[L]ove that does not warn is not love at all.
The parent who doesn’t warn a chain-smoking child about the dangers of nicotine is not a loving parent.
The doctor who doesn’t warn a morbidly obese patient about the dangers of overeating is not a loving doctor.
The preacher who doesn’t warn his straying flock about the dangers of spiritual compromise is not a loving pastor.
Love warns, and it warns loudly and clearly – but that does not mean harshly or with an angry, self-righteous spirit.
Love warns with tears.
Love warns with brokenness.
Love warns with longsuffering.
That’s why Jesus wept in public as He warned Jerusalem about the terrible judgment that was at the door (Luke 19:41-45).
That’s why Jeremiah wept in secret when the nation refused to hear his warnings of impending disaster (Jeremiah 13:17).
That’s why Paul said to the elders of Ephesus, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears” (Acts 20:29-31).
When is the last time we warned someone with tears? When is the last time we cared enough to weep for them in private?
May God break our hearts with the things that break His heart. May the Lord shatter our indifference.
In the words of the Book of Proverbs, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. . . . Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue” (Proverbs 27:5-6; 28:23).
We are not called to tickle people’s ears and make them feel good. We are called to speak the truth in love, to have hearts of compassion and backbones of steel, to emulate the true prophets not the false prophets, to do the right thing rather than the convenient thing.
Oh that God would deliver us from a crippling, compromising, man-pleasing mentality!
In your life or ministry, do you really want to be surrounded by a bunch of Yes-men who tell you what you want to hear rather than what you need to hear? Do you really want to work with a bunch of carnal prophets who say, “All is well, all is well,” when nothing is well? (See Jeremiah 6:14.) Then do the same for others and save them from disaster and self-destruction by warning them when they are on the wrong path.
Paul’s final exhortation to Timothy rings as true today – if not even more true – than the day it was written: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:2-4).
Lots of good, challenging Bible verses there. It shows that telling people “watch out” is a real thing. First point I want to make is that you should use data when you warn people, if you can. Notice that in Dr. Brown’s list, he talked about smoking and obesity, which doctors universally frown on. He wants to tell people the consequences for their health if they choose to smoke or be obese. A lot of moral issues are like that, where you want to tell someone the consequences, which they are often ignorant of – especially when they are young and foolish. So do use studies and papers to show the consequences.
I don’t think it’s something you can do flippantly. But if you have life experience in the area that you are warning about, then it is a good idea to tell what you learned to someone who is about to make a mistake. For example, suppose you see someone about to move in with their boyfriend, and their boyfriend has no degree, delivers pizzas, has gaps in his resume, and has no savings. And he’s 30. If you moved in with a deadbeat guy and it went nowhere, then you should tell this other person what happened to you, and what you learned from it. Don’t be afraid to pull out studies about cohabitation to turn your personal experience into something more persuasive.
Even better than a bad experience is how-to knowledge. If you have tried to do something and been successful at it, then you are in a position to say what worked. Suppose you have good STEM degrees, a good long work history and lots of earned income that you’ve saved and invested. You see a guy who is about to do a degree in art history, then he wants to go on vacation for two years in Europe, before finally trying to find a full-time job. You know – based on your own success – that this is bad for his resume, bad for his career, bad for his future marriage (a lot of divorces happen because of money). Well, then say something to him. It’s better to say something and risk losing him as a friend than for him to proceed in ignorance and make a mistake. It’s better to tell the truth than to be liked for lying. That is the loving thing to do.
Finally, if you are the person who is being warned, then respect the people who try to tell you the truth. God knows, it is hard to be the person who speaks the truth in a day and age when people just want to be happy, and be surrounded with positive affirmation. What happens when you chase away the people who have the courage to tell you the truth is that you find yourself surrounded by liars. It’s never going to be the case that you know everything about everything. There will always be people who know more than you. If you keep chasing them all away for disagreeing with you, you’ll only be left with your own judgment and a crowd of people who either don’t know the truth, or won’t tell you it. Be careful how you treat the truth-tellers in your life.