In these last verses of Romans 16 Paul warns the church to be aware of those who create divisions and dissensions in the church.
Paul knew full well that there would be such people come into the church for this was prophesied by the Lord Jesus Christ who said at various times there would be wolves in sheep's clothing come amongst the church. And the mindset of a wolf is to tear apart, divide and kill, and this is what these dissenting and devious people do also.
So let us be aware and look well at the words that Paul wrote here. In the previous verses in my last posts, we saw the importance of harmony in the church and to greet one another with brotherly love. Here we see Paul warning us to be on our guard when that harmony is unbalanced and when the greetings are not returned or are insincere.
The Doctrine Test
Paul teaches here first to watch out for those who do not hold fast to the doctrine of the truth. In verse 17 he says these words.
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. – (Romans 16:17)
Look at what these false and dissenting people do. They divide the members of the church and put up obstacles for the members to trip over. But these obstacles are not doctrinally true but are twisted and false words.
The challenge first though for us today is to ensure the doctrine we hold is true. In Paul's day and the days of the early church they had the fullness of the sound doctrine for they were taught face to face by Jesus Christ. Paul, who was not called as a disciple and later an apostle until after Christ had died and risen, could and did go to the early apostles who walked with Christ to check what he believed and taught. And Paul tells us in Galatians that on two separate occasions he went up to Jerusalem to Peter, James and John and laid out the gospel and message he taught to check it was correct. And those other apostles accepted him and validated the message as correct.
Today we do not have people who walked and listened to Jesus face to face. Today we have many false teachings that the devil has infiltrated into the church at large that are not part of the truth of the gospel and are doctrinally false.
But what we do have is the bible as the textbook of the Lord and we have the ability to go to God in prayer to seek out the truth when we are in doubt. We have the gifts of God given to individuals to help teach and build up the church. And we have the Holy Spirit given as a gift from God to teach us and lead us into all the truth, if we have indeed received the Holy Spirit according to the message and truth of the gospel.
But those who oppose the doctrine of truth and cause divisions and put obstacles of false teaching in the path of God's people, causing dissension and turmoil in the church must be silenced and guarded against.
Who Do They Serve?
In verse 18 we see that the reason these people are dissenters and creating such divisions and troubles is that they are not serving Christ Jesus in what they do. It says,
For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. – (Romans 16:18)
They are not serving Jesus Christ but their own appetites. That is, they are serving themselves and their own lusts and passions and desires for power or greed.
And if we consider this further, if they are not serving Jesus Christ in what they do, then who are they really serving? The answer is simple, they serve the devil and his purposes.
But look also at how they work their devious tasks. They do not stand up belligerent and angry decrying what others have said or the truth of the gospel. No, instead they work with subtlety. They are whisperers spreading discontent with a word here or a word there to sow discord amongst the brethren.
Their tools are flattery and smooth talk and by so doing they make the people they have deceived think that these false teachings causing division and dissension are truth and the people have come to these conclusions themselves. They build people up not for good, but to make a prey of them and to bring them under bondage and they do this with a false smile on their faces. And people accept their lies and so a re turned from the truth into error.
What To Do About It
When Paul wrote to the Galatians church he was addressing exactly this type of problem. He was showing them that they had fallen victim to some who were dividing and filling the church with false teachings. Paul was quite direct in his approach to the church showing where they had gone wrong.
There were some who had come into the Galatians church that were insisting they be circumcised and have to keep the law. Yet Paul had taught that the truth of the covenant is that we have been set free from the law and no longer are bound by it.
Paul made the penultimate point of how far they had fallen away from the gospel of truth by saying in Galatians 5:2-4,
2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. – (Galatians 5:2-4)
They had fallen so far by listening to and accepting the false teachings of these other men that they had accepted the obstacles of law and circumcision and fallen back into bondage. So serious was this dilemma that Paul showed them that knowing Christ was of no benefit to them! Quite a serious situation and not one they would have considered as they slowly accepted the false teachings and fallen prey to the dissenting words, opposing the doctrine of truth that Paul delivered to them.
And today it is even tougher for we need to sort out a mass of false teaching in the church to find the grains of truth that will lead us to life. We do not have a Paul, Peter, James or John to pull us back onto the paths of righteousness.
But…like them we DO have the same Jesus Christ who we can ask for help, we DO have the teachings of those disciples and others in the bible to learn from, and it is all there if we seek it out. And we DO have the Holy Spirit to guide and counsel us as we learn and grow if we will allow the spirit to do the work to which He is called.
So what to do? First, study your bible. When you hear a teaching from any source, go to the bible and seek out what it has to say about the topic. It is good to spend time reading the bible and immersing yourself in the words of the Lord, especially the words of the New Testament which contains the teachings of the new covenant.
Second, pray about the scriptures and the teachings you hear from different people. Note those who use fair and flattering words but seem to always be at odds with others and the truth as you know it. Watch them to see if they are true or seeking their own desires and benefit. It will become plain for they cannot hide whether they seek good or evil. The Lord will make it known.
Third, seek out teachers who teach the truth. The Lord has said that He gives gifts to the church so that some will be teachers, some pastors, some evangelists, some apostles and so on for the purpose of teaching and training the church so they will grow and mature. What you are seeking is a teacher who will lead you to the truth and help you find the way. They are out there for the Lord promised He would bless His people in this way so that His church would grow strong and mature. So ask the Lord to direct you to such a teacher where you can learn more.
Note also that you should find a teacher who is teaching to give glory to God, not self-seeking to gain glory for themselves. They will teach in humility and with the strength of the Lord as the early disciples and apostles did. They will seek the benefit of the church and the glory of Jesus Christ, not their own benefit.
Finally in these verses we see that when we seek what is doctrinally correct and reject the false teachings and obstacles of false men, we grow strong through being obedient to Jesus Christ.
19 For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. – (Romans 16:19-20)
When we follow the truth we receive the blessings of the Lord and as we see in the verses above, He will win the victory and He will crush Satan under our feet. The victory is in Jesus Christ and satan cannot stand against God, nor can he stand against those who hold fast the teachings of Christ as contained in the new covenant.
It depends though on us to have faith and to seek out the truth. We must hold fast to the doctrine of truth and not allow the dissensions and obstacles of false teachers influence our belief.
(Image sourced from freeimages.com provided by Sigurd Decroos)
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