These days, practically everything you buy seems to carry some kind of warning on it. Some of these warnings can seem a little ridiculous. For example:
Sainsbury’s peanuts: ‘Warning – Contains nuts’
Nytol Nighttime Sleep-Aid: ‘Warning – May cause drowsiness’
On a household DIY drill: ‘Not intended for use as dentist drill’
Because so many warnings seem almost absurd, the danger is that we ignore them. But not all warnings are so ridiculous.
A foggy day, on 13 March 1991, led to one of Britain’s worst road accidents. Ten people died and twenty-five people were injured in a disaster on the M4 motorway. In the midst of the accident one man was hailed as a hero. Alan Bateman climbed out of his damaged car and ran along the central reservation to try to warn oncoming vehicles of the wreckage ahead. Not all appreciated the warnings. Some drivers sounded their horns at him and drove on towards the crash.
Alan’s warnings to the other drivers were not only heroic; they were an act of love. Jesus himself often warned of dangers ahead (see for example Matthew 7:13,19,26–27). Jesus knew that in the long run it is more loving to warn people by telling them the truth.
God loves you. He does not want you to get hurt. There are many warnings in the Bible and they all stem from God’s love for you.
Warnings about human natureProverbs 26:23-27:4
It is an almost invariable principle of life that what you sow now, you reap later. Much of the teaching in this section of Proverbs is summed up by the verse: ‘If you dig a pit, you will fall into it; if you roll a stone, it will roll back on you’ (26:27). In other words, you reap what you sow.
The writer warns against malice: ‘Malice backfires; spite boomerangs’ (v.27, MSG). However much we try to conceal our desire to hurt other people, it will eventually be exposed: and we will reap the consequences.
Next, he warns against ‘a lying tongue’ (v.28). Be very careful that you only speak the truth about others. It is sometimes tempting to tell exaggerated stories about our opponents. But the writer warns, ‘A lying tongue hates those it hurts’ (v.28).
He goes on to warn about boasting (27:1). Don’t boast about what you are going to achieve, as you don’t know what the future will hold. It is all right to receive praise from others but it should not come from your own lips (v.2).
Then, he warns against provoking people: ‘Stone is heavy and sand a burden, but provocation by a fool is heavier than both’ (v.3).
Finally, in this passage, he warns about jealousy, which Shakespeare described as ‘the green-eyed monster’ that mocks ‘the meat it feeds on’. Jealousy is an even more powerful and dangerous force than anger and fury (v.4): ‘We’re blasted by anger and swamped by rage, but who can survive jealousy?’ (v.4, MSG).
Lord, guard my heart. Forgive me my sins as I forgive those who sin against me. Lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil.
Warnings about immaturityHebrews 5:11-6:12
God’s desire for you is that you ‘grow up in Christ’ (v.11, MSG) into a healthy, strong, spiritually mature follower of Jesus.
Maturity requires a listening attitude. The Christians addressed here have ‘picked up the bad habit of not listening’ (v.11, MSG). God is continually speaking to us (Matthew 4:4). Develop a regular habit of listening to him as he speaks to you, primarily through the Bible.
The writer of Hebrews warns his readers against spiritual immaturity. They ‘ought to be teachers’ (Hebrews 5:12). This does not mean a specialised group. Anyone instructed in the faith was expected to teach others (1 Peter 3:15). One of the best ways to start growing in your faith is to pass it on to others. This is why we often invite those who have encountered Jesus on Alpha to come back and help on the next course.
He wants them to move on from milk to solid food. Teaching is part of Christian maturity. He encourages them to move on from the elementary teachings about Christ: repentance, faith, baptism, laying on of hands, the resurrection and judgment (Hebrews 6:1–2).
This is a striking list of what the writer considers to be the basics, and it is a challenge to all of us who teach in the church. We need to ensure that we are indeed training all people in these things, and then moving them on to ‘solid food’ (5:14). You feed yourself through, for example, worship, church community, Bible study, reading inspiring books and listening to good teaching.
He says, ‘Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil’ (v.14). In other words, maturity comes through practice – applying God’s words to our lives. As John Wimber used to say, ‘The meat is on the street.’ Maturity is not just about head knowledge. You learn as you live out your faith. You learn discernment ‘on the street’, and that enables you to receive the ‘meat’.
He then warns them of the danger of abandoning, or renouncing, their faith (6:4–8). This is a very difficult passage, as at first sight it seems to suggest both that a Christian can fall away, and that there is a group of people for whom repentance is impossible. These are two things that the rest of the New Testament makes clear are not the case (see especially Romans 5–8).
His main aim is to encourage perseverance. The severity of these warnings (Hebrews 6:4–8) makes clear how important this is. However, the point about falling away is not developed because he is confident that they will not do so – ‘I’m sure that won’t happen to you, friends’ (v.9, MSG).
He then congratulates them for the fruit they are showing in their lives. Their acts of kindness are already reckoned by God as if they were done to himself (v.10). He will reward them.
They have started well and now he encourages them to finish well – ‘to show this same diligence to the very end’ (v.11).
Generally, in life, it is much easier to start things than to finish them. When the initial enthusiasm wears off, follow-through requires hard work, patience and courage. Success, fruitfulness and reward come to those ‘who stay the course with committed faith and then get everything promised to them’ (v.12, MSG).
Lord, help me to grow into spiritual maturity. Help me to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised’ (v.12).
Warnings about judgmentEzekiel 4:1-6:14
From the start, it is clear that warning people is never an easy job! This passage is all about God warning his people about what is going to happen to them. Furthermore, what is about to happen to Israel is intended to be ‘a warning… to the nations’ (5:15).
Ezekiel is asked to enact visual aids to show the seriousness of sin and the warning of the impending judgment that will happen if the people do not repent.
Ezekiel must have appeared to be rather eccentric. Lying on his side for a total of 430 days (4:5–6) must have seemed a little odd – but it was a powerful visual aid. (It has probably always been the case that people are more likely to remember what they see than what they hear.) Judgment was coming because the people of God had ‘not even conformed to the standards of the nations around [them]’ (5:7).
God never issues empty threats: ‘I did not threaten in vain’ (6:10). God’s warnings are always acts of love. He desires that all people should repent and ‘come to the knowledge of truth’ (1 Timothy 2:4).
Today, we are so worried about sounding negative or judgmental that there is a danger of us being unloving by not being sufficiently bold in warning people of the dangers ahead.
It was love for God and for God’s people that caused Ezekiel to carry out these visual demonstrations warning of God’s judgment ahead. Ezekiel was told to ‘bear the sin’ of the people (Ezekiel 4:4–6). This visual aid was also a sign of what was to come. Jesus did what Ezekiel was only able to foreshadow. Jesus bore your sins on the cross (1 Peter 2:24). He took the judgment of God upon himself and enabled you and me to receive all the wonderful promises of blessing for those in Christ.
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus changed everything, yet the warnings for us are still real and serious. Indeed, these warnings make the reality of salvation and the many blessings available in Christ all the more amazing. The gospel is great news.
Lord, give me wisdom in how I communicate the good news of Jesus with sensitivity and faithfulness. Give me courage to proclaim the whole counsel of God.
Poor Ezekiel! It sounds awful lying on one side for 390 days and eating food cooked over dung. I don’t think God has ever asked me to do anything like that. Thankfully, we don’t all have to be eccentric.
Verse of the Day
‘God… will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them’ (Hebrews 6:10).
Will Pavia, ‘Warning: Department of Mabelling May Contain Nuts’, Times Online, January 6, 2006.
William Shakespeare, Othello, Act III, scene iii.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.