A Parable on Sovereignty

Adobe SparkDaily Reading: Today’s bible reading is Acts 27.

Acts 27 is a really interesting story about Paul’s journey by ship in an attempt to get to Rome. They were sailing at a time of year when storms where frequent and rough, and they got caught in a particularly long and brutal storm during their journey. There are a few things we can learn from this chapter. Certainly we can see God’s faithfulness to Paul in the midst of a storm. We see God’s power to bring him safely through. We learn something about how God brings us through challenging times. Sometimes he may simply calm the storm. Sometimes, like with Paul in Acts 27, he stays with us as we endure the storm and even the shipwreck that follows. Acts 27 also has within it’s narrative an interesting parable on sovereignty. That is what I want to consider this morning.

When I was in college, one of the great hobbies of Christian, college-aged, males was to sit around debating the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. I have zero intention of settling that debate today. Godly men have been discussing all the angles of this issue since the earliest days of the church. I doubt this blog post will settle the debate. However, I think Acts 27 offers us an insightful and practical illustration of how God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility play out in daily life.

In the midst of the storm, Paul stands up and tells the crew that an angel has come to him, and then tells the men the good news from the angel. He says this:

“and [the angel] said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ [25] So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. [26] But we must run aground on some island.” (Acts 27:24-26 ESV)

This is really interesting. Paul’s gives two realities. God tells him that all the men with him will be saved from the storm. Only God can say something like that. Only he could promise that everything will be OK and then ensure that it will be. But notice this, Paul doesn’t say, “God said everything will be OK, so let’s just sit here and watch him work.” Paul gives a necessary action from the men, “We must run aground on some island.”

They continue to sail, and as they approach this island that they “must run aground” on, some of the men get scared. They decide to lower the row boats and try to paddle their way to the island. Paul says something interesting. He turns to the commanders of the men lowering the boats and says, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 27:31 ESV) So they cut the boats loose from the ship, everyone stays on board, and they safely ran aground on the island of Malta.

Now no single illustration can ever settle the conversation on a complicated theological issue, but I find this story really helpful. God promised that the men with Paul would be safe. And you know what? They were! Wow! That is power! But, Paul tells the men, “Hey if get out in this storm in that little boat, you’re going to die.” They had to accept the way of salvation God had provided. So who’s ultimately responsible? Well certainly God is, he promised something and it happened. He provided the way of escape and pointed the men toward it through Paul.  He even provided the air to breath while the men were discussing if they would obey or not. God is definitely in control of the situation. At the very same time, not in contrast but in tandem, God commanded something and they had to obey if they were going to live. How do those two things work together? Well, that’s what all the thousands of pages of theology are written about. But in your life today, you can know two simple truths. If God has promised something, he’s going to do it. And if God has given a means to receive his promise, you better obey.

We live in this tension all the time. Your daily decisions absolutely have impact on your future and others lives. At the same time, sometimes we look back, even at silly decisions we made, and realize God was at work. For my theology nerds, I know I’ve left a lot of questions unanswered, but these simple realities provide some helpful boundaries as we dig deeper in the sovereign power of our great God. God is all the way sovereign. We are all the way responsible. Let’s embrace both truths and worship our majestic Savior.

Grace & Peace.


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