There can be no compromise with the sinful practices of the surrounding culture

One of the Israelite men brought a Midianite woman to his brothers. He did this right in front of Moses and the whole community of Israel while they were crying at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Phinehas, son of Eleazar and grandson of the priest Aaron, saw this. So he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand, and went into the tent after the Israelite man.

Numbers 25:6-8

The type of vigilance required for maintaining righteousness is extreme and rarely practiced. Yeshua spoke of it in hyperbolic terminology, that even if your eye or hand causes you to sin, you should be prepared to gouge it out or chop it off.

In the example of Phinehas, a priest in Aaron’s line at the time of the wandering in the desert, he demonstrated this commitment to righteousness in an extreme way that he is famously remembered for to this day.

The men of Israel had become complacent in their commitment to Yahweh. They began to succumb to the idolatry of the local Midianite population as they were being seduced by the women of Moab.

While Israel was staying at Shittim, the men began to have sex with Moabite women who invited the people to the sacrifices offered to their gods. The people ate the meat from the sacrifices and worshiped these gods. Since the Israelites joined in worshiping the god Baal of Peor, the LORD became angry with Israel.

Numbers 25:1-3

Due to this rampant idolatry, God sent a plague among the general population that was killing thousands of people. He revealed to Moses and the leaders what must be done to put things right.

The LORD said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people, and execute them in broad daylight in the LORD’s presence. This will turn the LORD’s anger away from Israel.” So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you must kill the men who have joined in worshiping the god Baal of Peor.”

Numbers 25:4-5

There were no compromises, no discussions, no negotiations; those who had sinned in idolatry had to be removed from the population of Israel. The offenders had become so brazen in their sinfulness that they proceeded in their practices, even as Moses and the assembly leaders were seeking God’s direction and favor.

Upon seeing this, Phinehas instantly jumped into action in obedience to God’s command. He didn’t hesitate or wait for a committee to decide on the right timing; he simply got up, grabbed a spear, and followed the offenders into their tent.

So he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand, and went into the tent after the Israelite man. He drove the spear through the man and into the woman’s body. Because of this, the plague that the Israelites were experiencing stopped.

Numbers 25:7-8

Phinehas is remembered because he unhesitatingly did a difficult thing that God required, and in so doing, saved the rest of the assembly. In his vigilance for righteousness, he saw the iniquity and took immediate action.

This story is a metaphor for us today. The example is extreme because God wants to make sure we understand how serious it is for us to remain in blatant disobedience to his purposes.

In like fashion to the men of Israel, we can be easily seduced by the surrounding idolatry of our day and age. The culture and technology we are immersed in provide ample opportunities for us to be led away, seduced as by Midianite women, from our commitment to the one true God.

It is only when those disobedient thoughts and actions are decisively put to death that we can be restored to wholeness with God. Yeshua used the example of gouging out eyes and chopping off hands (Matt. 5:29-30). Paul writes about it this way:

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.

Romans 8:12-13

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.

Colossians 3:5

The same vigilance and determination of Phinehas for the righteousness of his people needs to be evidenced in us today for our own standing in God’s presence. The only way we can be truly set apart for God’s purposes is by brutally putting to death, gouging out, chopping off, and stabbing a spear through the heart of those things in our lives that offend God.

This is the determination needed to remain on God’s path. This is the vigilance it takes to be a child of God. Be a Phinehas, not waiting, but taking immediate and decisive action on the habits and practices in your life that are offensive to God.

Who can attain to the ideal of the woman of noble character in Proverbs 31?

She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness.

Proverbs 31:27

The thirty-first chapter of Proverbs contains a famous passage providing the characteristics of a “noble” or “virtuous” woman. Many a wife has reviewed this passage with trepidation, as the ideal set forth in these verses can indeed be intimidating.

However, instead of describing the ideal woman and holding wives to an unreachable standard, this passage can be viewed from a different, and perhaps more attainable, perspective that aligns with the middle-eastern propensity to couch word pictures and ideas in parabolic language.

Especially in the prophets, God has revealed himself as desiring his people as a husband desires the pure love of a faithful bride. He is equally disappointed when that love is not returned to him, but is instead wasted on the idolatry of the nations around them.

“O Israel and Judah, what should I do with you?” asks the LORD. “For your love vanishes like the morning mist and disappears like dew in the sunlight.

Hosea 6:4

But he holds out the promise of renewed faithfulness and marital fidelity for the people of Zion.

Never again will [Jerusalem] be called “The Forsaken City” or “The Desolate Land.” Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight” and “The Bride of God,” for the LORD delights in you and will claim you as his bride. Your children will commit themselves to you, O Jerusalem, just as a young man commits himself to his bride. Then God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.

Isaiah 62:4-5

This theme is echoed in the book of Revelation:

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.

Revelation 21:2-3

If this noble woman in Proverbs is viewed as the ideal for all of God’s people as his prophetic bride, then it begins to make sense of the overall passage lining out the expectations God has for his people, not just wives.

One of the characteristics God expects of his people is the vigilance with which this woman watches over her family, that nothing is outside of her purview. She carefully looks ahead to the needs of her family, identifying dangers ahead of time, like a watchman on the walls of a city.

This vigilance is contrasted with laziness, or more literally the eating of “the bread of idleness,” as one who sits idle, concerned only with their own appetite and nothing else. In today’s terminology, they might be considered a “deadbeat mom.”

However, we have the opportunity to view the passage in its entirety of what God expects of his people, and his goal for us is not to remain trapped in the idleness of our own selfish passions, but to be ever watchful, caring for the welfare of those of our “family.”

As an ideal for wives, Proverbs 31 can be intimidating and unattainable. However, viewed as an ideal for all believers, collective attainment of its lofty ambitions suddenly becomes more applicable and practical. We would do well to imbue our lives with her character of vigilance for her family in respect and honor of our Husband and Provider.

How to remain firmly established in the ways of God

Make my steps secure through your word, and do not let any wrongdoing control me.

Psalm 119:133

Yeshua admonishes us that all stumbling-blocks to righteousness must be removed from our lives with extreme diligence. One of the surest ways to ensure this is the case is for us to remain vigilant in the word of God.

All through the Bible, those who would be wise are encouraged to sit at the feet of those who exhibit God’s wisdom. The wisdom of God is to be pursued as a treasure, as a most precious possession. Possessing, and practicing, the wisdom of God keeps one on the right path.

This verse in Psalm 119 (among myriads of others within this same psalm) extol the virtues of overcoming wrong behavior by remaining faithful to the words of God.

The principal idea conveyed is that the word of God establishes our way, makes a firm place for us to walk, when we struggle with the vanity of our own efforts. It implies that, left to our own ways, we will ultimately exhaust ourselves, panting breathlessly with those things that have the sum value of zero in the end.

By contrast, God’s word protects us, directs us, establishes us in the correct paths that we may remain faithful and fruitful for God’s kingdom.

The constant work of weeding

And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries and cares of the world [the distractions of this age with its worldly pleasures], and the deceitfulness [and the false security or glamour] of wealth [or fame], and the passionate desires for all the other things creep in and choke out the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

Mark 4:18-19, Amplified Bible

In this parable of the sower sowing his seed, Yeshua explains that the seed represents the word of God, and he describes the conditions of the hearts of those upon whom the seed is sown. The seed being sown among the thorns represents those individuals who receive the word of God, but their hearts are so overcrowded with worldly cares and other ambitions that the seed cannot grow to maturity; it gets choked out and cannot bear fruit.

If we are to reflect on our own lives, how much of our time and attention is spent on the distractions of this age, the deceitfulness of wealth, and passionate desires for other things besides the kingdom? We need to remain vigilant that the “weeds” of these other concerns do not overcrowd the truly important and impactful things that surround the kingdom: hearing and understanding the word and bearing fruit.

Just like a farmer preparing the soil in the garden, we need to constantly churn the earth of our hearts, ensuring there is sufficient compost and nutrients to receive what is planted so the seed can successfully multiply and grow to its fullest capacity.

Without constant attention, the garden soil of our hearts can be quickly overrun by weeds. We must weed the garden at all times to ensure that as the seed grows, it is clear of any other obstructions to the light and moisture that it needs. The weeds can block the light and consume the water of the rain and irrigation meant to nourish the seed for maximum growth.

Removing weeds can be hard work, especially if we have neglected to review it on a regular basis. Mind your garden with vigilance, and you will be honoring the Master Gardener by maximizing the return he has planned for the seed that is being sown in you.

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Guarding against covetousness

He told the people, “Be careful to guard yourselves from every kind of greed. Life is not about having a lot of material possessions.”

Luke 12:15

Yeshua cautions us to be mindful that we are not overcome with covetousness. The roots of some of the words used here mean to desire to “superabound” with “numerically more” material things.

Contextually, this admonition is sandwiched being questioned by a man wanting Yeshua to act as an arbiter in determining the distribution of an inheritance between brothers, and the parable of the rich man who stores up excessive grain for the future only to die that night.

A desire to have an abundance of wealth or material possessions is, for most people, a desire for security in life. Whether it’s financial savings plans, 401K retirement plans, or winning the lottery, we desire to have an assured future. If we know we have more than enough for the moment, then our ongoing provision is accounted for. Yeshua provides the reasoning behind why this should not be our primary focus in life.

First of all, we may work hard to save for our future, only to have our life end prematurely (from our perspective), and who would then be the recipient of everything we had worked so hard to attain? Was all that work and time spent collecting all of that wealth really the best use of our resources while we lived?

Additionally, it does not allow us to be rich towards God. If God blesses us, we should be faithful in using those material blessings to bless others, as he has done with us. This is how the child honors the Father and demonstrates their true spiritual lineage; by becoming like him.

Further, the apostle Paul provides a stern warning regarding covetousness to the believers in Colosse:

Put to death, therefore, whatever is worldly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Colossians 3:5

Greed, the desire for more and more material things for personal security and satisfaction, is idolatry. This must be put to death, a term of finality; there is no middle ground. We need to be vigilant in removing all unrighteous practices from our lives, and idolatry is the primary indicator of rebellion against God. When we seek to trust our provision (which we can see) more than our Provider (whom we cannot see), then we have fallen prey to idolatry.

God promises to meet our needs, not our wants, but in so doing, we should demonstrate generosity with others out of respect for his care for us. If you really desire to have an abundance, then rather than being an idolater, be an abundant giver.

Give, and you will receive. A large quantity, pressed together, shaken down, and running over will be put into your pocket. The standards you use for others will be applied to you.”

Luke 6:38

Vigilance over temptation

And he [Yeshua] came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Matthew 26:40-41

Yeshua was speaking this to Peter for the specific purpose of admonishing him to stay alert with him while he was praying in Gethsemane. However, this has become a type of universal admonition, and not without good reason.

Praying to avoid temptation was a key teaching within Yeshua’s template for prayer. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Based on the original word definitions, this can be expanded and paraphrased as “May we not be lead into adversity and hard testing; nevertheless, rescue us from anguish, harm, and all evil.”

Praying in this manner is a demonstration of vigilance. When praying to avoid temptation, 1) there is an awareness of the possibility of impending challenges and 2) there is a recognition of God’s ability to provide assistance or escape.

The act of praying focuses the mind on the essential needs of the moment. This is necessary because vigilance also involves alertness and overcoming the distractions and limitations of fleshly influence. While our spirit may be willing, many times we become spiritually disoriented as worldly impulses (whether internal or external) overwhelm us.

Remaining steadfast in prayer to God keeps us focused and in communication with the One who is more than able to provide us the necessary strength to overcome.

Know Your Teachers

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

Matthew 7:15-20

Beware of deceitful religious impostors. You will recognize them for what they truly are by looking closely at the results of their words and actions.

Vigilance involves being on guard against all manner of deception to avoid following a false way. In this current day and age, we have become inundated with information overload; we must carefully pick and choose the sources of our teaching to ensure we are remaining on the narrow path laid out for us.

This admonition was of utmost importance to his first-century flock, as the nation was full of those who would try to gain a hearing, and a living, from the ignorant and willing among them.

Mark 13:22 – For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.
Luke 6:26 – “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
1 John 4:1 – Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

The apostle Peter had no shortage of words for these deceivers:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

2 Peter 2:1-3

Yeshua provides a touch-stone, a type of verification of identity, of false teaching and those who promote it: “You will recognize them by their fruits.” Peter vividly expanded on describing some of those fruits as secrecy, denying Yeshua as Messiah, sensuality, blasphemy, greed, false words.

What are the fruits of those who would seek to gain audience with you today? Are they constantly asking for money to assist in their “ministry”? Are they promising a secret message “just for you” or for only a limited few? Is Yeshua not central to their doctrine? Are they promoting any type of sensuality as acceptable (trappings of wealth, or men or women as objects of desire, “spiritual” music and worship designed to “bring you into God’s presence”)?

Yeshua declares their end as being “cut down and thrown into the fire.” While they may look good on the surface, they will not survive their worldly aspirations designed only to better themselves.

Be vigilant, and get to know your sources of teaching.

Share Truth Responsibly

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

Matthew 7:6

Don’t share something sacred or spiritually pure with those who are not receptive. 

While the message of the Bible can be good news to those who need to hear its message, not everyone is receptive to its principles. This is not a new condition, and Yeshua was also no stranger to this principle:

“An unjust person is detestable to the righteous, and one whose way is upright is detestable to the wicked.”

Proverbs 29:27

“The world cannot hate you, but it does hate me because I testify about it ​– ​that its works are evil.”

John 7:7

Yeshua also gives us insight as to why some people are more receptive than others.

“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

John 3:19-20

We need to exercise vigilance among those with whom we are sharing our insights and understanding. While those sacred pearls of wisdom that you have received from God may be priceless in your sight, they may not have the same effect on others who are not in a similar spiritual frame of reference.

Yeshua cautions us to walk circumspectly with those who are unreceptive for our own safety and well-being. He reminds us our brief time here will be better spent on investing in those who have willing and open hearts.

Don’t be reckless with the truth.

The Constant Pursuit

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

Matthew 7:7-8

Always keep asking, knocking, and seeking in order to receive, have doors opened to you, and to find what you’re searching for.

Vigilance can be defined as concentrated focus over long periods of time during which one is searching for any indication of a target objective. It is in this sense that Yeshua is explaining how continued and prolonged effort is required in pursuing the things of God. Many will pray and then do nothing more; true believers are expected to keep praying, to keep searching, and to keep interacting with others in hopeful anticipation of sensing God’s direction and purpose.

It is this process of constant pursuit that branches into new possibilities. These can then open up into unforeseen (by us) directions of God’s will, thereby achieving his purpose. Remaining static and hoping that God’s will drops into our lap is not the biblical way. It is only as we remain consistently searching and moving that we can then be drawn and directed into the areas of growth that God has for us according to his will.

The Difficult Path

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Matthew 7:13-14

There is a constricted entryway into life which has many obstacles standing about it. Labor fervently to stay on the difficult path that leads through the cramped passage to life along with the few others who also perceive its value and find it.

Believers have chosen a difficult option when it comes to a life path. One cannot just fall into the Kingdom of God by accidentally stumbling into it; it requires grit, intentionality, and determination to pursue the things of God. Many times there is only the slenderest thread of hope to continue, and yet holding on to that one thread, regardless of the storm raging around, becomes the single objective; it will not break.

Testing happens at every corner, but testing is for the purpose of strengthening, and strengthening provides stability of footing and the ability to grasp the hands of others and help them on the way.