Real Spiritual Leadership is Proven in Crisis
Sailing, shipwrecks and lessons in leadership as Paul travels to Rome
Have you ever wondered what is in the heart of a leader? In the secular world, it’s money, power and influence. The CEO, the billionaire, or the entrepreneur–they are visionary. They live in the future. They are always on the move–they are never content with the status quo. They make the tough decisions. They are capable of working long hours. They tend to be task-oriented, not people-oriented. Like overprotective parents, they control those under them. Their whole world revolves around their plans. They are self-confident. They are intolerant of incompetence. They fire anyone below them who does not meet their expectations. And everyone views them as indispensable.
These are the leaders Jesus describes in Mark 10:42 to 45, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them.” Yet Jesus makes it very clear in this same passage that this type of leadership is not acceptable if you are in Christ. “But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Our Lord highlights here that leadership for Christians carries great difficulty, whether it’s leading a home, leading children, leading a ministry or leading a church. What kind of difficulty? Consider the internal conflicts leaders battle with–there is the fear of failure. A leader’s failures are out in the open for all to see. There is no place for them to hide. Such fear often paralyzes them into inaction.
Leaders also struggle with mistrusting their own judgment. They fear making the wrong decision. So to avoid saying or doing the wrong thing, they say nothing and do nothing. Spiritual leaders battle with insecurity. They find it difficult to trust others enough to delegate. And when they do give a task to someone, their perfectionism drives them to hover and control.
Those leaders who take authoritative stands run the risk of alienating others. Think about it–leaders in the church must never compromise the Word of God as the absolute authority. Yet that same commitment to absolute truth must be expressed in humility and love. Christian leaders also battle with defensiveness. They feel the need for justifying their actions, which can lead to weak and indecisive commitments.
So how do you know what kind of leader you are or what kind of leaders you have? The answer is simple–just put them through a crisis. Articles have already been written about spiritual leadership through the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. And in every case, the needed qualities they described were descriptive of the lay leadership of this church. Far from perfect, the FBC leadership navigated through this crisis better than anyone I know. It’s a crisis which exposes the heart of a leader.
If leadership is defensive, doubting, selfish, fearful, weak, or insecure, the crisis will expose their heart. But if they’re confident in God’s character, deep in God’s Word, resting in sound doctrine and experienced in God’s work, they will still struggle and battle internally, but they will act upon God’s Word by God’s Spirit with confidence in their Lord and not in themselves. True leadership will initiate spiritual direction in obedience to God’s Word no matter what.
Every Christian is a leader in some arena–even students. Are you ready to grow in your leadership? Leadership is proven through a crisis and over time. And that is what you see as you open your Bibles to Acts 27 and follow along in your outline. In Acts 27 Paul is a prisoner. Paul is not in charge of anyone or anything. But when faced with a crisis and their ship is about to sink, by the end of the chapter, Paul the prisoner had become Paul the principle leader.
Paul proved his leadership during a storm-filled sail and shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea. The journey is laid out for us by Dr. Luke in five parts–the SAIL, the STAY, the STORM, the SHIPWRECK, and the SAFETY. Follow the map on your outline and sail with Paul and his brothers, starting with . . .
1 The SAIL Verses 1 to 8
Observantly read verses 1 and 2, “When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, they proceeded to deliver Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan cohort named Julius. 2And embarking in an Adramyttian ship, which was about to sail to the regions along the coast of Asia, we put out to sea accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica.”
You don’t see it, but there are some shocking statements in these verses. Did you catch that, the “we” is back? “When it was decided that we would sail for Italy”–Dr. Luke, the writer of Acts, was present with Paul up until Acts 21. Later he disappeared from the narrative, and now he is back traveling with Paul. But not only Luke, incredibly, also their Thessalonian friend Aristarchus—”we put out to sea accompanied by Aristarchus.”
Why is this amazing? It was unheard of for a prisoner to have companions travel with them. Paul is a prisoner on his way to Rome for trial. Historians report there were only two possible reasons for companions to come along—1) they might have accepted the position as slaves of Paul. Or 2) Festus may have made an exception, hoping his gesture of confidence in Paul would put him in good stead with Rome.
I don’t know about you, but in the book of Acts I’ve been impressed by the integrity of Roman centurions. Remember in Acts 22, Claudius Lysias saved Paul twice from a Jewish mob. And as I read this chapter, I’m also impressed by the integrity of Julius the centurion. Centurions are men of character, and as you read the New Testament in Mark 5, Luke 7, Acts 10 and here, centurions were men you could trust.
The Romans definitely had the ability to select men for leadership in their army, especially those who oversaw 100 men, the centurion. There’s evidence that the Augustan cohort mentioned in verse 1 was stationed in Palestine during this time and Julius most likely represented the emperor personally, by undertaking special duties, such as escorting important prisoners. I think I read somewhere that Centurion Julius liked citrus fruit and this may have been the source of the phrase, Orange Julius.
Verse 2 mentions an Adramyttian ship, called that because the ship was built in the port city of Adramyttium–see it on the map? Adramyttium was one of the big ship yards of the first century. Verse 3, “The next day we put in at Sidon; and Julius treated Paul with consideration and allowed him to go to his friends and receive care.” This is also surprising–Paul is too important a prisoner to run around loose and see friends. Paul was a Roman citizen, on his way to Rome to have his appeal heard by the emperor. Paul was hated by the Jewish leaders. Paul’s presence anywhere could have sparked a riot, intensifying the tension between the Jews and Rome. So Paul’s life is at risk–plus the Centurion Julius would be executed if he lost such an important prisoner.
So why is Paul allowed to go to his friends? The only possible reason is this–Julius quickly grew to trust Paul and believed the apostle would not do anything to bring him harm, reminding all in leadership that if you truly love, you will develop trust. People will trust a leader when they believe he thinks more highly of others than himself. Paul cared about Julius, and Julius knew it–thus Paul was given trust and freedom.
Paul’s small gang fellowshiped with and ministered to the church at Sidon, which was probably formed after the martyrdom of Stephen (whose murder was ironically overseen by Saul, who became Paul). They had to move because of Paul, but now are ministered to by Paul. The care they gave to Paul in verse 3 was probably in the form of provisions for their journey.
From the very beginning, the voyage was not encouraging. In verses 4 to 8, Luke describes their sailing as slow, with increased difficulty. Even changing ships to a larger grain ship didn’t help. The sea is choppy, with winds blowing at them and not behind them. Twice Luke uses the word difficulty, which means almost not moving–belabored effort, like swimming against the current, or skiing uphill, or running in sand. Sailing on the south side of Crete for shelter, verse 8 says they finally arrive at a harbor called Fair Havens.
2 The STAY Verses 9 to 13
The crew catches their breath at Fair Havens and waits a long time for the winds to improve. They wait so long, they’ve now drifted into fall, when sailing these waters is the most dangerous–mid-September to mid-November. In verse 9, Luke references a fast, which is the Day of Atonement, already celebrated at the end of September. So now it is October–the worst time to sail.
One of the blessings of knowing the Lord Jesus Christ through salvation is, often there is an increase of common sense wisdom. You see life accurately–at least through a much clearer lens. And all great leaders use good judgment. Whether that is why Paul spoke up, or Paul was given apostolic insight here, in verses 9 and 10 Paul demonstrates leadership. Paul began to admonish them in verse 9, and then verse 10, “and said to them, ‘Men, I perceive that the voyage will certainly be with damage and great loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.’”
Paul was dead on accurate. But then in verse 11, Julias the centurion was more persuaded by the ship’s pilot and captain, and verse 12 by the majority. So verse 12, because they couldn’t enjoy their stay in Fair Haven over the winter, they attempted to sail forty miles and reach Phoenix on Crete and stay their winter there. Fair Haven was not the best harbor, but they could have remained there–but they chose not to. Like so many, headed to Phoenix for winter.
The boat leaders made several mistakes. They were impatient–like one author said, “We should not be like the horse that rushes ahead, or the mule that lags behind, but like the obedient sheep that follows the shepherd.” Like listening to actors who lie for a living, or athletes whose fame is not based on their brains, Julias the centurion (who was the ranking officer on this ship, because it is a Roman grain ship) listened to the wrong people. He is not yet ready to listen to God’s servant, who is telling him God’s Word, which is God’s will.
Paul wisely counseled them all to spend the winter at the less than best harbor in Fair Havens. But the boat leaders also followed majority rule. Paul was a prisoner, so he had little credibility, and as a result Paul was out-voted by the majority (who are often not correct). And finally the boat boys were fooled by favorable circumstances in verse 13, “When a moderate south wind came up”–the very wind they needed came along and seemed to prove that Paul was wrong and sailing would be smooth.
And the point is this–any thinking, any decision which involves advice from wise people, majority rule and favorable circumstances, but is also contrary to God’s Word, is a bad decision. Great opportunities and ideal circumstances that contradict the Bible are always a bad idea. Human wisdom resulted in this ship facing . . .
3 The STORM Verses 14 to 26
Verses 14 to 15, “But before very long there rushed down from the land a violent wind, called Euraquilo; 15and when the ship was caught in it and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and let ourselves be driven along.” Hoping to reach the harbor of Phoenix in a day, the disaster Paul had predicted hit them like a train. Roaring down the mountains of Crete came a named windstorm. All who sail the Mediterranean are familiar with and dread this particular type of wind.
Verse 14, once the ship is caught in it, instead of facing it or sailing it, a ship must give way to it in order to preserve the ship. The wind now drives the ship, no longer directed by the sail–therefore sailing becomes survival and out of control. Read what they do in order to try to survive. Verse 16, they briefly shelter behind an island 23 miles SW of Crete and pull in the lifeboat. Normally floating behind the ship, the lifeboat is now full of water–brought on board in bad weather, it seems with Luke’s reference to we that everyone on board, Luke, Paul, Aristarchus, the Roman soldiers helped get it on board.
Verse 17, they looped ropes around the hull of the ship itself and tightened them, called frapping, in order to keep the boards making up the hull of the ship from coming apart under the stress of the constant pounding of waves and wind. And because they feared being driven all the way to North Africa, ending up in the dreaded graveyard of ships near Syrtis, they dropped a sea anchor (a large rock or metal pieces lowered by a rope off the back of the boat or stern, to act as a drag or stabilizer, and to slow their progress).
In verse 18 as they continue, they are like a cork in the sea, violently storm-tossed. Now if you’re above deck, you could easily be swept overboard. If you are below decks, you’ll be trapped and drown if the ship sinks. As a result, they start tossing cargo overboard and three days later, in verse 19, their desperation is evident as they toss the ship’s tackle overboard. This is the furniture and miscellaneous equipment not necessary for sailing the ship.
Verse 20, there is no sun by day or stars by night, so navigation is impossible—meaning they have no idea where they are. I imagine they’re picturing the ship headed to the graveyard. The storm is so violent, all there is are white caps, stinging spray, violent rocking, huge elevator swells–up then down, seasickness, and the looming dread of death by drowning. It’s so bad, even the experienced sailors have given up all hope of survival.
This is a gloomy moment for everyone on board—“We’re all gonna die.” It’s precisely at this dark point when Paul’s leadership shines brightest. Because of seasickness, the difficulty of preparing food in a storm, or possibly because the storm had damaged much of the food, verse 21 says, “They had gone a long time without food… then… Paul stood up in their midst.” The professional sailors and soldiers had not listened to Paul when they were safely anchored at Fair Havens. But now they’re all desperate men, fighting for their lives.
For credibility, Paul reminds them in verse 21, “Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete, and incurred this damage and loss.” Had they listened, they’d not be in this storm near death. This is not a, “Told ya so,” but encouragement. Paul had more than a rebuke, but a message of hope. Paul tells them in verse 22, regain your hope, keep your courage—then this promise causing everyone to cup their hearing, “There shall be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.” Why should they believe him? Because this godly man, Paul, had a divine revelation in verses 23 and 24, “For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, 24saying, [commanding] ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’”
Everyone else on the ship will benefit from the Lord’s protection of Paul. By God’s mercy, unbelievers have no idea how much they owe to the presence of righteous men and women among them. That is true of our day right now. So Paul commands them all in verse 25, “’Therefore, [command] keep up your courage, keep hope men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told.’”
Then, perhaps for the benefit of any skeptics who might have wondered how they will escape drowning, the apostle added, verse 26, “But we must run aground on a certain island.” Like all good leadership, Paul spoke with authority and declared God’s Word. You must stand on the promises of God during times of crisis and seasons of fear. And like a good leader, Paul strengthened others while manifesting unwavering faith. No doubt, no questioning, no hesitation–this is the truth and it will come to pass. Now the stage is set for the dramatic conclusion to this ill-fated voyage and the fulfillment of God’s promises.
4 The SHIPWRECK Verses 27 to 41
In 2 Corinthians 11:25, written three years before Acts, Paul mentioned he’d been in three shipwrecks so far—so this one is now his fourth. Paul was willing to take any risk to carry the Gospel to the lost world. At this point, Paul is looked to as the leader. He alone remained calm, wise, and in control, because he had absolute trust in God’s promise (through the angel) to save all those on the ship. His presence and God’s promise were the only thing that sustained them.
But imagine experiencing this storm for two entire weeks. Verse 27, “But when the fourteenth night came, as we were being driven about in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors began to surmise that they were approaching some land.” Verses 28 to 29, still at night, they possibly heard waves crashing on a shore, so they checked the depth with marked ropes with a weight on the end and determined land was near. It went from 120 feet to 90 feet. Then, in order to prevent smashing on coastal rocks of land they had not yet seen, they dropped four anchors from the back (the stern), to slow and steady their progress while waiting for daylight.
Verse 30, a few sailors feigned helping and tried to escape using the lifeboat, but Paul warned Julias in verses 31 and 32, because God’s promise was for all, verse 24, to be saved together. “God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.” There was such strong confidence in Paul’s warning, now they actually cut the lifeboat loose. They are now slowed with the bow (front) pointing to the shore off in the dark, awaiting for dawn.
So like a good leader, Paul prepares them for what’s ahead. In verse 33, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food. For the first time in two weeks, light began to appear, and Paul encouraged the entire ship of people to eat. The effects of seasickness, the necessity for constant watch, the lack of food from lightening the ship, and maybe the desire to fast to please their gods had kept the passengers from eating. Paul’s words and example encouraged them. Like a great leader, Paul gave thanks in front of 275 people and set the example by eating–to encourage them to eat, so as to be ready for what is ahead. Paul had a balanced breakfast, right? Prayer and a good meal.
And Paul had encouraged them all in verse 34, not a hair from the head of any of you will perish. No one will go bald on this voyage. No haircuts on this ship. No hair loss from stress here. No, Paul used an old Jewish proverb that meant you will have complete immunity from harm. Absolute protection is given to you from God in every single way. Verse 38, “After everyone had eaten enough to be ready for what’s ahead, they lightened the ship by tossing out the grain stored in the hold below.” None of the 276 passengers recognized the land, but they spotted a bay with a sandy beach and sought to drive the ship on to the beach.
Verses 40 to 41, they cut the ropes holding the anchors, loosened the ropes which help steady the two stern rudders, raised just the front sail, and made for the beach. But just short of the shore, they got stuck on a reef, the bow, front of the ship, toward the shore. But the stern, the back of the ship,
began to be crushed by the force of the crashing waves. You’ve all seen, and some of you have experienced, the incredible power of large waves. Stuck on a reef meant the waves would quickly break this storm-weakened ship apart. So now you’ve seen the SAIL, the STAY, the STORM, the SHIPWRECK, and now . . .
5 The SAFETY Verses 42 to 44
Verses 42 to 44, “The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none of them would swim away and escape; 43but the centurion, wanting to bring Paul safely through, kept them from their intention, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land, 44and the rest should follow, some on planks, and others on various things from the ship. And so it happened that they all were brought safely to land.” Motivated by duty and the devil, the soldiers under Centurion Julias planned to kill Paul and all the other prisoners. But Julias stopped them, and then commanded the passengers to swim, float on ship parts and wreckage.
And just as God, who knows all, is all powerful, and can always accomplish His will, had promised–every single one of the 276 passengers were brought safely to land. They landed on the island of Malta–famous for their dairy goats and tasty deserts. You’ve heard of the Malta milk shake. Wait–you should hear what I don’t say. God had spared 275 people because of one man–the Apostle Paul. How precious are His children to Him! God holds back His judgment on this wicked world because the Church is still in the world. But once we’re taken away, His judgments will fall.
TAKE THIS HOME
A Leadership is not the TITLE you have–leadership is the ABILITY you have
A leader is TRUSTED. Paul was an important prisoner, whose escape or death would have meant serious trouble for Julius. Yet during the brief journey from Caesarea to Sidon, Paul convinced the centurion he could be trusted. Julius therefore let him leave the ship to be ministered to by the Christians there. Do you need to grow trustworthy?
A leader takes INITIATIVE. At the council at Fair Havens, Paul, although a prisoner, using good judgment, did not hesitate to initiate sound counsel. True leadership in your home means introducing the truth of the Bible first.
A leader speaks with AUTHORITY. In the midst of a raging storm, Paul’s confident assertion that all on board would be saved must have seemed like madness. But his unshakable confidence in God’s Word caused him to speak out boldly. When it’s your idea, speak carefully–when it’s God’s Word, speak boldly.
A leader STRENGTHENS others. Three times Paul encouraged the terrified passengers and crew; twice, not to lose hope and once to eat. His calmness, confidence, and optimistic trust in God reassured others. Do you drain others or do you build up others?
A leader never COMPROMISES his absolutes. Paul prevented the crew from prematurely abandoning the ship. God said all would be saved, so Paul took that to mean all must remain together, and Paul refused to compromise on that instruction–and as a leader, he demanded that others be obedient to God’s promise. Your children need to see you follow truth in little things.
A leader leads by EXAMPLE. Believing God would do exactly as He said, Paul set an example for the others by remaining calm and confident. Realizing they needed to eat before attempting to get ashore, Paul ate in front of all. Leaders do not push people from behind–they lead them from the front.
A leader never GIVES UP. Fourteen days in the heavy-cycle washing-machine storm and Paul never surrendered to fear or gave up in any way. No matter how difficult life can be, you continue to trust God and rely on His Word in order to lead.
B Trusting God through a crisis requires you BELONG to and SERVE Him
Paul passes on the promise of the angel, but when he does, he says something essential. Read again at verses 23 to 25, “For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, 24saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’ 25Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told.” Paul reminds everyone onboard that Paul belongs to his God and serves Him. And he reminds everyone they are only rescued because of the one true God’s decision.
You live in a world on the edge of a storm–every once in a while, you are reminded just how unstable this world is. A family member dies, you lose your job, your friends betray you, you get really ill, you say something or do something that makes you feel so guilty you can barely breath, or you live through a pandemic and social upheaval. And the only way to survive that sinful storm is to belong to God. And there is only one way to be His servant and that is to surrender your life to Christ–to believe He is God who came to take your place and die for your sins, then rise again. To have Him be your first love, your Shepherd, your Master, and your Savior.
You must pray, “God open my heart so I can dependently put my faith totally in you and directionally turn from my sin and follow you.” The only way you survive a crisis is to belong to Christ and the only way to belong to Christ is to surrender to Him, exchanging all that you are for all that He is. Today is the day to genuinely belong to Christ. Let’s pray.