Win Friends And Influence People
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 3:7b . . .he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to
flee from the coming wrath?”
Vipers were poisonous desert snakes. John publicly addressed these men who were full of venom and poison. He wanted the crowd to hear (LK 3:7; 1 TM 5:20), and to know these men were never to be role models.
John asked, “What brings you here? Are you afraid you might actually be guilty of a wrath worth fleeing?” The image is taken from a field where a brush fire is burning stalks. As it spreads, creatures scurry before the flames.
“Coming wrath” is not a pipedream, but since God’s full wrath is held in abeyance now, the wicked foolishly scoff at it. John the Baptist’s message still needs to be heard. Anyone who does not believe in Jesus “is already condemned”, and “the wrath of God remains on him” (JN 3:18b,36b).
God’s wrath is real and current—active now—but can be avoided. The word “flee” tells us there is a way of escape, and implies the appropriate response is not delay, but to do something immediately with quick action.
Matt. 3:8 “Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance.”
“Therefore”—because you need to flee the wrath to come—prove you are doing so by changing your behavior. Holy living is the only reliable test of true spirituality. Outwardly confessing sin, and shedding tears, are never enough. Some tears falling from eyes are like water flowing out of a rock. The rock remains a rock. A person can weep while their heart remains hard.
Insincere repentance is a sin. A Dominican preacher, after a strong sermon on repentance, asked all who were truly sorry for their sins to raise their hands. Every listener did so. He then called on Michael the Archangel to cut off each hand that had been lifted hypocritically. Every hand dropped.
Thomas Olivers was a businessman who took pride in his ability to defraud his creditors. When he followed Christ, his uncle, who refused to believe Thomas had been saved, said his nephew had been so wicked so long, and the change was so drastic, that he must have seen the devil. His transformation was radical. He claimed everything he owned he had stolen.
Being a shoemaker, he bought a horse, and went to every town he had ever worked in. In each town, he found work, and paid back everyone in that area he had defrauded. When his remarkable pilgrimage ended, he had paid 70 debts. He even sold his horse, saddle, and bridle to finish his payments.
This is “fruit consistent with repentance”. True tears of repentance prove they have purified us inwardly if they cleanse our outward behavior.
Matt. 3:9 “And don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham
as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up
children for Abraham from these stones!”
John knew their thoughts. The religious leaders had to be humbled, to learn they were not indispensable, not the only ones in God’s Kingdom. The leaders believed they were saved based on extra merit gained by Abraham.
John said this was not true. Jesus also disagreed with them, saying, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do what Abraham did” (JN 8:39). Paul said, “Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (RM 9:6).
Paul learned this lesson for himself the hard way. For him to become a believer, he had to renounce his former self-righteous mindset (PH 3:4-9). He had to learn, as we do, “Virtue is not, as lands, inheritable” (Trapp). Our dead ancestors can’t buy us merit. We are not potatoes. The best part of us is not what’s buried underground. Our only hope is our own lowly repentance.
God could easily raise up descendants of Abraham out of stones. In a way, He does this every time He turns a stone heart into a believing heart.
The leaders’ only hope was to have not Abraham’s DNA, but his faith based on repentance. Sadly, they were prolific in thinking of excuses to not repent. Unbelievers are creative in giving reasons why they should not have to repent. Many actually believe the very lies that ruin them. A common excuse is hypocrites. Others say God is too loving to send anyone to Hell.
Many unbelievers feel morally respectable; they can always find people worse than they are. Some think there is plenty of time to decide.
Many point to their baptism, as if it were “a wonder-working charm” (Hendriksen). Some feel no need to repent because they go to church, but they do it out of habit or for merit. Many feel okay because they have long been church members. I love and revere the local church. Despite its flaws, there is no viable substitute. I’m honored to serve a local church, but it can’t save. Many church members will miss Heaven. Someone said there will be enough Southern Baptists in Hell to have a convention. I hope that’s not true.
People hate to repent, but it is the only way to be saved. Sinners don’t want to admit they’ve been wrong for a lifetime and hate to give up a pet sin.
One Sunday on the village square, John Bunyan was playing tip-cat, a game in which a large stick similar to a baseball bat or broomstick was used to see how far a small piece of wood could be hit. He froze with the stick in his hand when he felt he heard a voice ask him, “Will you leave your sins, and go to heaven, or have your sins, and go to hell?” It is a good question to ask, because a beloved sin almost always lurks at the bottom of rejection.
What tasty morsel do you hate to give up to follow Jesus? Whatever it is, it’s not worth the risk involved in it. The only hope for escape from God’s wrath is to repent, to do a Right About Face. Stop walking toward trouble. “There is no going to Heaven by following the road to Hell” (Spurgeon). We must part from sin (anti-God) before we can keep company with Jesus.
John the Baptist’s message was clear—Repent!—and he delivered it gruffly. John obviously never read the book that so positively influenced my life, Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.
John could be bad-tempered, and razor edge sharp. Maybe we would be wise to speak a bit softer than John did. He is a good role model, we want to be like him in many ways, but not in every detail of every thing he did.
Blessed is the reader who can distinguish between the descriptive and prescriptive in the Bible. Many Scriptural depictions, including John’s crusty demeanor, are descriptive, describing what happened in a given situation. They provide details of an event, but are not meant for us to repeat or obey.
Bible commands, on the other hand, are prescriptive, to be obeyed. Bible accounts have to be weighed; are they given to inform or to command? Many details are not to be repeated. For instance, Jesus told the rich young ruler to “Go, sell all you have and give to the poor” (MK 10:21); we don’t require this of people who want to become believers. To replace Judas, the Apostles relied on chance; they “cast lots” (AC 1:26); few of us determine God’s will by drawing straws, flipping a coin, or rolling dice (I do have a friend who does this). The early believers “shared everything they had” (AC 4:32) to minister to one another; we don’t expect people to renounce private property rights. These are descriptive, telling us what happened at a given moment. They are not prescriptive, to be done by all.
John preached under a burden of the Lord not equally distributed to all of us. Before we decide to imitate John’s every remark, let’s remember he lost his head. When I was young, I had a preacher-friend who prayed out loud in church, “God, strike our chairman of deacons dead.” He was rightly and understandably never allowed in the church building again. Be prudent.
What should we imitate about John? His camel clothing, diet of locusts, preaching in a river, beheading? No, we imitate his bold preaching about repentance, and his pointing people to Jesus.