A Final Word of Warning.
And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. – Romans 16:17 NLT
Paul wraps up his wide-ranging treatise with a single, simple warning: Stay away from anyone who might want to cause division in the church or negatively impact another believer’s faith. Paul had a special disdain for false teachers – those who taught anything contrary to the Gospel message he had received from Christ Himself. These individuals were not to be tolerated. Paul did not live in an age of political correctness or rampant tolerance. He didn’t have to put up with those who chose to present their own version of the Gospel or offered up a slightly variant form of salvation. As far as Paul was concerned, there was no reason to accept or tolerate these people and their messages. He knew just how dangerous they could be.
Paul had warned the believers in Galatia, “This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you” (Galatians 5:9-10 NLT). In their case, he was addressing those who were teaching that circumcision was a necessary requirement for salvation to be complete. These were Jews who were demanding that Gentiles adhere to all the rituals and requirements of Judaism in order to be fully saved. For Paul, this was a clear case of trying to add to the Gospel message. It was Jesus + something. And as far as Paul was concerned, the Gospel was Jesus + NOTHING. No-thing. No works. No merit. No circumcision. No rituals. No sacrifices. No rules. Nothing.
So why would Paul wrap up his lengthy letter with a warning against false teachers? Because he knew that they were alive and well and would be continuing to spread their false teaching to anyone who would listen. And as Paul told the Galatians, all it would take was a little false teaching to permeate and impact the entire church. Within any local body of believers it is essential that those who are more mature and knowledgeable of the Scriptures to be on the lookout for false teaching and errant doctrine. Those who are new to the faith are especially susceptible to false teaching. They do not yet have adequate knowledge of the truth to discern falsehood from truth. That is why pastors, teachers, and elders of the local church carry a special responsibility to protect the flock from false teachers and faulty doctrine. Paul warned the elders from the church in Ephesus, “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders” (Acts 20:28 NLT). That is a high calling and a weighty responsibility, and one that every elder should take seriously.
Paul warned Titus that any man who served as an elder “must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong” (Titus 1:9 NLT). Why was this important to Paul? “For there are many rebellious people who engage in useless talk and deceive others. This is especially true of those who insist on circumcision for salvation. They must be silenced, because they are turning whole families away from the truth by their false teaching” (Titus 1:10-11 NLT). They must be silenced. They must be avoided at all costs. They must be dealt with strongly and severely. Because the health of the body and the well-being of the flock is at stake. And the same holds true today. Paul warns us with these words: “Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people” (Romans 16:18 NLT). We need to see them for what they are. Deceivers who are motivated by their own personal interests and who prefer their version of the truth over God’s Word. They sound good. They tend to make sense. But if they contradict the truth of God’s Word and alter in any way the Good News regarding Jesus Christ, they are to be avoided at all costs. Don’t tolerate them. Don’t listen to them. Don’t allow them to influence your fellowship. The Gospel message is far too precious and valuable to allow it to be diluted or altered in any way. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). Anyone who attempts to add to or alter that message in any way, is not only wrong, they are dangerous. Tolerance may be politically correct, but it is spiritually deadly. That’s why Paul told the Corinthians, “You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed” (2 Corinthians 22:4 NLT). Their tolerance was going to have devastating results on the health of the local church. And the same is true today. So let us stand up for the truth. Let us defend the Gospel. And let us protect the body of Christ from false teaching – at all costs.
Father, there are so many confusing and conflicting message out there today. So many are trying to water down the Gospel and make it all-inclusive. They want to teach that there are many paths to Your Kingdom. They want to lower the standard and increase the number of options available for being made right with You. But Jesus said He was the only source of salvation. He was and is the only means for man to be restored to a right relationship with You. Help us remain faithful to that truth. Don’t let us lower our guard or tolerate anyone who wants to dilute or confuse the Gospel in any way. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men