If you drive a motor car, you will probably have seen this phenomenon from time to time, or may even have been guilty of it yourself. The possibilities are quite sinister. Suppose your vehicle indicates left when you’re approaching a junction, but you intend to go straight on. Unless he realised that you haven’t slowed down, someone waiting to emerge from the junction could pull out in front of you and a serious accident could result. Equally, I have been sitting at a junction waiting for an oncoming vehicle to pass me when, with no signal, he turns into my road. I grumble about wasted time, thinking, ‘a signal would have helped!’ and my mind is temporarily distracted from the road ahead of me.
As a time-served professional driver, I’m aghast at the behaviour of some drivers on our roads today. Most of the faults are rooted either in selfishness or carelessness and it’s sometimes obvious that one feeds on the other. (As you can probably tell, this is something of a hobby-horse for me so – before we explore what lessons these examples have for us – I’ll suggest, in fairness, a possible reason for an indicator signalling wrongly: if a driver is unfamiliar with his surroundings but knows he has to take a left turn, he may indicate but, on approaching the junction, realise that he really needs the next turning instead, and so he leaves the indicator operating.)
Matthew reports a parable that Jesus told, about two brothers (Matt. 21:28-30). Their father asked them to go and work in his vineyard. One said he wouldn’t, but later changed his mind and went, while the other said he would go, but didn’t. This might be the first Bible story that these misleading signals bring to your mind. The purpose of the parable, however, wasn’t just a lesson in honesty, but to explain to the religious leaders that simply saying they wanted to do God’s will wasn’t enough: they had to follow through with the appropriate deeds!
St Paul had never been to the city of Colossae, but he was aware of the church that had been founded there, and was concerned that its members should follow the true teaching about Jesus. He was concerned that there were teachers among them who hinted at specialised knowledge and powers that only certain people were privileged to possess. They were deceiving the rank and file with ‘fine sounding arguments’ (Col. 2:4) and ‘hollow and deceptive philosophy’ (v. 8), but Paul was keen to make it clear that the requirement was to receive Jesus as Lord, but not only to receive Him, but to live their lives according to His teaching alone (vv. 6-7). Paul expands on this in the remainder of the chapter. Indeed the focus of the whole letter is devoted to this essential clarification.
So how do you react to incorrect signals? You might assume that the driver will do as his signals suggest: that if says he’s going to turn out of your way, then he will, and you’re safe to proceed across his path. If you are more experienced, you watch his wheels, assess his speed and, recognising the false wink, wait until he has passed. When it comes to spiritual signals, if someone comes to you with a high-flying scheme, guaranteeing your salvation if you recite certain words, or pay a subscription, do you simply follow his recommendations? Or do you let the Holy Spirit guide you? It’s worth remembering that Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)?