Acts 28: 1-5
Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand.
When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, ‘This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.”
But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.
So it turns out they’ve shipwrecked close to the island of Malta – there’s worse places you could be.
Look at what it says: “The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.”
Sometimes God sends us just the right people when we need it most. People who aren’t just nice – but they show unusual kindness. They go out of their way to help us. Nothing is too much trouble.
In a world where no one wants to be inconvenienced or interrupted – wouldn’t it be great if you were known as a person of unusual kindness. Not bland-niceness or wishy-washiness – but just real genuine kindness towards the vulnerable and lonely and lost and outsider.
Kindness looks like something – it’s more than just a sentimental feeling. In this case, it’s raining and cold, so the islanders build them a fire.
Then look at what it says:
“Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand.”
For goodness sake. Poor Paul! He’s just survived a storm, he’s survived a shipwreck. His fourth shipwreck while spreading the Gospel may I add. He’s trying to help gather wood for the fire. And out comes a snake and bites him, and fastens onto his hand. Really God? You’ve got to feel for Paul.
Notice the snake bit the hand that was feeding the fire. When you light a fire sometimes it brings out the snakes. When you start to get things stoked up in your life, when you start adding fuel to the fire – it tends to bring out the snakes.
Most often the snake comes in the form of criticism from others. Look at what happens:
"When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, ‘This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” (v. 4)
So there’s s snake hanging from Paul’s hand. What does everyone do? Do they help him? Kill the snake? Support him? Encourage him? No – they stand back and judge him. They condemn him. They criticise him, saint: 'He must have done something wrong and so now the gods are getting even with him.'
Really? A minute ago Paul was the hero – he brought everyone through the storm, it was because of Paul that they survived the shipwreck – and now he’s a murderer under the judgement of the gods.
And what was he doing when he was bitten? He was just trying to help everyone, he was just trying to serve and put sticks on the fire – and because something bad happens they want to judge him and condemn him?
How easy it is to see only the bad in others. To ignore all the good they have done and turn on them because of one thing you find to judge about them.
The reality is that nobody likes criticism. Nobody likes getting judged by others and talked about, especially when you’re only trying to do the right thing. Criticism gets us at the very core of who we are. It goes round and round our minds and can totally consume us. It can hurt us deeply. It can discourage us and set us back in life. Criticism can bring all our insecurities to the surface.
But the simple fact of life is this: If you are going to step up, serve, give, lead, or do anything remotely significant or important or different with your life – you will be criticised. There is no way round it. As Aristotle said:
“Criticism is something you can avoid easily – by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing.”
If you are going to do anything with your life to make a difference in this world, then at some point you will make decisions that will upset some people. Especially if you’re in any sort of leadership role. As leadership expert John Maxwell says: “The price of leadership is criticism.”
Leaders are the easiest to criticise because they're visible. You can see their flaws easier. You can hide yours and only those closest to you get to see them. If you’re in leadership and you have a snake hanging off your hand – everyone can see it.
The price of leadership is criticism. So how do we deal with this criticism?
Verse 5: “But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.”
I love this. Paul doesn’t spend time looking at the snake, asking 'why me, poor Paul, I deserve better.' He doesn’t get into an argument with those criticising him. He doesn’t start crying from pain or shaking with fear. He just looks at the snake – and shakes it off.
He knows that if he can survive the storm and survive the shipwreck – he can also survive the snake.
He doesn’t let the poison get into him. He doesn’t take it on board. He just shakes it off.
Just because the snake bites us doesn’t mean we have to let it hang there.
Because it attacks us, doesn’t mean we allow it to poison us.
Because offense is given, doesn’t mean it has to be taken.
We cannot let criticism and negativity takes us away from the call of God on our lives.
We cannot let fear of what others think stop us from doing the things God calls us to do.
We cannot allow anyone and their opinion to have the power over us that only God and His opinion should have.
When God is calling us to rise up, we simply can’t allow other to pull us back down.
If you are going to do anything remotely significant for God – accept that you will be criticised. And find your security not in what others say and think about you – find your security and sense of worth and identity in God.