Paul Shipwrecked
Acts 27:44
And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.

If there is anything which will make a man thoughtful of himself above everything else it is danger of losing his life. Set before a man the probability that in a short time he will be dead, and his thoughts will most likely be divided between terror and a desperate planning of escape. Especially will it try his soul if those circumstances be lacking which conduce to heroism, if the manner of exit from life which presents itself seems wholly wasteful — as by a shipwreck. When a man dies for his country there seems a degree of compensation to himself as well as others; but when a man dies by accident it seems a sad dissipation of vital energy. How did Paul act under such circumstances? He gives to us a truly heroic picture of an unselfish man in a selfish world. Let us see first how Paul's companions behaved under the stress of the immediate probability of death.


1. The sailors. They were men accustomed to the sea, best able of all on board to take care of themselves in the event of the ship's going to pieces, charged moreover with the care of the lives with them.

(1) Their overwhelming desire was to save themselves. "They were seeking to fall out of the ship" regardless of consequences. Life is dear to every man. We do not blame the sailors for wanting to escape — Paul wanted to escape probably as much as they did. But they are justly blamable for having no other pressing desire in their hearts than just to keep themselves alive. They were cowards of the most abject and truly heathenish sort.

(2) They forgot others. There were the soldiers and the prisoners in their charge. Life was just as precious to them as to the sailors themselves. They believed in the struggle for existence. Brotherhood meant nothing to them. So they schemed to take the one boat, in which there seemed any hope of safety, and let the rest of the people on board take care of themselves. Just as though living were all there is to life.

(3) The sailors abandoned their duty. They were guardians of the ship and all in it — especially the passengers. They were not trying to do right — they made no inquiry concerning it. They were trying to do only that which was pleasant for themselves. Let us be grateful to God that He has so constituted this world that those who live only with such selfish purposes are destined to be cheated of their gratification.

2. The soldiers. They had already made a decision to kill the prisoners whom they were guarding "lest any of them should swim out and escape" (ver. 42). They as well as the sailors showed themselves to be directed only by selfish motives.

(1) They were going to commit a horrible crime because of a danger to themselves which was only as yet hypothetical. Roman jailers and guards were kept honest by being made responsible for their prisoners — life for life.

(2) Their selfishness was not hindered by the brutality of their plan.

(3) They were ungrateful, as selfish people always are. Paul had saved the lives of the soldiers (thus far at least) by preventing the abandonment of the ship by the sailors. The soldiers could not have managed it, and wreck would have been certain but for Paul's discovery of the attempt of the sailors to run away. Beside that, the soldiers as well as all others in the ship were indebted to Paul for his encouragement (ver. 34), which had led them to bestir themselves to take such measures as relieved the ship (ver. 38). But the soldiers cared nothing for these things. Gratitude played no part in their thinking.

(4) Danger hardened them, as it did the sailors. Confronting death, one ought to have the most unselfish, pure, and noble feelings possible. All that is best in the heart ought then to be stirring. Yet how often the exact converse is true — that danger makes men forgetful of all but selfish interests, turns them into cowards, and brutalises them. Every one of us has known of people who were well thought of until some moment of danger showed how utterly selfish and base they were. And such a revelation is not unfair. It shows the true man. Crises come to us all in various ways.

II. We turn now to the beautiful and noble story of THE UNSELFISHNESS OF PAUL. The very same circumstances outwardly were at work upon him as upon the soldiers and sailors. The same thing revealed shame in them and glory in him.

1. The way in which Paul's unselfishness was exhibited.

(1) In devotion to others rather than to himself. They thought only of their danger, and he thought only of them. He kept the sailors in the ship and so held fast to any possible chance of guidance into safety. He noticed the weakness of the ship's company through hunger, and led them to eat. He cheered them up by telling them that no one should be lost.

(2) Paul's unselfishness was shown in practical ways. It was not Utopian, fanciful, subtly reactive upon self. For sometimes one is unselfish on a low level only to indulge selfish feelings of a high sort. But, that is selfishness just the same. Paul's helpfulness was very downright and business-like. His unselfishness was not dramatic and spectacular, but practical, and therefore successful. Being unselfish is not romantic, but prosaic and sometimes hard. It is for this reason all the more difficult to live out.

(3) Paul encouraged those about him. He ate his bread as quietly as though there were no danger at all threatening, not forgetting his usual habit of thanking God for it (ver. 35). His example had a good effect. A cheerful heart makes others cheerful. And there is more unselfishness in being cheerful sometimes than is guessed.

(4) These traits of Paul's unselfishness were brought out by danger. Notice that it was the same danger which brought out only selfishness in soldier and sailor. Again we are reminded that events do not give us our character, they only reveal it; and it is the same whether those events be pleasant or unpleasant. Either kind of fortune, good or bad, serves to bring out what is in us.

2. The cause of Paul's unselfishness as thus exhibited.

(1) He had faith in God. This worked either way for him, whether he lived or died; God's will in any case would be accomplished, and that was enough for him. And he had faith in God's word to him, however hard of accomplishment it seemed. The waves and the winds now as ever were held in the hollow of the Almighty's hand. How can a man who is without faith in God be anything but selfish?

(2) The cause of the way in which Paul's unselfishness showed itself was that in him grace and common sense worked together. Paul used his supernatural endowments as though they were natural. So his unselfishness worked along on everyday levels and was truly efficient.

3. The result of his unselfishness.

(1) Bad men were thwarted in their evil designs. It is a part of the result of a good man's good life that it prevents sin as well as encourages to righteousness.

(2) Paul himself was saved. He was not thinking of this chiefly. His care was for others, and he was taken care of himself. God always keeps watch of those who are doing His will.

(3) The whole ship's company were saved (ver. 44).


1. Faith in God should be the most vigorous element in our emotional being. It is the centre of all the Christian's life. On it rests his eternal salvation. On it rests his conduct of every day.

2. Let us believe in our safety from accident. We are perfectly safe until God's time for us to die has come. And then we should be unwilling to live.

3. Life is best spent in helping others. A self-centred soul becomes uncentred. We become what is best by giving out of that which is best in us. The way of the Cross, which is the way of supreme success, is the way of giving up.

(D. J. Burrell, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.

WEB: and the rest should follow, some on planks, and some on other things from the ship. So it happened that they all escaped safely to the land.

Paul Shipwrecked
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