By Neal Pollard
In one of the cruelest, most tragic practical jokes ever played, three Florida teenagers removed a stop sign from a busy intersection. Consequently, three other young people lost their lives in a multicar crash. The pranksters now face the probability of several decades in prison. How sickening that they could find humor or pleasure in doing something so morbidly sinister!
Long ago, the inspired Solomon said, "Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set" (Prov. 22:28). The message conveyed is that the established boundaries must remain in their places. In Moses' day, in preparation for possessing Canaan, Israel was warned against removing a neighbor's landmark (Deut. 19:14). In fact, one who did so was bitterly cursed (Deut. 27:17). Solomon's warning in Proverbs 22, though obviously literal, has spiritual application for the modern Christian. As it was woeful to remove property stakes to take someone else's land in ancient Israel and as it was terrible to remove a stop sign to create that traffic accident in Florida, it is also dangerous for anyone to remove the "stop signs" God has erected in his Word!
Someone has rightly said, "Whenever God says 'thou shalt,' he is really saying, 'Do yourself a favor.' Whenever God says 'thou shalt not,' he is saying 'don't hurt yourself.'" He has placed certain "stop signs" along the road of life, the intention of which is to save man from spiritual disaster. One, whether through rationalization or rebellion, must respect them and leave them alone. Consider some of these "stop signs" man has removed:
The "Stop signs" in Sexual Matters. The casual attitude of some young people (and older people!) toward sexual intercourse outside of marriage is frightening. From the dawn of time, Satan has urged the plucking up of restraint in this area of life (remember Sodom and Gomorrah?). His disciples say that it is natural, inevitable, and desirable to commit what is to God an abomination (1 Cor. 6:18; Gal. 5:19). To successfully tempt man to commit fornication, the devil must remove the stop signs that keep a person from committing it. One stop sign is purity of heart (Phil. 4:8), where the thought of fornication is too troubling and fearful. Another stop sign is a properly trained conscience (cf. 1 Tim. 4:2), where one is ashamed even of thinking of doing that evil. But, when one overcomes righteous inhibition and lets down the barriers (engaging in immoral intimate talk, wearing alluring clothing, petting, etc.), the stop sign is slowly uprooted. The result is calamitous, for one who commits fornication sins grievously (Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5).
The "Stop Signs" in Sinful Habits. Using tobacco, alcoholic beverages or other drugs, cursing, lying, gambling, and similar habits are formed when the stop signs have already been removed. These activities bring frightening results. They are embraced only after the qualms are overcome. Perhaps the fear of being caught doing the sin keeps one from engaging in a sinful habit. Maybe the thought of how such would hurt the Lord steers one away from it. It could be a desire to do only what is right and well-pleasing to God keeps one from it. But, when one can rationalize why doing a sin is OK, comfort one's self in seeing that "everyone does it," or justify the thing by moderate or minimal involvement in it, the stop signs are being removed. One no longer deals with precepts like "abstain from the very appearance of evil" (1 Thess. 5:22), "abstain from fleshly lusts that war against the soul" (1 Pet. 2:11), or "love not the world" (1 John 2:15). Instead, having removed the stop signs that should keep them from their sinful activity, they build what becomes a sinful habit that they learn to hate but from which they cannot cease.
The "Stop Signs" in Falling Away. The Christian is told to be faithful unto death to receive eternal life (cf. Rev. 2:10). All Christians should know that if they are not loyal to Christ (as applicable to giving, attending the assemblies, evangelizing, praying, studying, etc.), they will be lost (2 Pet. 2:2022; Heb. 6:46; 10:2631; et al). But few go from being completely faithful to completely falling away from Christ! No, one must remove the stop signs first. One will not miss every service all at once, but will only miss occasionally. One will not stop reading the Bible altogether, but just a day here or there. One will not dive back into a sinful lifestyle, but just return once (then twice, then three times). But, assuredly, when one stops loving and serving the Lord and turns inward to listen to self, one will begin pulling out God's stop signs. God wants no one lost (2 Pet. 3:9), but most will be lost (Matt. 7:1314). Those who are lost will have removed every stop sign that God has erected between them and hell.
God's Word is man's law (Rom. 8:2; Gal. 6:2). It was instituted for man's own good (Psa. 119:133). Man gets hurt, emotionally, even physically, and always spiritually, when he violates God's will (cf. Rom. 6:23; James 1:1315). The results which follow man's removing God's "stop signs" being so harmful, may all resolve to do all in the name of the Lord (cf. Col.3:17; Phil.4:13)! Such will make for a safe trip on "the way" (cf. John 14:6).