Hearkening to Paul
Acts 27:20-22; Titus 1:7-9; 2 Timothy 2:2, 2 Timothy 4:11.
I read these Scriptures, dear brethren, because I feel that the conditions at the end of Acts apply not only to those who were on this ship in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, but they apply morally to Christendom in general, and to ourselves in particular, in the exercises that we have been and are still going through.
In Paul's second epistle to Timothy, he writes, "All who are in Asia ... have turned away from me." And here in Acts 27, verse 10, Paul counsels them, saying, "I perceive that the navigation will be with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives." But the centurion believed rather the helmsman and the shipowner than what was said by Paul. It is sobering that Christians should turn away from the apostle Paul, and that his counsel is disregarded in this journey, with the result that "in the end, all hope of our being saved was taken away."
I'd like to apply these verses to the history of things among those with whom we have walked in the testimony of our Lord. We are certainly not the only ones who are, or who have been, in that testimony. But we feel humbled and searched by the great disaster and loss that has come upon us. I am sure we all have a real, keen sense of the disaster and loss that we have gained by the journey that we have traveled. And the Lord would search us as to whether it is through disregard of Paul's ministry. Paul says, "Ye ought, O men, to have hearkened to me, and not have made sail from Crete and have gained this disaster and loss."
Paul exhorts Timothy, "The things thou hast heard of me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, such as shall be competent to instruct others also." This exhortation has come down through generation after generation, for nearly two thousand years. And now it has come to us.
The Lord is looking for faithful men, and Paul details certain qualifications for those who exercise oversight and minister among the saints. Paul writes to Titus that the overseer, firstly, "must be free from all charge against him as God's steward." Then he lists several features which are all preceded by the word "not": "not headstrong, not passionate, not disorderly through wine, not a striker, not seeking gain by base means." Then we have several positive features: "hospitable, a lover of goodness, discreet, just, pious, temperate." And lastly, "clinging to the faithful word according to the doctrine taught, that he may be able both to encourage with sound teaching and refute gainsayers." He details similar qualifications for overseers and ministers in 1 Timothy 3, writing as to ministers, "let these be first proved, then let them minister, being without charge against them" (verse 10).
Well, in discerning whom the Lord would use to oversee among His people, we must consider these qualifications. And as we review our history, it is clear that we have paid too little attention to these qualifications. In some instances, we have paid undue attention to persons' natural relationships and oratorical skills. Perhaps we have also looked up to persons like Saul, who was "choice and comely" and was head and shoulders above his fellows. But the Lord Jesus has not chosen such persons to shepherd the assembly of God. How precious the assembly is to the heart of Christ! "Shepherd the assembly of God, which he has purchased with the blood of his own." How God values the assembly — it has been purchased with the blood of Christ! Well, God doesn't mean that just anyone should shepherd His beloved people. Think of how David was chosen from following the sheep! He was "yet the youngest remaining", and he was "ruddy, and besides of a lovely countenance and beautiful appearance." How precious those features are, in contrast to those of Saul, who was the people's choice! Samuel anointed Saul because the people asked for a king, and he was the people's kind of man. Has the state of things among us been such that we have chosen persons like Saul to lead and oversee us?
But I believe the Lord would have us to now listen to Paul. See, it says, "when they had been a long while without taking food, Paul then standing up in the midst of them." The counsel of the helmsman and the shipowner had run its course, and had ended in disaster and loss. But now Paul stands up, and his counsel is being listened to: "Now I exhort you to be of good courage, for there shall be no loss of life of any of you, only of the ship."
Well, dear brethren, let us now listen to Paul's counsel. The ship has broken up, yet Paul's counsel would encourage our hearts. He adds, "Be of good courage, men, for I believe God that thus it shall be as it has been said to me." Then he exhorts them all to partake of food, and he gave thanks and broke the bread.
And in verse 3 of chapter 28, Paul is gathering sticks: "having gathered a certain quantity of sticks together in a bundle." This illustrates that Paul, even after this disaster, is intent on gathering and preserving life. We can see this, similarly, in 2 Timothy 4. He writes, "Luke alone is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thyself, for he is serviceable to me for ministry." Mark had forsaken Paul at one time, but now he is restored. Luke is with Paul, and Paul writes to Timothy, asking him to bring Mark. Here are these four persons — evidence that Paul is "gathering sticks", and the Lord would encourage us, after the shipwreck, to do likewise. So at the end of second Timothy, in the midst of all the heartbreak and opposition, Paul says, "Use diligence to come to me quickly", and he writes of these faithful men — Luke who had remained with Paul, and Mark who had been restored.
Well, ignoring Paul's counsel, and heeding the helmsman's and the shipowner's counsel instead, resulted in disaster and loss. Yes, even after the shipwreck, when Paul was being listened to, the enemy still attacked — the viper came out of the fire and seized Paul's hand. But God protected Paul from harm.
So, let us be sobered by these things, and may those who exercise oversight fill out, in their lives, these qualifications of which Paul writes. Not one of us fully meets these qualifications in every sense, but a person's manner of life should morally correspond with what he teaches. Paul writes that Timothy had "been thoroughly acquainted with my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings." Timothy had seen features of the Lord Jesus shining out in the apostle Paul — in his manner of life, in what he taught, in his faith, and in his willingness to suffer for the testimony. Oh, that these precious features of the Lord Jesus may shine out in our lives, and that our manner of life may correspond with what we teach! For His name's sake.
S. E. Hesterman
Hearkening To Paul