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Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Effective Warning

Near the end of the book of Acts, Luke tells the story of Paul's trip to Rome. It isn't a happy story, exactly. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem on false charges. They would have let him go, but he appealed to Caesar. So they sent him to Rome. The trip was via boat, and it wasn't a good time for a boat trip. In Acts 27, Paul gives his opinion: "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" (Acts 27:10). They didn't listen to him, but that's okay because it turns out that Paul was wrong. Well, he was wrong about the loss of life. During a particularly bad storm "when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days" (that's a bad storm), most everyone despaired of living. But Paul got a word from God.
"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" (Acts 27:23-25).
So there you have it. A direct promise from God. No one was going to die in this storm. How nice! Well, things didn't get better. For two weeks they endured this storm. As they neared an unknown shore, the crew decided to secretly abandon ship. They lowered the lifeboat with the pretense of setting anchors. And Paul told the centurion the strangest thing.
Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, "Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved" (Act 27:31).
Now think about that. Didn't Paul just get a visit from an angel that told him that all would be saved? What was wrong with Paul?

This is an example of an effective warning under the Sovereign hand of God. We see several things in this event. First, as it turned out, God was right. The ship was completely lost, but all hands made it to shore safely (Acts 27:43-44). The initial promise was kept. God told Paul that all would live through this and they did. Front to back, it worked.

Second, however, is the stuff in the middle. God knew the end from the beginning. God accomplished what He intended. However, in the middle God used means. What means? The sailors were planning to deviate from God's plans for them which would result in the loss of life, not God's plan or promise. So God used Paul's warning as the means to accomplish His ends. That was a very effective warning.

Now here's the question. Paul knew from God that no one would die. When he told the centurion, "Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved", was he telling the truth? I mean, he knew that no one would die. He knew what the outcome would be -- no one would die. Yet he warned that people would die if they deviated from the plan. Was that the truth?

Here we find the difficult dichotomy of Sovereignty and free will. I think you'd have to conclude that Paul was accurate in his warning. On the other hand, God knew in advance that the warning would be effective and the sailors wouldn't have abandoned ship after Paul warned them not to. (Well, the soldiers prevented it -- same end result.) So we see 1) free will at work (the soldiers listened to Paul and cut away the lifeboat) and 2) Sovereignty (God promised no one would die and no one died). And you see the concept of the effective warning. Here's the question (again). If God promises X and warned about not X if we deviate, is the warning genuine? Or is the warning simply effective? (Now think about that in terms of biblical statements on losing salvation ...)


Danny Wright said...

How did I know that this would end up about "losing salvation"?

Stan said...

Hey, you started it!