You are that Watchman

Paul establishes a governing principle of New Testament practice:

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

–Romans 16:17

Consider the following:

  • “Mark them” is a command.

  • The command comes with great urgency [I beseech you”]

  • The command is to all the saints in Rome, as we are all to contend for the faith (Romans 1:7)

  • “To mark” is to “take heed” [the same word is used in Luke 11:35]:  hence, Paul is teaching that we are to warn the people not to follow after the example of those who cause divisions and offenses within the assembly of the saints

  • We mark them by pointing to the pattern of sound words [the doctrine and practice of Christ and His apostles]

  • The focus of the command is upon caring for the sheep:  Paul’s motivation is that believers remain faithfully espoused to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3); moreover, many will fall prey to wolves without these warnings (2 Corinthians 11:4)

  • It includes a command to separate [avoid them], which agrees with the counsel of 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 and Jude 1:17-19:  while God is the judge of men’s hearts, we can tell much about a person’s professed faith by how they practice it (Matthew 15:8)

  • Paul faithfully implements this principle:  in 2 Timothy, he lists 8 men who fall in this category (Phygellus 1:15; Hermogenes 1:15; Hymenaeus 2:17; Philetus 2:17; Jannes 3:8; Jambres 3:8; Demas 4:10; Alexander the coppersmith 4:14.

  • Of course, the most serious offense is any attempt to pervert the gospel of Christ–for this is the doorway through which all men enter the kingdom of God.  It is the consistent, Pauline example to publicly rebuke any attempt to corrupt the gospel (Galatians 1:6-9).

Another passage of scripture helps to shed light upon this topic:

And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.

–Acts 20:25-32

Notice what Paul emphasizes:

  • We must labor, as we have opportunity–for our time may be drawn short

  • Those who warn of apostate practice will be innocent of blame

  • The solution to heresies and apostate practices is the whole counsel of God:  God has foreseen these deceptions and provided an answer to them in the scriptural record; moreover, their meaning cannot be twisted, if we teach them in the context in which they are provided

  • First, we are to guard and set watch over our own hearts; secondly, we are to guard the hearts of others who assemble with us

  • We are to be zealous in this pursuit, counting the cost, the shed blood of Jesus Christ upon which the church was founded 

  • Wolves will come; therefore, we must watch for them.  Moreover, the faith of many will be overthrown, if we do not take our charge seriously

  • These wolves are grievous, in that they impose ungodly burdens upon the people by affecting a spiritual demeanor and dramatic manner of presentation:  moreover, there is no limit to their appetite for deception, abuse, and bondage

  • Some saints of good and honest report will depart from the faith:  and we are forewarned to prepare our hearts for this distress

  • The principal characteristic of false teachers is that they lead men to themselves, rather than to God

  • As the danger is real, we must continually contend for the faith by recognizing that we are in a spiritual battle and that souls are at stake

  • If we cast our hope and reliance upon God and His word, we will keep the faith

In Ezekiel, the Lord describes the natural function of a watchman for any people: 

When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman: If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people; then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.

–Ezekiel 33:2-4

He then makes the spiritual application: 

So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.

–Ezekiel 33:2-9

You are that watchman.

3 thoughts on “You are that Watchman

  1. I appreciate your interest in this subject matter Mark. It has become far too common these days to throw doctrine to the wind, let alone proper doctrine which without we could not be adequately established in the faith. I think I remember a verse in Timothy that speaks toward this end…..that all Scripture is profitable for training in righteousness and why? That the man of God might be adequate and equipped for EVERY good work.

    Being a watchman is serious business and although I agree we all are responsible, I also think some are responsible more than others. God has appointed some men to be elders who are called to “teach the word rightly” and “protect the local flock.” Neither of these are properly addressed where immature believers attempt to speak truth and defend what they only think they know. How many of us have been down this road?

    By now we each could name a host of internet sites and their authors who claim to be watchmen or defenders of the faith. In my opinion (which by the way merits some but little consideration) most of these people do not qualify as either adequately qualified nor are they defending “the faith.” I think I recall someone writing something called “In defense of what?” which speaks to this. The faith is encompassed and defined by specific truths which all believers are to accept, appropriate (apply) and pass along to others. When others appear to be teaching or preaching what appears to be outside of these lines, that’s when our spiritual sense should kick in. That doesn’t mean however that we are to kick the offenders or merely those who may be simply mistaken. An error or failure to rightly discern or teach truth does not make one a heretic. It takes wise men (plural on purpose) to ascertain what is really happening and properly judge both the doctrine(s) presented and the fruit thereof- which always follows. “Mark them” and “avoid them” seems to be applicable to those purposefully rejecting scriptural truth, those taking lightly the elders counsel and admonition and directing the focus of the saints toward themselves verses Christ. Add to that list the many other warnings Mark added above.

    One important trait of the watchman is their care for the saints. This is very important. Not many of us could begin to identify with a brother who for three years spoke day and night with tears about false doctrine and the presence of wolves “among” them. That took courage to face, fearlessness to confront and love to properly address. These are both principles in which to identify, and a lofty goal toward which every saint should desire to excel.

    It is one thing to speak the truth, quite another to carry that out in Christ’s love and with abounding graciousness. That’s the spirit which must confront those in error and lead the wayward and sinning back to the highest of standards- God’s alone.

    Excellent article Mark.

    • I like your responses better than what I write. I usually go back and look at them a second time, as I have learned that you meditate as you write, and your counsel is sound. I learn things all over again by considering your words. This is how we are all to speak to one another–from faith to faith!

      thanks, brother

  2. Very good brother, though I am like minded on this issue I actually pass over that scripture from Romans without noting what you did. Good balance added by brother Micheal too. Mark them – but do it from a pure heart. There are many sites claiming to contend for the faith, sadly their version of faith is actually just their particular pet doctrine or ism.

    In Christ -Jim

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