At the close of Paul’s third missionary journey, this apostle of Christ sought to make his way to Jerusalem to arrive for Pentecost and give the poor saints financial support from the churches in Asia Minor, Greece, and Macedonia. On his way to Jerusalem, Paul stopped at Miletus to meet with the elders from Ephesus. Paul knew these men and spent time with them during his two-year ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:10; 20:18). The apostle to the Gentiles testified of the whole gospel and declared all the counsel of God that the brethren in Ephesus would need to grow spiritually (Acts 20:24-26). The elders of Ephesus possessed great responsibilities to which the inspired evangelist gives them warning from God of the dangers and trials they will face in the coming years, “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” (Acts 20:28). The godly missionary exhorted the bishops to “take heed therefore unto yourselves” first and foremost.
Sometimes godly people with the best intensions focus so much on others, they don’t first think of their own spiritual needs. This becomes especially dangerous for people who are given oversight of the brethren and for people who teach and put themselves into leadership positions to influence others (James 3:1-2). If the shepherds fail to examine and watch themselves, then the pastors could become just like the Pharisees (1 Cor. 13:5). A person who has no skill in seeing their own actions in the light God’s Word will fall into apostasy (Matt. 7:3-5). No Christian, not even a shepherd of the flock, can oversee and watch others without first learning how to watch themselves.
In Paul’s first epistle to Timothy, a young minister Paul leaves in Ephesus when he travels into Macedonia, the inspired writer reveals how Timothy is to take heed to himself and watch himself. Paul writes, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:16). To take heed to oneself is to know one’s position before the Lord, to know the doctrine, and to continue in God’s work.
In the context, Paul explains how the heeding process is done. Firstly, the Christian must learn how to be an example of the believers “in word, in conversation [behavior], in charity [love], in spirit [enthusiasm/attitude], in faith [doctrine], in purity [sincerity]” (1 Tim. 4:12). Notice Paul writes, “of the believers,” not “to the believers” because a Christian should already know these characteristics from Christ. The growing follower of Christ must examine how people see them before the believer even opens his/her mouth. The believers need to ask themselves (really think on these and answer honestly), “Can I back up my belief with scripture, or do I just think I can because I hear my preacher do it?” “Do I truly love the message of God enough to tell those I love that they are wrong?” “If I had to choose, would I obey the scriptures or side with my family while knowing they are not doing what the Bible says?” “Do I worship and support church events because I feel obligated or because I really love the praise and work in the Lord?” “Would I worship and evangelize if I were the only one doing it?” A Christian must know how to have the mind of Christ and be an example of Christ before the world (Phil. 2:5; Rom. 12:2).
Secondly, the Christian must “give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:13). For a Christian to maintain the mind and example of Christ, the individual must grow in grace and knowledge of Christ through reading the Bible, through teaching others the Bible, and through living the doctrine of the Bible. How often do Christians read through the Bible? Very few do it. Even less really study the Bible. People may read a verse when someone from the church assembly tells them to turn to a specific verse, but each person who really wants to grow in grace and knowledge needs to spend time in personal contemplation in God’s Word (1 Tim. 4:15; Ps. 1:2).
Thirdly, a Christian must not lose heart and allow himself/herself to be distracted by the world. Paul writes to “neglect not the gift that is in thee” (1 Tim. 4:14). God has given to every Christian skills, talents, and abilities that allow the church to function at its greatest potential. None should neglect what God has given them, nor fail to use their gifts for the labors of God. Everyone should ask themselves, “Am I truly doing everything I can for the Lord, or do I seek to find excuses?”
Finally, “meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all” (1 Tim. 4:15). To take heed to oneself, is to meditate and reflect if one has followed these steps. Again ask, “How often do I think about what the preacher said in the sermon on Sunday?” “How often do I go home and think and study on what the church covered in Wednesday night Bible study?” Every Christian that seeks to take heed to themselves must learn to ask and be honest in the hard questions.