General Idea: Paul wholeheartedly and passionately warns that divisions will destroy the church! The Romans were a people who liked order above all else. The government quickly put down divisions in the provinces, yet this young church was having problems getting along with those who were socially and culturally different. Paul admonishes us to discern between standing for truth and causing unrighteous divisions, confusing people's faith, and relationship to God. He again acknowledges several others as a testimony on the importance of encouraging and giving our blessings to others.
a. Nothing will destroy a church or ministry quicker than strife, competition, dissension, and gossip, all of which eventually lead to divisions in a church (Rom.13: 13; Gal. 5:19-20).
1. Such dissension causes "offenses," that is, it becomes a snare or stumbling block to others (v.14: 13).
2. "Cause divisions" means "to stand apart" or "to cause dissension." It occurs only here and in Gal. 5:20. It indicates causing what is good and holy to separate into factions, which is neither good nor holy.
3. Many people call Christ, "Master and Lord," but they are far from serving Him. They serve only their carnal, sensual, worldly interests. That is, a "what is in it for me" attitude and mindset! They corrupt the church by deceiving its heart and the people with misdirected and corrupted passion.
i. Those who seed strife and make divisions in the Church are not doing Christ's work, but are attempting to gratify their own selves. They cause people to follow a person and not the Person of Christ! Contentious, divisive people will cause others to stumble, so they must be avoided, and disciplined, which means removing them from fellowship if they persist (1 Cor. 5:9-13; 2 Thess. 3:6; 2 Tim. 3:5; Titus 3:10)!
ii. This is a stern warning against false teachers, including those in and out of the church. Paul says to "turn away from them!" They must not be tolerated in the church, or on TV, or anywhere else!
iii. Divisive people destroy the peace and unity of the church, but God, who is the source of peace, will crush this work of Satan through the wisdom and obedience of believers. (v. 8:28).
4. "Hearts of the simple,"" or "weakness of faith" sometimes refers to consistent loyalty to Christ, but not in this passage. Here it rather means simple and innocent, new to the faith, or not yet understanding it. Whoever or whatever disagrees with sound doctrine opens a door to divisions and offences. If truth is abandoned, unity and peace will not last long.
i. Be aware! God has promised to destroy the works of the enemy. Make sure you are not the enemy!
ii. We must keep our hearts open to the Spirit with passion, and guard against that which is contrary to God's Word and plan with all diligence. This is so you are not deceived. Pledge yourself defiantly not to be deceivers.
b. The blessing the apostle gives from God is victory over Satan, which defiles, disturbs, and destroys (Gen. 3:12-19; Job. 1:6), and keeps us from God's best.
c. Paul closes with his customary prayer that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ would be with them. Vs. 20 & 24 are suspected extra endings to this letter. Most of Paul's letters were copied and sent to other churches in the area and he would tack on an extra note to them.
d. In conclusion, Paul turns away from the subject of strife and confusion and talks about the God who is the author of peace, encouraging words with which to close this magnificent manifesto! How wholehearted and endearing are these exhortations (Gal. 6:18; 1 Thess. 5:28), especially considering how diverse they are, far more, even, than we would have in a modern metropolis! Here were aristocrats, slaves, trades people, artists, political officials, people from all walks of life, cultures, and skin colors, all coming tighter together in Christ!!
1. V.21: "Timothy" worked with Paul and received two letters from him.
2. Some scholars think "Lucius" is the Gentile Luke who wrote the books of Luke and Acts, but Paul includes this Luke among his countrymen, meaning he was a Jew.
3. "Jason" is mentioned in Acts as Paul's host on his first journey to Thessalonica (Acts 17:5, 7, 9).
4. "Sosipater" is likely the same person referred to in Acts 20:4.
5. V. 22: Paul, the "human" author of Romans, dictated the letter to a "secretary" named Tertius, who actually "wrote" as a secretary the words of Paul as directed by the Spirit (1 Cor. 16:21; Gal. 6:11; Col. 4:18; 2 Thess. 3:17). Tertius here sends his greetings to the Romans.
6. V. 23: Gaius of Corinth (1 Cor. 1:14) was a wealthy businessman who gave Paul lodging, and offered his house as a meeting place for the church.
7. "Erastus," (Acts 19:22), was sent by Paul to Macedonia. This may have been the same man who was an aristocrat and a public official in Corinth and was what we would call a "Director of Public Works."
e. As with anything in the Christian walk, that which has power and meaning is from a directed effort by the Spirit to many in the Body; team work!
1. Paul was concerned about how the Romans would threat his messenger Phoebe. The old adage, "don't shoot the messenger" has grave consequences.
2. Paul was unsure how they would react to receiving some "chastising" as well as encouragement.
f. Paul normally ends his letters with personal mentions and encouragement, yet Romans stands out to the point that some scholars say v. 16 is also an ending to the original epistle to the Romans. Thus, the rest of Romans were "add-ons" from other letters Paul wrote that contained the same previous 15 chapters, but he personalized the endings for a particular church. This is subjective and irrelevant to the true purpose of Romans. Since there were many startup churches, Paul's letters were recopied and personalized, and sent off to neighboring Christian communities. Others have suggested that letter writing was so serious and Paul so enthused, he just could not stop! The power and meaning remain true and unhindered.
Learning Outcomes: a. Be aware of how false doctrine causes problems and destruction as it misleads people away from the truth in Christ. b. Be committed to confront false doctrine in a loving and constructive way.
1. Do you like to send out thank-you cards? If so, or if not, why?
2. Have you ever passionately warned someone about something? If so, how did they take it?
3. How would you react to someone giving you "chastising" as well as encouragement?
4. How would you feel if the church leadership came to you and told you that what you had said or done could destroy the church?
5. Do you like things that are neat and in order? Why, or why not?
6. How does order apply to running a church?
7. What happens when we run a government or a business without any rules or guidelines?
8. What happens when we run a church without any rules or guidelines?
9. Would you feel secure and more comfortable in a church that quickly put down division? Why?
10. Can you imagine living in a society that was almost obsessive compulsive in how it viewed order and discipline? (This was only in organizations, of course. In private, the Romans were very depraved, decadent, and sinful) Would this be better than to have chaos in a church?
11. Have you experienced problems with getting along with others in a church? If so, what were the circumstances and results?
12. Looking back on past problems in getting along, do you see what you could have done to help things be better or prevent the problems?
13. How do you decide when to cause problems for the sake of truth and righteousness? Can you think of examples and possible scenarios?
14. What do you think the offenses were to which Paul was referring?
15. What are offenses with which the church of today would have to deal?
16. Have you personally experienced a snare or stumbling block for yourself or others resulting from strife, competition, dissension, or gossip?
17. How did you feel about it? How do those feelings compare when the same things are happening in your family?
18. How would you explain, "cause divisions," to a new Christian?
19. How does the "me first" attitude and mindset affect the church?
20. What do those who seed strife and make divisions in the Church do to others?
21. What do those who seed strife and make divisions in the Church do to our Lord?
22. Have you ever observed or known someone who needed to be removed from fellowship? If so, without giving names, what spurred you to think that way?
23. Has your church or a church you know had to dis-fellowship someone? If so, do you know how they reacted, and what happened to them?
24. Do you think false teachers are a problem? Why, or why not?
25. What happens to the people when a false teacher gets in a church or a ministry?
26. Why was Paul so passionate about removing false teachers?
27. Is the church today as a whole as concerned as Paul was? Why, or why not?
28. How can your church destroy-crush--this work of Satan?
29. How would you define a person who is hearts of the simple, and how should the church care for them? What benefit can they bring to others in the church?
30. How can someone who disagrees with sound doctrine open the door to divisions and offences?
31. If Romans had (it probably does) a bunch of different endings that were meant for other churches in the area, does that cause confusion or support to your faith? Does it make a difference?
32. What does this phrase mean to you, "God who is the author of peace?"
33. What do you think about a church filled with people of all kinds of diverse backgrounds, cultures and races? Would you feel comfortable worshiping there? Why, or why not?
34. One of the big heresies in the church growth movement in the 80's was calling the church to just reach out and care for only the people in their ethnicity and background ("Homogeneous Unit Principle"). Why would this be against the call of Christ? How and why would the church leadership rationalize that this would be a good thing?
35. How can your church be more open to people of different backgrounds?
36. What can your church do to avoid the carnal, sensual, worldly interests of others from influencing the decisions of the church leadership?
37. What can you do to avoid the "me first" attitude and mindset?
38. What can your church do to have wisdom and obedience in its believers to root out false teachers?
39. How can you find hope and encouragement in phrases such as, approved in Christ, chosen in the Lord, the God of Hope (v. 15:13) and the God of Peace (v.15: 33)?
40. How can you and your church keep your hearts open to the Spirit with passion, and guard with all diligence that which is contrary to God's Word and plan?
Theological Thought: Why do we cause divisions? Why are there so many disagreements within the Christian faith?
Is not the Holy Spirit giving all Christians the same truth? Yes, the Holy Spirit is giving us the same truth, so, He is not the problem. We are! I once believed that the many different beliefs in the Christian faith demonstrated that it was not true. After all, how could there be so many disagreements about something that was supposed to be true? Over the years, I have found that the cause is although we have more in common than not, we tend to focus on the negative distinctions and not our unity. According to the late Dr. Walter Martin of the Christian Research Institute, who spent a lifetime in research, even radically different denominations such as Catholics and Seventh Day Adventists have over 90% of their theologies in agreement and 99% of what is essential.
For example, Christians agree that all are sinful. Thus, as long as sin remains, it is going to influence how we handle knowledge and truth, even the truth of God's Word. Additionally, nearly all of the divisions among Christians are the result of pride. Furthermore, all Christians believe that we humans are limited in our abilities to understand what God has told us, and in effectively, clearly communicating what God is teaching. This is demonstrated by the people who are against the Reformed teachings (T.U.L.I.P.), mainly because they were not explained logically or clearly. All through Seminary, I denied "Limited Atonement" because my professors never clearly explained it. Since I did not understand it, I denied it. This is the same reasoning as Christians use when they disagree over such things as the method of baptism; who should be baptized, Believers or infants; what is taking place during this sacrament; Consubstantiation versus Transubstantiation, versus Substantial, etc.
We contradict each other because Scripture teaches us to baptize and gives some examples, but it does not actually provide any kind of specific formula. Thus, we come to different conclusions based on our limited insight and our own determination (what we like over what God desires us to do). These differences are going to multiply if no control is enforced on individuals and churches, which is exactly what has happened. That is why your Church Order Manual and or "Articles" are so important. The Reformation encouraged all people to read the Bible. Prior to that movement, the common person was not allowed to do so. Thus, many interpretations have arisen over the centuries, both minor and cultic. All these various reasonings have combined with traditions and expectations. These all focus on what we do versus what God calls us to do.
What is important is the agreement that remains over the basics of Christianity by those who believe that the Bible is true. (There are individuals and churches that claim to be Christian and reject what the Bible says. I'm not talking about them, just look up the word "reprobate", and read Romans 1). Most committed Christians, regardless of denomination, who believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God have more in common than not. There is a great deal of unity in the midst of our diversity.
We all believe that God is our Creator; that He created us without sin, but that we have all fallen into sin; that our sin separates us from God and we cannot make up this gap; that Jesus Christ is God's Son who died for us that we may receive forgiveness for sin; that He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven; that we embrace salvation only by our faith in Jesus Christ; that the Holy Spirit is the One who gives us understanding about Jesus and salvation; that Jesus will return some day in glory. We also all agree concerning the virgin birth, the Trinity, Christ's Atonement and Deity, the nature and attributes of God, and the Fall, to name a few. These chief beliefs are the essentials that have withstood the test of time and the misinterpretations of sinful people. For me, the many different denominations have increased my appreciation for the gospel, and at the same time have given me a passion to teach correct theology, and to reach the lost.
What are the primary reasons Christians disagree on many points?
First, we may make many "LOGICAL" errors, misinterpret and/or take a passage(s) out of context, or rush through it. We look at one ambiguous text and ignore scores of others that are clear. Christians are not perfect and are subject to fallacies in reasoning and judgment. Even the greatest scientific minds disagree for these same reasons! This is why there are so many theories in science, and why they are always changing.
Second, we are limited by the education and knowledge we process, by the information at our disposal, and by knowing how to use that information! Our perspectives are limited and we do not always see the big picture, thus our interpretations are sometimes flawed, or else adequate work and effort was not put into it.
Third, one of the biggest causes of errors is our prejudices. These are our preconceived ideas and biases that cloud our thinking, such as believing in a particular mode of baptism or end time theory. We may grow up in a church that practices "believers baptism" or "infant baptism" only, thus, we are unwilling to look deeper into other theological views.
People tend to rationalize their faulty beliefs instead of researching and discovering the facts for themselves. Either they do not want to know or grow beyond their limited experience, or they base decisions on emotions and do not seriously see the logic.
Fourth, we are still full of sin and fall way short, thus we are susceptible to the influences of Satan and are unable to reason with true perfection!
For example in John 1:1 the Jehovah's Witnesses believe Jesus is not God, but "a god," as Lucifer too is a god in their theology. In 1 Corinthians 15:29, the Mormons believe it is OK to baptize people who have already died. In Mark 16:18, some American Appalachian sects handle poisonous snakes to prove their faith. Some Bible teachers on TV use 3 John 2 as an excuse to teach the "health and wealth" gospel. Yet, when you examine these texts, they do not teach any of those things! These are classic cases of bad interpretation for the reasons fore mentioned.
§ The Bible does not teach what we please.
§ The Bible cannot mean something else from what it does say.
§ The Bible cannot mean what it never meant!
Consider your neighbor, the person you work with, a close friend, a relative, or acquaintance that does not know Him. Will your attitude of "my way or no way" keep you from being a witness or friend? Scripture is clear on what we are called to do, are you clear in your understanding, purpose, and response? From the Episcopal Church practice of burning incense in worship to the fundamentalist church that renounces any form of liturgy, we all still bow the knee to our Lord (John 14:6).
© 1998, 2002 R.J. Krejcir Into Thy Word Ministries http://www.intothyword.com/