Restraining Wrath

The Apostle Paul was once part of a shipwreck that didn’t have to happen.  In Acts 27, Paul advises the Roman centurion and the crew of the ship to stay in port through the winter.  The ship was bound to wreck, according to Paul, if it set sail before the winter was over.  The ship’s crew and captain decided—along with the centurion—to sail anyway.  After all, Paul was merely a prisoner.  Why listen to him?


Of course, from reading the rest of the book of Acts, we know that the ship did indeed set sail, and it did indeed wreck.  The boat was a complete loss.  When the shipwreck became an imminent reality, Paul stood before its crew and passengers and said, “You should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete….”  This comment from Paul is not a hasty, “I told you so.”  He is much more sober than that, and much more is at stake here than Paul’s reputation.


Paul’s “I told you so moment” came as a stamp of credibility for him at a crucial time.  He was about to tell the centurion that no prisoner should be killed and that everyone had to stay on the ship—these were the conditions under which he knew that there would be no loss of life.  Both of these conditions were counter-intuitive to the centurion and the crew of the ship.  But Paul was right.  They listened to him this time, and no one perished.  Only the boat was lost.


So, I hear this story and see in it a very practical lesson for my own life—a theological lesson.  I gave input recently to another brother about a situation.  I persuaded him of my position.  He agreed to follow my counsel, but he later had a change of heart and, unbeknownst to me, reversed the decision.  He only told me after the fact, when it was too late to do anything about it.


For the past several days, I have been stewing over the matter in my own heart.  I have prayed about it, and, as much as possible, I have given it over to the Lord.  Inside, I feel sort of like Paul must have felt:  I see a shipwreck coming that could have been avoided.  Why didn’t you listen to me?


After being stunned for a time and then angry, I formulated all the reasons I was right: There were 4 clear reasons my position was right.  I also anticipated every counter argument the decision maker might try to make, and I had answers for those arguments as well.  I went back through the reasons I had for making the decision, and I remained more convinced than ever that I was right.


Amazingly, the Lord used this situation to teach me something glorious about Himself—something unexpected, yet intensely practical.  The Lord is slow to anger.  Now, I know we all know this about the Lord.  He is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  Yet, I had never thought of God’s wrath being a comforting thought.  In struggling through this issue, I thought of the justice of God which is a fire in Him for truth and righteousness.


God is both full of wrath toward sinners and patient toward sinners.  In other words, God is always right in His judgments.  Every time one of us goes against His word, we go against His righteous judgment.  This rebellion is called sin, and it makes God angry.  So, the feeling of rage I have against this decision maker who went against my better judgment is a feeling somewhat akin to the outrage God rightly feels against sinners when they go against His word.  Yet, God is patient with sinners because God’s kindness is meant to lead sinners to repentance (Romans 2:4).


So, here is the unexpected lesson I learned from the wrath of God.  The fact that God does not pour out His wrath every single time a person sins is an assurance that I don’t have to pour out my wrath every time something doesn’t go my way.  God’s patience is a sure sign that—in His strength—I can be patient, too.  I am thoroughly convinced that I am right in my judgment, but I might still be wrong.  God, on the other hand, cannot be wrong in His judgments.  Yet, He does not unleash His wrath at every offense of His righteous judgments.  So, in the Spirit of Christ, I don’t have to unleash either.  I, too, can be patient and slow to anger.


I think the Apostle Paul must have understood this.  He did say “I told you so,” but it was only to remind them that his judgment was correct in the past, and, so, it ought to be followed for the future—which it was.  No one died in the shipwreck because Paul’s counsel was followed.  It was followed because he was patient.  Time proved his righteousness.  It will prove ours, too, if we are righteous.


So, we must live rightly in the righteousness of Christ and trust that over time folks will hear what we are saying because our judgments are true.  We don’t need to exercise wrath.  We simply need—like Paul—to live by faith.  Our credibility will increase over time as our faith continues to work itself out through our actions and judgments.


Like Paul, we may have to suffer a shipwreck while we are building credibility, but, also like Paul, we might later be able to save lives by pointing people to the Christ we love.  The “I told you so moments” may come, but they should be followed by, “let’s follow Christ this next time so there will be no loss of life.”

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