The apostle Paul told the Corinthian church, “Take heed.” This is not language we use very often today. To “take heed” means we listen and we pay attention. If we were to tell someone to “take heed,” we would do so when we want that person to be careful or to wake up or to change course.
In driving Independence Pass, I have noticed there is not a single sign along that route that says, “Take heed.” In all those winding miles of narrow two-lane road, not once does the highway department urge drivers to “take heed.” It seems like it would be a good idea, especially at the road’s narrowest points, where just over the edge is a potential fall of hundreds of feet and certain death at the bottom.
I suppose the highway department opted not to install “Take heed” signs because they aren’t necessary. After all, the danger on that road is quite obvious to any driver or passenger. No one could be blind to that kind of risk.
But the apostle Paul was not writing to people who could see the danger around them. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” These were people who were certain of their standing before God. But they were unaware of the danger that was lurking all about them. They could not see it.
I do not believe Paul would have us to live in perpetual fear of losing our salvation. But it is clear that he would have us live with clear-eyed realism about the spiritual hazards in the world.
If the Hebrew people could pass through the Red Sea, follow the cloud of God’s presence through the wilderness, drink water that emerged from the hardness of rock, and eat bread that fell from heaven – if they could do all of that and recognize the saving provision of God in the midst of it – and then still fall into idolatry, sexual immorality, and entitlement, then so could the Christians in Corinth. (See Exodus 17; 32; Numbers 21; 25.)
The danger may be in not being able to see the danger. And hence Paul said, “Take heed.”
We are free in Christ. Filled with the Holy Spirit, we are given discernment about things good and evil. Wisdom from above fills our minds. Our hearts are being broken loose by the power of God from the encrusted ways of this world.
And yet, demons still exist, and selfishness and pride are never far off, and the temptation to sexual immorality and to the putting of worldly things above Jesus Christ remains very real. Idolatry is still a threat. And the Corinthian Christians were blind to these dangers, and they were driving ever so close to the edge of the cliff.
To take heed of a situation means we try as we can to get outside of ourselves and to view things from a larger perspective. We try to grasp the overall view and to uncover the things that lie hidden. And one of the things that we may find as we take heed is that we are not doing all to the glory of God. We may find we are eating and drinking and doing things with some other end in mind.
The Corinthian Christians were consumed with their own version of spirituality and their own rights and their own freedoms. They had stopped recognizing that everything they had in Christ was a gift – given to them by God through Paul and Apollos and Barnabas and the apostles. The Corinthian Christians thought they could do anything they wanted and that there would be no danger in that.
The Corinthian Christians were certain – very certain – that they had achieved some sort of spiritual superiority on earth that enabled them to participate unscathed in the worship of demons. There was no chance any harm could come of it.
And at the same time, the Corinthian Christians were so consumed with their own spirituality that they had forgotten about the needs of their brothers and sisters in Christ. They had forgotten what it means to love one another in the church. And their selfish actions were doing harm to the body of Christ.
And the “fall” was, perhaps, not that far away.
Paul’s overriding concern was that believers do all to the glory of God, that they give no offense to Jew or Greek or to the church. This means that Christians do all they can to build up their fellow believers and the church that Christ is building. And sometimes that means not seeking our own advantage. Sometimes that means giving up our rights.
When we “take heed,” we might see these things.
The other night, a car tumbled 500 feet down an embankment on the backside of Independence Pass. It occurred at a hairpin turn. No one saw the mangled car at the bottom of the hill until late morning on the following day. Hundreds of cars drove by the spot where that vehicle went over the edge – all of them oblivious to the near-tragedy that occurred there and to the two people clinging to life in that car below.
“Take heed,” Paul wrote. Maybe the message for us today is to slow down in order to pay attention to the dangers that lurk on the road ahead of us. Maybe the message is to slow down in order to consider the way in which we are driving and the aim of our eating and drinking and doing “all things.” Maybe the message is to slow down in order to consider the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We can simply keep driving as we have been. Or we can “take heed.”