Luke 12:1 – “Be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees…”
Luke 12:15 – “Watch out! Be on guard against all kinds of greed…”
Luke 12:40 – “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Don’t Miss the Warning
Whether Jesus was talking about the false teachings and practices of religious leaders, temptation and sin in our own lives, or the consummation of all things at his return, he commands us to be on guard, watch out, and be ready.
This theme of preparation appears and reappears throughout much of Jesus’ teachings. Repetition for rabbis in the first century was a teaching tool or technique to ensure a vital point was made and received, so we do well to pay careful attention here. It would be akin to a school teacher in our day writing a point on a chalkboard and saying, “If I’m taking the time to write this out, you can bet it will appear on your exam.” We ignore such warnings to our peril.
What is important to understand about our Lord’s words is the call on our part for disciplined intentionality. For you cannot casually or lazily “be on guard,” “watch out,” or “be ready.” Many of us could cite analogies from the world of sports or the military to show just how essential such intense, intentional, and disciplined preparation is. Without it, the game is lost, the city taken, the soul forfeited.
The Accumulation of Unguardedness
If I let my guard down today, it is true that Jesus may not return… this day. But that’s not the main point Jesus is making here. Instead, we must consider what the accumulation of days with a lowered guard would do to a person. In such a scenario, the spiritual atrophy that would set in could prove catastrophic to an individual. The dominion of the world, the flesh, and the devil would enlarge in that person’s life with detrimental results.
In his book, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan paints a vivid picture of this unguardedness in his characters, Simple, Sloth, and Presumption. All three had fallen asleep on their way to the Celestial City and had become shackled. When they were offered freedom from their bondage to continue their journey and avoid being devoured by the enemy, they responded by declaring they saw no danger and needed just a little more sleep.
How tragic for a person to never awaken from his slumber and thus become an occupied territory unaware. Without a work of divine grace, the battle is lost, and perhaps even the war.
We do well to heed our Master’s words today – to be on guard continually, always be ready, and constantly watch out. For our foes are nearer to us and subtler that we can imagine. Only an intentional and disciplined watchman on the high wall of the soul’s citadel can and will be properly prepared.
Let us, therefore, be ready. For I can think of nothing worse than to fall in battle, knowing I could have easily seen the attack coming and been ready for it, if only I had listened to and obeyed my King.
What are two or three reasons you have “fallen asleep on watch” in your faith? What sorts of images do the names of John Bunyan’s characters bring to your mind? The Lord has graciously given us means by which we may stay on guard, ready, and watchful. Which ones do you practice regularly? What are some things you can start doing today to remain “intentionally disciplined” on your walk to the Celestial City? Share your ideas with a friend and ask for prayer.
Grace and Truth,
James 1:2-4 – Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Painful Tests and Trials
Several years ago the men's study at our church studied James 1:1-12. We spent most of our time discussing our need to persevere during times of tests and trials, for this is a significant way in which God produces in us the character of Christ. It is one of God’s ordained means to help us grow into his “mature and complete” children.
Most of us readily acknowledge how hard, even painful, tests and trials are. We would certainly prefer not to have to experience them. That was the testimony of many of the men who shared a little of what they had been through, or were going through, in their lives.
Another Kind of Test and Trial
Shortly after that lesson I had a thought one evening as I was getting ready for bed. It occurred to me that perhaps not all of our tests and trials should be categorized as painful, though they may still be considered quite hard. Could this be what James meant when he said “trials of many kinds?” Could it be God sometimes tests us even through our really good and happy circumstances as well?
Suppose I had four healthy, happy, and full-of-life children. Furthermore, suppose these four children gave me great joy and nothing pleased me more than pouring my life into theirs – even sacrificially. But what if this true and right expression of love and commitment for my children went too far? What if this love for these four precious children actually began, slowly but ever so surely, to turn into idolatry? What if they became more important to me than God Himself?
Such love and commitment would not be good at all. In fact, such love and commitment would become sin in my life. Why? Because I would, quite literally, be putting other gods before the one true God. Could it be that God tests us through such good and positive relationships, things, circumstances, and opportunities in our lives?
My Clear and Present Danger
My hypothetical description regarding my four children is not hypothetical at all. I have four such children and I treasure them. I have had to, on many occasions, ask God to help me not put my children before him. In my unguarded moments, I could essentially turn them into little idols.
The same could be true for all of us, whether we’re talking about our families, jobs, status, health, success, ingenuity, etc. Each of these could be little tests to determine whom we are worshipping, to see whom we love most?
The Reason for Trials
Why are we given trials? According to James it is to help us grow in our faith – to become more like Christ – to develop into mature and complete children of God, lacking nothing. But it’s awfully hard to become such faithfully devoted followers of Christ when we love other people or things more than we love Him. It’s impossible to follow and serve God correctly when God’s not even in our top five priorities, much lesson number one.
It’s little wonder that Jesus declared we cannot serve two masters. It’s no wonder he said we must seek God and his righteousness first. It’s not hard to figure out why God’s first commandment to us was that we’re to put no other gods before Him. And it’s not surprising to understand why the Apostle John’s last verse of his first epistle reads thusly,
1 John 5:21 – Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
Because of our fallenness, we have a propensity to put other people, places, things, circumstances, opportunities, feelings, emotions, thoughts, attitudes, etc., ahead of God. And anything that is in God’s place is not merely neutral – it’s an idol - an idol of the heart.
Be On Guard
The really good things God graciously blesses us with could be listed under James category of “trials of many kinds.” It’s true we don’t think of them as trials. It’s also true they are not necessarily painful to go through. But it’s equally true that these sorts of trials can be gruelingly difficult, even if we’re not aware we’re going through them, or perhaps, especially if we’re not aware of it.
Therefore, to increasingly mature in our faith and become more like Christ, we must realize God’s tests and trials can take many shapes and sizes. We must be vigilantly on guard. For it’s critically important for us to persevere through such tests and trials so that we “may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” And by God’s grace, I pray it will be so for you.
Why do you think it’s so easy to put people or things before God? What are those people and things in your life that could become potential idols, if they’re not already? Have you ever considered something good in your life, like your children, job, or health, a potential idol? What are two or three ways you can make sure these don’t become idols?
Grace and Truth,
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