Wow! It has been quite a journey, but today our study of Romans is coming to a close. If I have counted right this is our 79th study in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. That is crazy isn’t it? In a day when church gurus are telling preachers to keep their sermon series to three or four weeks, we are completing a 79 week study. What if, in the weeks leading up to our study of Romans, I sent out emails and we put up posters announcing our new study—“Join us for a 79 week study on Romans!” I will guarantee you that we would have gotten emails and phone calls letting us know that there was a typo in our publicity materials. 79 weeks! That’s just way too long, but boy am I glad that I was here for every one of those studies. I’ve benefitted so much from all of the hours that we have spent sitting at the feet of the Apostle Paul and learning from this powerful letter that is every bit as relevant for us today as it was for the folks in Rome who read it first.
During our study Paul has laid down the foundation of our faith. He has taught us about the pervasiveness of sin, the wrath and kindness of God, and the glory of our Savior. He has encouraged believers to love one another and then given us clear direction on how to love one another. He has taught us about how we are to relate to those in authority over us. He has taught us about how to accept those whose faith is “weak” and not to stand in judgment over them. We have had an opportunity to learn so much.
I’ve noticed something interesting as we’ve gone through this study that is very rare for Paul. Paul only praises the believers in Rome. He has no criticism or correction for the church. In the vast majority of Paul’s letters to churches, at some point he addresses problems that are going on in the churches. It could be bickering among the members as was the case with Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi where he pleaded with two women to get along. Turn with me to Philippians 4:2-3 and I’ll show you what I’m talking about.
2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:2-3 NIV)
When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth he addressed several problems that were ongoing in the church. One of the situations he addressed pretty harshly was division in the church brought about because the believers were aligning themselves behind various leaders. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 1:11-13.
11 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:11-13 NIV)
Paul was on the folks in Corinth from the first chapter of his letter and he didn’t let up. The church was full of problems. Paul didn’t mince words in calling the leaders on the carpet.
We see the same passion flow from Paul’s pen when he writes to the folks in Galatia. Just six verses into the letter Paul writes,
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1:6-8 NIV)
I could go on, but we would never get to our Scripture for this morning. The reason I’ve pointed this out to you is because we do not find anything similar in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. Paul praises the people. He tells them that their faith is being reported all over the world (Romans 1:8). He can’t wait until the day comes when he will be able to visit them in person and encourage them as they have encouraged him (Romans 1:12). The church in Rome is at the top of Paul’s list of model churches.
This is Paul’s longest letter. We’ve almost completed our study of sixteen chapters and not one mention of correction. But, we won’t make it through the entire sixteen chapters without a warning. This morning we are going to take a look at Romans 16:17-20. Let’s read our Scripture and see what Paul has to say.
17 I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. 19 Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. (Romans 16:17-20 NIV)
If you will notice, Paul is still not correcting the people of Rome, not in the sense that he has other churches, but Paul is warning them. As strong as the church in Rome is, Paul assumes that the same problems that have troubled other churches are lurking in the shadows just waiting for the opportunity to destroy the church in Rome.
This is a great lesson for us today. I’ve known churches like the church in Corinth. Churches that are a mess, full of problems, and as dysfunctional as any dysfunctional family you’ve ever seen. I’ve known believers like Euodia and Syntyche who, even though they were followers of Jesus, they let their disagreements or personality clashes keep them apart. I’ve even witnessed this happen right here at Britton Christian Church. At this point in time in the life of our church things are going well. There are no big controversies over what is being taught, there are no leaders like the ones Paul describes in Romans 16:17-20 who are sowing seeds of dissension and division among us, and God is using us to teach His Word and serve His people in a way that is glorifying His name and blessing His people.
I got a phone call just this past week from a friend in another city. He asked, “How are things going at the church?” My answer was, “Things are going really well.” I went on to tell him what God is doing and what I’m seeing. We are blessed are we not?
I’ve been around long enough to know that the atmosphere will not always be like it is at this moment. How do I know that? Well, I know that from experience. There have not been many, but we’ve been through some tumultuous times in the last twenty years. There have been times that threatened to rip the heart out of this church. There have been times that have caused the leaders of this church to devote all of our energy to addressing problems and that left little energy for reaching out and seeking to be a blessing to this community. Those periods of our life together have not been many, but boy have they been difficult.
At this point, when the waters are calm and God is moving, it is tempting to let out a sigh of relief, sit back and relax, and leave our “post.” Don’t do it. Don’t you dare do it. Man your post. Stay on the look-out. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that when you hear the battering rams beating against the gates, you need to stay at your post. When the waters are calm, the enemy is nowhere in sight, and you are tempted to better use your time—stay at your post. When God is moving—man your post. Don’t ever leave your post. Never, no never, not under any circumstance, should you leave your post. Paul says as much to the folks in Rome. Read it again. Romans 16:17.
17 I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. (Romans 16:17 NIV)
Paul urges those who are in Rome. He’s only done that in two other places in his letter. In Romans 12:1-2 Paul urged them to “present their bodies as a living sacrifice to God” and then, in Romans 15:30 Paul urged them to pray that his plans for traveling to Spain wouldn’t be hindered. Here, in Romans 16:17 Paul is urging the brothers and sisters to keep their head on a swivel, to man their post, to be attentive to what is going on. The Greek word for “watch out for” is the word, “σκοπέω” (skopeo) and it means, “to look at, observe, contemplate, or to fix one’s eyes upon.” Let me share some of the places in the New Testament where the word is used and you will be able to get a better sense of the importance of the word. In Luke 11:34-35, Jesus says,
34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. (Luke 11:34-35 NIV)
Jesus uses the same word in verse 35 when He says, “See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness.” Keep watch. Stay focused. Do you know what Jesus is really saying? He’s saying that it just doesn’t happen. He’s saying that just going to church on Sunday isn’t going to cut it. We have to continually seek God, we have to constantly walk with God, we can’t slouch, slumber, or slack in our relationship with God.
Paul uses the same word in Galatians 6:1 when he talks about how we are to deal with a brother or sister who is trapped in sin. Paul writes,
1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1 NIV)
When I was young there was something called “missionary dating.” Typically what happened was that some young Christian girl liked some roughneck boy and even though folks warned her about him, she had high hopes of turning his wayward life around. Sad to say, many times it didn’t work out. Even more sadly, sometimes the committed Christian found herself stumbling in her walk and living more like the one she initially tried to help. Paul says, “Watch yourself! Keep an eye on how you are living, what you are thinking and doing, as you try to help those who are caught in the snares of sin.”
The word is also used in a positive sense. In Philippians 3:17 Paul encourages the folks in Philippi to keep their eyes on those who are walking with the Lord. Read along with me.
17Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. (Philippians 3:17 NIV)
Paul urges the folks in Philippi to follow the example he has set for them. He also wants them to “take note” of those who are also living the Christian life. We are not simply to keep on the watch for those things that will destroy us, distract us in our daily walk, but we are also to a watch out for godly men and women who can encourage us in our daily walk.
In Acts 20:28-31, Paul was speaking to the leaders of the church in Ephesus as he prepared to board the ship and leave for his next destination. I don’t know what all Paul taught the folks in Ephesus while he was there, but we do know what he shared with them just before he left. Turn with me to Acts 20:28-31 and let’s read together.
28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. (Acts 20:28-31 NIV)
Paul is no pessimist. If anything he is prone to seeing the positive in every situation because Paul is so grounded in the Sovereignty of God. Yet, Paul also knows the human condition. He knows that we are prone to go left. He knows that if not cared for, tended to, and maintained everything we touch will crumble right before our eyes. He knows that even if a group of folks are seeking God with all of their hearts and walking with Him with passion and commitment, there are others who are looking for their opportunity to come in and wreak havoc.
Is all of this talk about “keeping a watch” paranoia on the part of Jesus’ followers? Are the followers of Jesus really a bunch of fearful, skeptical, suspicious folks? That is sure the way that some people in our society characterize us isn’t it? Although some may think these things about us they are far from accurate. We have in our possession something more valuable than the Hope diamond, the Crown Jewels, and the Holy Grail combined. We have the Word of God given to us by God and we are to follow, preserve, and guard its teachings so that they do not become altered, watered down, forgotten, or lost.
Paul says to “watch out” for certain kinds of folks. He says to watch out for those who cause divisions, those who put obstacles in our way that are contrary to the teachings we have been given in God’s Word, those who are smooth talkers who deceive the naïve, those who are not serving Jesus, but only fulfilling their own self-centered appetites.
Have you ever run across any of those kinds of people in the church? Most often they don’t do their work out in the open, they slip around behind the scenes, and sow their seeds of discord in the shadows. Most of the time you don’t even know who they are until things blow up and you start putting the pieces together.
Paul says that these teach things that are contrary to Scripture. Most often what they teach are things that are rooted in Scripture, but with a slight twist. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. There has been a popular teaching during the past couple of decades that has come to be known as the “health, wealth, and prosperity” Gospel. It is really not “good news” at all because it is contrary to Scripture. Those who are proponents of this kind of teaching are quick to quote Scripture. They will quote Matthew 7:9-11.
9 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11 NIV)
We all want the best for our kids don’t we? Sure we do. And if we want the best for our kids, then Scripture testifies that God wants even better things for us. The problem is that those who teach this heresy equate “best” with stuff, rather than God’s purpose and will for our lives. This isn’t the only Scripture they quote. They also quote Matthew 18:19 where Jesus said,
19 “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 18:19 NIV)
If you have a loved one who is ill then all you need to do is find another brother or sister in Christ to agree with you for their healing and they will be healed. After all, Isaiah 53:5 says, “…by His wounds we are healed.” If you have a child who is rebelling and you can find someone to agree with you about their life getting back on track then guess what? It is done! If you need money then all you have to do is give yours away and God will bless your socks off. After all, Jesus said,
38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38 NIV)
They forget to tell you that this Scripture is set in the context of loving our enemies, forgiving those who have hurt us, and not judging or condemning others.
There are many more Scriptures that they quote, but I think you are getting the picture. God is not a puppet that we can manipulate with prescribed prayers or our selfish ways. God is God and He is Sovereign over all.
The last thing Paul wants the people of Rome to remember is to stick to the truth of God. Now, they didn’t have the whole revelation of God like we do today. We have God’s Word, the Old Testament and the New to lead us and guide us and yet most of us are so unfamiliar with God’s Word that we are easily led astray by what sounds good and “right.” Let me remind you of what Paul wrote to the believers in Galatia.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1:6-9 NIV)
It doesn’t matter how good it sounds, it doesn’t matter how many people are following the new teaching, if it is not the Gospel that you find in the Word of God then it is no Gospel at all.
As I said, we have the whole counsel of God, but because so few really know God’s Word, we are seeing tons of supposed followers of Jesus duped by new theologies that appeal to people’s emotions. We must be discerning people. John wrote,
1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1 NIV)
How can you test the spirits unless you know the truth? It is impossible. You must know the truth to be able to recognize what is false. You can’t “feel” whether something is right or wrong, true or false, you must know. God’s Word is the litmus test, it is the plumb-line of truth. I want us, all of us at Britton Christian Church, to be faithful to the Word of God, to share the Word of God, and to live out the Word of God. To do this we must know the Word of God.
Throughout history there have been many well-intentioned followers of Jesus who have been fooled by those who were smooth talkers, convincing in the way they presented their new, revolutionary teachings, and yet they were no more following the Lord than anything. As a result they led many, many well-meaning people astray and shipwrecked the faith of many more.
I want to encourage you this morning to examine your own life. Let God search your heart. Do you know Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life? If so, then are you growing in your walk with Him each day? If not, then what are you waiting for? Won’t you accept Him into your heart this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
June 27, 2010