There is a Greek word that illustrates how believers need to always be ready and wary of danger and falsehood. It is the word agrypneo (ag-roop-neh’-o) and carries some of these meanings:
- to be sleepless, keep awake, watch
- to be circumspect, attentive, ready
It is only used in four places in the New Testament writings, but all of them depict a state of watchfulness which I believe is lacking from most believers today.
Two of them apply to the Messiah’s followers in the context of being sure that they were not becoming complacent in that generation, as the culmination of all things was at hand.
Mark 13:33 – “Watch! Be alert! For you don’t know when the time is coming.
Luke 21:36 – “But be alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place and to stand before the Son of Man.”
This was incredibly important for them to recognize, as they faced many challenges and persecutions during the tribulation of those times. Their watchfulness became a necessary constant to maintain their survival amidst the infiltration of the Jews among believing communities, civil strife within their nation, and the beginnings of war with their Roman oppressors. So in a personal sense, they needed to remain alert for their own benefit and survival, as the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish state was at hand.
However, the remaining two uses of this Greek term apply in an outward sense where this vigilance and watchfulness was necessary to protect and help others.
Ephesians 6:18 – Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.
Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them, since they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
In the Ephesians passage, Paul is in the midst of describing the now famous “armor of God” analogy. He is encouraging a constant focus on prayer, requests, and intercession for other believers. The watchfulness of the believers was not just to be for themselves, but to extend to the others around them who were enduring the same atrocities. This watchfulness and perseverance in prayer would help guard and guide the believers through the tribulation and turmoil of those times.
Additionally, the congregation of the Hebrew believers was reminded to be obedient to those who were placed in authority over them because the leaders had been tasked specifically with watching over their souls or their lives; that is, caring for the doctrinal correctness and also physical safety of that body of believers. This careful attention and vigilance was necessary because of the wide array of false teaching and practices that had arisen and were swirling amidst the chaos of those times. The elect remnant was being called out of the darkness of dead Judaism and pagan idolatry into the light of God’s kingdom.
Yeshua had plainly warned of this:
Matthew 24:24 – For false messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.
In a similar way, we should be exhibiting this agrypneo, this watchfulness and readiness, over what we are learning about the truth of God’s Word, as well as being watchful over others to ensure they are also being guided faithfully. For those of us in active believing communities, we should honor and respect those godly leaders who are guiding our congregations, as they have a large responsibility, like shepherds for their flock.
While our social conditions and experience may have changed dramatically from that early remnant being called into the kingdom of God, our informational and doctrinal experience is just as widely diffuse and corrupt, if not more so, than first-century Israel. Our vigilance in this 21st century is just as sorely needed for our own understanding and for interceding for those around us to be kept in the way of truth. While we generally enjoy many luxuries of living standards not available to our spiritual ancestors, one luxury we cannot afford is to let down our guard when it comes to seeking, pursuing, and maintaining the integrity and truth of God’s kingdom for ourselves, for our family, and for our friends.
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