The Journal of Biblical Accuracy

Decision making and its effects: an example from Paul’s trip to Rome (PDF) PDF version

Decision making and its effects: an example from Paul’s trip to Rome

I would like in this article to go together with you to Acts 27. There we find Paul and some disciples that accompanied him, being en route to Rome. Paul was going there as a prisoner to appear before the Caesar. Starting from verse 7, we read:

Acts 27:7-10
“When we had sailed slowly many days, and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, the wind not permitting us to proceed, we sailed under the shelter of Crete off Salmone. Passing it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea. Now when much time had been spent, and sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over, Paul advised them saying, "Men, I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives."

It was a difficult trip. Finally they arrived into the port of Fair Havens. Winder was approaching. The phrase “sailing was now dangerous, because the Fast was already over” probably places the events around October, the month of the fast of the Atonement. As the Scripture says, Paul advised them that to carry on the trip was going to be dangerous. As he said it would be dangerous not only for the cargo and the ship but also for the lives of those in the ship. Then the verse that follows tells us:

Acts 27:11
“Nevertheless the centurion was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by the things spoken by Paul.”

Though Paul had a true perception of the seriousness of the situation and what was going to happen, he was not the boss of this ship! The boss was the centurion, a Roman, most probably heathen. He was commanding the ship in which there was an able number of believers. Has it ever happened to you that you are in a “ship” with others, believers and/or unbelievers, where the one that commands the “ship”, the one that makes a particular important decision is not you? You may know the outcome but the only thing that you can do is to advise. You can say “I believe we must not sail. I see that we are going to have major problems”. But sometimes there are competing voices too and the one that is making the decision instead of heeding to the right voice, he does what the opposite voice says. What do you do then? Do you jump out of the ship? Sometimes you may be able to do this and it may even be the right thing to do. But this does not happen always and there are cases where this simply cannot happen. You cannot jump out of your family for example because a member made a not wise decision with his life. You can advise, you can say this is going to be dangerous and not wise. But, after an age, you cannot take the steering wheel of their life and make them do what you want them to do. On the other hand everybody in the family (to use this good example) must understand that though “it is their life”, they are not ships sailing alone. Both they and the other members of the family are all in one ship. And if a member of the family decides to unwisely sail this is going to affect everybody in the family, for everybody is in the same ship! I’m not sure whether you understand what I’m saying. Those who have kids or have grown to a good functioning family I think they understand what I’m speaking about. God does the same for us too. He gives us advices, He tells us where to sail and where not to sail, but if we don’t want to heed to Him but heed the opposing voices then guess what: we are going to have trouble. In this case, God is not indifferent because after all it is “our lives”. In contrast, He is sorry about it because after all He is in the same ship with us. Returning to Acts, what we have here is a slightly different case in that the believers, that know what is the wise thing to do, are subject to somebody else to a Roman centurion who heeds not to their voice of wisdom but to the voice of the owner of the ship. Let’s read further to see what happened:

Acts 27:12-14
“And because the harbor was not suitable to winter in, the majority advised to set sail from there also, if by any means they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete opening toward the southwest and northwest, and winter there. When the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their desire, putting out to sea, they sailed close by Crete. But not long after, a tempestuous head wind arose, called Euroclydon.”

“The majority advised that they carry on!” Is it the majority that we heed or what God says? It all may seem well and rosy, it may be that we have a south wind blowing softly and we may suppose that we have obtain our desire but sooner or later things may change. In fact, sooner or later things WILL definitely change, if God has said so! As it happened here: not long after, a very strong wind started blowing and trouble had just started:

Acts 27:15-26
“So when the ship was caught, and could not head into the wind, we let her drive. And running under the shelter of an island called Clauda, we secured the skiff with difficulty. When they had taken it on board, they used cables to undergird the ship; and fearing lest they should run aground on the Syrtis Sands, they struck sail and so were driven. And because we were exceedingly tempest–tossed, the next day they lightened the ship. On the third day we threw the ship’s tackle overboard with our own hands. Now when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest beat on us, all hope that we would be saved was finally given up. But after long abstinence from food, then Paul stood in the midst of them and said, "Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss. "And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. "For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, "saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ "Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me. "However, we must run aground on a certain island."

Finally the things turned out as Paul had told them before they left the port of Fair Havens. Trouble started a little after they started sailing again and it didn’t seem to get any better. Rather it got worse and worse. Where were the believers at that time? There, in the ship. Was it their fault that the ship had sailed? No. Paul had told them no to do so. However this didn’t exclude them from the suffering. They were in the same ship as those who made the decision. There are ships that we sail together with others. In some of them we are the “governors”. In other ships others are the governors. When unwise decisions are made then everybody that is in the ship is going to be affected, even if he knows that this was an unwise decision. Therefore if it happens to have the steering wheel of that ship for a specific decision heed well to the instructions and make sure the ones that you follow come from the Lord. Because otherwise, trouble will not only be your portion but also the portion of the other ones that are together with you in the ship. To give you a practical example think again about your family. You may be a young man or woman contemplating marriage with the so and so person, because “you are so much in love with him or her!” Everything seems so rosy! But young man, I’m speaking to you heart to heart: marriage life is much much more than just “being in love”. Being in love is good but will not take you that far. What will take you far, what will make your marriage to blossom, is character. Your character and the character of the other. Is the other a Christian that honestly loves God? Is he/she a person with values and principles? What are his values concerning work and family for example? Is he a person that takes his responsibilities or he is hiding from them behind others? These are the things that you will live with and if something of them is not there then the “being in love” state will end within weeks and the problems will start. Problems that will be like huge waves and you will be like a small ship in front of them. But this small ship will have inside not only you but also all those who really love you. Thus you have to hear them and in fact you have to ask their advice. For this is not a trip that you are doing alone. It may be that some from your family have seen something that they don’t like. They tell you not to sail. I don’t know whether they are right or not. But you have to very seriously take them into account. You may think: “this is my life. I’m going to do what I want to do.” This is false. It is your life but you are in a family. You are in a ship with others and your decision will affect them. If you are not sure therefore stay in the port and do not leave it till you become sure that this is the right thing to do and you also see the others to be positive about it.

Back to Paul, somebody could ask: why the Lord allowed all this trouble to happen? Couldn’t He that stopped the winds in the sea of the Galilee also stop the Euroklidon ? After all it was His own people who were in danger there - together with others. As we see the Lord didn’t do this. What He did was to give advice before sailing started. Once it started then it happened what He said it would happen: trouble. Sometimes some people start sailing, thinking “if it does not work then the Lord will save me”. And well, yes this may happen and it happened here too: the Lord saved them. He saved EVERYBODY in the ship. BUT He didn’t save them from the trouble. They hadn’t eaten for days, they were sailing in high seas, the ship was finally destroyed. This was not the will of God! It was not His will to go through such trouble! That’s why He told them from the beginning not to leave the port. Yes it may be that the Lord will save you but if you sail without heeding to His advice be sure: you are heading for much trouble. You may save your life but the consequences of the trip will be there. Pay attention therefore to the following: before you decide to leave the Fair Havens make sure you heed to what is the advice of the Lord. He wants ONLY THE BEST for you and though He may save you from the high seas that unwise decisions may bring and you will take a lesson out of them and they will finally work for good, it is not I believe in His will to go through them in the first place.

Anastasios Kioulachoglou