When we were traveling in Alaska, we came to the train crossing outside Girdwood, Alaska. The side of the building had a very conspicuous warning, pictured here.
It tells the reader to always expect a train at this crossing and to stay off the tracks, stay away from the tracks, and stay alive! It certainly cannot be more pointed.
But, likely, even though it was placed there with those explicit terms, people still failed to heed the warning given. The temptation to try to outrun the train, or to cut in front of an oncoming locomotive is just too strong to resist. Hence the warning’s final phrase, “Stay Alive!”.
As Christians, we are told that we should warn others of their sin and of their need for a Savior. In Proverbs 11:30 (ESV) we read:
“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.”
The New International Version of this verse reads:
“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and the one who is wise saves lives.”
Proverbs 11:30 NIV
In considering the second part of this verse and the winning of souls for our Lord, Matthew Henry says that the wise are more than merely righteous. Rather, they are trees of knowledge which is not forbidden but by which the wise man communicates wisdom to others. The purpose of this witness is to win souls for the Lord. In Daniel 12:3 we read that the wise turn many to righteousness, and this is the same thing that is referred to in Proverbs 11:30. Matthew Henry concludes the thoughts about this verse with these words:
“Those that would win souls have need of wisdom to know how to deal with them; and those that do win souls show that they are wise.”
But we should be aware that winning souls comes with a warning. God spoke to Ezekiel advising that he should tell the house of Israel the words that he receives from the Lord. In directing this, He includes a warning for failure to do that which He directs:
“And at the end of seven days, the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.””
John Calvin discusses these verses in his commentary and makes this statement:
Nothing is more precious to God than souls which he has created after his own image, and of which he is both the Redeemer and Father. Since, therefore, our souls and their salvation are so dear to God, hence we infer, how anxiously Prophets and all pastors ought to discharge their duties; for it is just as if God were to commit souls to their care, under this condition of rendering an account of each. Nor is it sufficient to admonish one and another, for unless they had endeavored to recall all from destruction to life and salvation, we hear what God here pronounces. Hence, also, Paul uses this expression, woe is me if I preach not the gospel, for a necessity is laid upon me.(1 Corinthians 9:16. – “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!)
We have been called by our Lord to “make disciples”. This involves teaching and telling them of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We cannot “save” anyone, we can only point to our Lord Jesus. The Holy Spirit will impress upon them the need for their salvation. We “merely” have the assignment to tell the good news and then live it out as a day to day witness of the Lord’s grace, mercy and love.
So, let us take our duties as Christians seriously. Let us not flippantly allow others to do our witnessing for us – we should be, like Paul, compelled to tell others the good news.
“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”
1 Peter 3:15 ESV
When we speak to others, we each do it in our own winsome way, but we must always be prepared to give an answer to those who ask us of our Savior. We must warn others of the danger to which they are exposed, but we must do so with gentleness, respect and an awareness that we are following our Lord’s directive, not our own agenda.
Lord, I pray that you would make me sensitive to those around me so that I will know those to whom I should speak of Your love and grace. Forgive me when I have ignored the obligation to spread your gospel to others. Enable me to be more bold so that I will answer those around me when called.