It’s amazing how easily we are distracted from our primary focus. Think about what happens when a cellphone rings. Even the most careful driver is tempted, if not immediately prompted, to look when it rings while they’re on the road, but just for a moment, right? Even if the phone isn’t your own, do you ever feel the sudden urge to look at your own anyhow, just to make sure you didn’t miss a call or text?
If anyone asked us, I’m certain that we would quickly agree that driving safely ought to have our primary focus, certainly compared to getting a phone call or a text or checking social media. Certainly, there are plenty of other distractions in our lives with not-so-dire consequences, but why do we let secondary things distract us from people or tasks that are immediately or ultimately more important? At a simple level, that’s just the nature of distractions; they catch our attention and hold it, some things better (or worse, I suppose) than others. However, sometimes it seems that we let distractions become an excuse or as a cover-up for our own immaturity and weakness.
Sin has a way of distracting us so that it’s easy to minimize its consequences and our own guilt. Pay attention to how Eve rationalized her disobedience in the garden; after the serpent deceived her about God’s command and about the consequences of disobedience, she chose to sin, as it tells us in Genesis 3:6:
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
Eve thought, if it tastes good, looks good, and promises “good,” it’s got to be OK. Eating the fruit was sinful disobedience that resulted in death, among other consequences, but Adam and Eve were distracted and deceived.
Pay attention to how they responded when they were caught in their sin. Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. Yes, there was plenty of guilt all around, but their distraction and deception led to deflection. Rather than simply admitting their own guilt, repenting of their disobedience, and dealing with the consequences, they tried to turn God’s attention away from themselves to someone else. That’s not how our relationship with God and others is supposed to work.
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul encourages the young preacher to pay attention so that the deception of false teaching would not divide the church or lead people astray. In the current sermon series through 1 Timothy, I’ve been using this verse as the anchor point throughout: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). Essentially Paul tells Timothy to pay attention to his own knowledge and practice of God’s Word, both in his own life and in the life of the church, for the sake of his own salvation, as well as others’. This is a foundational principle for the life and practice of the church, both for individuals and for the body: pay attention to your own relationship with God so that you/we can help others with their relationship with God.
It’s so easy for the church to be distracted by sin in the world that we neglect our own relationships with God and others and our own responsibilities to God and others. Obviously, there’s a lot of sin in the world; so it’s easy for us to be distracted by someone else’s sin. It’s easy to be right about “their” guilt, but if we’re just trying to distract or deflect from our own sin and struggles, we’re missing the point. While many in the church seem to be paying attention to “them” and to what “they” are doing, Paul’s command to Timothy and the church is to pay attention to our own lives and doctrine; then we will be able to pay attention to others with the right motives, guidelines, and practices. The result, Paul says, is salvation for both ourselves and others. Let’s pay attention!