Biblical Wisdom for Today’s Challenges

Date: February 21, 2024

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. Colossians 2:8


P.T. Barnum, the circus magnate, built a career on the assumption that people like to be fooled.  And he had a point.  A magician who is clever always has a crowd, but does this hold true in the world of religion?  Do people really want to be fooled?  I’ve been thinking of the number of times when Jesus said, “Watch out!” or “Be on guard,” and his comments covered a rather wide variety of situations and issues.  For example, He told the crowd that had gathered to hear him on the slopes of Galilee to “watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing,” he said, “but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

He also said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law” (Mark 12:38).  On at least three occasions He urged His followers to “Watch out that no one deceives you.”  This included what people teach and to be aware that many would be confused about the actual timing of His return to our earth.

P.T. Barnum may have been right about people wanting to be fooled, but Jesus did not want anyone deceiving His followers, and the words that he used were strong and pointed.  The Greek word that is most often translated “watch out” means to see something clearly.  It usually means that you study something intently and note the details, and then, having a clear vision of what your situation is, you know what you ought to do.

OK, this brings us a very practical issue for life in the twenty-first century.  Yes, we agree that for every truth there is a falsehood, and for every positive there is a negative, and for every man of God, there is a false prophet.  But how are we to discern, and doesn’t this mean we are judging people?

On various occasions when I have been teaching a small group, I would give everyone a piece of string and say, “Cut a piece that you believe is 12 inches in length.”  But they had no ruler, nothing to use as a measurement—only their own judgment.  The results are ludicrous.  Then I would measure the pieces of string which would vary from nine inches to fifteen or sixteen inches.  Now all of these folks were sincere.  No one was really trying to be different.  It was simply that their subjective estimates of what looked like 12 inches varied widely.

God knew that we needed something by which we can evaluate and measure movements, people, and circumstances – which is why He gave us an infallible guide for faith and practice.  It’s the 66 books of the Bible.  In the garden, shortly before He went to the cross, Jesus said, “Thy Word is truth!” (John 17:3).  It is that simple.

If you really “watch out” as Jesus commanded, and you are on your guard as Paul added, obviously you don’t embrace everyone and everything you hear, and, yes, on occasion people will say, “You are judging!”  and you can quickly add, “No, I’m discerning—I simply have my eyes open to what the Bible says and recognize that this situation doesn’t conform to what God says in His Word.”

I’ve simply mentioned what Jesus said about “watching out” for wrongdoing or wrong thinking which can lead you away from the truth, but Paul in the New Testament goes into greater detail, telling us to watch out for division, watch out for the enemy which would creep in unawares, and to guard what we have received lest it slip out of our grasp and we be left empty-handed.

Paul told Timothy that one of the signs of the lateness of the hour is that people will be deceived, and surely that day is upon us.  If being alert and awake means you are thought of as being bigoted or judgmental, then so be it.  Only be very certain that you come down on the side of truth and not merely your opinion which you take for the truth.

Resource reading: Matthew 24: 4-14.