Paul’s heart against False Teaching
Good Morning! Please grab your Bibles with me and turn to Romans chapter 16. If you do not have a Bible, or do not own one, please grab one from the back table as our gift to you.
So, we are wrapping up our journey through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the churches in Rome. Next week is when we finish up with our last message in Romans. The next couple of weeks after that, I will be out of the pulpit. We will be at the Village Missions staff conference and then a week of vacation after that. When I return, we will start on a short series through one of the minor prophets, we will go through Malachi. There is a lot of stuff in there that is very appropriate and applicable to us today. So that’s what’s coming up in the next number of weeks.
But, before then, back to Romans. As Paul is wrapping up his letter, as he is coming to a close, in these last two chapters of Romans, Paul is laying his heart out, opening up completely and putting his whole self into the words in this letter. We saw his heart for the Gospel, his heart for missions and discipleship, his heart for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, for his fellow workers in Christ and his heart for unity and love to bring the church together.
Today we turn and we see Pauls heart for protecting the flock, for protecting the gospel, Pauls heart for the truth, and standing against False teaching and false teachers. As I said, Paul has put out an earnest call for unity above almost anything. That if we are united in Christ, all the other things should fall to the wayside. But the key word there is United in Christ.
We have talked about the difference in closed handed and open handed issues. Essentially, Open handed issues are the ones that we can disagree about while still standing together and worshipping together. Things like Bible translations, musical preferences, end times views, political preferences, some of the things that Paul mentioned in Romans 14, food preferences, day or worship, stuff like that.
Close handed issues are the opposite. They are the things that define the Gospel. These are the things that are necessary to believe for the Gospel. Things like the trinity, Jesus as man and God., we are sinners, God saves us through no action of our own. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And those close handed issues, we are not called to unite despite those differences, instead, we see this morning, we are called to protect each other, to protect Gods church from false teaching, false teachers and from sin creeping in.
Lets go ahead and read this weeks passage, Romans chapter 16, verses 17-23. Ill be reading out of the English Standard Version, though I encourage you to follow along in your preferred translation in your hands. Romans 16:17-23. The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit writes:
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. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites,[f] and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. 19 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. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
21 Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.
22 I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.
23 Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.[g]
So, real quick, with all that we are going to look at, we also see Paul passing along greetings from some of those with him, to those he is writing to. And on the surface, we wonder, why wasn’t this put with the list of names a few verses earlier, the verses we looked at last week? Honestly, Im not entirely sure. There are a lot of reasons you can find if you read the commentaries or listen to other sermons on these verses, but Im not going to tell you something I dont know, and I dont know.
But, what we do see, whether this was the reason or not, is that, with the list of names and greetings and all that that we looked at last week, part of the point was the Paul was calling for unity and togetherness. He addresses false teaching and divisiveness here and then again, lists a couple of names and greetings. Is he bracketing the warnings about false teaching, including the call to divide from those false teachers, reminding us that there are those whom we do not partner with or worship with and most certainly do not unite with, and bracketing that with parallel calls for unity? Maybe, maybe not, buts its interesting to me.
The biggest thing that jumps out to me about the context and the form that this section of the letter takes is that Paul shows how much he loves these people he has listed, both before and after and how much he loves the various churches, specifically the churches in Rome. And he loves them enough to warn them about people who come in and will cause divisions and obstacles.
Now, there are two distinct things that we are to keep an eye out for here in the church. Sometimes its the same people, sometimes its different. The first person Paul says to be on a look out for is one who causes division. There are many actions and attitudes that can lead to division.
Some of the main things that we can do, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally to foster division with in the church, are things that, if we are Christians, we inherently know are wrong.
A couple of them are also interrelated. Gossip, slander, talking behind peoples backs, being a power broker of information. Go back to Romans chapter 1 for a moment. Paul writes about some of these very things and look at how he describes them. In Romans 1:29-32, Paul writes:
They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
These things listed here, not the least of which mention gossip, slander, haughtiness, boastful, these are all manners of unrighteousness. These are things that are sins and therefore, scriptures says, those who sin, and who do thiese things deserve to die. These aren’t the sins we usually thing of when we talk about the wages of sin being death. These are things that we think of as minor. They are some of those so called, “acceptable” sins. And yet, thats not what Gods word says. Gossip, slander, boastfulness, haughtiness, things that cause division within the church and are filled with all manner of unrighteousness.
Some of these are easily avoidable. Some of these, Gossip and slander for example, are because we talk to other people about someone instead of to the person them selves. That can be avoided by going to the person straightaway instead of talking to others. And what happens then. We talk to our friends, who are going to believe and agree with us anyway. From that, we begin, or continue to feel better than those we are talking about. We get haughty. The Spirit of unity is dissolved and Christ is not being worshipped and God is not being glorified.
But see the other part of what Paul said too? Not only those who do these things, but those who give approval to them are just as guilty. If you are listening to Gossip and slander, without confronting it, you are just as guilty at causing division as the person doing the gossiping and slandering, and its just as much of a sin, according to Paul in romans 1 to give approval to those who do those things.
This is not something we should be taking lightly. This is the Body of Christ we are talking about. I go back again to The Westminster Shorter Catechism, in its first question asks, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” And if our actions are not glorifying God then we are in sin.
A few of the other things that cause division in the church include but are not limited to lack of prayer, not confronting sin, not forgiving, or asking for forgiveness, power grabs, criticalness, and compromising the Gospel.
And its that last one that leads to the other part of Pauls warning; specifically looking out for false teachers and false teaching. Again, as we get into this, we look at the contrast of two very clear and very loud commands from the new Testament. Jesus, the Apostles, Paul, all call very clearly for church unity. For loveing each other through our differences. So we have a love for others. And on the other side of that, we are called as Paul says here to Mark and avoid those who teach doctrine contrary to what the Bible says, what Jesus and the Apostles taught. We are to love the Truth, capital T Truth that Jesus brought to us.
Love people and love the truth. Thats is what we are to do. We are to do both of those. But today, in the world outside our church walls, that is virtually impossible. In order to love people, we have to compromise on the Truth. We make truth relative, or just plain wrong. In the worlds eyes, in order to love the truth, we cant love people.
Heres part of the thing. The world, those who are not in Christ and those outside the walls and spiritual boundaries of Christ, have a wrong and shallow and man pleasing definition of love. I attempted to define love from their perspective, probably unknowingly borrowing from any number of people in this definition. I can up with this:
To love, according to the world, is to Actively affirm AND support every decision AND lifestyle that someone chooses to live by, no matter the truth regarding The Gospel and no matter the consequences such as eternal destinations.
But true love works differently. True love has more respect for the person that worldly love. Ephesians 4:15 address this, with Paul writing, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
We both love the truth and we love people. But there are those in the church, as far back as Jesus time, who do not love people or the truth. They love themselves and they will tell us things they think we want to hear. They will tell us things that will benefit them. They will tell us things that sound ALMOST right.
Many of you already know this example, but we look to the Secret Service as an example for us. One of their biggest jobs is to track down counterfeiters and identify counterfeit money. As they go through their training, they are shown bill after bill trying to figure out the minute differences between the real and the fake, or the almost real. But heres the trick, they are only ever shown real bills. The get to know those real bills so well that no matter what they come across, no matter how minute the difference is, something off, something fake will jump out immediately and glaringly to the secret service agents.
Charles Spurgeon has said that “Discernment is not telling the difference between right and wrong, but telling the difference between right and almost right.” Biblical truth is clear, but sometimes, if we are not careful, biblical untruth is not quite so clear.
The best and only way to make sure that we are sticking to biblical truth is to stick to the Bible. There are a number of ways that false teachers can come in or we can fall for false teachings. We need to identify those who teach non truths. Those who come and make non essentials and elevate them to salvation issues. Those who speak almost truths.
Look at what some of the scriptures say about false teachers.
We will start with Jesus, speaking in Matthew 7, verses 15-20:
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
2 Peter 2:1-3, Peter warns of the judgment that is coming and waiting for these false teachers, writing:
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
And those heresies that the false teachers teach, they are destructive heresies, Many will be led astray.
Paul writes to Timothy, in 1 Timothy 6:3-5:
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound[b] words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
What Paul writes there sounds an awful lot like what he was writing in Romans. But he writes again to Timothy, where we see that we are wanting these false teachings, that, for lack of a better way of saying it that False Teachers are a part of Gods judgment on those who are looking for their ear to be itched. 2 Timothy 3:1-9, he writes:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.
And then Jude 4, instead of writing to celebrate their common salvation, instead Jude had to write to them a warning, saying:
4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Ther are many, many more passages in the New Testament that speak to false teachers and false teachings and all that. 2 Corinthians 11, Titus 3, Colossians 2, 2 John to name just a few, and the last one Ill share with you, Galatians 1:6-9, where Paul writes to them about their falling for the deceptions of false teachers.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
At its core, at its base, all false teachings, all false teachers, all they do is distort and present a different Gospel. But there is but one Gospel. Jesus tells us in Johns Gospel, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the way, the only way. He is the Truth, the only truth. He is the truth that will set us free, the only source of non counterfeit love. He is the Life. He came to give us life and life abundantly. He came to secure for us eternal life.
There is only one way to know this. Only one way to have both truth and love. Only one way it has been revealed to us. And that is through the Word of God, through this Bible right here.
It so important to study the Bible. And not just know the Bible and the verses it says. Any of us can pick out a few verses here and there and make it say what we want. But we need to know how to read it and study it and know it IN CONTEXT. Without context, none of it means anything. Without context, truth flies out the window. without context we have nether truth or love.
And thats why its so important to know how to study the Bible. That’s why classes like we are starting tonight are so important. Bibliology: How to Study the Bible. In order to recognize false teaching, we need to be intimately familiar with the real thing. And because its so easily twisted, we need to use the resources available to us.
Satan, the devil, the enemy, what ever you call him, he is smart and cunning and will use scripture against us just as he tried to do with Jesus. John Piper writes:
I have been struck recently at how well Satan knows the Bible and how he loves to quote Scripture in order to destroy faith. Remember how he tried to persuade Jesus to throw himself down from the temple roof? He argued from Scripture! “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you’” (Matthew 4:6). Note well! Satan does not always try to ruin faith by saying, “The Bible isn’t true.” He often tries to destroy our faith by affirming some passage and using it to lead us into disobedience.
He knows scripture, but we have scripture and what does Paul tell us in Ephesians 6? He talks about putting on the armor of God to protect us from spiritual warfare, but all the things he mentions are defensive. All of them except one. We have an offensive weapon to use against Satan, against false teachers, against anything that is not the Truth. In Ephesians 6:17, Paul tells us that we have the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.
And just like you cant expect to wield a sword and do anything with it without practice, without discipline, without training. The same is true with Gods Word. We need to not just read and know the words, but to study, to practice, to train ourselves. 2 Timothy 3:14-17:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom[a] you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[b] may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Ultimately, this is Pauls appeal to us to make sure that we are on our toes, that we are staying aware, studying and making ourselves intimately familiar with Gods Word. And despite the warning associated with the division and divisiveness Paul leaves that section with encouragement and looking forward to a bright and promised future. Ill leave you once again with Romans 16, verses 19 & 20:
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. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.