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Usually we are thankful for watchmen. We are thankful for those who make it their life’s work to study the weather and watch so that they can warn us that storms are coming our way. We are thankful for inspectors who watch the food chain and warn us that a certain food may be contaminated. We are thankful for those who warn us about diseases and infections. In fact, if these people don’t give a warning; if the sirens don’t go off before a tornado hits; if someone knows about a disease or a contaminated product and doesn’t give the warning; we get angry. People file lawsuits to punish those who had the job of warning others and didn’t do their job.
Do you realize that you are a watchman? If you are blessed to know God’s word; if you have memorized God’s commands; if you know that Jesus is coming again in the clouds of heaven to judge the living and the dead; you are a watchman. If you are a parent, you are a watchman for your children. If you are a grandparent, or a great-grandparent, you are a watchman for your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. If you are a leader in the church, you are a watchman for the congregation. If you are a member of the church, you are a watchman for your fellow members. You are a watchman, not to give warning about the weather, or disease, or contaminated food. You are a watchman for each other’s souls just as Ezekiel was a watchman over the congregation of Israel.
Since we are watchmen for each other’s souls, what does God expect of us?
One of the most important things to remember about being a watchman is that we are not to give a warning based on our opinion. God told Ezekiel, whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you are to warn them from me. FROM ME, God says. If we are going to warn someone that they are in spiritual danger we must be able to say, “thus says the Lord.” If we can’t point them to a clear word of God in Scripture, then we are simply giving our opinion.
Here’s an example that’s out there. Someone will give the warning, “unless we keep our liturgy, and our pastors wear robes, and we only use the organ to accompany worship, God will not bless us.” That’s not a warning from God. That’s a warning based on opinion and personal preference. A warning from God would be, “if we don’t spend more time in the word and practice personal daily contrition and repentance, and if we don’t work to find ways to carry out the great commission and reach out to those around us who don’t know Jesus and are caught in sin, God will hold us responsible.” The souls of those around us are much more important that our opinions, our customs and our comfort.
God told Ezekiel, and he tells us, When I say to a wicked man, “Wicked man, you shall surely die,” if you do not speak to warn the wicked man against his way, that wicked man will die because of his guilt, but I will also hold you responsible for his blood.
It’s so easy for us to look at the world around us and point the finger at all the wickedness we see. It’s overwhelming. Who would have thought we would get to the point where homosexuality was celebrated with parades, and movies like “Cuties” would be on TV, and burning and looting would be called peaceful protesting? It’s so easy for us to see the wickedness around us and to withdraw into our own cocoon and try to insulate ourselves from the wickedness of the world, to do what the world wants us to do, “just shut up about God and his word and leave us alone.” But God says to Ezekiel and to us, if you don’t give the warning from God’s word and point out what God says is wickedness, God will hold you responsible, just as we would hold someone responsible for not warning us about a storm, or a disease, or contaminated food.
Jesus asks us to do some very difficult things. He asks us to give his warning to those who are doing what is contrary to his word and will. He asks us to tell them that if they continue to live in a way that is contrary to God’s word and will, they will face something worse than death. They will be condemned on the last day, sent away from the presence of God and everything good for all eternity. If a fellow Christian is living contrary to God’s word and will, Jesus tells us to point it out to them one-on-one and warn them of the eternal consequences of their sin.
This is very difficult, as Ezekiel found out, and especially Jeremiah found out. It is difficult because the first reaction of those you warn is usually negative. When people don’t like the message, they attack the messenger. They call the one who warns them hypocritical, unloving, judgmental. They plot ways to get even, or to destroy their reputation or their business. That’s why it is absolutely important that those who warn are speaking God’s warning not their own opinion.
It’s difficult because when we warn, and the warning is not received; or the one we are trying to warn becomes hostile and turns on us; we want to give up. We feel that we have failed. We are tempted to get angry and, at least think if not say, “Ok then, I hope you get what you have coming.” That’s not the attitude God wants us to have.
God also makes it clear that we are not responsible if someone doesn’t heed a warning that we give them from God. He says, if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he will die because of his guilt, but you will have saved your life. But that doesn’t mean we warn once and think we have done our duty. We are not to think of giving a warning as a duty. We are to think of it as a labor of love. That’s why Jesus didn’t stop at step one in Matthew 18, warning someone just between the two of you. He says that if they don’t listen, continue doing all you can to try to help your brother or sister in Christ see their sin and come to repentance. Recognize that their eternal welfare is at stake and you wouldn’t want to wish the eternal fires of Hell on anyone, especially not someone who has been your brother or sister in Christ.
Consider the attitude with which God gives his warnings. He is a jealous God. He is dead serious about his threat of eternal damnation for all who reject him and live contrary to his word and will. But, he says, As I live, declares the Lord God, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from their way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why should you die, O house of Israel?
God warns in love. He warns because he doesn’t want anyone to be condemned. He wants everyone to come to repentance and live, to have eternal life with him.
We can share that attitude only when we have applied God’s warning to ourselves first. We can share that attitude only when we have seen and admitted our own wickedness; when we have seen that we deserve God’s eternal condemnation just as much as anyone else. Only then will we be able to warn someone else with an attitude of humble love. Only then will we be able to avoid judging ourselves as better than those we warn. Only then will we come across as showing loving concern instead of judgmental pride. Only then will we be able to say, “I’m no better than you are. I’m a sinner too. I know from experience that you are on a path that leads to eternal destruction. I’m warning you because I don’t want to see to anyone eternally condemned. Turn, turn from your sin. Why should you die?”
We can share an attitude of loving concern only when we have experienced repentance ourselves. When we have felt our sins weigh us down, that we are rotting away because of them. When we have wondered, how then can we live? How can I ever be saved? How could God ever forgive me for what I have done! When we have heard God say to us, in his word, or from the mouth of a fellow Christian who loved us enough to warn us, to point out our wickedness and our sin, God takes no pleasure in punishing you. He proved it by punishing his perfect Son, Jesus, in your place. In Jesus he has removed your sins from you as far as the east is from the west. You have confessed your sins and despaired of your own righteousness. God is faithful and just to do what he promised, he has forgiven all your sins in Jesus. He has given you the righteousness you need to have eternal life. He has given you the righteousness of Jesus. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
As a Christian living in this wicked world, as a parent, a grandparent, a great-grandparent who knows God’s will and word, you are a watchman. God expects you to give HIS warning to those who are living contrary to his will and word. If you don’t, he will hold you responsible for their eternal destruction. But, don’t warn others as a duty, or as if you were without sin. Warn in Christian love. Warn as those who have been warned. Warn as those who daily confess your own sins. Warn as those who have experienced God’s love and gracious forgiveness in Jesus. Plead with those who are living contrary to God’s word and will – turn, turn from your ways. God doesn’t want you to be condemned and neither do I. That’s the kind of warning that Christian love gives.