The Warnings We Need
Robert Wurtz II
Him we preach, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature (perfect) in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:28-29)
Paul gives three approaches he used to bring about the perfection of everyone in Christ: preach, warn, and teach. The preaching likely contained both warning and teaching. In this entry, I wish to focus on how the New Testament emphasizes the need to “warn” people. The Greek word is noutheteo, and it could be translated to rebuke or to admonish. The New Testament has already made clear that we are to always act in love, so I will not spend time belaboring that point. Everything we do should be motivated by love.
The word noutheteo or “warn” and “admonish,” in the context of teaching and proclaiming, emphasizes the need to warn someone about a behavior or belief. [BDAG G679.] Sadly, warning people is no longer a standard aspect of Christian teaching and preaching in the mainstream. I suggest that this deficiency is a primary reason why conversions are frequently shallow and short-lived. People are not having the truth of judgment set before their eyes.
I recall as a teenager a sermon entitled, “Roadblocks on the Road to Hell.” In the 1970s and 1980s, it wasn’t uncommon to hear such messages. Yet in modern times, preaching that alarms people is generally out of style unless the topic is “the rapture.” Yet Paul warned everyone, including Roman officials such as Felix (Acts 24:25), that judgment is coming. We are all going to stand before God and give an account of the deeds done in our body (Romans 14:10, 2 Corinthians 5:10). Paul made a habit of reminding people of this—a practice that is all but neglected today (see 1 Thessalonians 5:12-14; 2 Thessalonians 3:15; 1 Corinthians 4:14; Romans 15:14).
Warning the Lost
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30-31)
Paul focuses on the impact that Christ’s resurrection should have on our thinking process. We are assured that everyone who has ever lived back to Adam will be raised from the dead to give an account of their lives one day. God is no longer overlooking ignorance. A day of reckoning is coming for everyone. In 2 Corinthians 5:10, Paul reminds the Corinthians that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. He then adds, “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord; we persuade men (…)” (2 Corinthians 5:11b).
It wasn’t just Paul warning us; it was John the Revelator, too. Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. (Revelation 20:11-12)
One must work hard to gloss over all the frequent warnings in scripture regarding our final accountability to God. The time would fail to list all the warnings in the New Testament alone. Yet, we live in an age that frowns on anything that causes genuine alarm for one’s soul. The enemy doesn’t want people knowing about and thinking about accountability, and either does the world. We are constantly bombarded with messages about things that will kill the body but are rarely warned about behaviors that can destroy the soul.
Not only should warnings be a regular part of our preaching and teaching, but they should also be part of our interaction with one another as believers. We need to remind one another about the seriousness of sin and our final accountability. We need to provoke one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:23-25). I recall as a boy a Sunday School teacher admonishing me not to use words that sound like you are taking God’s name in vain. She said, “That’s DANGEROUS!” I have to ask, when was the last time you told someone or were told by someone,” Brother, that behavior is dangerous!”?
Worship or Warning?
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing (warning) one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
Worship cannot do what only a warning can do. I recently heard a man preaching that “this generation has taught people to sing and preach, but not to live right.” Have we left out the first part of Colossians 3:16 and doubled up on the second? What good is it to sing for if we won’t obey? What use is worship if we won’t warn people about the sin in their lives? We desperately need to heed Paul’s directive, “Him we preach, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature (perfect) in Christ.”