Throughout the written Word of God, we see the record of prophets who have arisen to warn people of impending punishment—both on an individual basis and that given to nations. We find the warnings and the consequences that followed!
In His great love and patience, God has sought to turn people from their rebellion against Him: “Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord God, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live” (Ezekiel 18:23)?
This proclamation is echoed in the writing of the apostle Peter when he states: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Likewise, the apostle Paul writes of God that He “…desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
From these statements we see that God’s purpose is to save people from death!
This is the message that His servants are to bring to those who stand in opposition to God and whose course of life is leading to their destruction.
Following the very severe judgment brought upon the ten tribes of Israel, we see that in the times leading up to their captivity by Assyria, God sought to warn them:
“Yet the LORD testified against Israel and against Judah, by all of His prophets, every seer, saying, ‘Turn from your evil ways, and keep My commandments and My statues, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by My servants the prophets’” (2 Kings 17:13).
Following the punishment on the House of Israel, Judah also refused to be delivered from their rebellious ways, and this testimony records the consequences:
“And the LORD God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, TILL THERE WAS NO REMEDY” (2 Chronicles 36:15-16).
By the examples of both Israel and Judah, we see that they were NOT delivered—they refused to listen and to be restrained from their own ways!
However, we have another example of a people who did listen, and they were spared. This story is told in the Book of Jonah about Nineveh, the ancient capital city of the Assyrian Empire.
Jesus Christ drew a powerful and unmistakable contrast with the population of Nineveh and those who were hearing His own call to repent and believe the gospel (compare Mark 1:15). Here is what He said:
“The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:41).
Attesting to the greater work of Jesus Christ, the Book of John records the hard-hearted, obstinate attitude of those who heard Christ’s preaching:
“But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him” (John 12:37).
When the prophet Nathan was sent to David to confront him for his terrible sin of taking Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, and then having Uriah murdered, David humbled himself: “So David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD…’” (2 Samuel 12:13). We can read of David’s heartfelt repentance in Psalm 51.
In 2 Kings 20:1-11, Isaiah was sent to Hezekiah, king in Judah, telling him to “‘…Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live’” (verse 1). However, Hezekiah bitterly repented—with tears. Note this further record in 2 Chronicles:
“In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death, and he prayed to the LORD; and He spoke to him and gave him a sign. But Hezekiah did not repay according to the favor shown him, for his heart was lifted up; therefore wrath was looming over him and over Judah and Jerusalem. Then Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the LORD did not come upon them in the days of Hezekiah” (2 Chronicles 32:24-26).
In the New Testament, in the Book of Acts, the calling and conversion of Saul is recorded. As a zealous Pharisee, he fought against the emerging Christianity that was growing in Judah—until Jesus appeared to him. In one of the most remarkable instances of a complete turn around, Saul (later named Paul) accepted his correction:
“As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So he, trembling and astonished said, ‘Lord what do You want me to do?’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do’” (Acts 9:3-6).
In the previous examples of David, Hezekiah and Paul, we see that they listened, repented and turned to God, and by doing so, they were saved.
In the Church of God there also will be times when our own actions will need to be corrected. We have instructions for how to handle these circumstances, and one of the most foundational is recorded in Matthew 18:15-20. A first step is to speak to someone privately, and then other steps are outlined.
When we take this first step, the sinning brother has an opportunity to repent. Proverbs 17:9 adds this important dimension: “He who covers a transgression seeks love, But he who repeats a matter separates friends.”
Adding to this, consider what James says: “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20). Then, in 1 Peter, the point is made to remind us to very considerately deal with these situations:
“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins‘” (1 Peter 4:8).
We see that the underlying principle is for us to show patient encouragement for those who are drawn back into the world and who stumble at times (compare 1 Thessalonians 5:14). We have this admonition:
“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself”
When things go beyond this personal interaction, correction may fall to the ministry, and the Bible also instructs us in these matters. Here is what Paul instructs Christians to do in this regard:
“Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).
Also, we know that Jesus Christ has built and continues to oversee and administer His Church, and He affirms that His true ministry shares a role in this responsibility.
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11-12).
We also believe that the gospel is to be preached in all the world as a WITNESS to people who now stand in defiant rejection of God’s laws and of His government (compare Matthew 24:14). By this preaching, the Church of God is seeking to, “Deliver those who are drawn toward death, And hold back those stumbling to the slaughter (Proverbs 24:11).”
So we see that “those” are any who
are disobedient to God. Jesus said, “‘YOU are the light of the world…’” (Matthew 5:14); Continuing: “‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven’” (verse 16).
Here is the solution given by God:
“‘Perhaps everyone will LISTEN and TURN from his evil way, that I may relent concerning the calamity which I purpose to bring on them because of the evil of their doings’” (Jeremiah 26:3).
Lead Writer: Dave Harris