Mike McElroy

He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing. - Proverbs 29:1

“I’m sorry. There’s nothing else we can do.” I’ve been with several families and patients through the years when a doctor has told them that their loved one cannot recover from advancing illness or traumatic injury. The patient is too weak, there are too many complications, they can’t get well. I’ve heard it about my own father. 31 years later, I still remember the green scrubs, the surgeon’s cap, the tears in his eyes as he told us about Dad’s small cell carcinoma and his words, “It’s very bad, and very fast.” I heard it about my Mom’s condition last year, and just lately again about a dear friend. It’s always heartbreaking, no matter how often you hear it. Maybe you’ve heard it, too. It’s a helpless feeling, isn’t it?

The sad news is made even darker when it’s accompanied by a statement something like this: “If only she had been diagnosed before the disease spread….” Or, “If he had listened to warnings, this could have been avoided.” Our sadness about a loss is intensified when we learn that the loss was avoidable or preventable.

Our text for today is like a sad minor chord. The root of the chord is there: this person is broken beyond healing. And the minor third is present, too: the person who cannot be helped failed to heed the warnings. His irreparable ruin is the result of stubborn persistence along a forbidden path.

You probably know someone whose physical health is an example of this. It’s likely that you are familiar with friendships, marriages and families that were destroyed because of this, too. It can also be the case when it comes to spiritual life and death. People do sometimes make “shipwreck of their faith” (1 Timothy 1:19) by following this model. As bad as ruined health, finances or relationships may be, spiritual ruin is infinitely worse and more tragic.

I am sabotaging my own life when wise counselors, loving friends or pointed words from God’s word warn me, and I stubbornly ignore the reproof. Why is this the road to ruin? When the long journey of denial comes to a sickening, sudden stop, it’s insolence, not ignorance that has caused the crash.

A hardened heart brings about a terrible possibility—to “fall from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). Imagine the awful experience of reaching a place where “it is impossible to restore them to repentance” (Hebrews 6:4). We do not want to become like profane Esau, who “found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears” (Hebrews 12:17). That’s the ultimate “broken beyond healing” of our text.

The good news is that this dark tragedy is entirely avoidable. If your heart is stirred by this message, it is not too late. As God grants you the opportunity to repent, do not despise it! Seize it! Repent and humbly confess your sin to God. Those who heed his reproof will find healing by his grace.

We should be aware of a real danger about reading this verse. It’s one of those that is easy to apply to people we know and not so easy to see how it applies to us. Dear friend, I appeal to you. Let’s be humble and healed, not defiant and destroyed.