Swimming by Faith and not by Sight
by Joseph Franks
Quite often we hear the biblical phrase, “A man ought to walk by faith and not by sight.” Well, what does this mean? Ought we to ignore that which we have learned through our five senses? Are we to forget those lessons learned the hard way? Are we really wise if we discount the advise of experts and elders? And haven’t we seen people do the most outlandish things and excuse their poor decisions and behavior by saying they were following the voice of God in their head? Isn’t there a fine line between faith and foolishness?
Well friends, I believe the historical account of Paul in Acts 27 can be of great assistance to us. In this chapter we will see a group of men learning to swim by faith and not by sight. In this chapter, we will see a group of men truly blessed in doing so.
Paul was a faithful preacher who spent himself serving his Lord. Regardless of the danger or the cost, he was a stand-up Christian ready to bear his cross. And everywhere he went the pattern was the same: preaching, persecution, prison. On this particular day, Paul was being transported from Palestine to Rome. He had played his “Roman Citizenship Card” and was in route to stand before kings and be tried for his faith one more time. In route, It was in the midst of the Mediterranean Sea that trouble broke forth:
We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea. Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast was already over, Paul advised them, saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there. Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat. After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. And 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 no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned. Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island.” When the fourteenth night had come, as we were being driven across the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. So they took a sounding and found twenty fathoms. A little farther on they took a sounding again and found fifteen fathoms. And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go. 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. Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” 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. Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. (We were in all 276 persons in the ship.) And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea. Now when it was day, they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned if possible to run the ship ashore. So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that tied the rudders. Then hoisting the foresail to the wind they made for the beach. But striking a reef, they ran the vessel aground. The bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was being broken up by the surf. The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape. But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape. But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land. (Acts 27:7-44)
How had Paul and his companions found themselves in such dire straits? Poor decisions had led them to this place, and such will be the case for all who reject the clear revelation of God.
Friends, consider our temptations in making decisions. Sometimes we are too impatiently pragmatic. Julius decided to ignore Paul and sail on because “much time had been spent.” (vs. 9) They had been away from home for quite a long time. It had taken them considerable time to progress a few miles up the coast. On their ship was food and cargo that would spoil. They wouldn’t get paid until their delivery was made, and their present harbor was unsuitable. (vs. 12) On top of all this, the really dangerous season was just around the corner, and the current winds seemed to be in their favor. (vs. 13) So, with impatient pragmatism based upon personal preference, they abandoned God’s advise given through Paul. Brothers and sisters, aren’t we tempted to disobey God’s Word when it appears his course of action is too slow, too hard, or too unprofitable?
At other times, we are tempted to ignore God because we over-value expert counsel. This is what Julius did the first time. Instead of listening to what Paul declared, he followed the advice of the pilot and owner of the ship. (vs, 11) Perhaps he thought, “What could this preacher, evangelist, and prisoner know?” Paul was no sailor, and what were his ulterior motives; he could not have been in a hurry to get to Rome. However, the question was not how much more did the captain and the owner of the ship know about the seas than Paul, but what had the Lord said through his minister? Friends, we are commanded to seek the counsel of experts. Gray-haired elders are to be our friends. It is quite often foolish to disregard the general revelation given to men and women who have spent their years focusing on one specific area of life. However, “let God be true and every man a liar.” When God speaks through his prophets and apostles (the Bible alone), it is not throwing caution to the wind to serve God more than men. Yes, we thank God for the experts about us, but when these experts tell us to do something not in line with God’s revelation, we need to always show our allegiance to God.
Then there is the over-appraisal of democracy. Oft times, we are tempted to ignore God’s Word due to popular opinion and peer pressure. In verse 12 we see the majority urged Julius, the captain, and the owner of the vessel to set sail. They took a vote; they took a poll, and the sailing congregation encouraged their leaders to disregard God and do what was right in their own eyes. Friends, there is rarely a direct correlation between majority opinion and God’s opinion. If one follows the revelation of God, one will quite often find himself like Noah, Moses, Elisha, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, John the Baptist, Jesus, Luther and Knox whose public approval numbers plummeted. The job of a leader is to do the right thing, regardless of popularity. Therefore, the job of a leader is to take into account pragmatic considerations, expert opinions, and even the desire of his people, and then do the right thing by always operating in accordance with God’s Word.
So, Julius had a decision to make. His plans could be directed by impatient pragmatism, expert counsel, or popular opinion, or they could be directed by the special revelation given from Christ through his Apostle. What would Julius do? It was good for Julius and his crew that he was not so quick, on this second go-around, to abandon God’s revelation through Paul. Julius took into consideration his own preferences and pragmatic considerations. He took into consideration the advise of experts and those on the ship. However, in the end, the revelation of God through Paul held more weight. Julius used his authority and encouraged his men to to swim by faith and not by sight, and in so doing they were blessed.
Friends, let us be like the later Julius. Let us be eager to learn, trust, and obey the revelation of God. Let us do so even when it takes time or looks hard. Let us be obedient even when the experts disagree and the majority dislikes our conclusion. Sometimes obedience hurts, but sins hurts much more. A ship and her cargo was lost due to Julius’ first error. Hundreds of lives could have been lost had he disobeyed a second time.
So what ought we to do if we are like Julius — haughty, disobedient, and about ready to lose our ship and everything in it? We ought to do what the Prodigal Son did. We ought to do what Simon Peter did. We ought to do what Julius did. We ought to run to the God of mercy and do the next right thing. We ought to learn, trust, and obey starting now. And look at how God responded Despite Julius’ disobedience and sin, all the souls on his vessel were saved.
Believers, God loves to show his favor to those willing to bow the knee. God loves to show his favor to those who are willing to abandon ship according to his call. God loves to show his favor to those who declare their eagerness to swim by faith and not by sight.