A group of Roman sailors, with their prisoners, had survived a terrific storm, but when they finally landed on an island unknown to them, their ship was completely destroyed in the attempt.
"And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita. And the barbarous people shewed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold. And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god." Acts 28:1-6.
Here we see Paul, the apostle of God, en gaged in ministering to others. It was cold and rainy, and the large company who had been shipwrecked with him needed warming. I don't suppose the centurion sent Paul out to gather sticks. It was voluntary service. The apostle was so interested in helping other people that he just naturally saw the need and went to gather wood for the fire to warm the people. People must be warmed through our voluntary service! I can think of many of our workers around the world who, hearts aflame with the truth, have warmed many hearts with their faithful ministry.
But right in the midst of Paul's loving ministry a venomous serpent attacked him. Satan had continually tried to interrupt Paul's work, and now he was determined to end his ministry with the venom of a serpent. just so he is constantly endeavoring to disrupt the ministry of every worker who is trying to build up the cause of God.
But notice, Paul knew how to deal with serpents. He just shook it off into the fire. He promptly got rid of it, and that was the end of that serpent.
You remember our first parents were also attacked by a serpent, which endeavored to inject its venom into their lives by planting an erroneous idea into their minds "Yea, hath God said, . . . ?" Instead of being dis missed, the idea was entertained, and allowed to grow. It was their undoing.
"A Spiritual Accident"
Down in South America I was sitting in a meeting one evening when a white-haired man seventy-five years of age came and sat down beside me. He said, "You know I came here a long time ago. I came from North America; I was a worker." I learned later that he had started out as a very promising worker. He mastered the language quickly and well, and conducted successful public efforts. Then he said solemnly: "I came down as a missionary, but I had a spiritual accident."
"A spiritual accident!" I learned later what it was. A serpent came along and planted an idea, a suggestion, in his mind. Instead of shaking it off immediately, put ting it away, he toyed with it, and the poi son came into his spiritual life and was his undoing. In that country today there might have been a lasting monument in the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people, the fruit of his labors. But he suffered a spiritual accident, because he toyed with a wrong idea rather than promptly shaking it off, as Paul shook off the serpent.
Notice how the people quickly changed their minds when Paul didn't die from his encounter with the serpent. "They changed their minds, and said that he was a god." You see how quickly public opinion changes. I suppose every worker has had the experience of having somebody come to him and say, "That was the most wonderful sermon I have ever heard preached in this church." We want our people to have proper opinions of us a reputation as worthy workers, men of character, women of character but when they come around to flatter, there is danger. It's a trap of the the evil one. A serpent lies in wait!
I want to notice more specifically some of the venomous serpents that we have to deal with. There is the deadly serpent of discontent.
Paul might have said, "Well, I see I am about the only one gathering sticks. I think I'll quit too." Instead he was wholehearted in his work and stayed by it. And when this unfortunate experience came, he didn't say, "This is the last straw! I just can't stand any more. I've been shipwrecked, I am wet with the rain, I am cold, I've lost all my belongings, and now this snake bites me!" This would have been a very human way of reasoning. Instead the great apostle kept right on gathering sticks to warm the people.
You have heard about the man who grew tired of his homestead and went to a real estate agent and asked him to sell it. Then he watched the advertisements, searching for another homestead. One day he saw an ad describing just what he wanted. The house described was the kind he wanted, the land was fertile, there was water, there were trees, there were fields to cultivate, and all of that. He said, "That's the homestead I've been looking for." It happened to be advertised by the same agent who had listed his homestead. He went to him and found he had actually been reading a description of his own homestead!
By analyzing ourselves and thinking of the privileges that God gives us, we can be led to see things in our situation that we didn't know existed before.
Sometimes we find a treasurer who wants to be an evangelist. He would likely be a very poor one. He is a good treasurer, but he has become discontented. Or an evangelist wants to be a treasurer, or a president, or something else a departmental man, perhaps. Discontent is one of the serpents that lie in our way. The apostle says in 1 Timothy 6:6-8:
"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content."
"If any are qualified for a higher position, the Lord will lay the burden, not alone on them, but on those who have tested them, who know their worth, and who can understandingly urge them forward. It is those who perform faithfully their appointed work day by day, who in God's own time will hear His call, 'Come up higher.' " Ministry of Healing;, p. 477.
And then there is discouragement another serpent. "A discouraged soul," says Sister White, "is a body of darkness, not only failing himself to receive the light of God, but shutting it away from others." "Hope and courage are essential to perfect service for God. These are the fruit of faith. Despondency is sinful and unreason able. . . . For the disheartened there is a sure remedy." Have you read this sentence lately? "There is a sure remedy faith, prayer, work." Prophets and Kings, p. 164.
I know it works. Faith and activity, with prayer, will impart a sureness and satisfaction that will increase day by day. And courage comes back to us. The clouds of darkness are rolled away, and this serpent of discouragement is shaken into the fire.
Criticism and Jealousy
If there's one thing that kills spiritual life, it is the serpent of criticism. Those who work with ardor do not have time to dwell on the faults of others. "Dwelling upon their imperfections, we are trans formed into the same image." "Cultivate the habit of speaking well of others." Isn't that a wonderful habit?
But we must learn to take criticism. A good rubber tire will run fifty thousand miles. Do you know how far a steel tire on a wagon will run over rocks and roads and pavement? About two thousand miles. You see, the difference is this: When the steel tire hits a rock it doesn't give any. There's a spark, and the rock is nicked and the steel is dented. That's wearing. But the rubber tire gives just a little, and passes over the bump.
The person who can't stand criticism is like the steel tire. He doesn't last very long; he soon wears out. But the person who can give and take can go far.
Then there is the serpent of jealousy. John the Baptist didn't have that. He said, "He must increase, but I must decrease." Then he went about decreasing very graciously. In contrast remember the latter dark years of the life of Saul. How embittered his life was, because of jealousy over David. The poison of jealousy ran through his veins.
Love of Material Things
Another serpent is the love of material things. Now it seems strange to mention this to a group of workers who are dedicated to the work of God. Nevertheless, good workers have been lost to the cause because they yielded to the lure of real estate or to the buying and selling of automobiles or some other business venture.
The apostle said, "This one thing I do." I like that statement. He concentrated on one thing. And that's what we must do focus all our energies, all the talents God has given us, upon our work and God will give us success, supply the necessities of life, and give us a crown of glory at the end.
There are other serpents that will constantly assail the worker for God unsanctified ambitions for ourselves or our children, spiritual pride, secret sin, and many others. But as long as we keep our lives hid in Christ, and whenever a serpent attacks, promptly shake it off, we can by His grace go on to victory.
With an eye single to the glory of God, we must go forward with our task of "warming" the people, encouraging the people, building up the people, in spite of the plans of the enemy to discourage and destroy. God's workers need to be full of courage, steadfast, dedicated to just one thing the forwarding of God's cause in the world. One day the work of God will be finished, and those who have been faithful will hear from the Lord the words "Well done."