Deceptive Winds

They're always blowing around and against us.

Ill Winds (1)

When the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their desire, putting out to sea, they sailed close by Crete. But not long after, a tempestuous head wind arose, called Euroclydon. Acts 27.13, 14

Failure to heed
So begins the familiar story of the shipwreck that brought Paul to Malta on his journey to Rome. Those in charge of this voyage, and responsible for the loss of cargo and vessel, responded to the wrong wind. Paul, obviously moved by the Spirit of God, had counseled them not to venture forth from the harbor at Fair Havens, for he knew that “sailing was now dangerous” (vv. 9, 10). It seems he had an impression from the Holy Spirit – a gentle but clear breeze of revelation – which he felt he must share with the captain and the centurion.

But they chose not to listen to Paul. Instead, when they perceived a gentle wind wafting up from the south, which they agreed would give them what they desired (v. 13), they decided that this was the wind they should rely on and follow. So they hoisted their sails into what seemed a friendly enough wind, and put out to sea, sailing close by Crete – just in case.

But, as is often the case, the wind suddenly changed from gentle and southerly to tempestuous and deadly. The Greek text tells us it was a Euraquilon – not a Euroclydon, as in NKJV. The Euroclydon is a southeasterly wind, strong enough to make waves and hinder progress, but not strong enough necessarily to ruin a ship. A Euraquilon, by contrast, is what we in New England refer to as a Nor’easter, a strong, steady, and increasingly violent wind from the northeast, driven by a low pressure cell and capable of terrible damage.

That this was the wind which suddenly engulfed the vessel in which Paul was being transported is clear from the fact that soon the ship was being driven hard toward the southwest. So strong was the wind that the crew feared the ship might be shaken to pieces, so they put girding cables underneath (v. 17). As the wind grew stronger, they had to throw the cargo overboard, to get the hull of the ship up out of the water, and hopefully to improve steering (v. 18). This violence went on “for many days”; for fourteen straight days the crew battled to keep the ship afloat, not even stopping to eat (vv. 20, 27).

But all was for naught. They ended up ramming the ship onto a reef, shattering it to pieces (v. 41). Had it not been for Paul’s advice – a firm wind of the Spirit in the midst of a ruinous tempest – and the grace of God, all hands and all the company on that ship would have been lost.

All because those responsible failed to discern the true wind, and decided to follow the wind of their desires instead.

The winds are still blowing
Paul may have had this incident in mind when he wrote to the churches in Ephesus to guard against being “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Eph. 4.14). He knew that ill winds of doctrine were blowing throughout the Roman Empire of his day. And he also knew the damage those winds could inflict. Even some who seemed to have believed the Gospel could end up shipwreck because they hoisted their sails into ill winds, rather than keep to the true winds of God’s Spirit and Word (1 Tim. 1.18-20).

The ill winds of doctrine seeking to entice the sails of the churches in Paul’s day were of many different kinds. There were ill winds of political self-interest, which sought to enlist religion for the benefit of personal advancement within the Roman world. Such may have been the winds of the Nicolaitans, warned about in Revelation 2.6, 15, who, like Balaam of old, tried to harmonize his religious vocation with political interests.

The ill winds of Judaism – secular and religious – blew at the churches Paul started and served, seeking to trap believers into false assurances and to a form of salvation that minimized the place of Jesus. In many cases, these ill winds blew so hard, so continuously, and with such threatening force, that many believers began to drift from their great salvation (Heb. 2.1-3).

Ill winds of docetic Gnosticism, denying the true bodily incarnation of Christ, also wafted through the intellectual air, and John had to address them head-on in his first epistle.

Other ill winds – such as those of the infamous Jezebel of Revelation 2.20 – taught that sin was not a big deal, that you could believe in Jesus and do whatever you liked in the way of sexual practice and even dabbling with other forms of religion. The Corinthians, it seems, sought to sail by this ill wind (1 Cor. 5).

Some winds looked to religion as a way of becoming a person of prestige, or perhaps even wealth (Acts 8.9-20).

The ill wind of the religion of Rome and the deity of Caesar blew throughout the world in Paul’s day, so much so that, when the people of Thessalonica heard that Christians looked to Jesus as their King, they panicked, fearing Roman retribution (Acts 17.6-8).

Ill winds still
All these various ill winds of doctrine were cunning – they seemed like gentle breezes, capable of satisfying some desire. But they were also crafty, in that they blew in a direction designed to shape the lives of those who sailed by them in ways other than what God intended. They were deceitful as well, because they could present themselves as sounding so reasonable, so true, and so widely embraced.

All these ill winds of doctrine threatened to keep Christians from growing into maturity in Christ, by constantly distracting them from their course, impeding their journey in the Lord, and causing them to live by lies rather than by the truth.

Ill winds of doctrine continue to blow in our day. If anything, they are more, and more intense, than in the days that Paul ministered. Unless we can discern these ill winds, and set our sails against rather than into them, we run the risk of ending up with a faith that has little power to glorify God or satisfy our souls.

But how can we recognize these ill winds? And what must we do to resist them, and to keep the sails of our faith hoisted squarely in the wind of the Holy Spirit? In this series, Winds of Doctrine, we’ll try to answer those and other questions, as we consider the ill winds of doctrine, blowing in our day, and learn how to keep our sails trimmed into the wind of God’s Word and Spirit.

For reflection
1.  Why did Paul liken false teachings to “winds”? How should this alert us?

2.  What do you think are some of the most dangerous ill winds of doctrine in our day? Why?

3.  How can we know when we are “hoisting the sails of our faith” into ill winds of doctrine?

Next steps – Preparation: Begin praying that God will give you the discernment to see any ill winds by which you may be conducting your life. Wait on Him in prayer daily as you allow Him to search your heart, mind, conscience, and life.

T. M. Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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