I have preached funerals because some individual treated a red robot or a STOP sign as a suggestion rather than as a commandment. Such tragedies are needless and humanly avoidable.
As both a driver and a runner, I daily observe drivers who apparently need either glasses or lessons in literacy. I have left handprints on the bonnets or sides of more vehicles than I care to remember, seeking to avoid serious injury caused by heedless drivers as I crossed the street. For some reason, many of them seem to assume that “S-T-O-P” reads, “R-O-L-L.” But I must confess that I too sometimes have the same problem. For some reason, I read those four letters as “S-L-O-W” rather than as a command to come to a standstill. But even for those of us who have momentary lapses of concentration, the distinctively-shaped sign should suffice to bring any foot to the brake pedal.
In thinking about the easy neglect of the STOP sign, I would suspect that such law-breaking further contributes to wider lethargy when it comes to other laws. After all, if you become accustomed to one form of disobedience, it is easier to become accustomed to others.
Years ago, in New York City, Mayor Rudolf Giuliani oversaw a crime-reduction program in which the most minor offences, such as graffiti on public property, were punished by arrest and fines. Over time, this zero-tolerance approach led to a reduction in the overall crime rate. Because less serious crimes were punished, the rates of serious crimes reduced dramatically. Those tempted to break the law soon realised that, when it came to the New York City Police, “STOP” was not merely a suggestion.
If we pause to reflect, most of us would have to confess that the legally-prescribed commandment to STOP is often merely interpreted as a suggestion. And our disobedience makes our roads a very dangerous place. But rather than turn this article into a K-53 manual, I want to address the wider problem of treating God’s commands in the same way that we often treat STOP signs. That is, we often treat His command as a mere word to be considered. All too often, we “roll through” God’s revealed STOP signs, and the results are tragic.
As we saw repetitively in the book of Leviticus, the Lord commanded Moses to command the people. These commands were not merely good ideas, but God’s demands which He expected to be obeyed. God warned the people (in chapter 26) that, if they did not obey His laws, He would judge them. They did not, so He did. They treated His “STOP” as a suggestion, rolled through the intersection of disobedience, and were consequently destroyed by His holy wrath.
Though Christians are no longer under condemnation (Romans 8:1), we may not ignore God’s commands with impunity. If we ignore God’s inspired commands, we will suffer consequences—often very painful ones.
Now, let’s apply this principle to several areas.
When the Bible commands a man and a woman not to sleep together until they are rightfully married, it is not merely a good idea; it is law—God’s law.
When God commands His people to rest one day in seven, it is not merely a helpful suggestion for the weary, but rather a compassionate and wise commandment for all of us.
When God commands a husband to love his wife sacrificially, God expects that he will do so.
When God tells us to stop lying, murmuring, gossiping, and backbiting, He is not merely telling us to slow down in such sins. No, He is commanding us to STOP; to put on the volitional brakes and to come to a screeching halt. If we don’t, someone will probably get hurt.
When we refuse to pay heed to God’s command to stop our sinning, the consequences can be tragic. And Christian families and churches are no exception.
I know of far too many situations in which churches were ripped apart by “Christians” who thought themselves the exception when God commanded them to stop gossiping. I know of believing parents who rue the day that they did not pay heed to God’s Word when it told them to stop indulging their children but rather to discipline them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Many lives, and churches, have been damaged because a believer, or a group of believers, rebelled against the command to forgive and to not be embittered. Rather, they rolled through the prohibition like a taxi driver in rush hour and the damage has been similarly traumatic.
I wonder how many marriages have been ruined because a husband did not STOP when he saw something on the internet that was evil. He thought he could handle it and so he kept on scrolling until he crossed the line and the sinful infidelity devastated his marriage.
I could give example after example of God-appointed STOP signs that people have ignored with a carefree dismissal. They just “rolled on through,” thinking that they were the exception. But they found out too late that they were not. And all too often, like the irresponsible driver who kills the unsuspecting pedestrian, those who break God’s laws leave devastation in their wake.
As Mayor Giuliani’s approach to law-breakers illustrates, if we treat any of God’s laws lightly, we find it easy to treat His other laws lightly too. If we grow accustomed to rolling over a divine command in one part of life’s neighbourhood, it becomes easier to do so over on the next street as well.
Therefore, when God’s Word commands you to do something, just do it. And when it commands you to STOP doing something, remember that it is a word to be obeyed, not merely a suggestion to be considered.