A Preventative Warning – Romans 16:17-20
Pastor Mark Hardy March 16, 2014
Did you know that the largest single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act in U.S. history until the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 was due to a false teacher? In November, 1978, US Representative Leo Ryan of California visited Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple, a California-based cult who had moved to Guyana, South America, to investigate reports that some of the people were being held against their will.
But having been threatened while there, Ryan quickly left the compound with his delegation and fifteen people who wanted to leave the cult to go to the airport. However, while boarding their plane they were ambushed by some members of the Peoples Temple. Five people were killed, including Congressman Ryan, and many others were severely wounded.
Hearing a little later that day about what had happened at the airport and knowing that Jonestown was no longer safe, Jones immediately ordered everyone to assemble at the pavilion where they were surrounded by his armed guards. He talked about the beauty of death and the certainty that everyone would meet again. Then as large kettles filled with purple punch mixed with cyanide were brought out, he told them they were all going to commit mass suicide, which was really mass murder,.
First the babies and children were given the poisoned punch and then the adults drank it. Most took it willingly, but some had to be forced or were shot. Within only a few minutes, on November 18, 1978, 912 people died from drinking the poison, 276 of whom were children. Jones was found dead near his pulpit from a single gunshot wound to the head. Only a handful of people survived the Jonestown massacre, either by escaping into the jungle or hiding somewhere in the compound.
Although the physical results of following a false teacher are not always this horrific, the spiritual results are always the same as their heresy damns the souls of all who believe it to eternal hell. This is why the apostle Paul warns against false teachers in the passage we will be looking at this morning. Turn in your Bible to Romans 16.
In Romans 16:17-20 we see three elements of Paul’s warning to the saints in Rome, which every believer should heed until the Lord returns.
The first element of Paul’s warning consists of:
I. The Responsibilities that Believers must Obey
A. Look at v. 17: Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.
1. Having just told the Roman believers to lovingly greet specific people (vv. 3-15), one another with a holy kiss (v. 16a), and also all the churches he’s established greet them (v. 16b), Paul now feels compelled to warn those whom he loves against false teachers.
2. Although false teachers had not yet arrived in Rome, from his vast missionary experience Paul knows that it won’t be long before they do. He said to the elders of the church at Ephesus in Acts 20:28-31, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.”
3. Therefore as we come here to v. 17, Paul gives the Roman believers a preventative warning against false teachers, which he has done many times in other letters (1 Cor. 16:22; Gal. 6:12-17; Phil. 3:2-4, 18-19; Col. 2:16-23).
4. The subject of false teachers is throughout the New Testament (Matt. 24:5, 11, 23-24; 1 Tim. 4:1-2; 6:3-5; 2 Pet. 2:1-3, 10-19; 1 Jn. 2:18; Jude 12-13, 19). Jesus Himself said in Matthew 7:15-16, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.”
5. Paul begins by telling his dear Christian brothers and sisters in Rome, “Now I urge you, brethren…” As we have seen before (12:1; 15:30), the meaning of the strong word “urge” (parakalo) lies between “request” and “command” and is best captured in such words as: exhort, implore, summons, entreat, appeal, and plead.
6. Therefore, Paul is exhorting and pleading with the Roman believers, and every believer as well, to obey what he is about to say. In this verse he gives two responsibilities that believers must obey regarding false teachers.
B. The first responsibility that believers must obey is to be spiritually alert for them. Look again what he says, “…keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned.”
1. Paul says, “keep your eye on those.” The one Greek word translated “keep your eye on” (skopeo) is the word from which we get our English word “scope” in telescope and microscope.
2. It means to examine and scrutinize carefully, mark out, watch out for, be on guard against. In is in the present tense, meaning that we are to keep on watching out for those who would be false teachers, so that we can identify them.
3. We must constantly be spiritually alert! Now although some say Paul is referring here to legalistic Jews called Judaizers, and others say he’s talking about antinomian libertines, he simply does not give enough information to enable us to be certain what false teachers he is talking about.
4. But regardless of the false teachers, Paul characterizes all of them when he says: “…those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned.”
5. The word “dissensions” (dichostasias) refers to division, and is included in Galatians 5:20 among the “deeds of the flesh.” Now whereas some divisions are inevitable, especially for the sake of truth and loyalty to Christ (Matt. 10:34-36), false teachers introduce strife, factions, disunity and division everywhere they go because they are controlled by their sinful flesh.
6. The word “hindrances” (skandala) means offenses and stumbling-blocks. While it is true that the gospel of Jesus Christ is an offense and a stumbling-block (Lk. 7:23; Rom. 9:32b-33; 1 Cor. 1:23), the heresy of false teachers is an offense and a stumbling-block to others, in that, it damns the people who believe their Satanic lies to an eternal hell.
7. No wonder Jesus said in Matthew 18:6, “…whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
8. The central issue with a false teacher to be spiritually alert for is that what they teach is “…contrary to the teaching which you learned.” The word “teaching” (didachen) here means doctrine, which is the principles, positions, or body of beliefs that is taught.
9. Paul is not talking about differing views on non-essential, secondary teachings of Scripture, or differing perspectives about issues of personal preference not directly commanded or forbidden in Scripture. He is talking about heretical doctrines that violate the fundamental truths of the Christian faith.
10. False teaching concerning religion is one of Satan’s primary weapons to keep spiritually blind mankind in his blindness. And false teachers are Satan’s instruments or emissaries that propagate his lies (Jn. 8:44).
11. Although they often call themselves “Christians,” they twist and distort the Word of God and teach their heresies under the guise of Christianity. But their teaching is contrary or diametrically opposed to the divinely-revealed apostolic teaching that the Roman believers had received at the beginning of their Christian lives.
C. Therefore, the second responsibility that believers must obey is to be personally separate from them. Look at the end of v. 17 where Paul states, “…turn away from them.”
1. The one Greek word translated “turn away” (ekklinete) means to shun and avoid them. This is repeated often in the New Testament concerning such heretical and immoral people (1 Cor. 5:9, 11; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14; 2 Tim. 2:23; 3:5; Tit. 3:9-11; 2 Jn. 9-11).
2. It is important to understand that “turn away from them” is an imperative or command in the Greek. It is not an option or suggestion.
3. It is also in the present tense, meaning that we are to continually personally separate ourselves from them, so that we will not be corrupted. For we are warned in Scripture that “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough” (Gal. 5:9; 1 Cor. 5:6).
4. Notice again that Paul doesn’t say that we are to do them physical harm or to engage them in friendly debate or dialogue. We are to simply avoid them, and this means protecting fellow believers, especially new converts and the immature, from their error.
5. John MacArthur is correct when he states, “Paul often argued and debated with unbelievers, both Jew and Gentile. While in Athens, he ‘was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and the market place every day with those who happened to be present,’ including Greek philosophers (Acts 17:16-17; cf. 9:29; 17:2; 18:4; 19:8-9). He did not however, provide a platform for those who professed Christ but taught a false and perverted gospel. Such people are not to be debated but denounced.” (pg. 373)
6. Now understand that avoiding false teachers does not violate Jesus’ teaching about loving one’s enemies (Matt. 5:44), for although Jesus Himself denounced the self-righteous Pharisees (Matt. 23) He still wept over the rebellious ob-stin-a-cy of Jerusalem (Lk. 19:41).
7. C.E.B. Cranfield rightly observed “…one can avoid subjecting oneself to a person’s evil influence without hardening one’s heart against him.” (pg. 799)
8. But instead of obeying the responsibilities of identifying and avoiding false teachers, many “professing” believers disobey and listen to them. William Newell said it well, “Mad dogs are shot; infectious diseases are quarantined; but evil teachers who would divide to their destruction and draw away the saints with teaching contrary to the doctrine of Christ and His apostles are everywhere tolerated! Let us take heed lest we ‘partake in the evil deeds’ of such evil workers! (2 Jn. 9-11)” (pg. 559)
9. The second element of Paul’s warning consists of:
II. The Reasons for Avoiding false Teachers
A. Look at v. 18: For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.
1. When Paul says “such men” (toioutoi) here he is making it very clear that false, heretical doctrine is not impersonal; it is people who are the perpetrators. Therefore, his warning is against any and all false teachers who teach contrary to the Word of God.
2. In this verse Paul gives two reasons for avoiding false teachers: The first reason is because their motives are selfish. Look again at v. 18, “For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites…” (Stop there)
3. The word “slaves” (douleuousin) means to serve as slaves. Notice that they are not slaves of “our Lord Christ,” but instead they are slaves “of their own appetites.”
4. The word “appetites” (koilia) literally means belly and is a graphic metaphor of self-indulgence (Phil. 3:18-19). Although false teachers often come across as very sincere and caring they are idolatrous slaves of their own self-interest and self-gratification.
5. They claim to worship and serve the Lord Jesus Christ, but in reality they are worshipping themselves and living to satisfy their own selfish desires (1:21-25). They are nothing more than heretics and charlatans—frauds, fakes, imposters!
B. The second reason for avoiding false teachers is because their methods are deceptive. Paul goes on to say in v. 18, “…and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.”
1. These are not genuine, Spirit-controlled people! Notice that the intent of false teachers is to “…deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.”
2. The word “unsuspecting” (akakon) refers those who are simple and naïve, which makes them a very vulnerable target for false teachers because they are gullible to believe whatever they hear.
3. And the method that false teachers use to capture these unsuspecting people is deception. Paul says that it is “…by their smooth and flattering speech.”
4. Remember that no one joins a cult thinking they are going to be harmed; they are deceived by “smooth and flattering speech.”
5. The word “smooth” (chrestologias) means fair, plausible and reasonable speech. What false teachers say superficially appears to be pleasing, persuasive, and worthy of belief.
6. The word “flattering” (eulogias) refers to insincere and excessive praise. Slick talkers are often very charismatic people who are eloquent orators, but their well-chosen words are not wholly biblically true. (Jude 16)
7. R.C.H. Lenski says about their smooth and flattering speech, “This is the language of Satan used in Genesis 3:5.”
8. Paul said to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 11:3, “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” Verses 13-15: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.”
9. Never forget that the heretical doctrines of slick talking false teachers is like spiritual purple punch mixed with cyanide that damns people’s souls to eternal hell, unless by the grace of God they turn away from them and come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
C. Paul further explains why the Roman believers must take his warning seriously in v. 19: For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.
1. Now Paul did not consider the Roman believers as unsuspecting people, for he has already acknowledged their faith in 1:8, and now their obedience which are both well-known throughout the whole world. And he is truly “rejoicing over” them because of their strong Christian faith, demonstrated in the fact that their faith and obedience are inseparable (1:5; 6:16; 15:18; 16:26).
2. But Paul is confident that eventually false teachers will come to Rome and he wants them to be ready. They did come, for history records that by the 7th century the Roman papacy was enthroned in Rome.
3. Therefore, Paul goes on to say in v. 19, “…but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.”
4. Jesus said a similar thing in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrew as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Rom. 12:9; 1 Cor. 14:20; 1 Thess. 5:21-22)
5. Now how can we be “wise in what is good?” To be “wise” () means to have understanding and discernment to be able to make sound judgments.
6. But since spiritual wisdom comes from God and His Word, we must know the Word of God to accurately discern good from bad, right from wrong, truth from error (Ps. 19:7-8; 119: 98-100, 104-105). This requires that we diligently study the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).
7. For if we don’t, Ephesians 4:14 says that we will be “…tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” Those who don’t know God’s Word are a sitting duck to swallow whatever they hear!
8. We must remember that the Word of God is absolute truth, and therefore, it alone is the final authority in our lives. We need to be like the Bereans who according to Acts 17:11 where “…examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”
9. Also, how can we be “innocent in what is evil.” The word “innocent” (akeraious) means to be unmixed, pure, simple, harmless, and guileless.
10. Being “innocent in what is evil” does not mean that we are ignorant of it, but rather that we by God’s grace are acting presently in an inexperienced and unsophisticated way in reference to evil. In other words, we are not being conformed or pressed into the sinful mold of the world (Rom. 12:2).
11. Now although false teachers are a clear and present danger in the world, their dangerous influence will not last forever. We see this in the third element of Paul’s warning, which consists of:
III. The Reality of Victory over Satan
A. Look at v. 20: The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. (Stop there)
1. Again Paul calls God the “God of peace” (15:33), which means that He is the Source and Giver of true peace. But notice three things that the God of peace will do:
2. First, God “will. . . . crush Satan.” This reality is a promise! It may seem strange that Paul says the “God of peace” will do this, since enjoying peace and crushing Satan do not sound compatible with each other, but only through the destruction of evil can true peace be established by the God of peace.
3. This is the fulfillment of the promise of Genesis 3:15, where the seed of the woman (i.e. the Messiah) would crush the serpent’s (i.e. Satan’s) head (Ps. 8:6; Eph. 1:22; Heb. 2:8).
4. William Hendriksen correctly states, “In a sense it is true that God is crushing Satan right along. A most decisive victory was won on Calvary. There can be no doubt about it, though, that the present passage has reference to the final, eschatological victory of God over Satan, a victory that will take place in connection with Christ’s glorious return.” (pp. 512-513)
5. When Christ returns He will put down all His enemies, and on that day Revelation 11:15 declares, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” What a day that will be!
6. Second, God “will. . . . crush Satan under your feet.” Although it is God Himself who does the crushing, notice that Satan ends up under the believers’ feet as we join Christ in His triumph over Satan.
7. We who are co-heirs with Christ (8:17) are also co-conquerors (1 Jn. 4:4; Rev. 19:13-14).
8. Third, God “will soon crush Satan under your feet.” Although this may seem hollow to us since it is now 2,000 years after Paul wrote this letter, remember that he consistently taught that Christ’s return is imminent, in that, He could come at any moment.
9. The return of Christ is the next event on God’s calendar so we must always be ready and on the alert (Rev. 1:1; 22:7, 12, 20).
B. Paul then concludes with another short benediction (see 15:33), in the form of a prayer-wish for the Roman believers at the end of v. 20: The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
1. Paul gives this same or similar prayers in every one of his letters (1 Cor. 16:23; 2 Cor. 13:14; Gal. 6:18; Eph. 6:24; Phil. 4:23; Col. 4:18; 1 Thess. 5:28; 2 Thess. 3:18; 1 Tim. 6:21b; 2 Tim. 4:22; Tit. 3:15b; Philm. 25).
2. As we have seen throughout the entire letter of Romans, the word “grace” () is the whole of the gospel summed up in one word. It is all by the sovereign grace of God!
3. Grace is God’s unmerited and unearned favor in granting salvation (Eph. 2:8-9), and every other spiritual blessing to those who trust in His Son, Jesus Christ. And it is also God’s sustaining strength that is sufficient for all we need in our daily Christian lives (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
4. And notice that this grace is “of our Lord Jesus.” Whereas Paul prays that “the grace of our Lord Jesus” will “be with” these, and all, believers, this is always the case for the Lord Jesus promised in Matthew 28:20, “…I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
5. And in Hebrews 13:5 He declared, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.”
6. Our Lord is constantly with us to supply us His sovereign and all sufficient grace in our daily lives, especially when we are attacked by Satan and his emissaries. But we must avail ourselves to His grace by depending on Him and allowing His Spirit to control our lives.
In closing, false teachers are a very clear and present danger in our world today, but we need not be afraid of them. God in His grace has given us His Word and His Spirit, so that we would not be deceived by them.
May each one of us know God’s Word so well and be controlled by God’s Spirit so consistently that we will be spiritually alert to identify false teachers when we hear them and personally separate ourselves from them in obedience to the Lord.