PAUL’S WARNING AGAINST FALSE AND DIVISIVE TEACHERS – Romans 16


I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them.

For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering words they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded.

For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I would have you wise as to what is good and guileless as to what is evil;

then the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Romans 16:17‭-‬20 RSV

This forms an apostolic warning against false and divisive teachers whom Paul expected to trouble the unity and harmony of the church in Rome.

Paul had evidently received remarkably full and accurate reports on what was happening in Rome, and there were many things for which he was no doubt thankful; but his experience had taught him that the crooked zeal of false teachers would eventually reach Rome, hence this powerful warning.

Mark them … means “identify them,” “watch out for them,” and “be on your guard against them.”

Do not shut your eyes to what they are doing, nor make excuses for them, nor for any others who cause divisions and occasions of stumbling contrary to the gospel, but turn away from them.

This means that the brethren should have no fellowship with them.

Apparently, at the time Paul wrote, the leadership of the congregations in Rome had been able to preserve unity; and Paul’s admonition here was given to strengthen their hands and warn them against heretical teachers already operating among the churches and sure to reach Rome in time.

The contrast here is between what the false teachers are and do on the one hand and what they pretend to be and claim on the other hand.

Pretending to serve Christ, they serve themselves alone, “belly” as used here being a reference to all of the carnal and fleshly desires.

They were able speakers, with a ready flow of eloquent words; and impressive rhetoric and oratory were their stock in trade.

Their deceitfulness and wickedness were masked and guarded with every possible camouflage of pretended piety and devotion.

Intent upon causing division as a means of drawing away disciples after themselves, these false teachers are Satan’s attack forces (the shift to present tense is to focus on the problem as it still exists), not merely for the times and places known to Paul, but for all times and places, including the present now and here.

The innocent … is Paul’s reference to the naive, unsophisticated Christian, who is inclined to receive any “good speech” as the gospel truth, no matter what sacred truth may be denied by it, and never pauses to question anything, especially if the speech is a good one, and who thus unconsciously falls into the net of the false teacher.

The threat of evil teachers and their seductive operations was pointed out by Christ himself (Matthew 7:15-23), and the Saviour’s description of such persons is still the fountain source of the true knowledge concerning them.

They are wolves in sheep’s clothing, being recognizable principally by their fruits.

The minister, or other teacher, who scatters the flock is a wolf, regardless of his pretensions.

His sheepskin garb and pretended piety cannot disguise his true status as an enemy.

Paul, of course, rejoiced that until the time then present, the Roman leadership had preserved harmony and unity among the Christians; but, by Paul’s warning here, he prophetically alerted them to certain danger ahead.

Paul was careful, in giving such an alert, not to insinuate that the false teachers had already arrived there, hence the first clause of this verse; but it would have been folly not to warn them.

Simple unto that which is evil … seems a little ambiguous as applied to Paul’s argument here and has been explained in various ways; but its manifest reference to a desired reaction against the wiles of false teachers gives a clue to the false teacher’s modus operandi, which was invariably grounded in a pretended superiority of knowledge and intelligence.

Their views were always “advanced,” allegedly, and were represented to be very learned and complicated, and thus contrasting dramatically with the great simplicities of the true religion of Christ.

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity and purity that is toward Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3).

The boldness of the false teacher is always evident in his blunt rejection of valid truth coupled with an arrogant charge of simple-mindedness against those who hold and believe it.

Very well, Paul seemed to say in this place, I want you to stay simple with reference to the so-called erudition of the false teacher!

Verse 20, with its reference to bruising Satan under their feet, dramatically recalls that scene in Eden where God foretold such a bruising, a thing also clearly in Paul’s mind in the verse just cited, above, and in which primeval event there existed the same element of the false wisdom still being promised by Satan and his workers.

Satan promised Eve that she should be “as God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5); but the unfortunate mother of all living would have been wiser to have remained simple to the wisdom Satan offered. This is the thrust of Paul’s word here.

Those commentators who view this eschatologically and allege that Paul expected the end of the world shortly, miss the plain point of this verse.

This as an allusion to Genesis 3:15.

“God of peace” in this place clearly has reference to God’s maintaining peace in the church, because of its particular relevance to the bruising of Satan.

The previous verses have in view the division caused by Satan’s instruments.

It is God who bruises Satan and establishes peace in contrast with conflict, discord, and division. He is therefore the God of peace.

The assurance given in this verse is the encouragement to heed the admonitions.

Each element is significant.

God will crush Satan; he will crush him under the feet of the faithful; and he will do it speedily.

The promise of a victorious issue undergirds the fight of faith.

The apostle, in giving them the assurance of the effectual aid of God, calls him the God of peace.

Thus, the bruising of Satan is not something here promised for the remote future, but is a triumph over him to be won immediately and speedily by the Roman Christians who would have the effectual aid of God in maintaining the unity and peace of the Christians when they would be attacked by the false teachers.

The entire thrust of this whole passage is not forward to the eternal judgment, but retrospective to Genesis 3:15.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
2 Peter 2:1 RSV

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