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Romans 16

Today we’re reading Romans 16.

This closing chapter of the book of Romans was quite personal. It began with Paul’s personal recommendation of Phoebe (vv. 1-2), then a long list of personal greetings (vv. 3-16). Just before his closing remarks, Paul warned the believers about “those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way” (v. 17b). The word “heretic” actually means “one who is divisive.” It has become a specialized term reserved for false teachers, but that is because of passages like this one. In verse 17c, we learn that the “divisions and obstacles” were “contrary to the teaching you have learned.” It was false doctrine that Paul was concerned about because that false doctrine would divide the body of Christ. Verse 18 told us that these false teachers would divide the church because of “their own appetites.” In other words, their doctrine was deliberately chosen and differentiated from the truth in order “to deceive the minds of naive people” for the personal profit of the teachers.

Think about that long list of personal greetings in verses 3-16 and this warning in verses 17-19. Paul had seen many churches where there was once warm fellowship and strong friendships torn apart by these false teachers. This entire letter was written to establish a doctrinal base, to teach the gospel Christ gave him to this church that had formed apart from Paul’s direct ministry. Paul wanted each person mentioned in this letter to fully understand the gospel, to believe it themselves and to welcome all--Jews and Gentiles alike--who believe it. It would be a bad, sad thing if “Ampliatus” (v. 8) pulled away from and stopped talking to “Rufus” (v. 13) because Ampliatus had departed from the gospel or because he had stopped accepting Jewish beliers as genuine Christians or because he broke fellowship over which day was the Sabbath and how that Sabbath was to be observed. A proper understanding and acceptance of the gospel, a commitment to serve rather than be served, and an understanding that Christ has accepted many who don’t hold all the same convictions about everything should unify believers, not divide them.

For us, we should recognize that truth is something to be explored and that exploration involves questions and sometimes debate. But when God’s people know what they believe and why, it should unify us rather than divide us. When others come in with different teaching, we should examine their teaching carefully but also be suspicious about their motives. Too many believers uncritically accept different teachings from some bestselling Christian author or TV personality or webpage they read. False teachers can be very persuasive; hold on to the gospel and reject everything that departs from it. The unity of Christ’s body is at stake.

Deuteronomy 13–14, Psalms 99–101, Isaiah 41, Revelation 11

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Deuteronomy 13–14, Psalms 99–101, Isaiah 41, Revelation 11. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Deuteronomy 13.

There was no freedom of speech in ancient Israel; however, the only banned speech was blasphemy and false doctrine. Deuteronomy 13 sets forth the regulations against false doctrine. Verses 1-5 told God’s people not to believe a false prophet, even if he performed some kind of miraculous sign (vv. 1-2a). Miraculous signs were used by God to authenticate his messengers, especially Christ himself, but they were not the measuring stick for what was true or false. Just as Pharoah’s magicians were able to do some miracles (see Ex 7:11-12 for one example), Satan can sometimes do impressive things with his supernatural powers. But God taught here in Exodus 13 that He sometimes would allow false teachers with supernatural signs and wonders to come to Israel. His purpose for allowing them was to test “you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and all your soul” (v. 3). No matter how impressive a supernatural demonstration was, God’s people were to remain obedient to his written word (v. 4). False teachers, on the other hand, were a threat to God’s people because they incited “rebellion against the Lord your God” (v. 5a). Given all that God had done delivering his people from Egypt and protecting and guiding them through the desert to the promised land, Israel should have had no problem with restricted theological speech. If you know the true God, there is no reason to dabble in false doctrine; only danger can come from that. God’s prescription, then, for false teachers was the death penalty (v. 5a). 

Not only were false prophets with impressive supernatural powers to be refused and punished in Israel, but verses 6-11 tell us that even if you have a personal connection to someone who tries to turn your heart to another god,  you should still see that they are punished (vv. 6-11). “Show them no pity,” God’s word said. “Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (v. 10). Verses 12-18 describe how to handle false teachers once Israel has been established in the land. After investigating charges of heresy in a nearby town fully (v. 14a), God’s people were to publicly and completely purge the town of it’s false doctrine, then permanently destroy that town itself for not obeying God’s commands about false doctrine (vv. 15-18).

These sections remind us how seriously God takes his word and how destructive false doctrine is to true worship. While we live in a free society and do not impose such serious penalties on false teachers as Moses commanded in this passage, we should not toy with or tolerate deviations from God’s written word. It provides the standard for what is true or false; to entertain false doctrine just because there were signs and wonders involved or loved ones involved is to tolerate that which God says is destructive. Watch carefully where you turn for spiritual information; your spiritual life (not to mention anyone living in your home under your authority) depends on holding fast to the purity of God’s word.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.