Pay Attention

Attention

We receive reminders throughout our lives to pay attention – to our spouses, children, parents, teachers, employers, etc. The Bible also emphasizes the importance of paying attention. In this article, we are going to see what we are – and are not – to pay attention to and why it matters.

Pay Attention to These Things

To what we have heard – “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1). “What we have heard” in this context does not necessarily mean what we were taught growing up. Instead, this is about what has been revealed by the apostles. Anyone who teaches something contrary to this “is to be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9). Therefore, this message is not going to change. So we are to “pay much closer attention” to it and grow spiritually, progressing from “the pure milk of the word” to the “solid food…for the mature” (1 Peter 2:2; Hebrews 5:13-14).

To the revelation of Christ – “So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). Peter was referring to the prophecies that pointed to Christ (cf. 2 Peter 1:16). We not only have the prophecies, we also have their fulfillment in Christ. Jesus affirmed that “all the things which are written about [Him] in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44-46), and was fulfilled. As a “lamp shining in a dark place,” these prophecies revealed the mystery that was otherwise unknowable but has been revealed by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:11-12).

To ourselves – “Pay close attention to yourself…for as you do this you will ensure salvation…for yourself…” (1 Timothy 4:16). This is about our conduct and our standing before God. Paul told the Corinthians, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (2 Corinthians 13:5). We need to do the same thing. We will “all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). We do not want to be surprised on that day and find out that we have not been serving the Lord as faithfully as we should (cf. Matthew 7:22-23).

To our teaching – “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16). These are the things that we teach to others. Whenever we speak on spiritual matters – those things that have been revealed in the Scriptures – we have an obligation to “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11, KJV). Paul told Timothy, “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13). As we noticed earlier, we must not teach anything contrary to this (Galatians 1:8-9).

Don’t Pay Attention to These Things

Myths – “Nor pay attention to myths…which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:4; cf. Titus 1:14). Myths are typically not true, but are carefully crafted in order to make a point. Peter wrote, “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). We need to avoid such myths because we are to follow the truth, not just anything that sounds right. Paul warned of false teachers who would deceive others “by their smooth and flattering speech” (Romans 16:17-18). Just because something sounds good does not mean it is right.

Endless genealogies – “Nor pay attention to…endless genealogies which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:4). Paul was not referring to inspired genealogies (cf. Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38); instead, he was talking about records that go on indefinitely for no purpose. He said they are to be avoided because they were unprovable (“speculation”) and ultimately meaningless. John the Baptist rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees who would have trusted in their “endless genealogies” when he said, “Do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham” (Matthew 3:9). Paul explained to the Galatians that regardless of whether we are Jews or Gentiles, if “we belong to Christ,” we are “Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:28-29). Our physical lineage does not impact our standing before God.

Deceitful spirits – “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits…” (1 Timothy 4:1). These are those who would lead us away from the faith through deception. Paul warned, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). While God is not fooled by these false teachers, many people are. We need to avoid them because they can cause us to “fall away from the faith” which means we will be lost. We must “be faithful until death” and “hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end” if we want to be saved (Revelation 2:10; Hebrews 3:14).

Doctrines of demons – “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to…doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). These are teachings that contradict the doctrine of Christ. In giving the Great Commission, Jesus told His apostles, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). We are to obey the Lord’s commands, but those who promote the “doctrines of demons” want us to follow something different. We must avoid them because they will cause us to lose our fellowship with God. John warned about this: “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9). Having or not having God is about fellowship. By following teachings that contradict the gospel, we no longer have fellowship with God

Commandments of men – “Not paying attention to…commandments of men who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:14). This was a warning against following man-made rules in the realm of religion. This was like the Pharisees and scribes who criticized Jesus’ disciples for breaking “the tradition of the elders” by “not [washing] their hands when they eat bread” (Matthew 15:2). These man-made rules need to be avoided because following them does not help our service to God. Paul described such rules as having “the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion,” but were “of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Colossians 2:23). In quoting the prophet Isaiah, Jesus plainly said, “But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matthew 15:9). No matter how much these rules “make sense” to us, following them as a matter of faith is actually detrimental to our fellowship with God.

Why This Matters

Our attention affects our direction – If we pay attention to “deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,” we will “fall away from the faith” (1 Timothy 4:1). If we do not pay attention “to what we have heard” in the gospel, we will “drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1). Jesus said that we are to follow the strait and narrow path (Matthew 7:13-14). Paul emphasized the need for us to “press on toward the goal” of heaven (Philippians 3:14). We cannot stay on the right path and reach our goal if we are not paying attention to the direction we are going.

Our attention affects our understanding – Peter said we are to “pay attention” to the word because it is as “a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19). In other words, we can gain enlightenment or understanding as we pay attention to the inspired word of God. Paul said we are to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17). The only way we can do this is by giving attention to the study of the Scriptures. This is why he told Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Our attention affects our service to God – When Paul warned about paying attention to “myths and endless genealogies,” he said that doing so would hinder our ability to help in “furthering the administration of God which is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:4). This is about building up and contributing to the work of God. Paul admonished the brethren in Corinth, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). As members of the church, the work of each one of us “causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16). We have to pay attention to the right things in order to serve God as He wants us to serve Him.

Our attention affects our salvation (and that of others) – Paul told Timothy, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching” because this would “ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16). The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16) and Jesus is “to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9). We must believe and obey the gospel to be saved. Therefore, we need to pay attention to what it teaches and instructs us to do.

Conclusion

If we understand that our eternal destiny is important, then we need to pay attention to what the word of God says, pay attention to ourselves to make sure we live up to His standard, and avoid being distracted by those things that are contrary to God’s will. Let us always be willing to take time to consider whether our focus is where it needs to be.


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