I recently challenged the leaders at Tri-County Bible Church with the compelling contrast between Jonah 1 and Acts 27. In both situations, divided by the better part of a millennium, sailors find themselves at risk in a nerve-torturing tempest on the Mediterranean. Both times the terrified sailors jettison cargo (Jonah 1:5; Acts 27:18)—What good does money do on the bottom of the sea?! In both stories the sailors are part of a larger drama, one focused on the prophet Jonah and the other on the apostle Paul. Both circumstances appear to be hopeless, as the ships are tossed and nearly swallowed by the angry sea.
But there are great differences, as well. Whereas Jonah’s companions are in trouble because of his disobedience (Jonah 1:12), Paul’s are spared because of his obedience (Acts 27:21-24). Jonah’s shipmates were spared only when they severed themselves from him (Jonah 1:15); Paul’s only as they tethered themselves to him (Acts 27:30-32). Jonah was a millstone threatening to take his ship and its crew on a one-way trip to the fathoms below. Paul was a cork—the only reason why the battered ship was still afloat and its crew still alive. Jonah’s crew survived in spite of him; Paul’s survived because of him.
It occurs to me that the influence of spiritual leaders is deeper than we usually realize. Others may be blessed—and cursed—by our preaching, our counsel, our examples, our integrity. We can be a means of grace or a means of grief. I’m not denying that on our best days (as on Paul’s best day) we are unworthy of God’s blessing. Ultimately, it’s all grace, as both histories reveal. But I do long to be used of the Lord to keep my fellow unworthies afloat rather than a millstone dragging them under as the Lord chastens me. I want to be a grace-giving cork.