Good morning everyone. This is the big day at our school as we acknowledge the hard work and achievements of our students. It gives us a time of reflection on the school year. Reflection is a good thing.
Today also marks the end of our devotional walk through Romans. It has been an interesting journey. As we end with chapter 16 we find that Paul does a reflection as well, remembering all those people who have partnered with him in ministry. This is where we can see that Paul was not a loner as some imagine that he was. He knew he belonged to the members of the Church; he needed them and they needed him. Paul was also accountable to the Church. After every mission trip he would head home to Antioch to give a report to those who had sent him out. It was only on his last journey that he did not head home because he was interrupted from his routine by his arrest.
As much fun as it is to research these various people it is the warning contained here that draws my attention today. Paul names all these great people in a form of a greeting but I wonder if, during this reflection, he also remembered some not so great people. The Church was not without its problems even in the early days:
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. v. 17
Time after time Paul was encountering Jews as well as Christian Jews who entered the Church or confronted the Church with a contrary gospel, teaching people they had to be circumcised and follow the Jewish traditions. On top of this, Scripture gives us evidence that other leaders stepped forward with a bent on Scripture that caused some to leave the Church and set them up as a leader. There was plenty of false teaching going around but especially those of the circumcision group. Paul warns:
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. v. 18
Things have not changed much. It is sad to see so many people deceived by people who are only out to line their own pockets. Like the enemy they use Scripture to validate their teaching, feeding on people who are like minded, in wanting to find a way to make an easy dollar. Then there are others who are after the feeling of control, power, authority. They twist the Word to convince people because they need followers to feed into their need. These type of people don't care about Jesus or the lost, they are only trying to feed their own appetites. Now notice how Paul encourages the believers:
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. v. 19
Paul lifts up the positive character of these people of Rome; their obedience. Their obedience to the leadership? No, it is their obedience to the Word and to the Holy Spirit. Obedience to the Holy Spirit spurs in believers the understanding of their need to submit to the authorities God has placed over them. When God's people are obedient to the Spirit it causes much joy in the leadership of the Body. It makes the burden of such leadership all that much lighter.
We can tolerate a lot in the Church. We have to because each person is so different, so unique and such uniqueness can cause friction from time to time. There are also the various levels of maturity which can cause frustration. But the love of Christ, which unites us, empowers us to have patience with one another. But a person of division is different from all of this. A divider is like a disease that attacks the Body, separating one member from another, destroying unity, and causes dysfunction. As much as we never want to turn our back on anyone Paul says this is the one person we cannot tolerate. He tells us not to entertain them, to have nothing to do with them. They are a real danger to the Body.
I pray that all of us are workers of unity, that our desire is to see a united and Spirit empowered Body of Christ. I pray we are careful of the words we use to express ourselves and that we spend our days building up and not tearing down. It is not always easy. We are often quick to complain or to criticize before God can reveal what he is doing. I pray none of us would be agents of division in the Body of Christ. Let us ask the Lord to put a guard over our mind, heart and mouth, that we would be agents of encouragement and not division.