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Wednesday, 4th November (Day 308)
Holy Trinity Brompton with St Paul, Onslow Square
Holy Trinity Brompton with St Paul, Onslow Square
Wed, 04/11/2009 - 00:00
On Wednesday, 13 March 1991 there was a disaster on the M4 motorway. Ten people died and twenty-five people were injured on a foggy day in one of Britain’s worst road accidents. One man, called Alan Bateman, was hailed as a hero after he climbed out of his damaged car and ran along the central reservation to try to warn oncoming vehicles of the wreckage ahead. Some drivers sounded their horns at him, however, and drove on towards the crash (Challenging Lifestyle, p.221).
His warning of the other drivers was not only heroic, it was an act of love. Jesus himself often warned of dangers ahead (see for example Matthew 7:13, 19, 27). Jesus knew that in the long run it is more loving to warn people by telling them the truth.
God loves us. He does not want us to get hurt. There are many warnings in the Bible and they all stem from God’s love for us. In each of today’s passages we see examples of such warnings.
1. Warnings about human nature
Much of the teaching in this section of Proverbs is summed up by verse 27: ‘If you dig a pit, you will fall into it; if you roll a stone, it will roll back on you’. In other words, we reap what we sow.
The writer warns against malice (v.24-26). However much we try and conceal our desire to hurt other people, it will eventually be exposed (v.24-27).
He warns about boasting (27:1). We should not boast about what we are going to achieve as we don’t know what the future will hold. It is okay to receive praise from others but it should not come from our own lips (27:2).
Finally, in this passage, he warns against jealousy – which Shakespeare described as ‘the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on’ (Othello, Act 3, Scene 3). Jealousy is an even more powerful and dangerous force than anger and fury (27:4).
Lord, thank you for these warnings about human nature. Help us to avoid hypocrisy (26:23), malice (26:26), deception (26:28), boasting, (27:1), anger, fury and jealousy (27:4). Guard our hearts. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
2. Warning against falling away
First, the writer of Hebrews warns his readers against spiritual immaturity. They ‘ought to be teachers’ (v.12). This does not mean a specialised group of intelligentsia. Rather, anyone instructed in the faith was expected to teach others (1 Peter 3:15, Romans 2:21). He wants them to move on from milk to solid food. 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. As John Wimber used to say, ‘the meat is on the street’. I have often noticed how fast people grow in Christian maturity as they start, for example, to help or lead an Alpha small group, or get involved in work on the estates, prisons, homeless projects or in prayer ministry.
Teaching is also 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 judgement, v.1-2).
He then warns them of the danger of apostasy (6:4-8). This is a very difficult passage as at first sight it seems to suggest that a Christian can fall away and that thereafter repentance is impossible. This would be contrary to much of the teaching in the New Testament (see especially Romans 5 – 8).
Who is the writer describing in verses 4-6? Those who have been ‘enlightened’ may refer to baptism (Justin Martyr described baptism this way in the second century). ‘Tasted the heavenly gift’ may refer to the Eucharist (as Acts 20:11). ‘Partakers of the Holy Spirit’ may refer to the laying on of hands. ‘Tasted the word of God and the power of the age to come’ may refer to the message about Jesus and the manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
Some have argued that the writer is being hypothetical: ‘If they fall away…’, although the word ‘if’ does not appear in the Greek. However, this does find some support in verse 9: ‘Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case’ (6:9). It certainly does not seem to have happened yet in the case of the readers.
Others have argued that the people referred to may not have been Christians. They may have been baptised, taken communion, experienced the blessings that the Holy Spirit brings to the Christian community by attending Christian meetings where the Scriptures were read and expounded. They may have been part of the Christian fellowship but not true believers – similar to those referred to in 1John 2:19 who ‘went out from us because they were not of us’.
Others have argued that the writer is saying that it is impossible for him or his readers to restore again, bring back to repentance (6:6), the people he refers to but he is not saying that the Holy Spirit cannot do it. Nor is he saying that the person cannot come to repentance of their own volition.
Whatever the correct interpretation of the passage is, he moves quickly on to reassure the readers. He shows great warmth calling them ‘dear friends’ (6:9). He reassures them that he does not expect them to fall away. The deeds of kindness which they have done to the people of God 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’ (6:11).
Lord, help us all to finish well. Help us to grow in maturity through action and study. Keep us from drifting away. Help us not to ‘become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised’ (6:12).
3. Warnings about judgment
Yesterday we read about how the Lord said to Ezekiel ‘I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me’ (3:17).
In today’s passage we see Ezekiel taking the first steps in carrying out the warnings that God had instructed him to give. It is clear from the start that warning people is never an easy job!
Ezekiel is asked to enact visual aids to show the seriousness of sin and the warning of judgment which will happen if they do not repent.
Ezekiel must have appeared to be a little eccentric. Lying on his side for 390 days and then for 40 days 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).
What was about to happen to the people of God was intended as a warning (5:15). God does not simply issue 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 threatening that there is a danger of us being unloving by not being sufficiently bold in warning people of the dangers ahead. Of course, especially in our culture, we need to begin with a positive message. However, as people move from milk to solid food, from infancy to maturity, it is important to consider some of the warnings in the Bible as well as the many wonderful promises of blessing.
Lord, give us wisdom in how we communicate the good news of Jesus with sensitivity and faithfulness. Give us courage to proclaim the whole counsel of God.