Those who cause division. 16:17-24
In our passage for study Paul continues to deal with personal matters. In v17-20 he warns the believers in Rome to have nothing to do with those who cause divisions and difficulties by opposing sound doctrine. Such persons are false teachers and are not true servants of Christ. In v 21-23 Paul sends the greetings of his companions to the Roman believers, and Tertius, the apostle's amanuensis (secretary), adds his personal greeting.
v17. Having given his personal greetings, Paul encourages his readers to "greet one another with a holy kiss", or as we might put it, "extend the hand of fellowship", v16. The idea of intimate fellowship prompts Paul to warn his readers about associating with those who undermine the church with their false doctrine. Sometimes division is necessary when an issue of truth is at stake. In fact, Jesus himself caused division over issues of truth and predicted division and conflict as a natural consequence of gospel proclamation, cf. Matt.10:34-36. Paul asks his readers to identify such people and keep out of their way.
v18. These false teachers, who attach themselves to the church, serve "their own appetites." Paul is probably referring to the law-bound members of the circumcision party and their strict adherence to the Mosaic food laws. These believers have followed up on Paul's missionary work, seeking to oppose the idea that the fullness of new life in Christ is by grace through faith, apart from law obedience. As far as Paul is concerned, they are not ministers of Christ, deceiving faithful innocents with pious sweet-talk. Beware of those whose self-importance tends to divide rather than unite.
v19. Paul again affirms his positive view of the Roman church. He knows that the Roman believers are themselves faithful innocents, so indeed they must take time to understand the truth, reason it through and apply it, yet when it comes to the pious sweet-talk of the false teachers, may they remain innocent.
v20a. Over this struggle stands the promise that the powers of darkness will be defeated, both here and into eternity.
v20b. At this point Paul most likely signs the letter himself. The normal practice was to conclude with the word "farewell" in the hand of the author. Paul reworks this standard conclusion with his key word "grace". Paul knows well the wonder of God's gracious kindness freely given to all who seek it in Christ.
v21-23. Paul adds the greetings of those presently with him in Corinth. Timothy had certainly earned the description "my fellow-worker". Lucius is possibly Luke. The other two may be those referred to in Acts 17:5-7, 9, 20:4.
v22. Paul's secretary adds his greeting.
v23. Gius, Paul's host sends his greeting. He may be the same person as Titus Justus, Acts 18:7. He opened his house to the believers after they were removed from the Corinthian synagogue. The church probably met in his house and so Paul stayed with him. Nothing is known of Erastus and Quartus.
v24. This verse repeats 20b and is not found in most manuscripts.
Standing up for what we believe
A mature Christian couple once attended a rather puritanical church. A young girl had acted improperly and when approached by the elders she had not taken much notice of their rebuke. The following Sunday the girl was called out before the congregation and publicly rebuked. The young girl was devastated and never again returned to the church. The mature couple were so incensed by the injustice of the whole affair, they left as well. They didn't attend another church for some ten years.
Discipline is no easy matter. Who disciplines who, given that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God"? In any church dispute, both sides claim the high moral ground. The minister claims the authority of his office and demands submission. The opposing party claims similar Biblical support. In such disputes we tend to see the person on the opposing side as someone who serves "their own appetites", who deceives by "smooth talk and flattery."
Paul's call to "watch out" for those who do not serve "our Lord Christ" focuses on doctrine. "Keep away" from those who promote a faith "contrary to the teaching you have learned." As for observable traits, watch for the fruit of "division", "smooth talk and flattery" and a tendency toward self-will. Obviously, a clear understanding of truth ("wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil") is the crucial factor to enable us to "keep away from them."
In our life's journey we are going to come across many believers with strange ideas and a good selling technique to promote them. If we are part of a strong fellowship of believers the weight of numbers will limit their influence and allow us to "keep away from them." In deciding to keep clear of some particular believer, or group, and their ideas, we are bound to have to act on our best understanding of the situation. There is no condemnation in standing on what we believe to be true.
Given that division is a consequence of gospel truth, list and discuss the factors that would prompt you to leave your church.
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