“SHIPWRECKED”… a word you’d never expect to be used for a top class professional sailing team competing in a world class event. And yet, on the 30th of November 2014, the unthinkable happened to team Vestas Wind in the Volvo Round the World Ocean Race. Not long after sunset, while travelling at 19knts (about 35kph) through the Indian Ocean in perfect sailing conditions, there was a sudden crunching impact that shuddered throughout the boat. A few moments later, the 65-ft yacht spun around like a toy and settled to a grinding halt. After the crew had gathered their thoughts, it soon became clear what had happened. A navigational error had directed them straight into a treacherous series of reefs. Upon impact to what’s effectively an undersea cliff face, the stern compartment of the yacht and both rudders were torn clean off. After holding out in the ruined boat, the crew abandoned ship in two inflatable rafts, in waters infested with shark and barracuda. They found landfall on a tiny strip of land, where they remained for two more days before being rescued.
Never in their worst nightmares did they imagine they would suffer this kind of disaster. They had a boat bristling with the highest-spec navigational equipment. Trained and experienced crew. And yet, out of nowhere they found themselves shipwrecked.
The Apostle Paul was no stranger to shipwrecks. Of course, two thousand years ago, without GPS and night vision binoculars, shipwrecks were more common than today. Paul’s mission was to take the news of Jesus Christ into the major cities of the known ancient world. But to get there, he had to travel by sea. And in his travels, he tells us in 2 Corinthains 11:25, he experienced no less than three times what the Vestas crew went through last Saturday; “three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and day in the open sea”.
And so Paul knew about shipwrecks. That’s why it’s a serious matter when he mentions the danger of the “shipwreck of faith”. In 1 Timothy 1:19-20 he mentions, by name, two men who suffered a tragic shipwreck. Hymenaeus and Alexander. They were sailing along when out of nowhere they crashed, abandoned ship and found themselves in the danger of the open ocean. However, Paul is not referring to a physical shipwreck. More seriously, he’s talking about a spiritual one. He’s talking about what happens when people who once trusted Christ, who were cruising along quite well, suddenly fall away from the faith and are “handed over to Satan”. Just like the crew of Vestas, they are out of the race.
But what’s more sobering for all Christians is that the bible warns this can happen to any of us. In Hebrews 3, we are warned that there are major navigational hazards in the Christian life. And if we lose focus for just a short time, we can find ourselves as tragically shipwrecked as the crew of Vestas. They never thought it could happen to them, and neither do we. But it did for them, and it can for us. No matter how much spiritual equipment we think we have on board, no matter how often we go to church and read our bibles, no matter how experienced we may be at the Christian life, when we’re not looking out for it the treacherous reef that lies just under the placid surface of the water, namely our “sinful, unbelieving heart” (v12), can send us to disaster at any moment. No matter what you believe about predestination and perseverance of the saints, the bible warns clearly and seriously about the danger of falling away and making a shipwreck of our faith. No matter who you are, it can happen to you.
So how do we guard against it? The writer to the Hebrews explains in the very next verse;“encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (v13). The Christian life is described here as a team effort, where we rely on each other to steer clear of danger. We need daily encouragement, not just once a week on Sunday. A yacht crew doesn’t check for navigational dangers just once a week. They do it constantly. In the same way, we should constantly be watching each other’s backs for the dangers of sin. We should be involved in the lives of other Christians, and them in involved in our lives. It’s only through active community, and mutual accountability, that we can prevent each other from a shipwrecked faith.
So, who are you going to encourage today? Who are you going to help today to watch out for the navigational dangers of sin? Who are you going to pray for? Who are you going to read the bible with? Because remember, the waters may seem placid and idyllic on the surface, but just below the surface lie dangers that neither you nor them can avoid by yourselves. We need each other.