Last Sunday I preached from Acts 27:25, where Paul tells the crew and other passengers on his storm-embattled ship that he had received a message from God that everyone on board would be saved—and he believed God. A short statement with a significantly impactful thought. What a blessing, through all the challenges of the Christian life, to have God’s sure and steadfast promises!
What we didn’t pay too much attention to at the time was the next verse, (Acts 27:26) “But we must run aground on a certain island,” which offers an important additional lesson here for us, too. You see, in almost every case the path to blessing is challenge, hard work, patience, and sticking faithfully to God’s plan. There’s a “but first” involved in almost everything. It wasn’t what the sailors or passengers on board wanted to hear, but the way to safety was through the scary path of running the ship aground. This is not what most of us would prefer, either. We’d much prefer something like a Christmas-morning sort of promise fulfillment—everything’s there, no work involved, “no assembly required”.
We shouldn’t be so surprised at this, though; it’s in the world all around us. After children are conceived, there’s a “but first” you have to wait 9 months to hold them. And after they’re born, there are grandchildren, “but first” you have to raise them (right) and work at making them responsible adults. You can be successful, “but first” you have to get educated, have a great idea, and work really hard. The list could go on and on, but you’re well acquainted with the idea. And it works this way spiritually, too.
To Abraham God said, you’ll be a great nation and the whole world will be blessed by you…but first you must be childless for 25 years, and first you must come right up to the edge of offering your only son in sacrifice to Me.
To Israel God said, you’re going to inherit Canaan, the land of promise…but first you must cross the Red Sea; first you must learn My commands of My covenant; first you must cross the wilderness, and first you must cross the Jordan River.
To Jesus God said, You will be King of My Kingdom, You will be Savior and Redeemer of many men and women, You will rise from the dead and be glorified above all names…but first You must become a man, but first You must suffer all things that they suffer, but first You must die unjustly on a cross for their many, many sins. Then the promises were fulfilled.
And so it goes with us. God promises to answer prayer, for example…but first we must do our part and pray in faith (that is, act as if we already have received it—Mark 11:24), first we must ask according to His will (1 John 5:14), first we need to ask in Jesus’ name (John 14:13). Then the promises are fulfilled.
God promises to rescue His people from their tribulations…but first we love our enemies (Matt. 5:44), first we must abandon thoughts of revenge (Rom. 12:19), first we need to be patient and wait (Isa. 40:31), first we must remain faithful to God even to the point of death (Rev. 2:10). Then the promises are fulfilled.
God’s promises to provide for our needs (Matt. 6:26ff)…but first we need to put the Kingdom of God first (Matt. 6:33), first we must work (2 Thess. 3:10), first we must be good stewards (Matt. 24:46-51), first we must be content with needs (1 Tim. 6:8). Then the promises are fulfilled.
God promises to lift us up and free us from the slavery to sins that seem to have us firmly in its grip…but first we must hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5:6), first we need to die to ourselves (Gal. 2:20), first we need to be truly obedient to what we hear (Matt. 7:24ff), first we need to renew our minds (Romans 12:1,2), first we need to grow in knowledge of His word (2 Tim. 3:16,17), first we need to find companions to encourage us to do right and leave behind the wrong (Heb. 10:25,26), first we need to develop and establish new habits (Eph. 4:17ff), first we must struggle. Then the promises are fulfilled.
Regarding mankind’s salvation, God is saying, I will redeem you, give you eternal life, and Heaven…but first you need to believe in and obey Jesus (John 3:16), first you must follow Him faithfully through hardship or worldly opposition (Matt. 10:24ff), first you must die to yourself and let Christ live in you (Matt. 10:38,39). Then the promises are fulfilled.
God promises better families…but first we need to follow His rules for marital roles; first we must discipline our children lovingly, consistently, and properly; first we must submit to husbands, love wives, and honor parents; first we must be shining examples of Christianity—Eph 5:22-6:4. Then the promises are fulfilled.
God promises that our church can grow, be a light to our community, and be filled with earnest and zealous disciples of Jesus…but first we must seek first His kingdom; first we must actively share the good news with others; first we must give generously of time, treasure, and energy; first we must step out in faith on some matters; first we practice sincere love for one another; first we must stay faithful to His pattern. Then the promises are fulfilled.
Paul, by inspiration, wrote, (2 Corinthians 1:19, 20) “For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us–by me and Silvanus and Timothy–was not yes and no, but is yes in Him. For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.” The reason that the promises are sometimes left unfulfilled has nothing to do with God, but everything to do with us—we are unwilling to follow the path that leads to the fulfillment. Let us claim the promises of the Lord realizing that He is faithful to them all…but first…