Beware of dogs ... and people!

This mosaic is in the Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy.

They say that barking dogs never bite. This is true. They always stop barking before they bite!

The dog that bit me, did not bark. When I was twelve, I was distributing advertising for my father’s TV repair business. An elderly dog silently walked up behind me and left a clear set of teeth marks in my leg. He obviously had an intense dislike of advertising distributors!

Roman villas in Paul’s day often had a floor mosaic in the entrance showing a dog on a chain, sometimes with the words, “CAVE CANEM” (Beware of the dog)!

It is wise to beware of dogs, but when Paul tells us, “Beware of dogs” in Philippians 3:2, he is referring to dogs of the human variety. Jesus tells us, “Beware of people” (Matthew 10:17).

“Beware of” means to be on guard against, to be cautious about, to be alert to potential danger from, to be ready to avoid danger from.

People are dangerous!

Humans are the most dangerous creatures on earth. What other form of life has destroyed cities with atomic bombs, and maintains huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons?

The most powerful hydrogen bomb ever detonated (by the Soviet Union on Severny Island above the Arctic Circle on October 30, 1961) had 1400 times the power of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs combined, and ten times the power of all other explosives used in World War II. This picture was taken at a distance of 160 km. The atmospheric shock wave broke windows in northern Norway and Finland, a thousand kilometers away.

In 1985 there were 68,000 active nuclear weapons. In the meantime this has been reduced to about 20,000 that are active or could easily be reactivated. Some of this reduction comes from treaties, but most of it results from decommissioning outmoded, obsolete weapons. Although there are fewer bombs, their destructive capability has been increased.

This is not something that mankind may be proud of. Consider the resources this gobbles up, when much of the world lacks food.

Yet, spiritual dangers are even greater.

A volcanic eruption in 79 AD buried Pompeii, Italy under five meters of ash, killing 15,000 people. Excavations have unearthed several “Beware of the dog” mosaics. Someone should have warned: “Beware of the volcano!” There are greater dangers than dogs.

Although the danger of nuclear destruction threatens us like a smoking Mount Vesuvius, we live in a world that is even more dangerous spiritually. God warns us about spiritual dangers that threaten our souls. Satan has laid spiritual landmines along both sides of the narrow way that leads to life.

We must beware of falling away because of sin. We must beware of false teachers, of religious leaders who exalt themselves, and of persecutors.

Beware of falling away because of sin.

Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12, 13).

The deceitfulness of sin is our greatest spiritual danger. We must beware of anything that tempts us to sin and leads us away from God.

Sin is glorified in the media, on the Internet, on television, on the radio, in magazines.

At school, young people are taught how to be immoral, and are fooled into thinking that immorality has no negative consequences.

The fashion world emphasizes sensuality. Social pressure encourages us to be “like everyone else.”

We must beware of these corruptive influences.

We must exhort one another not to depart from the living God through sin.

Referring to people who twist the Scriptures “to their own destruction,” Peter gives a similar warning: “You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:17, 18).

These verses refute the false doctrine of “Once saved, always saved”!

We must beware lest we “fall from our own steadfastness”; we must beware lest we “depart from the living God”!

To avoid falling away through the deceitfulness of sin, we must beware of anyone who tries to lead us into sin.

This includes being alert to dangers from false teachers, religious leaders who exalt themselves, and persecutors.

Beware of persecutors.

Jesus warned His followers: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues” (Matthew 10:16, 17).

How do Christians react to persecution? Jesus said: “When they persecute you in this city, flee to another” (Matthew 10:23). “Do not fear them” (Matthew 10:26). “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

Paul warned Timothy: “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words” (2 Timothy 4:14, 15).

Paul was thankful that God had protected him: “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:17, 18).

We must beware of persecutors. Yet, we need not be afraid. An eternal home with God is waiting, whatever happens to us.

Beware of religious leaders who exalt themselves.

Jesus warned, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers” (Mark 12:38-40).

Pretentious religious leaders glorify themselves, not God. We must beware of them.

Beware of false teachers.

We must beware of those who introduce teachings and practices that are contrary to sound doctrine, that deviate from the original teaching of Christ and His apostles: “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1).

Jesus warns about their deceptive appearance and tells us how to identify them: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15, 16).

Jesus warned His followers against two prevalent errors: “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6). The disciples did not know what He meant by leaven until He clarified it. “Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:12).

The Pharisees and Sadducees were the two major denominations among the Jews at the time of Christ. They both taught false doctrine.

The Sadducees rejected most of the Old Testament outright, recognizing only the five books of Moses. They did not believe in a resurrection, in angels, or in spirits (Acts 23:8). They were liberalistic in their interpretation and application of Scripture.

The Pharisees were “the strictest sect” of the Jews (Acts 26:5), but their piety was superficial. Jesus told them, “You pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23); “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Mark 7:9). They were also “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14).

Thus, we are duly warned to beware of these doctrinal errors, which are still prevalent today: a liberalistic interpretation and application of Scripture, and a superficial piety that exalts human doctrine above the word of God.

Jesus refers to these errors as leaven because they spread easily.

Beware of those who base doctrine on the Old Covenant.

In the early church certain false teachers tried to impose requirements of the Old Covenant, such as circumcision and Sabbath-keeping, on Christians (Colossians 2:11-17). Paul warns against them in the harshest of terms, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:2, 3).

Beware of those who base doctrine on philosophy and human traditions.

Paul warns: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8, 9).

“Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them” (Romans 16:17).

Referring to John’s baptism, Jesus asked the Jewish leaders, “Was it from heaven or from men?” (Mark 11:30). We ought to ask this question about all religious principles, doctrines and practices: Is it from heaven or from men? Everything that is not from God must be rejected.


During a recent walk I saw on a gate: “Beware! Poisonous frogs!” Although I doubt that poisonous frogs were lurking behind that gate, they really do exist! Touch the moisture on the back of a Yellow Golden Poison Dart Frog and put your finger in your mouth, and almost instantly you die. As the name indicates, their poison was used on arrows. They are among the most poisonous creatures on earth.

It is certainly wise to be wary of poisonous frogs, vicious dogs, and a nuclear holocaust. But even more we must beware of spiritual dangers.

Take heed to yourselves” (Luke 17:3). “Take heed what you hear” (Mark 4:24). “Take heed that no one deceives you” (Matthew 24:4). “Take heed , watch and pray” (Mark 13:33).

God warns us to beware of falling away through the deceitfulness of sin, to beware of persecutors, to beware of money-loving religious leaders who exalt themselves, to beware of false teachers who interpret the Scriptures liberalistically, to beware of false teachers who follow their own rigid regulations rather than the Scriptures, to beware of false teachers who base doctrine on the Old Covenant, on philosophy or on human traditions.

Peter’s warning in 1 Peter 5:8, 9 is applicable: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith.” Amen.

Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers.
Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive