Recently I was struck by how often the expression 'take heed' occurs in the Word of God. Even if all these verses are not necessarily the translation of the same Hebrew or Greek word, they are all terms that convey more or less the same thought. The main idea behind all these passages is described with the following translations: keep, observe, beware, consider, behold.
In this series of articles we will be looking at a number of these passages, but not at all of them, so there is plenty of room for further Bible study on the subject. The meditation on the different passages has been divided under four headings showing the different areas in which God sees things or developments against which we have to be on our guard:
- Warnings concerning our behaviour towards the Word of God
- Warnings for the path of discipleship
- Warnings concerning relationships among the saints
- Warnings concerning service for the Lord
I. Warnings Concerning our Behaviour towards the Word of God
1. 'And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear' (Mark 4:24).
The first exhortation is to take heed what we hear. So many things come to our ears. Among them are certainly those that are not to
be heard. As believers we should surely not be 'Athenians'-'For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their
time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing' (Acts 17:21).
But even if we do not open our ears to and waste our time with such things there are other dangers for our ears. Rumours, gossip and evil speaking (1 Pet. 2:1) should not find an open ear among the saints. But particularly in the latter days described in Scripture in which we obviously live there will be those who have itching ears. They will turn away from the truth unto fables, and doctrines of demons (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:4). Believers on the other hand are enjoined seven times in Revelation to hear what the Spirit says.
In Leviticus 14:14, 17 we see that the blood and the oil are on our ears. Sanctified ears are what the Lord looks for in His saints. The truth alone sanctifies according to the prayer of our Lord: 'Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth' (John 17:17).
2. 'Take heed therefore how ye hear' (Luke 8:18).
Not only the what, that is the content of what we hear is important, but also the how, that is the attitude in which we hear the Word of God. This is true, first of all, as far as the Gospel is concerned. Sometime and somewhere the news of the Gospel falls on men's ears. How do they hear? Like Lydia whose heart the Lord could open? (Acts 16:14) Or like Gallio who cared for none of those things? (Acts 18:17) Or like Felix who wanted to wait for a 'convenient season?' (Acts 24:25) Or like Stephen's listeners who stopped their ears at his preaching? (Acts 7:57) Hearing, and the right hearing that is the gateway to salvation, as the apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians 'In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation' (Eph. 1:13).
But the warning to take heed how we hear is also important for the Christian. We would gain great blessing from the Word of God if we approached it in a 'Berean mind', as they 'received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so' (Acts 17:11).
Many of the problems and trials in our personal and collective life could be solved if we were among 'those that tremble at the commandment of our God' (Ezra 10:3). Readiness of mind and the fear of God are attitudes that will help us to make the right use of the Word of God.
3. 'Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word' (Ps. 119:9).
In a world where Satan is very active to beguile believers, the young Christian is his special target. So the question the Psalmist asked himself is today as important as in his day: how can a young man-or a young woman-lead a holy and pure life in unholy and sin-stained surroundings? The answer of Scripture is short but sufficient: by taking heed according to thy word. We live in a world where norms and values are changing at an ever-increasing speed. 'If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? The Lord is in his holy temple' (Ps. 11:3,4). to become overcomers in this anti-Christian or post-Christian world, we need, whether young or old, to measure everything using God's plum line-His Word.
4. 'Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip' (Heb. 2:1)
Next to taking heed what and how we hear there is one important warning in this verse: to give heed to the things we have heard because of the great danger of letting them slip. The margin reads: run out as leaking vessels. We are here compared to leaking vessels. The truth runs out from us if it is only an intellectual knowledge. As we feed our bodies every day, so we must revive the truth in our hearts and practise it in our lives. Otherwise we will let them slip. This means, in the words of the New Translation that 'we should slip away'. If we let the truth slip away it means nothing else than that we have slipped away from the truth.
In this context the following exhortations of the New Testament are very important:
· 'But thou abide in those things which thou hast learned, and of which thou hast been fully persuaded' (2 Tim. 3:14 N.Tr.).
· 'Hold fast the form of sound words' (2 Tim. 1:13).
· 'Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown' (Rev. 3:11).
Perhaps there are many among the readers of this article who have learned 'those things', particularly those things sometimes called 'assembly truth'-but are you fully persuaded as well that this is the truth? If not you will be in danger of not abiding in those things. May the Lord grant us scripture-based convictions. You can only hold fast what you 'have'-as your personal spiritual possession. The loss of it would mean a loss of reward as well.
II. Warnings for the Path of Discipleship
1. 'Take heed what thou doest' (Acts 22:26).
These are words a Roman centurion used to warn his chief captain not to make a serious mistake in his dealings with the prisoner Paul. But when we read this sentence we quickly realize these words apply to many things. For instance our neighbours who reject Christ nevertheless hold us responsible for Christian conduct. So we find exhortations in other parts of the Bible that tell us, in principle, that we have to take heed to what we do. Think for example of Ephesians 5:15: 'See therefore how ye walk carefully, not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil', and what Paul exhorts the Corinthians: 'Give no offence, neither to the Jews nor to the Gentiles nor to the Church of God' (1 Cor. 10:32). I am sure we all see how necessary this warning is, so that our 'doings' may be in harmony with our words and a bright testimony for the Lord.
2. 'I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue' (Ps. 39:1).
How important for any disciple of the Lord is the use of the tongue! James has a good deal to say about it in the heart-searching chapter 3 of his epistle. The marked feature of our Lord's life that astonished the Pharisees and Pilate was his silence. And when He did open His mouth only 'gracious words' came forth. His 'lips were like lilies dropping sweet smelling myrrh' -What a perfect example is our blessed Lord! For us the exhortation of Scripture is something we should really 'take heed to': 'Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man' (Col. 4:6). We need the Lord's wisdom to know the 'right mixture' of grace and salt-to know when to be silent: 'Set a watch, o Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips' (Ps. 141:3), and when to open our mouth in praise and testimony as well as to 'reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine' (2 Tim. 4:2).
3. 'Take heed, watch and pray' (Mark 13:33).
The more we study these exhortations and warnings the more we realize that these are two most necessary things:
· watchfulness: Satan has long experience in dealing with man and his weakness and failures. Indifference, carelessness and lack of watchfulness will make us anything but an overcomer. On the contrary, we may find that the graphic picture Solomon paints is only too true of ourselves: 'I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding ... yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep; so shall thy poverty come like one that travelleth, and thy want like an armed man' (Prov. 24:30-34).
· prayer: but watchfulness alone is not enough. We need to realize dependence on our Lord and His help and guidance in all circumstances. So, instead of 'a little folding of the hands to sleep,' 'a lot of folding of the hands to pray' would be a far better exercise.
4. 'Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the Lord, your God' (Deut. 4:23).
Forgetting is one of the dangers on a disciple's path. How soon Israel forgot the hardships of Egypt and their grand deliverance, and so started murmuring and crying, 'we shall die in the wilderness'. But are we not in the same danger? We quickly forget the answered prayers of yesterday, the help found in personal need or common trials, and dishonour our Lord through 'little faith'. May we not join in the prayer of David, 'Bless the Lord, o my soul, and forget not all his benefits' (Ps. 103:2)? 'What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?' (Ps. 116:12).
5. 'Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall' (1. Cor. 10:12).
See the connection between 'think' and 'stand'. If we think we stand, there is no security whatsoever. On the contrary we are very likely to fall. Our security depends not on our thinking but on faith: 'and thou standest by faith. Be not high minded, but fear' (Rom. 11:20). By such faith Abraham was kept from 'staggering': 'He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God' (Rom. 4:20).
The believer need not fall if he takes heed. Have we not received His wonderful promise: 'For I the Lord, thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee ... I the Lord . will hold thine hand, and will keep thee' (Isa. 41:13; 42:6). And even if we fall, we still have the encouragement of the Scriptures: 'Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand' (Ps. 37:24). All these promises are ours if we do not 'think we stand' but take refuge in the LORD who alone is our strength and our keeper.
6. 'Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be faint hearted' (Isa. 7:4).
I would like to close this subdivision which contains some very serious and challenging warnings with a very encouraging word. The prophet Isaiah was sent to king Ahaz with this message. The king might have considered his enemies fierce burning firebrands but, as the LORD told him through Isaiah, they were only smoking firebrands. There was no reason to fear or to be fainthearted. The LORD said about all the 'evil counsels' of Ahaz' enemies: 'It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass' (v. 7).
What inner peace it would give us if we learned more how to 'be quiet' in our different circumstances and put our confidence in the LORD who is able to help. This thought was expressed at the beginning of Israel's history: 'Fear not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord' (Ex. 14:13), as well as in the days of Isaiah and Jeremiah: 'in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength' (Isa. 30:5); 'It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD' (Lam. 3:26). Should it be less true in our day? Surely not.
III. Warnings concerning Relationships among the Saints
1. 'But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak' (1 Cor. 8:9).
'Liberty' is a wonderful subject of Scripture, describing the position a Christian has been brought into. 'Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage' (Gal. 5:1). But even the Galatians whose main problem was to put themselves once again under a yoke of bondage were warned of another danger: 'For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another' (Gal. 5:13).
If we take these two verses from Galatians and the verse from 1 Corinthians together we see that the Christian liberty is threatened from three sides:
· putting yourselves (and others) under a yoke of bondage again
· using your liberty for an occasion to the flesh
· using your liberty in complete indifference to the feelings of your brethren.
No Christian has the 'liberty' to act without considering his brethren-even in such trivial matters as food. If the love of Christ filled our hearts we would rather starve than indulge in any pleasure that stumbles a weak brother.
Even if the particular matter of meat is not our current problem, may we never forget in everything we do to consider what effect our behaviour may have on our brethren. How sad it would be if I were a stumbling block for a brother or sister. Paul's verdict on this is most serious: 'And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?' (1 Cor. 8:11).
2. 'Take heed to yourselves. If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him' (Luke 17:3).
We are dealing with our relationship to each other as brethren and will come to a very challenging word now. But the first thing the Lord says is: take heed to yourselves-not take heed to your brethren. In dealing with such a delicate matter as sin against a brother it is of utmost importance to take heed to ourselves; to make sure we are dealing with these matter in the right attitude, in the mind of Christ.
Then the Lord describes to us the way in which to deal with the matter, mentioning two stages, so to speak,
a) 'If a brother sin against you, rebuke him.' If we do this in the right attitude, we don't do it because we have been done wrong, but because the brother who sinned is not in the right relationship to his Lord. What beautiful results does the Bible mention in similar passages, when the effort was successful
-'if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother' (Matt. 18:15).
-'restore such an one in the spirit of meekness' (Gal. 6:1).
b) 'and if he repent, forgive him.'
There is another point why the Lord asks us to take heed to ourselves: the slowness to forgive. Perhaps we have all found the tendency in our hearts to be quick to rebuke but to be slow to forgive.
If there is repentance on our brother's side, we are obliged to forgive him. And how often? Peter obviously thought himself to be very generous when he offered 'seven times'. But our Lord's idea about it is quite different (cf. Matt. 18:21f). I think we realise how necessary the warning to 'take heed' is in this matter. May we pray that the picture of the servant in Matt. 18:23-35 does not apply to our behaviour towards our brethren, but that we are willing instead 'from our hearts to forgive every one his brother their trespasses' (Matt. 18:35).
IV. Warnings concerning the Service for the Lord
1. 'Take heed now; for the Lord hath chosen thee to build an house for the sanctuary: be strong and do it' (1 Chron. 28:10).
You have been chosen by the Lord for a particular task, certainly not to build a house for the Lord, like Solomon, but surely to bear fruit unto Jesus Christ: 'Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit' (John 15:16). This is something the Lord has chosen everyone of His disciples to do. And so we all need the word of exhortation: Be strong and do it.
And if we have other particular tasks the Lord has chosen us to do-from preaching the Word to distributing tracts; from visiting the sick and elderly to caring for home and children; from Sunday school work to practical help for those in need, let us be strong and do it!
2. 'Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it' (Col. 4:17).
Very closely connected with the previous word to Solomon is this exhortation to Archippus. So we just add two further thoughts to it:
· If there is a ministry, you have received in the Lord-then fulfil it. There will certainly be times of discouragements, feelings of giving up, adverse circumstances and the like. It was so in Timothy's days. And what did Paul tell him? 'Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season, ... endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry' (2 Tim. 4:2,5).
· To put the emphasis of our phrase a little differently: take heed to your ministry that you have received. When Peter was too much occupied with another servant's ministry ('Lord, and what shall this man do?') the Lord told him: 'If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me' (John 21:21,22).
3. 'Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them' (1 Tim. 4,16). 'Take heed therefore to yourselves and to all the flock, wherein the Holy Spirit has set you as overseers, to shepherd the assembly of God, which he has purchased with the blood of his own' (Acts 20:28 N.Tr.).
These verses are particularly addressed to two special kinds of servants: teachers and pastors. The teacher's main object is the doctrine, the pastor's is the flock. So the one has to take heed unto the doctrine and the other unto all the flock. But both get first of all the exhortation: take heed unto thyself. If we deal with the word of God to explain the doctrine to the people of God or if we deal with souls and their divers needs-there is one thing that is of utmost importance: our own conduct and testimony. Timothy was not only to teach the word but to be 'an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity' (1 Tim. 4:12) and the 'spiritual' are exhorted 'considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted' (Gal. 6:1).
Paul, the teacher, could say, 'But thou hast fully known my doctrine, my manner of life' (2 Tim. 3:10). Paul, the pastor could say, 'I have shown you all things' (Acts 20:35). 'Ye are witnesses, and God, how holily and justly and unblamably we behaved ourselves among you that believe' (1 Thess. 2:10). What a challenging example for every servant, whatever the particular kind of service may be that the Lord has entrusted to you and me.
4. 'Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment' (2 Chron. 19:6).
In the assembly of God there is not only room for ministry but there is also the necessity for administration. Problems, cases, questions, developments and things like that will be arising that need to be judged. A spiritual verdict has to be found. In this area the exhortation to the judges in Israel could be applied with benefit to us. The judgment is 'not for man, but for the Lord'. The Lord's honour and glory, His word and His principles are what has to guide us in our decisions. If we consider all things from this point of view, we will desire to make sure that He 'is with us in the judgment'.
We have seen many things, and not by any means all, which we are exhorted to take heed to. Perhaps we have now an overwhelming sense of our responsibility and our own weakness and failure, too. Therefore the encouraging words of Paul may be a fitting ending to this meditation. 'I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me' (Phil. 4:13).