Mistakes! How interesting? CNBC (Consumer News and Business Channel) once published the story of James Howells. Howells had mistakenly discarded a hard disk with a large sum of bitcoins in it. It was too late when he realized what happened. The hard disk ended up in a garbage dump getting buried underneath tons of waste. Retrieval was not only impossible but illegal. That mistake cost Howell a whopping 127 million dollars in bitcoins! He never saw the hard drive or his precious bitcoins again.
We learn from our mistakes. I believe in forgiveness. However, some mistakes can be very costly and best avoided. The Word of God has many stories about men and women whose mistakes were costly. Adam and Eve, Eli and his sons, Kings Saul and David, Peter the Apostle, Judas Iscariot and so on. For my message, however, I have selected an incident from the life of Paul the Apostle. Please open your Bible to the book of Acts Chapter 27, verses 10 through 14. Here Julius the Roman Centurion made three mistakes that sunk a ship. Tonight, we will see what those mistakes were so that we will not repeat them.
1. Avoid Cheap Advice – Avoid Costly Mistakes
In Acts 27:9-10, Luke records a conflict of opinions. While Paul warned against sailing to Phoenix, the Captain and the ship’s owner insisted otherwise. Paul was exercising common sense here. As a frequent traveller (2 Corinthians 11:25) he knew mist, fogs, and winter storms made sea travel particularly risky during “Yom Kippur”. More dangerous during the season that followed, (fall from September 14th to November 11th and from November 11th to March 10th).
Nevertheless, the Captain and the ship’s owner determined to set sail to Phoenix because Fair Havens wasn’t safe for the cargo which contained a massive load of grain to Rome. Claudius, the emperor, had promised extra compensation to merchants for supplying grain even during the winter because there was a shortage of grain in Rome, which is why they insisted on sailing not because they valued the lives on board. Even the Centurion knew the risks. He had the authority to ground the ship. Still, he made the costly mistake of ignoring Paul and confiding in cheap advice from the Captain and the shipowner.
We make costly mistakes because we listen to cheap advice. When I say “cheap” I am not implying immature or incompetent but manipulative advice. In this incident, the Captain and the ship’s owner manipulated the Centurion into letting them set sail. They were motivated by selfish desire. In the Word of God, we find several other examples of manipulative advice. The tale of two prophets in 1 Kings 13:11-24 and the account of Ahithophel and Absalom in 2 Samuel 15:12 are prominent among them.
Growing up, I have made the costly mistake of rejecting godly advice and welcoming cheap advice. How do you discern such advice? It would help if you had divine wisdom. It is the litmus test of advice. What is wisdom? It is the right application of knowledge.
Today many people turn to pseudo wisdom for genuine advice. They consult fortune tellers, Sooth Sayers, astrologers, witch doctors and divinators. I can name another host of such wisdom, but there’s only one source of genuine wisdom. The all-knowing God! The Word of God says the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). You might have a thorough knowledge of scripture, but if you don’t have “fear of God” you don’t have wisdom. Without it, you will not know godly advice from manipulative advice. When you have wisdom, however, you can scrutinize every instruction and opinion under the microscope of God’s word.
2. Avoid the Majority – Avoid Costly Mistakes
Moving onto Acts 27:12, we observe the ship’s owner and the Captain were able to convince the majority of the crew on board the ship to set sail. Maybe they took a vote because Luke says the majority decided to sail, hoping to reach Phoenix and spend the winter there. After all, Phoenix was only 80 miles away (approximately 128 kilometres) from fair havens.
The majority of the crew voted against Paul without knowing all the facts. The fair weather and the reasonably short distance made the voyage look like a walk in the park, a piece of cake, a cakewalk or whatever you may want to call it. The bottom line is the Centurion felt safe because the majority felt Phoenix is a “safe-haven” compared to fair havens!
We have a natural tendency to follow the majority because we believe if other people do it, that means it’s right. It’s not so. Here are a few reasons why we follow the majority and why we must not.
A. The majority is always Right
We believe the majority is always right. The majority is not right all the time. Take elections for an example. The candidates we as the majority elect to the office often turn out to be national disappointments if not national disasters! In the Bible, the majority asked for Saul as king and a few years down the road he betrayed the entire nation! (1 Samuel 8:4-6). Don’t follow the majority because the majority is not always right.
B. There’s strength in Numbers
Sometimes we follow the majority out of desperation because we believe it will increase our chances of survival. It’s a false conviction. If the majority is wrong, the majority of the time, our chances of survival with the majority are zero. Jesus also warned against following the majority in the Parable of the Wide and Narrow Gates recorded in Matthew 17:13-14.
C. Fear of Rejection and Persecution
Sometimes we follow the majority not because we want to, but we have to. We yield to the fear of being persecuted by the majority. Maybe some people voted against Paul for fear of rejection and persecution. It’s nothing new. In Numbers 14:10 the majority threatened to stone Joshua and Caleb for disagreeing with the other spies.
There are many other reasons why we tend to follow the majority, but the ones I mentioned above are the most common. Don’t be reluctant to refuse to follow the majority. The initial cost of not following them might be very high, but it’s not worth the price of following them.
3. Avoid Assumptions – Avoid Costly Mistakes
In Acts 27:13-14, the Captain, the ship’s owner, and the Centurion sealed everyone’s fate on board the vessel. When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity and left “Fair Havens”. Unfortunately, however, before long, a hurricane-force called the North Easter blew down from the island. Paul made his decision based on facts while the Centurion made his based upon assumptions.
In Exodus 32:1-4, the Israelites assumed Moses was dead. The events that followed were a tragedy. We make costly mistakes because we make mission-critical decisions based on assumptions, circumstances and wishful thinking instead of concrete facts. The Centurion was responsible for executing the critical mission of taking Paul to Rome to stand trial before Agrippa. The Centurion’s life depended on it. Still, he made a very clumsy decision. When the gentle south wind began to blow, he assumed everything would be fine. Everything wasn’t okay. Shortly after leaving “Fair Havens”, they sailed into a deadly typhoon.
It is foolishness to base mission-critical decisions on assumptions and circumstances. Circumstances can be very appealing. Even the friends and colleagues will encourage you to make a move pledging their support. When you mess up, however, the same people will blame and desert you. Don’t base life-changing decisions on assumptions. No matter how promising the circumstances are or what people will tell you.
We looked at three common mistakes that come with a high price and how to avoid them. Let me recap them for you. We can prevent costly mistakes by discerning godly advice from cheap. To do that, however, we need divine wisdom. The Word of God says, he will give wisdom to everyone asks without doubt, (James 1:5)
Then we often make costly mistakes because we choose to follow the majority. Following the majority may be beneficial in the beginning. In the long run, however, it can accumulate a high price. Never be reluctant to refuse to walk with the majority. Jesus said that the majority would persecute us for denying them, but we shall have for he has overcome the world (John 16:33).
Finally, we must not base mission-critical decisions on assumptions or circumstances but facts. If not, facts, we make decisions based on informed faith, not blind faith. We should commit our plans to God. When we do, he will bless our paths, (Proverbs 3:5-6).
P.S: 8 years ago, I preached a sermon based on Paul’s response to the disastrous events that followed. You can find it here if interested.
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