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IS IT WRONG TO WARN PEOPLE?

Life is filled with warnings. We receive warnings from the government about polluted water. We get warnings from weather-monitoring agencies about dangerous weather conditions. We see warning signs along the side of highways, in malls, and even on the labels of food products and medicine. I think most people appreciate appropriate warnings about existing or potential dangers.

Sometimes, however, when the warnings become personal, we become sensitive and defensive. We might simply close our ears and ignore what the doctor, teacher, or loved one has to say. In other cases, we may get angry and lash out at the one who has sounded the warning. And, if it is a warning made to a person or congregation about their spiritual actions, whew, the warner just might be labeled as a trouble-making, unloving person: “Who does he think he is warning me/us like that?!”

The truth is, in the Bible we read over and over again about warnings being sounded, either in verbal or written fashion. Read the following fact, accept it, and share it: the Godhead warns people. That is correct: the loving God of heaven is a Warner. Before the great flood came, Noah was “divinely warned of things not yet seen” (Hebrews 11:7). Jehovah charged the prophet Ezekiel to be a watchman to the house of Israel, telling him, “. . . and give them warning from Me” (Ezekiel 3:17). The Lord God wanted His people to be warned. About what? About spiritual dangers.

Warning people was part of Jesus’ teaching approach. He told His disciples, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). The Holy Spirit is a Warner, too: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith . . .” (1 Timothy 4:1). If the Godhead warns people, then, no, it is not sinful when God’s children do likewise.

Old Testament prophets were guided by the Spirit to warn people. Jeremiah warned princes, priests, and prophets (false ones). Again, we think of Ezekiel’s task among the Jewish captives in the region of Babylon. Reflect on these excerpts from God’s message to the prophet about what He wanted him to do: “. . . a watchman . . . give them warning from Me . . . warn the wicked . . . give him warning . . . warn the righteous . . .” (Ezekiel 3:17-21). When Jonah warned a whole city, saying, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4), thank God that those words did not fall on deaf ears. The Ninevites genuinely repented and were spared.

As the apostle Paul told overseers from the church in Ephesus that savage wolves would come in among the flock of God to destroy it, he reminded them, “Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31). Wow, three years of ongoing warning. Apostles are not the only ones who communicated by using warnings. The saints in Thessalonica were instructed, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly . . .” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Warning the unruly was the right thing to do in the first century. It still is.

On the part of the warners, let them: (1) give warnings with the right motive – sincere love for the person(s) in spiritual danger, (2) show a gentle, humble spirit when doing it (2 Timothy 2:24,25), and (3) do it with the right goal in mind – “that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13).

On the part of the warnees/the warned, let them (1) consider and evaluate the truthfulness of what is said and (2) not resent, despise, or shoot the messenger. Folks are not our enemies just because they tell us the truth (Galatians 4:16).

We feel pity on those congregations which never, ever hear a biblical message of warning from its teachers and preachers. We also feel sorry for those local churches which basically hear nothing but warnings. Some Bible teachers choose never to warn, while others seemingly make warnings the major thrust of every lesson. Methinks both of these approaches fail to meet what God wants from teachers and preachers of the gospel. Look at the “combo” style of Timothy and Jeremiah’s messages (2 Timothy 4:2; Jeremiah 1:10). They informed, warned, rebuked, encouraged, and built up.

People need to hear what the Bible says about grace, love, forgiveness, fellowship with God, and heaven. They also need to hear warnings about rebellion against God and eternal punishment.

Is it wrong to warn people? The biblical evidence is overwhelming – no, it is not out of place to warn people about spiritual dangers.

Roger D. Campbell

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