“And Paul said, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.” – Acts 26:29



Ever looked back on your past with regrets? Ever wish you could go back in life and change something? Ever wanted to go back and erase or do something differently in your life? Most if not all people look back on their lives and ponder how they would have done things differently. Even Taylor Swift, who the world thinks has it all, even she has a song entitled Would’ve Could’ve Should’ve in which she laments an early relationship. [1] I think we’d all like to go back to our youth knowing what we know now and live life differently. This is a normal desire but not necessarily a healthy one. It’s not the best way to look at life. Let me tell you why.

There is an expression in the English language that is, “Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve.” This is a common expression of angst. These words are used in response to those making an excuse for something they did wrong or some regrettable event in the past. The idea is if you could go back in time that once there, you could have done something differently, you should have done something differently, you would have done something differently to change or remove the regrettable event from the annals of your personal history. One might similarly say, “Oh, if I could only turn the clock back I’d do things differently.” Or “If I could only go back in time knowing what I know now, I would handle that situation better or differently.” Let me explain why that’s the wrong way of looking at your life.

In Acts 25-28 the Apostle Paul encounters some severe testing. He is eager to share the gospel with his countrymen the Jews. When given an opportunity to do that by the Holy Spirit, his countrymen’s response to the gospel was unrepentant and riotous. They wanted to tear him limb from limb. This led to the intervention by Roman soldiers who were going to whip a confession out of Paul until he appealed to Caesar. Then an opportunity presented itself to share the gospel with two governors, a king, and a host of the rich and famous in that Jerusalem community. Then, though it is said Paul might have been set free if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar, Paul is sent to Rome. All this provisionally, on the Roman government’s tab. On the way, Paul, and the ship he is traveling on encounter a life-threatening storm. This type of storm was affectionately named, “Euroclydon” meaning, a violent agitation. Paul prays and the Lord assures him that though the ship will be lost, none on board will be lost. True to God’s word, the ship is lost but all survive. Surviving being cast into the sea; he is washed up on shore. Ah, a warm fire is provided by the island folk, wonderful! But as he warms himself by the fire, on top of everything else, Paul is bitten by a snake! Quite an ordeal. It’s enough to make someone question their reading of the Spirit’s leading. But did Paul regret his previous decisions? Did Paul complain? Did Paul run away? No, no, and no. Paul merely shook off the snake and kept moving forward. Like Rocky, in his great and wise counsel to his son, Paul had learned, “that’s how winnin’ is done!” [2]

Yes, Paul’s life journey was bumpy to say the least. Paul’s life is a testimony that walking with Jesus is not a cake walk. Walking with Jesus means you will learn the power of His resurrection and “the fellowship of His sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). Life and scripture testify you can’t have one without the other. To think otherwise is to cut the heart out of the gospel. You want to follow Jesus? Jesus welcomingly responds, deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Him (Luke 9:23-26). Following Jesus will cost you. What it will cost you is giving up the could’ve, should’ve, would’ve mentality. It will cost you your life, past, present, and future.

What should our attitude be toward the could’ve, should’ve, would’ve, difficulties and disappointments of life that tempt us to regret? In Acts 26 the Apostle Paul encounters just such a situation. Let’s look at it, ponder it, and learn why we should cast aside our regrets and move forward in victory.

Acts 26:28-32 (NKJV) – 28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” 29 And Paul said, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.” 30 When he had said these things, the king stood up, as well as the governor and Bernice and those who sat with them; 31 and when they had gone aside, they talked among themselves, saying, “This man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains.” 32 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve – no regrets. The truth of the matter is that you can’t go back in time and change the past. It does little good to pine and ponder things we cannot change. What we can do is recollect our lives knowing that God is able to give us beauty for our ashes (Isaiah 61:3). God can take the ingredients of our lives, all the ingredients, and make something beautiful out of them. Of course there are things in our past that we wish we had never done. Of course we wish we could go back and change things. But we can’t. That’s for TV and movie fantasies, not real-life realities. All we can and should do is entrust every bit of our lives to the One who is not limited by time and knows the past, present, and future before they happen. God is in control. Rather than regret what we cannot change, we need to entrust to God what He has allowed.

In this Acts 26 passage we are not told explicitly that these words of the officials were known by Paul, but it’s a good bet they were. Paul was surely aware he might have been spared some inconvenience if he had just come to the officials first. Examining his situation one might conclude that he probably wouldn’t have survived if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar. He did spare himself the lashes of the Romans by the route he took. But the point to be noted here is, Paul expressed no regret.

The only regrets Paul ever expresses are that his fellow Jews hadn’t all received Jesus as their Savior Messiah (cf. Roans 9:1-5; 10:1-4). Paul’s desire is that all who hear him would believe in and serve Jesus just like he did. He regretted they all didn’t follow Jesus. But no other regrets are ever uttered by Paul. In fact, his words express his heart that whatever he had to suffer to share the gospel, it was all worth it. Paul’s faith, our faith, saving faith, is by nature a surrendering trusting faith in God. That is the message of the Hall of Faith chapter in Hebrews 11. The testimony of saints in scripture and history is that they were willing to suffer in surrendering faith to be a part of God’s family and redemptive plans. This is what it means to be willing to share in “the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10). Truly, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). No could’ve, should’ve, would’ve, no doubts, or regrets, about that.

Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve – you are not God. Because Christians are imperfect and live a portion of our lives separated from God by our sins[3], its only natural for us to regret some of our BC[4] life behavior. Sometimes such thinking is triggered in our memory by a song or lyric heard from a bygone era in our life. Sometimes a smell or similar circumstance triggers such thinking. But did you ever think that your life circumstances were part of how God got you to where you are today? For some, that means suffering a painful consequence for a sinful choice or choices. When that happens remember, God disciplines those he loves (Hebrews 12:3-11). Maybe you need to remember that God is not mocked but there is a consequence for the sinful choices we make (Galatians 6:7-8). Whatever we are thinking of regretfully, just remember, we are not God and there’s a good reason for that.

Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve – the only legitimate regret is unrepentance. The only legitimate regret is if one has not repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus.  Paul wrote:

2 Corinthians 7:8–10 (NKJV) – For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

In the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians he corrects them forcefully about an immoral situation the church was not addressing (1 Corinthians 5). His forceful correction saddened them initially but in his next letter Paul is thankful for the repentance his strong correction led to. The only legitimate regret we have is when we or others do not repent.

Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve – our difficulties and hardships are not necessarily evidence of God’s displeasure. Paul was smack dab in the middle of God’s will and the leading of the Holy Spirit, but he suffered attacks and hardship. Don’t be so quick to interpret the suffering you experience or someone else experiences as the judgment of God. Seeing trials and sufferings as only God’s judgment and never God’s will is a very shallow worldview. Paul’s life is a testament that difficulties can be a very real part of God’s plans for us. More importantly, look at the life of Jesus and His testimony. “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In th world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  The words, “In the world you will have tribulation” run counter to the prosperity preacher sof our day. Rather than regret our tribulation, we should lean closer on Jesus and seek His revelations to be learned in such situations.

We all fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). When we forget or disregard God and His word, life gets messy very quickly. Rather than merely regretting our shortcomings, we should try to learn from them and share them with others to help them avoid the same mistakes or sins we committed. When we do that, we will be able to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). Trials prove the genuineness of our faith, or lack thereof (1 Peter 1:6-9). When it is the “lack thereof,” it is an opportunity to repent and get right with God.

Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve – it’s always the right time to become a Christian. King Agrippa said Paul “almost” persuaded him to become a Christian. It’s always the right time to become a Christian. God only definitely provides the opportunity immediately given to repent and believe in Jesus as Savior. You are promised nothing beyond your opportunity now to be saved. Therefore you should seize the opportunity, repent, believe in Jesus and his resurrection to be saved from the penalty of your sins.

If you already know Jesus as your Savior, you should seize every opportunity to share the gospel with others because their eternal destiny hangs in the balance, and you might be their last opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel.

Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve – no regrets even if it causes some pain. Paul said he would that everyone hearing his message would be saved and become altogether like him except for his chains. Paul was not sadistic or masochistic. He took no pleasure in his chains or pains as though they were a badge of courage or something to be boasted about. He certainly knew that coming to Christ as Savior would likely cause suffering for people, but he didn’t go out of his way to wish that on anyone. He said, “except for these chains.”

We shouldn’t seek out the most painful way thinking that is best way. Suffering isn’t valuable in and of itself. Suffering is only valuable in what we can learn from it. When we suffer, it helps us gain a proper heavenly perspective. When we suffer our priorities become more eternally oriented, especially if our life hangs in the balance. That is why Peter said those who suffer in the flesh cease from sin (1 Peter 4:1). It’s a lot easier to appraise what is really important, eternally important, when eternity is staring you in the face. Having said that, we shouldn’t seek out suffering for the sake of suffering itself. There’s nothing wrong with avoiding suffering, if it doesn’t interfere with the will and plans of God. We need to be balanced in this.

Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve – God’s will is not necessarily the path of least resistance. Paul had a passion for the salvation of the lost. He wanted them to be saved from their sins through faith in Jesus. He wished no chains on them, no hurt or pain, or trials, or difficulties. But Paul’s life predicament testified that sometimes, according to God’s will, inconvenience and suffering are necessary to share the gospel with people. Suffering can be central to God’s will. Pains, difficulties, and trials are the blackboard on which the white words of Gods’ grace are spelled out. My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” Paul said. And he continued, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthains 12:9-10). These words are not rantings of a delusional masochist. These words are the profound proclamation that any suffering is worthwhile if it means God’s grace will be experienced and made known to others.

To Paul, no hardship or pain was too great to keep him from sharing the gospel. He said:

Acts 20:24 (NKJV) – 24 But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Paul was willing and would risk life and limb and anything else, to reach the lost with the gospel. And his life testifies that he did so.

Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve – don’t regret the ingredients for God’s true riches. There is a brand of Christianity offered in some churches that promises all health problems will be healed, all hardships will be ended, and all difficulties dissipated, when you come to Jesus. They teach all wants will be met if you just come to Jesus and say the right words by faith. Paul shows us in the scriptures that such a view of the gospel just isn’t so. Paul’s life was exceptional, and he was mightily used by God, but he experienced every imaginable aggravation and hardship. Paul experienced hardships, and he did it, and would do it many times over, for the sake of sharing the gospel.

Paul expressed the necessity of suffering in the following inspired words:

2 Corinthians 4:7–12 (NKJV) – But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So then death is working in us, but life in you.

The point made by Paul with these words is that withstanding suffering in the saint is evidence of the “excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” For people to see the reality of God’s power, we who know the Lord may be called upon by the Lord to show how such power bolsters us through sufferings. We are “delivered to death for Christ’s sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” for all to see. What is revealed by God through our suffering can have a powerful redemptive impact on the lost. The salvation of the lost trumps our safety, our security, our wealth, our freedom from suffering. A soul is worth the world’s riches, and that includes our comfort.

Why would Paul risk all and sacrifice so much to share the gospel? Why was he willing to suffer such discomfort? Because there is something more important than our comfort. There is something more valuable than any earthly wealth of wish. Jesus put it like this:

Matthew 16:24-26 (NKJV) – 24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

There is nothing more valuable than a soul. That is true of my soul, your soul, anyone’s, and everyone’s soul. God would that we live our lives from that perspective. Our comfort, wealth, and worry-free lives are not the priority, the souls of people are.

Could’ve, should’ve, would’veno regrets, just trust the Lord. Paul had given his testimony, Festus, Agrippa, and even Berenice agreed that if Paul hadn’t appealed to Caesar, he might have been set free. The implication is that Paul could have done something different to prevent him from having to go through all this hardship and ultimately having to go to Rome. I doubt Paul felt that way. He had a desire to share the gospel with as many people as possible. We’ve seen that to be true. But he also had a desire, a passion to go to Rome to share the gospel (e.g. Romans 1:11-12). Sharing the gospel was Paul’s top priority. It was his top priority not only so that more lost people would spend eternity with him in heaven, but so that God would receive more glory and more and more people exalted Jesus and worshipped God for the blessing of His gospel of grace.

In the end, nothing happens to us that God hasn’t allowed to happen. God is sovereign and has a plan. His top priority is the salvation of the lost. That’s why He sent Jesus to the cross. It’s at the cross where we see the love of God in its richest form (Romans 5:8). That same love is poured out into our heart by the Holy Spirit who indwells the believer in Jesus (Romans 5:5). Jesus rose from the dead to confirm all of that. When we regret what God allows we second guess God. it’s never a wise thing to question the One who knows all. Job found this out the hard way (cf. Job 38-42). Job questioned God and wound up on his knees saying, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). That’s where all could’ve, should’ve, would’ve regrets ultimately get you because God always knows what He is doing. God’s ways are always best.

If we cast aside our regrets and simply surrender in faith to God now, then in heaven we will sing, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created” (Revelation 4:11). In heaven we will worship away our regrets. In heaven we will sing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing! . . . . Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!”  (Revelation 5:12 and 13). In heaven it will be said of those who trusted in Jesus and cast aside their regrets, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death” (Revelation 12:11). Remember that next time you are tempted to regret things in your past. The ingredients to our past were permitted by God and a part of getting us to where we are now. That is not to condone sin. That is simply to recognize we cannot change the past; we can only be forgiven for it by God’s grace. Don’t regret. Don’t think could’ve, should’ve, would’ve. Just trust and surrender to God’s plans. Just bring your ashes to God and watch Him make something beautiful out of them. Just join Paul and live out his words, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.”

[1] https://www.nylon.com/entertainment/taylor-swift-wouldve-couldve-shouldve-lyrics-explained

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxgU_aepGd0&t=14s

[3] See Isaiah 59:1-2

[4] i.e. Before we came to Christ

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