Be Watchful!

Since it is the Christmas season, I thought it would be appropriate to start in Luke 2. While you are turning there, I want to say something about an often overlooked piece of the Christmas story. There is a character in Luke 2 we don’t spend much time talking about, a man named Simeon. 

Simeon didn’t make the cut in the nativity scenes that we could buy at Walmart. Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, check. Three shepherds, three wiseman, one camel, one horse, one sheep—got ‘em. One angel, one star—yep, there they are on the roof. The little drummer boy gets more airtime than Simeon! So why talk about this guy? 

In our Bibles, Simeon appears in just a few verses in Luke 2. And yet every person mentioned in the Bible is mentioned for a reason, and when they are mentioned by name we are to pay even more attention. Let’s read 2:25–33:

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.” (Luke 2:25–33).

Luke doesn’t tell us where this man came from or what he did for a living, but Luke does tell us that Simeon was “righteous and devout.” He was a godly man. He was the kind of man we aspire to be. And Simeon was a watchman. 

Simeon was waiting for something, watching, on the lookout. He has been on the lookout his entire life, day after day, year after year, decade after decade, and now, finally, he sees what he has been looking for! He was waiting for “the consolation of Israel” And what happened as a result of his waiting and watching? He saw.

Look at how important sight is in this short little story: 

  • 2:26, “he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”
  • 2:30, “my eyes have seen your salvation.”

Simeon has been keeping watch for the Messiah and now he has seen him. Before death he has seen salvation; instead of death he has seen life. He has seen “the Lord’s Christ.” 

Simeon may not make an appearance in your nativity scene but he is an important figure in Scripture, in the Christmas story, and in our study this morning. Simeon is important for several reasons, but one is that he highlights the importance of waiting and watching, emphasized throughout Scripture and in the theme verse of Manskool: 

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13–14).

There are five imperative verbs here—five commands. Today, we are going to look at the first of these commands: be watchful. The story of Simeon illustrates how to be watchful.

This is a simple command that is packed with significance for the life of godly manhood. It is a single word in the original language and it is fairly common in the New Testament, as commands go; it occurs more than 20 times.

The command is what it sounds like: it is a command to stay awake, to be attentive, to keep your eye sharp and your ear open. My Bible dictionary says, “to be in constant readiness, be on the alert.” This word is the origin of the name Gregory, which means, “watchful.”

We could talk about how important watchfulness is—how in many cultures and in many armies, the penalty for falling asleep while on sentry duty has been death. But what and who are we to be watchful for? Watchmen are always alert and always looking. In Simeon’s case, looking for the consolation of Israel. For us today, there are two ways we are to be on the lookout: we are to look out for temptation and we are to look to Christ. 


The command to be watchful is a call to battle. It is spiritual warfare. You might remember that the language of keeping watch shows up in the time that Jesus spent in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his crucifixion in Matthew 26:38–41. Listen for the language of keeping watch:

“Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he 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 26:38–41).

Jesus says, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

I think this fills in 1 Corinthians a little bit. It’s not unreasonable to think that when Paul says, “Be watchful,” he is expecting us to make the jump to this: keep watch and pray. Why does Jesus want us to do that? So that you might not enter into temptation. 

In order to keep watch against temptation, we have to know how temptation works. Temptation is what makes sin attractive. It works by taking a very ugly thing (sin) and making it look appealing. If it wasn’t appealing, we wouldn’t want to do it and then sin would not be a problem. Temptation works not only by making sin attractive, but also by capitalizing on the inclination to sin in every human heart. Temptation starts outside of us, but it targets remaining sin that is inside of us. That’s what makes it effective. It’s a tag team. 

In other words, temptation is the bait that hides the hook of sin. There was a 17th century British author and poet, a naturalist named Izaak Walton, who wrote a poem about how great fishing is and in this poem, he described how the bait hides the hook from the fish:

“And when the timorous Trout I want
To take, and he devours my bait,
How poor a thing, sometimes I find,
Will captivate a greedy mind.
And when none bite, I praise the wise
Whom vain allurements ne’er surprise.”
Izaak Walton, “The Angler’s Song”

I like how he said that: “how poor a thing, sometimes I find, will captivate a greedy mind.” Sometimes the actual temptation is very poor indeed. But it only has to be enough to awaken the attention and affection of sinful desires in our hearts. And then the fight is on. If Walton could be so wise to the ways of fish, surely we can learn to keep watch against temptation. We can be the wise, whom “vain allurements ne’er surprise.”

What are the temptations that we should be watchful against? There are as many different temptations facing us as there are guys reading this post. Let’s think together about why keeping watch against temptation is important. 

Sin is not generally a spontaneous eruption. It might feel like it, but sin is birthed from temptation. Temptation is the opportunity to sin, the invitation to sin, but being tempted to sin is not the same as sinning. If you are tempted, you haven’t sinned yet. It is when we “enter into” temptation that we begin to sin. This is a major part of growing in Godliness and learning to obey God and sin less: it is learning the self-awareness to trace back the process of temptation to the circumstances from which that sin arose. By learning the unique forms that temptation takes for each of us, we can learn to resist temptation before we enter into it and begin to sin. But we need eyes to see it for what it is before it is not too late to cut it off.

Two examples:

  • Be watchful to be pure. The temptation to lust and pornography come from somewhere. It might arise from frustration or boredom. It might arise because we let down our guard and watched a movie or something on social media that involved immodesty, immorality, or sex. The bait hides the hook. We learn to be watchful against temptation when we learn to spot and avoid the hooks of sexual sin.
  • Be watchful to be self-controlled. The temptations to be quick to anger, quick with the tongue, quick to hold a grudge or become bitter, these all come from somewhere. If we trace that sin back through its temptations to its origins, we might find that the temptations to anger or bitterness arise out of sinful judgment of others, maybe out of self-pity because we didn’t get the attention or affection or praise that we wanted. There was something you wanted that you didn’t get or something you didn’t want that you did get. That desire created the opportunity for temptation, which, if unrecognized—if unwatchable for—leads to sin.

If we stopped here, and only made our watchfulness about looking out for temptation, that would not be sufficient. We would be in danger of turning watchfulness into excessive introspection. Too often, it is too easy to spend too much time looking inward when need to learn to look upward. 


What does it mean for us to be watchful? From Simeon, we learn to look to Jesus. Simeon was looking for the Messiah who was to come. We are looking for the Messiah who is to come back. So part of watchfulness means looking for Jesus to return. But until he returns, being watchful means that we are looking to Jesus for help and for hope. There is more that we need to be watchful for, but it certainly doesn’t mean less than this. Here is just one example of how we are called to look to Jesus: Hebrews 12:1–2 says, 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

Men, let us be watchful and look to Jesus to remember that he is the founder and perfecter of our faith, who, like a pioneer in the wilderness has gone before us and blazed a trail by which we might draw near to God. 

Men, let us be watchful and look to Jesus to remember that it was for joy that he went to the cross for sinners like us, despised its shame. We have a savior who delights to save. 

Men, let us be watchful and look to Jesus to remember that he is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. He is Lord over all things, sees all things, and rules over the circumstances of our lives.

Brothers, if our watchfulness does not regularly look to Jesus, we are not being the right kind of watchful. Being watchful doesn’t mean excessive introspection. It is a call to focus on Jesus, not on ourselves. A pastor named Brian Hedges has written a book called Watchfulness, and he explains this really well: 

“Watching also involves an upward look, for Paul tells us to set our minds on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God (Col. 3:1-2). Like marathon runners, we don’t stare at our feet, but outward and onward to the finish line, indeed to Christ Himself. We run the race set before us by “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2).
“The greatest masters of spiritual life recognized and taught this. In one of his final books, [John] Owen urges believers to ‘live in constant contemplation of the glory of Christ,’ believing that ‘when the mind is filled with thoughts of Christ and his glory, when the soul thereon cleaves unto him with intense affections, they will cast out…the causes of spiritual weakness.’ Indeed, only this steady sight on Christ can produce true watchfulness.” Brian Hedges, Watchfulness, 83.

Did you follow the logic from John Owen? “when the mind is filled with thoughts of Christ and his glory, when the soul thereon cleaves (holds on tight) unto him with intense affections, they will cast out…the causes of spiritual weakness.” Spiritual strength and maturity comes from thinking about Jesus Christ, about the great story of the Bible, and about his many acts of kindness to us. Owen says, “they will cast out the causes of spiritual weakness.”

This can work in very simple ways. By faithfully getting up and reading your Bible each day, you are slowly but surely retraining your affections: by forgoing sleep you are learning to deny yourself, you are practicing self-control, you are learning to look to God for guidance and wisdom to interpret the day’s events. And most important: as we read God’s Word and pray each day, we see more of Jesus Christ and deepen our understanding of his death as a sacrifice on the cross for us. That’s just one small example of how this works.

And we need trusted, mature Christians in our lives who know where you are tempted who can fight with you and hold you accountable. Don’t just tell people about your sins: get ahead of it and tell them about your temptations. 

We’ve talked about two ways to be watchful here: let us look out for temptation and more importantly let us look to Jesus. These are not two different kinds of watching. They go together, and to see that, let’s go back to Simeon in Luke 2. It says in verse 25 that Simeon was “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” He was keeping watch for the Messiah to come. Why? In Matthew 1:21, “And you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” We look to Jesus because he came to save us from sin. And we look out for temptation because those temptations lead to the sins Jesus came to save us from. 

Gentlemen, the Lord calls us to be watchful. Each of us has a post on the wall of our spiritual lives, of our family, and of our church. And we might be discouraged to read that Jesus says, that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” When Jesus says that, he is recognizing the reality that each one of us is incapable of being watchful against temptation for very long, just like the disciples. We would not have been able to watch and pray for one hour either. But not long after he said these words, Jesus died, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven, from whence he sent his Spirit—capital S Spirit—to be in us and to wage war against the flesh. 

So, brothers, as we learn to be watchful, let us look to Jesus and look out for temptation, and as we do, God will help us to continue to grow up into mature manhood. 



  • Describe the picture that comes to mind when you think of a watchman.
  • What does it mean to be watchful? What are some of the key qualities of watchfulness?
  • What are some ways that Christians are supposed to look to Jesus? Review the two ways Steve mentioned or think of others from the New Testament.
  • How does looking to Jesus “cast out causes of spiritual weakness”?
  • How does temptation work? Why is it so effective? 
  • How do you think God wants you to complete this sentence: “be watchful to _________”? What is the temptation God wants you to watch out for?
  • Simeon was waiting for “the consolation of Israel.” How does watching for and remembering the gospel help us in the fight against temptation?