Wise Yet Simple

“Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.”

  • Note – Pay close attention to those who cause divisions and place traps (better than cause offenses) before believers by inducing them to sin. They do this through getting them to follow false doctrine or through heated debates.
  • Avoid – Believers had doctrine which Paul and the other apostles taught them. They knew better. Therefore, they must not only identify those who cause divisions and set traps, they must also avoid them. They must continually turn away from such people and not give them a hearing.

Who are these people that must be noted and avoided? Are they believers or unbelievers? We might assume unbelievers, but believers certainly cause divisions and set traps. We have Scripture to back this up. From among the first century believers, men arose, speaking perverse things in order to draw away the disciples and gain a following for themselves (Acts 20.30).

Paul admonished us to be diligent and present ourselves approved to God, workers who do not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. Negatively, we must shun profane and idle babbling (empty chatter). This kind of thing will increase to more ungodliness within the church. The meaningless messages of the purveyors of the profane will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus were prime examples of this kind of thing. They strayed concerning the truth, started teaching the resurrection had already past; and overthrew the faith of some believers (See 2 Timothy 2.15-18).

Some of these people within the church must be delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. You shouldn’t keep company with immoral and sinful people who call themselves brothers or sisters in Christ. You shouldn’t even eat with this person. We win the immoral, sinful people outside of Christ. We put away immoral, sinful people who claim to be part of the Church. See 1 Corinthians 5.5-13.

We must withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which was received from the apostles (2 Thessalonians 3.6). We should reject divisive people in the church after they’ve been warned but continue to remain divisive (Titus 3.10).

Why should we note and avoid believers who cause divisions and set traps in the church? Two reasons are given in this text:

  1. For those who cause divisions and set traps do not serve the Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly (18). Serving one’s own belly in this context has to do with being self-serving. They don’t serve the Lord Jesus; instead, they serve themselves. They speak smoothly. They flatter. They deceive the naive believers who don’t know the Scriptures. These naive believers fall to the deceitful plotting of the smooth operators. But Paul knows that this is not the case with the Roman believers.
  2. For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil (19). Paul said early on in this letter that the faith of the Roman believers was spoken of throughout the whole world (1.8). Paul dared not speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through him, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient (15.18). “In malice be babes, but in understanding be mature” (1 Cor 14.20). Christians do not develop good judgment through time and experience. We develop good judgment through time and experience in the Scriptures.

Wise Yet Simple

Good judgment comes with the continual study of the Bible. Be simple concerning evil though. Be innocent. Don’t contaminate yourself with the world. Don’t allow the inflow of evil into your life. It surrounds you; keep it out. Jesus said, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10.16). Paul desired that we “become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil 2.15). “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12.2). You cannot avoid error if you fail to know AND practice the truth.

God is the source of all peace (15.33). He will crush Satan under our feet shortly and guarantee future peace (16.20). Jesus shall bruise the head of Satan and fulfill the prophecy of Genesis 3.15. He will establish an earthly kingdom during the Millennium. It will be characterized by peace. The stone strikes the image representing all of man’s failed kingdoms and it fills the whole earth (Dan 2.35). All dominions shall serve and obey Him (Dan 7.27).

Paul closes this section, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.” (16.20)

It is naive for us to think that we will avoid the influence of those who cause divisions and set traps in the church. When Paul was martyred and savage wolves came in among the churches. They did not spare the flock of God. But even from among the churches, men rose up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. See Acts 20.29-30.

The Romans churches were very strong churches and were commended by Paul for their faith, love, and obedience. Paul tells us in verse 19 that their obedience had become known to all, and he was glad. Yet he still warned these mature, strong churches about those who cause divisions and set traps. Pay close attention to Paul’s overarching desire in these verses: “Be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil” (16.19). How do we fulfill Paul’s overarching desire? How can we be wise in what is good and simple concerning evil?

  1. Be wise in what is good. Much good and evil is rather obvious. Sometimes it’s not so obvious. Jesus revealed to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, suffer, be killed, and rise the third day. Peter seemingly cares for Jesus and says, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You” (Matthew 16.22)! This seems like a good thing for Peter to say. Yet Jesus turns to him and says, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16.23). Peter thought he was being a good friend. Jesus said that Satan governed him. This goes to show you that good is not always obvious. We are so easily deceived because of the corruption of our fallen nature. We are drawn away and enticed by it. We let emotions get the best of us. We let the world’s thinking sway us about questionable activity. It is indeed a narrow way that we traverse. The path is not always obvious. However, we have received the Holy Spirit from God the Father. He is given to us that we might know the things freely given to us by God (1 Cor 2.12). There are many idle talkers and deceivers (Titus 1.10) who deceitfully plot against us (Eph 4.14). They deceive the hearts of the simple (16.18). They subvert whole households (Titus 1.11). It’s extremely difficult to guard against them. It’s hard to stem their influence. Therefore we must have the Spirit of the LORD, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, and the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD (Isa 11.2). Be wise in what is good.
  2. Be simple concerning evil. Live in the simplicity found in Christ. Don’t disintegrate or allow a mixture of good and evil to exist in your spirit. This will keep you from offending in your conduct. Don’t indulge or entertain evil within. Don’t make provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts. Don’t allow selfishness to reign within you. Don’t allow guile and deceit in any form. Hate sin. Kill sin. Even if you suffer the consequences of being alienated from this world, receive God’s grace to put to death the sin nature. Don’t encourage others to sin or put stumbling blocks in their way. Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. Instead, reprove them. If you receive those who cause divisions and set traps, you share in their evil (2 John 11). Note those who cause such divisions and set such traps, and avoid them. Withdraw fellowship from them so that they might be ashamed. They don’t serve the Lord Jesus Christ but instead they serve themselves. “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matthew 10.16).

Motives for Obedience

The motive to fulfill these two commands (be wise in what is good; simple concerning evil) is before us as well.

Satan is the influence of much of the evil in the church today. Ever since he deceived Eve, he has labored and toiled at deceiving her seed. He has sway over the children of darkness. But remember that he influenced Peter as well.

Paul feared that the serpent who deceived Eve might corrupt our minds and keep us from the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Cor 11.3). Satan transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his minister also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works (2 Cor 11.13-15). We must be alert against his methods.

Yet Satan’s influence will be destroyed one day. Therefore we must submit to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from us. Our victory over the devil is certain. His fate is sealed. Trust in what God has revealed and what Jesus has won.

Don’t be discouraged. For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry (Heb 10.37). Satan is reeling in spite of the way it seems. He is a defeated foe; therefore don’t live a defeated life.

I fear that we are too often numb to the divisions and traps and snares of the devil and those he influences. We are like Israel and we behave foolishly. We have not known God. We are silly children with no understanding. “We are wise to do evil, but to do good we have no knowledge” (Jeremiah 4.22). All Christians should know what it is to go against the world, flesh, and devil instead of floating downstream with this triad of evil.

If we are not numb to this fight, we may be weary of it. We need courage ultimately from God. Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.38-39). Many who preceded us were as weak or even weaker than we now are. Yet they triumphed over Satan. They overcame by the blood of the Lamb. The blood of Christ will prevail. Be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil!

Freedom in Christ

I’ll be teaching these eight principles about Christian Liberty to our 7th – 10th graders today.  There are many adult believers who ought to take them to heart as well.  I am thankful for good Bible curriculum from BJU Press.  These principles are taken from Bible Truths:  Lessons from the Early Church, 4th Edition.

  1. Love, not simply knowledge, should govern our actions. Often, pride because of our knowledge hinders our ability to act in love. We stop thinking of others when pride enters into our daily experience.
  2. Some Christians have weak consciences. A believer with a weak conscience is undecided in his judgments about a particular matter. He regards something sinful even though it is not actually sinful. Those with weak consciences are more likely to violate their consciences. Once they do, they have sinned (Romans 14.23). This means that activities that are neither immoral or illegal might be sinful for a particular believer. Knowledge is often not the problem with a weaker brother; it’s his weak conscience.
  3. Food does not make us less or more spiritual. The food you eat won’t cause you to stand closer to God. However love might lead you to forsake certain foods or activities, if you know they harm the conscience of another Christian.
  4. A Christian should never cause another believer to stumble. Love is others-focused. No Christian is at liberty to exercise his rights if in doing so he harms another believer.
  5. Christians are free to deny themselves. Grace teaches the believer to do just that.
  6. Christians should seek to edify one another, not to cause spiritual harm. The church would be a lot better off if believers refused to engage in any activity that did not build up other believers.
  7. Christians should use common sense in matters of Christian liberty. It takes discernment. If a Corinthian was invited to dinner, he shouldn’t ask if the meat had been once offered to idols. If the host announced that it had, he shouldn’t eat it.
  8. Do all to the glory of God. The goal of every Christian ought to be to live an eternal quality of life. He does so by demonstrating God’s gifted righteousness through Christ for the Father’s glory. God must be all in all for us.

The Distressing Spirit of Our Age

A mark of the distressing spirit of our age is self-seeking.  People love themselves ….a lot.  They love pleasure as well.  Yet, they still want a form of godliness.  This evil is not new.  The Old Testament history book of 1 Samuel traces the life of Saul, Israel’s first king.  He moves from a self-effacing, meek man to a self-seeking, envious man.  While this occurs rather rapidly in the Scriptures, it certainly played out over a span of a several years.

Saul recognized that David was a strong and courageous leader after the famous confrontation with Goliath in the Valley of Elah. But as Israel celebrates David’s victory, they dance and chant: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18.7). This provokes an unstable Saul. He grows very angry and the saying displeases him very much. In short, Saul is envious. Verse 9 says, “So Saul eyed David from that day forward.”

You have to be on the lookout for envy. You have to realize the potential this evil has to become rooted in you. You must battle it by pleading with God to make you more like the Lord Jesus. Saul didn’t seek to know the Lord. He simply allowed envy to destroy him. He didn’t come to serve Israel but to be served by Israel.  This brings us to verse 10 of 1 Samuel 18…

“And it happened on the next day that the distressing spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied inside the house. So David played music with his hand, as at other times; but there was a spear in Saul’s hand. And Saul cast the spear, for he said, “I will pin David to the wall!” But David escaped his presence twice.” (1 Samuel 18:10–11)

1 Samuel 16 tells us that the Spirit of the LORD came upon David, but the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul (vv. 13-14). Instead, a distressing spirit was sent from the LORD to trouble Saul (v. 14). Since Saul refuses to obey the LORD, the LORD withdraws His Spirit. This leaves Saul open to evil forces. The LORD may use even evil forces to accomplish His will.

Saul is prompted by the distressing spirit to pin David to the wall with a spear. Saul is not forced to obey the distressing spirit but provoked by that spirit. David played music to calm Saul. It is a solution worked out by Saul’s servants back in 1 Samuel 16.15-17. Once David plays the harp with his hand, Saul will be made well. They think they have it all worked out.  But music therapy doesn’t work this time.

Who wants David dead? It is Saul because he is so envious and jealous of David. However, the distressing spirit encouraged the envy and paranoia. Saul tried to pin David to the wall with the spear on at least two separate occasions but failed.  The evil of envy will take you to a very dark and distressing place.  James wrote,

“But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.” (James 3:14–16)

The bad news is that envy still feeds the distressing spirit of our age:

  1. Envy and anger motivated the persecution of Jesus’ true followers in the first century (Acts 5.17).
  2. Envy keeps us from the clear light of day (Romans 13.13). We remain in the prison of sin.
  3. Envy characterizes carnal or fleshly Christians (1 Corinthians 3.3).
  4. Envy is linked to self-seeking. This keeps a divisive and distressing spirit alive. It spurs people to continue on in disobedience to God. People are driven by there own selfish ambition.
  5. Envy and self-seeking lead out to confusion. You find every evil thing in an atmosphere of envy.

The good news is that the Gospel frees us from the earthly, sensual, and demonic wisdom from below.  It allows us to pursue the wisdom that is from above:

“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:17–18)

  1. Living a life of purity means cleaning house.  We strive for no moral defect.  We strive to live morally and ethically pure.  This means our lives are unmixed by anything which would cause double-mindedness or instability.
  2. A peaceable life is trained by chastening.  God-given wisdom yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness. Our goal is to demonstrate the righteousness given to us by God for His glory.
  3. A gentle spirit is forbearing, fair-minded, and not quarrelsome.  It belongs to those who are truly humble. It is the ministry of pleading rather than coercion and manipulation.
  4. Those willing to yield are open to reason.  They are not stubborn but compliant with their words and attitudes.  We could say this is obedience in words and actions from the heart with a happy spirit.
  5. Those full of mercy and good fruits demonstrate mercy in action not just disposition. The good fruits are produced inwardly in order to be expressed outwardly. These come down from the Father of lights (James 1.17).
  6. A life without partiality is truly a non-partisan life.
  7. A life without hypocrisy is sincere and not a pretentious. A person who acts consistently toward all people (without partiality) is a person who is so with not just a select and favored few but with all.

Wisdom comes down from Heaven …down from our Father who is in Heaven. It is a gift we receive rather than choosing to manifest an earthly, fleshly wisdom.  Sensual demonic wisdom is the default.  It is the distressing spirit of our age.