Paul Shipwrecked - A Malta Meditation
D Kirk, Hamilton (Canada)
Among the many Interesting and profitable lessons lo he learnt from Paul's shipwreck on the shore of Malta (Melita, Acts 28) we may consider the following :
THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD
Two hundred and seventy-six souls had all reached the safety of the shore after a harrowing experience in the sea. The islanders of Malta welcomed the cold and miser¬able passengers and crew of the ill-fated vessel, showing them " no little kindness." These benefactors are stated to be " barbarous people."
These Barbarians were the foreigners of their day to both Greeks and Romans (Cf. Rom. 1. 14 and 1 Cor. 14. 11). Yet, from the hands of these foreigners, national and spiritual, God ministered to the needs of the dear Apostle and his heroic band.
It is agreed without controversy or question that the Lord's work must be maintained by the Lord's people. The apostle John made that very clear: " Because that for His name's sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles (nations)"—3 John 7. Here the church is viewed in sharp contrast with the nations. Collections at public gatherings of saved and unsaved can only be regar¬ded in a reprehensive light. Notwithstanding God can use strangers to His grace in certain circumstances to meet particular needs of His own. We recall that Elijah's need in a time of drought and famine was supplied by the ravens, elsewhere classed as unclean birds.
The apostle John has given us our " marching orders " in the matter of church finance ; but, God is sovereign, and on Malta He displays His sovereignty. Paul, we are sure, appreciated the hospitality shown.
Sometimes a well-meaning stranger has proffered a kindness to a servant of the Lord, only to have his kindness refused and he himself rebuffed. Incalculable harm has been done, and a poor soul stumbled. Would it not be better to acknowledge the goodness of God in His sover¬eignty, and seek the salvation of our benefactor?
Paul calls himself a " debtor" to all men, but he makes special mention of the Barbarians (Rom. 1. 14). The Lord Himself was willing to accept a drink of water from the poor Samaritan (John 4). His willingness to be thus refreshed proved to be the avenue through which the Holy Spirit was pleased to reach that sin-darkened heart.
THE HUMILITY OF PAUL
We read Paul joined the band of shipwrecked souls in the forage for firewood, for " he gathered a bundle of sticks."
Paul, drenched and frozen, stumbling to the fire with a load of firewood! Behold him, the man who had " turned the world upside down." He was the true master and leader of the crowd, recognized as such by both centurion and shipmaster. Paul the teacher! Paul the theologian! Paul the stick-gatherer!
His Spirit-inspired epistles have nurtured and sustained the church for nearly two millenniums. He heard in paradise " unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter." At the close of his wonderful life he went to Heaven with colours flying, assured of the incor¬ruptible crowns of righteousness, rejoicing and life. On Malta he gathered a bundle of sticks!
He preached humility; he practised humility. What more menial task could he have set himself than gathering a bundle of wood!
The Spirit of God in recounting the incident does not draw special attention to Paul's act; He simply states it. Why ? There was nothing special in the simple chore he assigned himself. Paul, who could squat in a basket (possibly a fish basket!) lowered down the wall of Damascus, with his own hands weave the coarse tent-cloth, and cling to ship wreckage as he is buffeted by the waves, finds in stick-gathering nothing unusual. He gathers sticks, not to draw attention ; he gathers sticks because sticks have to be gathered.
Were Paul with us today in our balls he would be equally at home filling the platform, or, filling the furnace ! Surely this was the mind of Christ. To us he says, " Let this mind be in you " (Phil. 2. 5).
THE HASTY JUDGMENT OF THE BARBARIANS
" And when Paul had gathered sticks . . . there came a viper out of the heat and fastened on his hand " (v. 3). The poor islanders, watching the deadly reptile coil itself on the apostle's hand, felt an inward chill. Their reflection was, Paul is a murderer. With the characteristic super¬stition of the heathen they believed vengeance was falling upon him, and looked for immediate death. Paul, however, remained unperturbed; loosening the viper's grip he dropped it into the fire.
Slowly the shocked senses of the Barbarians returned. Seeing no harm come to Paul " they changed their minds, and said that he was a god." He is first " a murderer " ; then he is " a god." What extremes in judgment, but both are equally wrong. How wrong poor human judg¬ment can be I
The Barbarians arrived at their conclusion on the basis of circumstantial evidence. For a few, fleeting moments it would seem Paul is a murderer. Too often saints have passed judgment on their fellows in a hasty moment, because, they concluded, circumstances warranted it. Later they have discovered their mistake, and then, as did the Malta inhabitants, they have swung from one extreme to the other. Circumstances changing with Paul, demand they call him a " god." How faulty, how feeble is the judgment of our frail minds when based on circumstances alone without godly discernment. Let us learn the lesson of Malta, avoiding hasty judgments and extreme judg¬ments.
THE IMMUNITY OF GOD'S PEOPLE
Paul " felt no harm." He did not fall down, he did not die. It was a venomous beast and its poison fatal— just as fatal as that of the fiery serpents in the desert.
Why then did Israel suffer death while Paul remained unharmed ? The nation chose their circumstances; God chose Paul's. Israel departed from the path of faith and obedience ; Paul remained in that path. The Malta incident was in the sphere of the Divine will. Paul was as safe from danger as though the viper had been nothing more than a black rope coiled on his arm ! Someone has said, " The saint is immortal until his work is done." Although chapter and verse cannot be quoted for this, Scripture proves the truth of it.
We are familiar with the Saviour's words : " Mine hour is not yet come." The mob might push Him to the brow of the hill (Luke 4) ; they can take up stones to cast at Him (John 8) ; they can send officers to arrest Him (John 7) ; the devil himself can boil Galilee's sea and seek to drown Him (Mark 4) ; but, not until He says in Geth-semane, " This is your hour," can evil hands be laid upon Him.
As with the Lord and Master so with every true servant whom He has sent. As he follows His steps he walks in the path of blessed immunity. Paul knew that in Corinth when first he carried the gospel there. The enemy opposed and blasphemed, but God assured His servant in a vision at night: "Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace : For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city " (Acts 18. 9, 10).
Again, while on board ship crossing to Rome, when it was feared the ship and all hands would be lost, Paul got another vision. God assures His servant he must be brought to Caesar, and there would be no loss of life (Acts 27. 22-25).
Oh dear saint of God, let us walk in humble dependence upon Him, in unquestionable obedience to Him, and con¬fident faith in Him; if so, we too will realize the immunity of the godly man of Psalm 91. That Psalm ends with these words: "With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation " (v. 16). It does not necessarily mean that every saint will became an old saint, but he will have the full measure of his allotted span of life.