Romans 16:17–20 (NASB)
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. 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. 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. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
Sandwiched in between two concluding salutations, Paul inserts this warning. There are wolves among the sheep.
This jumps out because the surrounding passages include lists of “the good guys” that the church in Rome is supposed to greet. It feels like Paul is saying, “Beware of anyone not on these lists.”
But that’s not it. That can’t be it. Still, this warning’s placement gives it frightening emphasis. So, let’s do some profiling. The characteristics of the people Paul says to keep your eye on are: those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned; slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and people with smooth and flattering speech.
The first one is interesting because Paul doesn’t say that all dissensions and hindrances are bad, only the ones that are contrary to the teaching which you learned. Some dissensions and hindrances are fine, for example, if they are correcting false doctrine instead of promoting it.
But also notice that simple bad theology is not, by itself, a sign of someone who’s a problem. They need to cause dissensions and hindrances to be someone you need to keep your eye on.
That seems puzzling but it’s actually quite simple. Anyone can get things wrong, especially new Christians. That’s fine—as long as they’re acting like students instead of experts. But if someone is in the wrong, and also making a stink about it, then, Houston, we have a problem. This gives us two great takeaways. First is, don’t be “that guy.” If you feel compelled to raise a serious issue in the body, double-check your facts first. Quietly get some good advice before going public.
The other takeaway is Paul’s basic point. If you encounter a troublemaker, keep an eye on them—especially if that person fits Paul’s other profile points of being a slave of their own appetites or using smooth and flattering speech.
The cold truth is that there will always be troublemakers in the church. Fortunately, it’s not the job of most Christians to deal with them. Handing them gracefully takes training.
But it is the job of every Christian to keep an eye on them. That can mean informing someone.
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