BEWARE is a word that’s not often used. When I saw it, it jumped out to me. It means to be cautious and alert to the dangers of. It’s just saying, “Be Aware.” We usually run into this word on signage like, ‘Beware of dog!’ or in an admonition before we make a purchase, “Buyer beware!” There are many more esoteric things that we ought be wary of like the one above. Ben Franklin said, “Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship,” and “Beware the hobby that eats.” Hungarian Composer Franz Liszt said, “Beware of missing chances; otherwise it may be altogether too late some day.”
Jesus taught his disciples to beware of one category of people: the Pharisees, teachers of the law and false prophets. As a pastor, it’s almost chilling to read what Jesus said about the religious leaders of His day…because it’s so similar to what we see now:
45Then, with the crowds listening, he turned to his disciples
and said, 46“Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. 47Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be severely punished.” Growing up, the men of God (no women) would sit in these seats of honor – pastoral chairs in the pulpit area, higher than and facing the congregation. Any pastor coming into the church would be ushered up to sit in one of these seats. Modern churches don’t have these, but there are usually reserved seats for leaders…and you better not refuse them, lol! Apostles, Bishops and Pastors get nice seats at banquets and events. People carry them food…and even their bibles and water when they preach. Certainly we’ve all heard a long prayer or ten. I know Jesus is speaking of motive, but I often wonder on this BEWARE.
Jesus doesn’t say that every leader is bad…just to beware of the ones that are, because you can tell.
15“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. 16You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. 19So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. 20Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. Unfortunately today some people in the world believe that all pastors fall under this category: prideful, attention-seeking, money-hungry wolves. They don’t realize the majority of us are Jesus and people loving, regular folks who need of the same salvation and grace as the people we lead. Hopefully, our actions speak that.
Of all the things that Jesus could tell us to beware of, this is the most startling. There are many people among us who shun ‘organized religion’ because they’ve been ‘hurt by the church,’ received false teaching, or observed some evil behind the scenes activity in a ministry. So we all need to beware.