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  • Writer's pictureAlan Fong

The Gospel Oarsman

Today’s Verse:

But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; ~Acts 26:16


The Apostle Paul used words and terms that had far deeper and significant meaning than the surface meaning. In 1 Corinthians 4:1, he uses a Greek word for minister that is different than the typical Greek word that is used for a servant. The word that is used in Acts 26:16 describes Paul’s calling as a herald of the gospel. The word he used was a very common one in Greek and referred to what was known in those days as an under-rower. We would call someone like that an oarsman. Under-rowers were the men who were responsible for rowing a ship. It is a word for a servant of God that has a wonderful application for us.

First, an under-rower was typically either a slave or a servant owned by a shipmaster. He would be shackled by his feet and was the property of the shipmaster. When he boarded that ship, the will of the under-rower was in submission to the will of the shipmaster. All under-rowers were in the ship galley below the deck and were always out of the eyesight of the other passengers.

Second, an under-rower rowed to the beat of the captain of the ship. The captain would beat a drum to keep the rowers in sync. All had to row to the captain’s beat in order for the ship to go at the right speed and not veer off course.

Third, the under-rowers had to row as a team. A typical oar was thirty feet long and required up to three men per oar. These men could not push and pull as they felt like it. They had to function as a team.

Fourth, they had to have faith and trust in the captain. The captain was the one who could see the best and farthest. Since the rowers were in the galley, all they knew was to row. If the beat increased, this could signal an enemy ship approaching or that the shoreline was closer. The rowers had to obey and trust that the captain knew what he was doing.

Fifth, all under-rowers were committed to their task for life. They could not request a transfer or change of job. They were in this for their lifetime and would die as oarsmen.

Sixth, an oarsman would receive no honor. He was an unrecognized servant. He would perform his task day in and day out.

So, what does this all mean? Paul used this word to convey the original meaning that God had for Paul when he was called to the gospel ministry. As a servant of the King of Kings, he was committed for life to the propagation of the gospel message. He worked as a team member with others who had this same calling. He performed at the beat of his Captain (the Lord Jesus), and he did this for his lifetime. Though his task is considered lowly and without honor in this life, it is the highest endeavor of service to God. We are to have complete faith in our Captain, and though we cannot see afar, we can trust Him for our direction and arrival. We are called to be God’s oarsmen for the promotion of the gospel message.

Let’s be careful not to row the gospel message at our own whim and beat but to be in sync with the Captain of our salvation. Be an under-rower who gets the job done!

Have a faithful God Morning!

Bible Reading Schedule: Jeremiah 1-3

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