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Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 27:33-38

33 As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength,[a] for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” 35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 (We were in all 276[b] persons in the ship.) 38 And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea.

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Last week’s entry described the ship’s approach to land and the sailors’ thwarted plan to escape by dinghy.

That was in the middle of the night. At daybreak, Paul encouraged everyone to come together for a communal meal after 14 days (verse 33).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that it wasn’t as if no one had eaten anything, but they had eaten during breaks when they were trying to save the ship — and probably not very much (emphases mine):

Not that they had all, or any of them, continued fourteen days without any food, but they had not had any set meal, as they used to have, all that time; they ate very little, next to nothing. Or, “You have continued fasting, that is, you have lost your stomach; you have had no appetite at all to your food, nor any relish of it, through prevailing fear and despair.”

Paul continued, saying that they needed to build up their strength and not to worry because nothing would happen to them even if no one was tending the ship during that time (verse 34).

John MacArthur points out:

He says in verse 34, “I beseech you take some food for your health.” This means for your wholeness. It’s a word that’s used of physical salvation and of spiritual salvation in Scripture. But here it means for your physical wholeness, for your safety. “For there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you.”

Now you say, “That’s a rather dumb thing. I mean who cares if you lose a hair on the way in?” But you see, that’s an old Jewish proverb. You can go back to I Samuel 14:45, II Samuel 14:11, I Kings 1:52, Luke 21:18, and in all those places you’ll find that old proverb. It meant that you’re going to be secure. It meant that you’d have complete immunity from harm. So Paul says, “You’re all going to make it. But that’s no excuse not to have a good breakfast.” So you see the balance is here between the sovereignty of God and the perfect planning of God and the responsibility of man.

Then Paul acted as priest, breaking the bread — hardtack — and giving thanks to God, breaking it and eating some (verse 35), suggesting a secular Communion.

Henry explains the importance of giving thanks by saying Grace before eating:

5. He was chaplain to the ship, and they had reason to be proud of their chaplain. He gave thanks to God in presence of them all. We have reason to think he had often prayed with Luke and Aristarchus, and what others there were among them that were Christians, that they prayed daily together; but whether he had before this prayed with the whole company promiscuously is not certain. Now he gave thanks to God, in presence of them all, that they were alive, and had been preserved hitherto, and that they had a promise that their lives should be preserved in the imminent peril now before them; he gave thanks for the provision they had, and begged a blessing upon it. We must in every thing give thanks; and must particularly have an eye to God in receiving our food, for it is sanctified to us by the word of God and prayer, and is to be received with thanksgiving. Thus the curse is taken off from it, and we obtain a covenant-right to it and a covenant-blessing upon it, 1 Timothy 4:3-5. And it is not by bread alone that man lives, but by the word of God, which must be met with prayer. He gave thanks in presence of them all, not only to show that he served a Master he was not ashamed of, but to invite them into his service too. If we crave a blessing upon our meat, and give thanks for it in a right manner, we shall not only keep up a comfortable communion with God ourselves, but credit our profession, and recommend it to the good opinion of others. 6. He set them a good example: When he had given thanks, he broke the bread (it was sea-biscuit) and he began to eat.

Those on board ship were duly encouraged and also ate (verse 36). The older translation of verse 36 better expresses their state of mind:

Then were they all of good cheer.

Luke was careful to tell us how many men were on the ship: 276 (verse 37), so Paul had persuaded a lot of people to have a good meal before the next set of events.

When they had their fill, they threw the wheat out into the sea in order to lighten the ship (verse 38). The wheat would have been from North Africa, destined for Rome, most likely. By then, it was probably soaking wet and of no use.

MacArthur explains that while they were at sea, they needed the extra weight. Nearing land, as they were at this time, they needed to dispose of it:

they never would jettison the entire cargo in the Mediterranean because they would use the remaining cargo as a ballast and to keep the ship down in the water to some extent. Also, I’m sure they felt perhaps they would be able to salvage a part of it. But by this time it was so totally sea-soaked, so totally salted that it was worthless. In addition to that, when you’re going to beach the ship you want it as light as possible so that it’s as high on the water as it can be so that you can get as close to the shore as you possibly can. So they jettisoned everything in verse 38, all of the wheat.

Let’s recap their journey so far. The first stage was setting sail from Caesarea and changing ships. The second was the stay in Fair Havens. The third was the violent storm. The fourth, coming up next week, is the shipwreck landing them on Malta.

Note that Paul has been leading them since the storm. He reminded them that they had ignored his advice to stay in Fair Havens. The centurion, Julius, and the crew had overruled him.

Once he told them how wrong they were, they put their trust in him to lead the way.

In closing, these are MacArthur’s thoughts on Paul’s leadership and what we can learn from his example today. He delivered this sermon in 1975, by the way, but it’s just as true in 2019:

… in terms of the principles that [have] here, you could title it “Leadership in Crisis,” because it really is a portrait of a man who is a leader just when he needs to be one.

It shows a man who comes through in the tremendous time of stress with all of the abilities that a great leader has to have. So it’s not just a narrative about a shipwreck. It’s also a portrait of a leader in the midst of a crisis. I was thinking, as I was thinking about that fact, that if there’s a premium on anything in our world today it’s a premium on leadership. And whether you’re talking about government or industry or economics or education or medicine or science or whatever, there’s a tremendous need for leaders or capable people who can make decisions, or people who are willing to let the buck pass to them and then handle the situation.

There was an interesting survey done in recent years of seminaries in America. And the determination of the survey was that the vast majority of all people studying for responsibilities in the church wanted to be no higher than second man because nobody wanted ultimate responsibility. And I think that’s not only true in terms of the church, but it’s very true in terms of the world. There is definitely a premium on leadership. And especially true, I think, since leadership is so susceptible to criticism.

But in the church, I think we face the same thing. There needs to be a rising up in the church of leadership and people need to accept the responsibilities that come with being a leader. Now, the world is really preoccupied with this. In fact, there is a rather constant stream of seminars and professional methodologies being presented to various and sundry communities of people to try to extract from those communities the leaders. And I’m sure they have their criteria for determining who is a leader.

The same thing is true, I think, in the terms of the church and in God’s kingdom and the things that God wants to do. There’s a real need for leaders. And I believe the Holy Spirit is seeking leadership. I believe God is calling out leaders. In all of God’s history, as you go back in the Bible, you’ll find that God moved through men. And that in every era, at every crisis time in God’s economy there were leaders that God used to bring about the effecting of His will. And whether it was Moses or Joseph or David or Abraham or Elijah or Elisha or Ezra or Nehemiah, or whether it was, in the New Testament, John the Baptist or Peter or Paul or whomever it was, at all points in time God had somebody through whom He could lead.

And the tragedy so often of the history of Israel was the tragedy of an inadequate leader, an immoral leader, an ungodly leader, or a leader who just failed to fulfill the obligations that are basic to leadership. I think that as you study the Scripture, the greatest view or insight you have of leadership is simply the example of lives of the men that are the leaders. And that is really the case here in Acts 27.

This is why it is important to pray for our current leaders as well as good future leaders, be they religious or secular.

The story continues next week as the 276 passengers reach Malta.

Next time — Acts 27:39-44

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