When Tisamenus was a young man, he dreamed of competing in the Olympiad. So he trained hard and paid careful attention to physical exercises, hoping to win a prize in the Pentathlon. (The five events included running, jumping, wrestling, throwing the javelin, and the discus.) He did well, coming within a single wrestling match of winning the whole thing.
The Greek word for “pay careful attention” is prosecho (pross ECK oh). In the earliest years the word was used to describe how sailors would “bring a ship to port” or “land a ship” on a beach. From this background the word was extended to mean “to fix the eyes on” or “to fix the mind on.” Thus, to “pay attention” was something like carefully steering one’s mind to its proper destination. It meant to focus on a goal.
In the New Testament the word takes a surprising turn. Jesus said that sometimes we should be careful to focus our attention away. Translated literally, he said, “Pay attention away from false prophets” (Matt 7:15). He said, “Pay attention (focus, steer your ship) away from the yeast of the hypocritical Pharisees (Lk 12:1) and the proud scribes (Lk 20:46). He said, “Pay attention” not to do your righteousness before men (Matt 6:1). Paul added not to focus on myths and endless genealogies (1 Tim 1:4) or on much wine (1 Tim 3:8).
On the positive side, where should we focus (or aim our ship)? Elders are told to pay attention to themselves and to the flock (Acts 20:28). Timothy is told to pay attention to reading, to exhortation, to teaching (1 Tim 4:13). All of us should pay attention to what we have heard (Heb 2:1), especially to the confirmation of the messianic promises, fulfilled in Christ (2 Pet 1:19). We will do well in our Christian lives if we can just learn where to pay attention—where to focus—where to park the boat.