now have a chance to reflect Jesus. His self sacrifice was far greater than this, when he allowed his body to be broken for us at the cross.
Social distancing is nothing compared to the cross. When we choose to honor one another, and when we choose to serve the least of these, we choose to serve the King.
Be selfless. Love your neighbor well. Serve well.
Today, in the midst of this crisis, serving well means honoring social distancing.
What other passages come to mind, as you think about the commands to love one another well, to serve the least of these and to be known for our love? How do they apply to the current situation that we are in, with COVID-19 spreading in the United States?
How else can we love and serve well in the midst of this?
I would love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to share in the comments.
Lord, I am so thankful for your Holy Spirit, dwelling inside of me. I’m thankful that you speak directly to my heart, about things happening in our world today through your Word that was written so long ago. Your Word is timeless. Please continue to reveal your heart to us. Help us be a reflection of you in a world that is uncertain. Help us reflect your love- your selfless, never ending love- well. Help us make wise decisions. Give us discernment as we move forward through the days ahead. We know that you remain with us, even when the circumstances we’re in don’t make sense. Thank you for never leaving my side. We love you, Lord. All we have is yours. In Jesus’ name, Amen.