Sunday, 23 February 2014
For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. Romans 16:18
“For those who are such” takes us back to the previous verse – “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.”
These people have motives that are intentionally self-directed and destructive of the church. They “do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ.” The people Paul speaks of here are comparable to the “Judaizers” he mentions elsewhere. These people were coming into the churches and teaching that one had to be circumcised and follow the law of Moses in order to be saved.
This is stated or implied in several epistles. It is also noted explicitly in Acts 15:1 –
“And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.'”
They were preaching a false gospel of works rather than grace in order to steal away the brethren for themselves. If you think this was just a warning for the church in Rome, think again. It is one of the most common heresies perpetrated in churches today. Legalism and adding to what Christ has done infects almost all churches in one way or another. And it is usually introduced from within.
Those who teach such things serve “their own belly.” They are directed to the lust of the flesh as if they were feeding on those they pull astray. Factions within the church are very often started by such perverse people. They hear something they don’t like and, regardless of the truth, they countermand it with their own inventions of piety and supposed honoring of God.
And Paul tells how they do this. They do it first with “smooth words.” This is the Greek word chrēstologias. This is its only use in the New Testament and is directly translated “good speaking.” Regardless of the truth, they utter words which sound authoritative, honoring of God, pious, and noble. But in fact, they are words which are contrary to any of these. They have no authority because they countermand what the Bible teaches. They don’t honor God because they call into question the truth and veracity of His word. They aren’t pious because true piety would be honoring of God, not reviling of His word. And they lack any sense of nobility because they fail to give God the true glory He deserves. Instead of glorifying Him through the reception of grace, they dishonor him by proclaiming a righteousness of self, not of Christ.
In addition to the smooth words, they utter “flattering speech.” This is the Greek word eulogias. It means adoration or praise. When we eulogize someone at their funeral, we put aside their faults and failings and heap praises upon the departed. This is what they do to those they want to capture. With pats on the back, smiles from the lips, and hearty praises, they pull away the unsuspecting for themselves and heap up condemnation in the process.
It is through these wicked devices that they “deceive the hearts of the simple.” The word “deceive” is exapatōsin. It doesn’t just mean to make a false impression, but to intentionally lead another astray. It is to beguile them. The implicit warning here is that we are to be well-versed in our doctrine and well trained in proper theology, lest we are swept up in their lies. As Paul warns in Ephesians 4:14, being properly trained is vital so that “we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.”
Instead of remaining “simple” we are to be well-trained, ready to defend, and on the guard against the devices of the people Paul warns about.
If we look at the church as if it were planet earth, we could see how these people disrupt. On the surface of the planet are storms, floods, famines, and the like. These would be comparable to those outside the church who attack and harm. But inside the earth are other forces, much more destructive – volcanoes, earthquakes, and other uncontrollable things. These come unexpectedly and cause massive harm. This is what we see in the people Paul is speaking about. They appear to be a part of the church which has a good purpose, but they spew forth only destruction.
Life application: We are saved by grace through faith. If we are saved by grace, then what can we add to that? Nothing. If we attempt to do so, then it is no longer grace and our salvation is to be questioned. “Have I truly trusted Christ alone for my salvation?” If you feel obligated to do something to merit God’s favor apart from trusting Christ, you are heading down a bad path. Hold fast to what Jesus did and be ever-so grateful for His glorious provision.
Lord, if You are our righteousness, as Abraham discovered before ever being circumcised, then what could I possibly add to that? You consistently demonstrate in Your word that we are saved by Your grace and clothed in Your righteousness alone. May I never trust anything but the work of Jesus Christ for my righteousness. The pressure is off, the deed is done, and I can rest in His wondrous work. Great stuff God… great stuff. Thank You for Jesus. Amen.