Romans 16:17-19: Fighting for Unity
A pastor has a certain number of things he must do. He has to teach, he has to encourage, as well as rebuke. But he also must warn the flock of God of the various dangers that they will encounter. Paul as a faithful shepherd is wearing his warning hat when he speaks in Romans 16:17-19, ‘I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.’1 Please appreciate with me the abrupt change in tone in the text. Paul has been talking about sending his love to the various people and house churches in Rome, he is sending greetings from the other churches he has visited. He is trying to spread the love around connecting separated brethren and tops it all off by a call to show family affection to one another with a holy kiss. Then he suddenly flips into another mode and tells the Romans to watch out and avoid certain people. Paul values unity, but he also recognises that in a fallen world unity must be guarded and fought for. In order to protect our unity, we may have to exclude certain types of people.
While studying at Baptist College my roommate Glen and I were very argumentative. We were not always as gracious as we should have been. One day when called into the office the Principal said that there are two types of people in the world, those who are on the side of unity and those who are on the side of truth. Gentle folk with a peacemaking side treasure unity, teachers with a passion for truth treasure truth. Both types of people have good concerns, and both can sin in their pursuit of the good. One side can pursue unity at the cost of truth and the other truth at the cost of unity. Paul is balanced he loves unity and he loves the truth. However, he also realises that in order to maintain unity we have to guard it by testing all things and not allowing everyone at the table. In an age of political correctness, in an age of pluralistic tolerance, in an age where Christians are criticised as being so divided we might feel intimidated away from protecting our unity, but Paul calls us to watch out for and avoid certain teachers.
Our portion can be examined under four headings as we look at the TWO actions Paul calls us to perform in the face of false teachers; the TWO evils he describes the false teachers committing; TWO characteristics of false teachers; and TWO desires that he has for the Roman Church.