Beware!

 

Scripture Reading:

 

II Peter 3:17Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.”

 

            During the past several months we have been studying the books of the minor prophets in our Sunday morning Bible class.  In them we find continuous warnings given to the northern kingdom of Israel, Judah and even heathen nations to repent and turn back to God from their sinful ways.  Israel and later Judah, in spite of being the chosen people of God, had sunk into the depths of sin as far or farther than any people in existence before or since.  As a result, God destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel, disbursing its people. Then he sent Judah into 70 years of captivity; restoring them to the promised land only long enough for his plan of salvation of mankind from their sins to be completed.  One of the saddest aspects of the history of the nation of Israel is that their destruction could have been prevented; it did not need to happen.

            As we look about us today in this world and in this country mankind has sunk into a depth of degradation and sin that is unprecedented in it’s history.  Look around you.  Our government is as corrupt, or more so, than it has ever been in our history.  The morals of a great many people have sunk so low that homes, marriages, and even life itself no longer holds any value in the minds of many people.  Congregations of the Lord’s church that once were anchored solidly in the Rock of Ages have cut themselves adrift and need to remove the name “church of Christ” from their signs and buildings because they have abandoned the Word of God for their own doctrines.  In the face of this situation we need to protect ourselves.  We need to prevent ourselves from being drawn into the world’s morass of sin.  We need to understand how to not be buried in the avalanche of false doctrines and false practices fostered by our brethren.  How do we do that?  We need to hear the lessons of Israel and prevent ourselves from being destroyed eternally in a devils hell.  We need to beware, hence the title and general subject of this lesson.

            We find this word “BEWARE” first used in scripture to warn Abraham not to send Isaac to Haran to find a wife; he sent his eldest and most trusted servant instead.  His son didn’t need to be tempted with the attractions of a major city.  We find this word in the KJV some 26 times, the majority in the New Testament.  It means to “be on guard against, avoid, be wary of, cautious or careful” and carries the idea of living like a deer during the hunting season, alert, watchful and aware of all of the dangers around us.

 

Of What Should We Beware?

 

  1. We must beware of unbelief:

 

The Israelite nation had been led out of Egyptian bondage by the power of God.  They had heard God speak to them from the mountain at Sinai, saw the manifestation of God in many ways, were protected, and God administered to all of their needs.  But when God was ready for them to enter into the land promised, they refused to obey because they did not believe God.  The Hebrew writer tells us:

 

Hebrews 3:8-9Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: 9When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.” v.12Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.”

 

Consequently they wandered in that wilderness area until that entire generation had died.

 

            Even Moses was swept up in this same attitude toward God at times.  At Kadesh when he was commanded to speak to the rock so that God could bring forth water for Israel.  But what did he do?

 

And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also. “Numbers 20:11

 

            Moses did not obey God and it cost him the opportunity to enter into the land promised by God to the descendants of Israel.  Likewise through unbelief we can forfeit our entry into the heavenly land promised by God to his children today.  What is one of the ways to beware of unbelief?

 

Hebrews 12:1-2Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

 

Saturating our hearts and minds in the Word of God will indeed help us to beware, to prevent being overcome by the world or by our false brethren around us.

 

2. We must beware of covetousness:

 

            When we look round us today we see evidence that the majority of people are living their lives in pursuit of material things; in pursuit of wealth and comfort.  Homes have grown larger and larger in our lifetime, two, three or even four car garages are required for many people.  People who once raised a family of six or eight in less than 1200 square feet now require 2000 for two people, and complain because that’s not big enough.  Everything has to be bigger, better, with more bells and whistles, providing the opportunity to do things that 15, 10 or even five years ago we wouldn’t have even thought about because it hadn’t been invented yet.  Everybody wants more and more.  What does Jesus tell us?

 

And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” Luke 12:15

 

And then he goes on to tell the parable about the man whose blessings from God were so abundant that his barns could not hold it all.  In his covetousness he chose to hoard it all, tearing down his barns and building bigger ones, using it only for his own benefit.  What was his end?

 

But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? 21So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”  Luke 12:20-21

 

How do we beware of the temptation of covetousness?  We focus the time, energy and purpose of our lives on our eternal destiny rather than our material blessings.  We:

 

“…lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:” Matthew 6:19

 

3. We must beware of false teachers:

 

            Many of our apostate brethren that surround us are in the condition that they are in because they did not heed the warning of Jesus to his disciples:

 

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Matthew 7:15

 

Instead of being aware and avoiding false teachers many of our brethren embraced charismatic, smooth talking preachers and teachers regardless of their doctrines.  Many of these not only taught false doctrines but came with an agenda designed to change the church to be like the denominations around us just as Israel was changed to be just like their Canaanite neighbors.  Instead of holding the Christian colleges and universities to the concepts and commitments of their charters, the reason for their existence, they turned a blind eye and continued to send their young people to drink at these wells of spiritual poison.  Instead of applying proper discipline to apostate preachers, they held them high or passed them on with their blessing and allowed them to contaminate other congregations.  Instead of obeying God’s commandments regarding true fellowship with Him, they glad hand, accept and honor anyone who dares to claim that they are a Christian.  They have become as those described by Peter:

 

Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;” I Peter 2:15

 

Lest we think that, well, many of these congregations aren’t that far off; let us remember that any journey down the road to destruction is like any other, it starts with one step, then another, until we reach a point of no return.  Unfortunately, many, if not most, have reached that point of no return where they will refuse to repent, just like Israel.

 

Why Should We Beware?

 

1. We must beware lest we be spoiled.

 

            Uncounted millions will stand before the judgment bar of God condemned because they did not heed they words of the apostle:

 

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” Colossians 2:8

 

As a result of not being aware and knowing that they must beware of the ways of the world men have become spoiled.  Not spoiled in the way we think about spoiled children, though that might apply as well, but spoiled as in spiritually corrupt, rotten and disowned by the God that many profess to follow.

They have adopted the “do your own thing” of the 1960’s flower children not humbling themselves before God.  They have accepted the “I’m OK, you’re OK” philosophy of the 1970’s and will deal harshly with anyone who opposes their agenda or suggests that someone should be admonished, corrected or disciplined in any way.  Some of these corrupt philosophies have grown until they now seek to entrench their sin in the very fiber of society by coming under the force of law.  They have become as these Old Testament examples and will share their fate, if not physically then spiritually in the day of judgment:

 

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  v. 7And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth…” Genesis 6:5

 

And that he did by a flood:

 

Genesis 18:20And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous;” he would go down to see for himself.  And when he did v.24Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;”

 

The cities were destroyed and the lush, green plain that enticed Lot to move his flocks and herds because a harsh desert good only for the manufacture of chemicals and the gathering of pitch and salt.

 

There is more but time does not permit.

 

2. Beware lest we be led into error.

 

            Here we can draw a parallel between the condition of our present government and the church.  Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; the brother of our Lord wrote:

 

Jude v.44For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

            Many of the problems with our government, the people that we have sent to our state houses and national capital have become corrupted by our political system.  Some were corrupt from the beginning and crept in unawares, others became such while there; bowing to the pressure of going along to get along allowing laws to be enacted that are an abomination to God.  If they were not ungodly men when we sent them there, many didn’t take very long to become just like their cohorts.

            The situation with the Lord’s church is much the same.  As we noted a few moments ago, many of the false teachers that have destroyed good congregations of the Lord’s church in recent years came in with an agenda of change. 

 

And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:” Galatians 2:4

 

Frequently change agents could not be identified immediately, they came in quietly, privily or privately; they came highly recommended, or they had family that someone knew or even in the congregation, and they were not always preachers.  Through their efforts to “modernize”, “grow”, make their congregation of the Lord’s church more “acceptable” to the world around them (just like Israel) they led their congregations into error.  Consequently hundreds, if not thousands, of churches today with “church of Christ” on their sign need to remove it because it no longer applies.

 

3. Beware lest we fall.

 

            Oh, some are so filled with themselves that they think they cannot fall.  Some are so drawn and enticed by false prosperity that they become like Lot.  When Abraham gave him the opportunity to choose:

 

“…Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar.” Genesis 13:10

 

Lot was enticed to move into that plain because of the abundance for his flocks and herds.  But what was the result?  Lot wound up losing all of his material blessings, all of his family except two daughters and spending his last days living in a cave in the mountains fearful and separated from all men.  Lot fell, so can we, not only falling into acceptance of the sins and abominations around us but we can fall away from God as well.  Just as Israel had been warned, we too have been warned by the Son of God.  In explaining the parable of the sower to his disciples; some of the seed, the word of God fell on rocks:

 

They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. 14And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.” Luke 8:13-14

 

If we fall into accepting and condoning the excesses of mankind; if we fall into accepting the false doctrines of our apostate brethren and continuing in fellowship with them, we reject the fellowship of God and fall into the hands of God.

 

31It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 10:31

 

Especially if it means that we face eternity unprepared.

 

Who Should Beware?

 

1. Who should beware? Preachers and teachers:

 

            Preachers and teachers need to preach and teach the word of God, nothing more, nothing less and nothing else.  When I was a young boy most of the congregations of the church of Christ did not have individual Bible classes, just one big class that everyone attended.  If they had had Bible classes they would not have used study materials written by man anyway as they believed that it was a sin to do so.  The material available was a great help and true to the Word of God; but today is far different.  As anyone who has tried to find reliable material to use to teach can testify, finding material that has not been polluted with false doctrines and liberal philosophies is almost impossible.  Paul wrote the young preacher:

 

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” II Timothy 4:2

 

What we study, teach or preach, that which we feed our mind and soul is what we become.  Paul again testifies:

 

Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?” Romans 2:21

 

And we not only have responsibility for ourselves but also for the souls of those who hear us.  As Paul wrote Timothy:

 

I Timothy 4:16Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”

 

2. Who should beware? Elders:

 

            Speaking to the elders from the church at Ephesus:

 

take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Acts 20:28

 

            Yes, God has given elders in the local congregation oversight of the members of that group of people.  But does that authority and responsibility stop at the church building door?  Some of our apostate preaching brethren would have us believe that the only authority elders have is what the congregation gives them.  That notion is not from the word of God but if they can persuade enough members of such; then they can get rid of any sound elders that would oppose their false doctrines.  Someone might say, “What I do in my personal life is none of the elders’ business”.  But that is not God’s plan or purpose.  God says:

 

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” Hebrews 13:17

 

Elders are tasked with watching for our souls, not only has God given elders that authority and responsibility He will hold them accountable if they fail to do so.  If elders are to watch for our souls they have to have enough knowledge of our personal lives to do that.  They have to know our hearts, our minds and what we’re doing or not doing.

            Elders must beware of false teachers.  Elders must beware of becoming lax in their oversight and allowing sin to creep into their congregation.  Elders must beware of playing politics, favorites or letting family ties keep them from applying scriptural discipline.

 

3. Who should beware? All men:

 

            Salvation is for all people:

 

Galatians 3:28-29There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

 

            Just as salvation is for all people, condemnation will fall on all who reject God.  God did not spare the angels from punishment

 

II Peter 2:4 For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;”

 

            All down through the history of man, God has destroyed those who opposed him.  The first with a great flood, then Sodom, Gomorrah and the cities of the plain because of their wickedness, Israel when she rebelled against Him and would not return and we could go on and on.

            We must be aware and beware of the philosophies, ways and practices of the world around us.  We must be aware and beware of governments and politicians who are corrupt morally or spiritually and exercise our right as American people and support those, if there are any available, who try to uphold righteousness.  We must be aware and beware of false teachers and false doctrines being brought into the body of Christ following the direction of the Holy Spirit:

 

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” Romans 16:17

 

Even if that means that in order to worship God as he has commanded we can only do so with two or three others in our own homes that is what we must do.  If we can only maintain our fellowship with God by refusing fellowship to those around us that claim to be our brethren but are not, then that is what we must do.

 

How Can We Beware?

 

1. How can we beware? Through knowledge:

 

            Knowledge properly learned from the only source of true knowledge, seasoned with experience becomes wisdom.  The prophet Hosea lamented:

 

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.” Hosea 4:6

 

            This is reason for Paul’s instruction to Timothy:

 

II Timothy 2:15-16Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 16But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.”

 

2. How can we beware? Take heed:

 

            Jesus Christ warned his disciples:

 

“…Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod.” Mark 8:15

 

            What was the leaven of the Pharisees?  It was hypocrisy; they were teaching the Word of God, binding his law and some more besides upon the people but refusing to follow their own teachings.  Consequently Jesus gave these instructions:

 

All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.” Matthew 23:3

 

            What was the leaven of Herod?  It was the Greek philosophies, hedonism; the mindset that we should eat, drink, be merry and enjoy whatever lust or desire arose in our minds.  Or as one of the beer commercials used to preach, we only go around once so grab all the gusto you can.  Either one of these leavens will permeate our souls and send us into eternal destruction.

 

3. How can we beware?  Watch and pray:

 

            Watch, be on guard, avoid situations that would compromise your soul.  Avoid supporting, condoning or endorsing people or practices that are contrary to God and God’s will.  Jesus said, “WATCH”, live and watch as though this world will end before sunrise tomorrow morning:

 

Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: 36Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. 37And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.” Mark 13:35-37

 

            There is no doubt that if we communicate with God on a regular basis by studying his word; that we keep our guard up at all times and that we talk to him “WITHOUT CEASING” (I Thessalonians 5:17) through prayer that we:

 

“…have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: 7Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. 8Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” Colossians 2:6-8

 

William L. Schwegler, PM Worship, Sunset church of Christ, Shreveport. LA; October 26, 2008