Faith, Hope, and Love (Acts 27:13-38)

When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. 

As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, so the men hoisted it aboard. Then they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Because they were afraid they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. 

We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.

After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”

On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. 

Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away.

Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. Altogether there were 276 of us on board. When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea. (New International Version)

An engraving of the Roman prison ship, by Henry Adlard (1799-1893)

Keeping your courage in the face of an intense stressor is more than challenging. Yet, the Apostle Paul did it. Not only that, but he also had the wherewithal to help keep up the spirits of the people around him – even though he was on a prison ship in the middle of storm.

How did Paul do it? How did he remain encouraged himself, while also encouraging others? What’s the answer? Three words which are essential to the Christian life: faith, hope, and love.

Every believer knows from experience how difficult it is to practice these in daily life, especially the crucible of multiple stressors. One reason it’s so doggone hard, even when we want to please the Lord, is due to the confusion between our inner feelings and our outer actions. Yet once we understand the incongruence, and how to evaluate our inner experience, then it’s a whole lot easier to make daily decisions of faith, hope, and love.

In the beginning God created humans in the divine image. Humanity’s relationship to God was central to daily life (Genesis 1:26; 2:16-25). And God created people with the capacity to interact with the divine through our ability to think and reason. (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10)

Before there were broken relationships between Creator and creature, our original ancestors had complete self-control, along with unity and harmony between one another and God. (Genesis 1:31; 2:7, 16-25). 

It’s vital for us to recognize the distinction between human being and human doing; there’s a difference in who we are and what we do. (Romans 1:21-32; 6:16-22; 1 Corinthians 9:27; Ephesians 4:21-32)

And if we fail to grasp this distinction, we’re going to have some big stress in living as Christians.

In Adam and Eve’s disobedience toward God, humanity took on its own authority, and started making decisions independent of God. In other words, the source of authority switched, and we began relying upon ourselves.

The problem with this is that our brokenness has left us in disparate parts, badly in need of integration. The fall of humanity compromised our integrity, and so, we have a messed up sense of what to do, how to feel, and how and what to think.

This is why rational people do irrational things, and why fear, stress, and anxiety rule so much of our lives. Many a church pastor, not understanding this dynamic, is forever frustrated and flabbergasted that parishioners do not simply take what has been taught them, and go do it. (If it were that simple there would be no place for the Holy Spirit!)

There’s more. In our fallen state, we lost control of our capacity to function well – and are now vulnerable to manipulation from others, and from Satan. (Ephesians 2:2-3; Galatians 5:16-21)

As a result, our inner conscience has become confused. We are not always certain of right and wrong, or what needs to happen whenever we’re distressed. We end up misunderstanding what life is really supposed to be about. We’re disconnected from our original source of faith, hope, and love.

However, the good news of Christianity is that through the redeeming work of Jesus, and a new birth, the bondage of shame and disconnection is reinstated. God once again becomes central to daily life. The Lord’s gracious authority is restored.

In this renewed relationship, we can again receive truth through the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures. Our daily practical experience of this relationship brings freedom, joy, assurance, peace, and self-control. Yet, even though one is redeemed by Jesus Christ and believes in him, it is still possible to regress into conflict, doubt, fear, anxiety, frustration, disappointment, and confusion. (Romans 7:14-25; 1 Corinthians 3:1-4)

We must, therefore, make daily decisions of faith, hope, and love based in our identity as God’s image-bearers:

  • Recognize you have the ability to function in faith, hope, and love as God’s beloved child.(2 Corinthians 7:1; Romans 8:14-17)
  • Understand the difference between your being and doing. Evil thoughts and emotions do not make you evil. What you do with your feelings and thoughts is what’s vital. (See how Jesus handled this in Matthew 4:1-11).
  • Know that you can take charge of your thoughts, feelings, and actions. (Galatians 5:22-23)
  • Know also that you can reject whatever is harmful and out of sync with your basic identity. (Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:5-9; Titus 2:11-12)
  • Respond to God and God’s Word by daily obedience. Learn to think and act on the basis of truth. (Acts 27:25)
  • Discern that practicing the truth will result in freedom, and a re-patterning of thinking and functioning. (John 8:32; Titus 2:11-14; Philippians 2:12-16)

Supportive communities help one another live into shared values and commitments. Faith, hope, and love exists and grows in the context of community.

Paul had faith by believing what he heard; hope by looking ahead to the end of God’s promise; and love by reaching out to his fellow prisoners and the ship’s crew. Whereas stress moved to distress for most on the ship, Paul found strength, within that same stress, by practicing faith, hope, and love.

Almighty God, give us true faith, and make that faith grow in us day by day. Also give us hope and love, so that we may serve our neighbors according to your will; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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