Online Bible Commentary
Run from False Teaching
Romans 16:17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 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. 19 For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. 20 And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in Rome while on a three month visit to the church in Corinth, Greece in late 56 and early 57 A.D. during his third missionary journey. The letter is heavy with Christian Doctrine, Christian teaching.
The major doctrinal portion of the letter ends with chapter 11. The next section (chapters 12-15:13) takes this doctrine and applies it through practical Christian living.
This passage is part of the third, and final, section of the letter. This section is concerned with Paul’s plans for the future.
In this passage, Paul gives the Christians in Rome a warning against listening to false teachers. He writes “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.” (v. 17).
Some Bible commentators suggest that Paul is calling for his brothers in Christ to avoid those “who cause divisions and offenses”, The Gospel itself causes divisions and offenses, and we are called to preach the Gospel.
If we teach the Gospel, we will cause divisions and offenses. So, Paul is not saying to avoid teaching the Gospel.
Instead, he is calling for Christians to make a “note” and to “avoid” false teachers. False teachers should be noted, identified, and they should be avoided. These false teachers cause divisions and offenses in the church when they teach false doctrine.
Paul defines a false teacher when he writes “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.” (v. 18). Those who teach false doctrine and do so to advance their own interests and not the interests of Jesus Christ are false teachers.
Motive is important when identifying false teachers. Paul is calling out those who intentionally teach false doctrine in order to gain some kind of advantage for themselves.
He is not calling out those faithful teachers who make innocent mistakes. We all make mistakes, pastors included.
A mistake in teaching should be identified by the listener and grace shall rule. Not every mistake by a pastor, or teacher, need be pointed out. Generally, it is just a matter of misspeaking.
Paul is also not calling out those whom the Holy Spirit reveals an insight that is different than our own. Mature Christians sometimes hear the same passage taught the same way over the years.
They become resistant to hearing a different insight, even though that insight may be Biblical. That insight is a revelation from the Holy Spirit, and as long as it is Biblical, it is not false teaching.
Paul is also not calling out those who do not teach a passage exactly the way you would teach it. The Holy Spirit will lead some of us to teach differently than others.
An example is one teacher may bring in complimentary Bible verses to support his teaching while another may not. The latter may feel that the point is supportable even without the complimentary verses and in the interest of time, or staying on topic, has decided not to introduce complimentary verses. Both teaching styles are acceptable.
So, in this passage, Paul is referring to true false teachers. He is referring to those who intentionally teach a false Gospel, not Paul’s Gospel.
He is referring to those who teach evil and not good, in Paul’s words. He is referring to those who intentionally distort the Gospel for their own personal gain.
The danger in listening to false doctrine is that “the simple”, the uneducated in the Gospel, will believe the “evil” being spouted by the false teachers. When false teaching is detected by the Christian, it should be “avoided”, according to Paul.
He is not calling for us to debate the false teachers, although their false teaching should be called out. A debate would only establish the best debater, and not necessarily the truth.
Instead, we should run from false teachers, as Joseph ran from Potiphar’s wife. The best way to avoid sin is to run in the other direction.
Next, Paul compliments the Christians in Rome for their progress in becoming obedient to the true Gospel. He writes “your obedience has become known to all.” (v. 19a).
Paul is “glad” on their behalf (v. 19b). He is glad that they have obeyed the Gospel. But he wants them to continue to be obedient and not be swayed by false teachers.
He writes “I want you to be wise in what is good” (v. 19c). He wants them to know, and do, good.
On the other hand, Paul wants them to be “simple concerning evil.” (v. 19d). He wants them to be uneducated on the evil, the untruths, being spouted by the false teachers.
Even the most mature Christians can be harmed by exposing themselves to evil. The media, the games, we allow to become part of our thoughts can be harmful. The old adage, garbage in, garbage out applies.
When we bathe ourselves in Scripture, we bathe ourselves in good. When we bathe ourselves in the things of the world, we bathe ourselves in evil.
Satan, and those under his influence, have control of many facets of this world. They win many battles for the hearts of people.
But Satan has already lost the war. He lost the war on the cross, defeated by Jesus Christ who took the sin of the world upon Himself.
And, some day, Satan will even lose the battles. Every knee will bow to Jesus Christ upon His return to earth.
Paul refers to this event when he writes “And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.” (v. 20a). The God of Peace is Jesus Christ, who brings peace to the world.
Not peace from wars, for they will always exist as long as sin exists. Jesus Christ brings peace to the hearts of people.
Paul closes out this passage with a prayer for the Christians in Rome. He prays “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.” (v. 20b). .