by Matthew W. Bassford
In an epistle that contains a number of negative descriptions, Romans 16:17-18 is the last. Here, though, Paul is not concerned with degenerate Gentiles or hard-hearted Jews. Instead, he focuses on troublemakers within the Christian community. They have the following four characteristics:
They Create Division
Disciples of Christ are supposed to be peacemakers like their Master. Some Christians, though, seek out division instead. They prefer quarreling to bearing with, and they savor the feeling of angry self-righteousness that comes from being “right” when other brethren are “wrong”. We must watch out for those who enjoy conflict in the church, and we must beware of becoming such ourselves.
They Impose Obstacles
As all of us know, it isn’t easy to follow the commandments of the Lord. The path of righteousness is narrow. However, there are those who think it isn’t narrow enough. Pharisee-like, they bind heavy burdens on others that the word does not, and they reject those who do not agree with them. There is an appearance of holiness to this rigor, but it isn’t truly holy. We must be faithful to the Scriptures in what we condemn as well as in what we approve.
They Serve Their Own Appetites
Christ is to be master over us, but the devil constantly strives for dominance in every heart, especially the hearts of teachers of the word. He employs the familiar tools of I John 2:16, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. The lust of the flesh and the lust of the eye are obviously problematic, but it’s harder to spot ministers who are motivated by pride.
Perhaps the best way to determine whether pride is an issue in a man’s heart is to analyze his behavior according to the previous verse and Jesus’ dictum about knowing a tree by its fruits. Does he look to cause division instead of making peace? Does he put obstacles in the way of those who seek Christ? If so, pride is the likely culprit.
They Deceive with Smooth Words
It is worth noting that Paul says that the unsuspecting are the prey of the false teacher. It is much easier to fool the ignorant and trusting than the knowledgeable and wary.
Guarding Against False Teachers
Thus, we always must be on our guard against those who would deceive us in spiritual matters. This begins with a Berean attitude toward everything we hear. Even if the speaker is our favorite preacher or an angel from heaven, don’t take his word for it!
Second, we must beware of appeals to extrabiblical information. There is much to be gained from the study of linguistic and historical resources, but the Bibles we hold in our hands are all any of us need to inherit eternal life. When somebody starts telling us that we don’t understand a verse right because the Greek actually means this or because scholars have determined that thus and such was true in Ephesus 2000 years ago, we should become very suspicious. Their goal is for us to put our faith in the expert instead of the Word. Bible helps and Bible scholars have their place, but that place is not to trump the plain meaning of the text.