“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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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!