Saturday, 22 February 2014
Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. Romans 16:17
After his many greetings in this chapter, and then his note to “Greet one another with a holy kiss,” Paul now introduces a stern warning. He begins with “Now I urge you…” This is his way of saying, “Pay heed, lest this become a real problem.” And his urging is to “note those who cause divisions and offenses.” This is an obvious problem within any church where there are jealousies, backbitings, feelings of intellectual superiority, or a host of other prideful issues which arise. It has been the impetus for the destruction or division of countless churches over the millennia.
He has been writing throughout this epistle of the need for harmony between Jew and Gentile and the need for the stronger brother to accommodate the weaker one. His points of doctrine have been given to show us the correct path to righteousness and sanctification, among many other issues. Violations of these prescriptions are what he is referring to now as he says that those who cause the divisions and contentions do so “contrary to the doctrine which you learned.”
In other words, this has nothing to do with those who uphold and defend the principles of the Bible. In fact, in such cases, the use of the Bible in an offensive manner is expected. The church isn’t meant to wait for troubles to arise and then defend against them. They are to proclaim doctrine clearly and without restraint. However, if someone comes in with contrary doctrine, the church should already be able to recognize it and weed it out. They are to “avoid them.”
Vincent’s word studies, speaking of the “divisions and offenses” says that “the article with each noun points to some well-known disturbances.” In other words, he was warning against what had already entered into the church, hence, the strong words given throughout his epistle. They are expected to use his letter as a basis for their actions against the offenders. Now that the epistle is written and in the Bible, we should be using it in a proactive manner. No church should fail to preach on doctrinal issues consistently and with the intent of keeping the body pure. Paul speaks in exactly this manner to his protégé Timothy –
“If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.” 1 Timothy 6:3-5
On the other hand, in Philippians 3:17, he gives a helpful way to be proactive in such matters, “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.” And so we have been shown both the right way to walk and the way to avoid heading down the wrong path. Both of them illustrate a reliance on the word of God and proper instruction. Failure to adhere to these will inevitably lead to disorder, disharmony, and divisions.
Life application: The Bible is an instruction manual for life. Anyone who would start up a lawnmower and then intentionally back it over his own foot would be considered a dolt. The instructions and the little warning labels clearly show that this isn’t a good option for toe-nail clipping. But this is exactly what we do with the Bible. We ignore its instructions and march headlong into life’s troubles because we fail to heed the manual we have been given. Pull out the manual and read it daily. For best results, repeat several times each day.
Lord God, what would people think about me if I lost my foot in a lawnmower while trying to clip my nails? What would they think if I were to try to shave with a hammer-drill? Lord, what must You think when I try to conduct my life’s affairs without using the Manual which You have given us? You have provided exactly the right instructions and yet we ignore them. No wonder our lives are such a mess. Help us return to Your word to avoid error. Amen.