Paul: The Inestimable Value of One Disciple (Acts 27)
Some think faith is a private matter, and that one person’s belief is of no consequence to others. Hardly could one be more mistaken. Where we are strong and where we are weak matters tremendously to others. We all affect society for better or for worse. What an awesome responsibility!
Paul in the storm is a case in point. (Contrast Paul and Jonah, both in a storm, and on the very same sea.) Many things stand out in this account. Notice the ignorance and helplessness of the experts. That same frustration is found in our experts in diplomacy, education, legislation and adjudication today. Notice the calm and poise of the man who trusted God. Christians can still live in peace and maintain perspectives in our own chaotic times. Apart from God people are in the depths of depression. But when one can say: “The God I serve, and whose I am, has appeared to me” the invitation to be of good cheer still sounds firm and valid.
The Sense of Belonging
Paul always saw himself as belonging to God in Christ. He called himself the slave of Christ. He has been bought by the blood, and is not his own ever again. Then he can no longer live for himself, cannot please himself, cannot conserve himself. This “belonging” concept explains a great deal in Paul. How conscious are we of it? And of its implications for our life and character?
This “belonging” while it is constraining, is also our emancipation from the slavery to sin, fear, self-destruction and death. It is not that now we are no longer our own, since we belong to Christ. We were not our own before belonging to Christ either. What happens in our redemption is that we have a change of masters. And this opens the door to the best of all lives. No life is better than the Master it serves. The best of lives is not attainable under the worst of masters. It is when we are freed from the domination of sin and evil that we can use the energies and time for godliness and its attendant good, rather than for evil and its inevitable misery. Happiness is in direct ration to the degree of servitude to Christ. Our value as persons in society is measured by the level of our devotion to the will of Christ.
The Portrait of a Disciple in Society
Faith focused upon the right object. Paul zeroed in on God. What else was there to trust? The ship? It was breaking apart. The sailors? They were going to kill everyone. The soldiers? They were going to kill everyone. The two captains? They had not the slightest idea of what to do. One sure, basic hope remained: GOD. So today we should know that we have no hope in mankind, nor in education, the military, politics or finances. All of these have been tried and have failed. Far from being the cure of our problems, they are the chief causes. The message of the disciple is: “Behold your God!”
Genuine concern for others. Contrast this with Johah! “God has granted….” That means Paul had been praying for them. What a ministry! Intercessory prayer is one of the noblest forms of prayer. Faith makes Christians concerned for society.
An ear for the Message of God. We sometimes think: “I don’t know what to say.” It took even Paul two weeks of waiting for God to give him the words before he dared to speak. Beware of rushing into speech simply because you feel you have the duty of witnessing. Talk to God about people before talking to people about God.
A clear view of several things in God. God is a hearer of prayer. God is full of mercy. God is adequate for any situation. God is concerned for suffering mankind. Remember Nineveh. And the word of Jesus: “I have compassion on the multitude…”
Willingness to be involved in society’s problems. We are part of our world and cannot sit idly by when the world is in trouble while we have resources and insights and a message that can benefit others. We need Christians in politics, teaching, business, courts, the media…..claiming every aspect of life for Christ. A disciple is a presence. Something emanates from a disciple, just by virtue of his being there as a Chrsitian living the best of all lives amongst people whose lives are chaos.
A disciple cannot leave it to others who have not his insights and witness. There were 2 captains on that ship. Paul might have felt the situation was their problem, and their responsibility. But they were helpless. They had authority, but no insight. There were 275 soldiers and sailors there. But they were useless. They had training, but could not cope. One man of impeccable character, devoted to God, listening to God, was worth more than all of them together because he believed God and would become involved.
The Effect of Witness upon Others
They saw their first ray of hope and cheer. This is always the effect when a disciple with the 5 characteristics listed above, involves himself or herself in society’s needs. When the Church is Church. When a Christian is a Christian. The world is crying: “Is there any good word in this hurting, bleeding world?” And the Church cries back: “Yes there is! Turn to God in Christ.” But it takes strong disciples and a faithful Church to say that.
“Be of good cheer” people say. But we’d better have a very good basis on which to say it. Maybe people can’t be of good cheer. In this kind of world why should they be of good cheer? The world is in no mood for cheap talk. There are already too many people “…speaking pious platitudes in stained glass attitudes…” There must be substance in our testimony. And we have to be people of joy and peace ourselves. We can’t speak of hope unless we are full of it. The same is true if we wish to speak of joy and peace. Our witness is valid and viable only if we ourselves are genuine and authentic disciples.
Our times for faith, and action based upon faith. If we fail here we, and our society, have lost the last vestige of hope for humankind. Then there is no more meaning to life, no more reason for living. It’s faith that is the victory and that overcomes the world, and it is by faith that everything good becomes possible. For faith leans hard upon God and turns everything over to him. That is the true victory. That is what discipleship is all about. That opens the door to the best of all lives.
From Paul’s life we learn there may well be storms in life. The best of all lives is not always spent on quiet seas. Christ never promised it would be easy, but he did say it would be blessed, and that’s what counts. That’s what makes it all worthwhile. That’s the foretaste of glory.