A lack of watchfulness is perilous to our souls — I mean very real peril, not metaphorical or virtual or poetical peril.
The apostle Paul knew the perils we would face while following Christ:
Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. (1 Corinthians [16:13]–14)
The exhortation may seem somewhat out of place in a long list of personal updates (1 Corinthians 16:1–24), but the “out of place” lines in Scripture can be especially revealing. Paul clearly carries a serious burden that his readers be watchful and courageous, especially the men leading and shepherding the church and their households: “act like men.” The call to vigilance and courage, however, is a common one in Paul’s letters — one he makes to men and women alike. The Spirit, through the apostle, wantsall Christiansto act with courage, no matter where their Lord has placed them on the spiritual line of battle.
Through Paul’s burden for the Corinthians, the Holy Spirit is now callingusto courage — a call we in the West increasingly need to hear, because it is becoming increasingly costly — and therefore difficult — for us to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering” (Hebrews [10:23]).
In the New Testament, “watchful” (1 Peter 5:8) or “awake” (Mark [13:37]) or “alert” (Acts [20:31]) are terms writers frequently use to urge us not to neglect the significant danger surrounding us.
I saw this in a rabbit feeding early this morning just outside my office window. This rabbit was the epitome of watchfulness. It never let down its guard, no matter what it did; it was constantly on the alert. And for good reason. Dogs pass by regularly. A rabbit is vulnerable to dogs; a lack of watchfulness can end its life.
That’s the kind of watchfulness the Holy Spirit, through Paul, is telling us to maintain. “Look out for the dogs” (Philippians 3:2). Beware the “fierce wolves [who] will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts [20:29]). A Christian, like a sheep, is vulnerable to the “dogs” and “wolves” of the evil one. Paul is using a metaphor for theembodimentof the threat, but not of the threat itself. These spiritual threats are greater to us than wolves are to sheep.
Therefore, the Spirit wants us to be sober-mindedly watchful of the devil’s activity (1 Peter 5:8). Do you really knowwhat hunts you? Do you know where he is in relation to you (Galatians 6:1)? Do you know where he is in relation to your family and your Christian brothers and sisters (Ephesians [6:18])?
Our call is to protect one another, and part of that involves remaining steadfastly watchful in prayer (Colossians 4:2). We all know what that means, because any time we feel in real danger, our prayers get real earnest, real quick. A lack of watchfulness in us indicates we don’t believe danger is imminent. And that is a dangerous mindset for the vulnerable to have.
Stand Firm, Be Strong
“Stand firm in the faith.” This kind of resolve is no mere good intention or the flimsy New Year’s kind. This is true resolve: a holy, stubborn determination. It is drawing the line in the sand and not backing down. It is a will to hold the ground, come what may.