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Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Romans 16:17-20

Final Instructions and Greetings

17 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,[a] 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.

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Last week’s reading concluded Paul’s warm commendation of members of his church family to the Christians in Rome.

Before he finishes his letter to the Romans, he has words of warning for them. Paul wrote similarly to the other churches in his letters.

Our Lord warned of false teachers infiltrating the faithful.

Paul sends an appeal to the Romans to avoid those who want to divide them through obstacles that go against Christian doctrine (verse 17).

In the King James Version, the verb used is ‘beseech’, to ask earnestly. Matthew Henry calls our attention to the fact that Paul doesn’t dictate, but asks through love for the Romans:

I beseech you, brethren. He does not will and command, as one that lorded it over God’s heritage, but for love’s sake beseeches. How earnest, how endearing, are Paul’s exhortations!

John MacArthur elaborates on Paul’s love for the faithful (emphases mine):

This is a pleading. This is something he feels very deeply. The same heart attitude we saw in chapter 12 as he pleaded for commitment to the will of God, for separation from the world, for total dedication. And here the same pleading comes and his pleading here is to mark them who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you’ve learned and avoid them. To be aware of those who cause division and offenses contrary to the doctrine you have learned.

… false teachers inevitably come with human teaching, doctrines of human invention, sometimes very close to the truth, sometimes taking part of the truth and thus being very subtle. But they bring division and they bring offense, trapping people, causing them to stumble, and fracturing the purity of the church.

Love, as proposed in the contemporary ecumenical movements of today, is a far different kind of love than this kind of love. This kind of love warns against error. The kind of love we hear about today, which is sort of a sickly sentimentalism, wants to set doctrine aside in the name of so-called love. Any love that is destructive of truth, any love so-called that ignores truth, any love that is tolerant of error or propagates error has to be shunned, because that’s not…that’s not the essence of real love. All the talk about love and all the talk about unity among people that want to set truth aside is the work of false teachers, false prophets. They just want to cause division. They want to break up the church, and they’re very successful at that … You can go back to … Matthew 7:15 to 20 and … find there the character and the content and the effect of the false teachers, as our Lord outlined it.

Henry says that, through the ages, some Bible scholars thought the false teachers might have been Judaizers:

Some think he especially warns them to take heed of the judaizing teachers, who, under convert of the Christian name, kept up the Mosaical ceremonies, and preached the necessity of them, who were industrious in all places to draw disciples after them, and whom Paul in most of his epistles cautions the churches to take heed of.

MacArthur elaborates on the Greek word for ‘watch out’, or, in other versions ‘mark it’:

“To mark it,” simply skope, identify it, look through the scope, take a good look at it, observe it, scrutinize it, identify it, pick it out, see what it is. And if you know sound doctrine you’ll be able to do that. Identify it as heresy, identify it as false teaching and then avoid it, or really in this case avoid them because false teaching always has a source, a propagator. That means to come away from it, to shun it.

Paul tells the Romans that false teachers serve only their own carnal appetites as they work to deceive the vulnerable by inveigling themselves into a congregation through honeyed words and flattery (verse 18).

In older versions of the Bible, such as the King James Version, the word ‘belly’ is used rather than ‘appetites’. It means that these false teachers have a gnawing hunger to subvert the Church for ego, power, influence and/or money: carnal desires all.

Henry certainly had a way with words:

Their God is their belly, Philippians 3:19. What a base master do they serve, and how unworthy to come in competition with Christ, that serve their own bellies, that make gain their godliness, and the gratifying of a sensual appetite the very scope and business of their lives, to which all other purposes and designs must truckle and be made subservient. (2.) The method they take to compass their design: By good words and fair speeches they deceive the hearts of the simple. Their words and speeches have a show of holiness and zeal for God (it is an easy thing to be godly from the teeth outward), and show of kindness and love to those into whom they instil their corrupt doctrines, accosting them courteously when they intend them the greatest mischief. Thus by good words and fair speeches the serpent beguiled Eve.

MacArthur describes the false teacher well, too:

He gains the ear and deceives the heart, deceives the heart. And, beloved, that’s why we have to test everything by what? By the book.

Paul praises the Romans for their obedience but says that such a virtue also opens the door to infiltrators; therefore, he warns them to be on their guard, being outwardly innocent but inwardly discerning (verse 19).

Of their obedience, Henry explains:

Therefore, because it was so, these seducing teachers would be the more apt to assault them. The devil and his agents have a particular spite against flourishing churches and flourishing souls. The ship that is known to be richly laden is most exposed to privateers. The adversary and enemy covets such a prey, therefore look to yourselves, 2 John 1:8. “The false teachers hear that you are an obedient people, and therefore they will be likely to come among you, to see if you will be obedient to them.”

Recall our Lord’s instruction when He sent the Apostles out to teach, preach and heal (Matthew 10:16):

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Paul concludes this part of his letter by reassuring them that the God of peace will ‘soon’ crush Satan under their feet and wishes them the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ (verse 20).

This ‘soon’ is used in the same sense as ‘soon’ in Revelation 22:20:

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

It means ‘quickly’ or ‘suddenly’ rather than ‘imminently’. Even so, this is why we need to be prepared for the Second Coming. We know neither the day nor the hour.

Henry explains:

The victory shall be speedy: He shall do it shortly. Yet a little while, and he that shall come will come. He hath said it, Behold, I come quickly. When Satan seems to have prevailed, and we are ready to give up all for lost, then will the God of peace cut the work short in righteousness. It will encourage soldiers when they know the war will be at an end quickly, in such a victoryIt is rather to be applied to the victory which all the saints shall have over Satan when they come to heaven, and shall be for ever out of his reach, together with the present victories which through grace they obtain in earnest of that. Hold out therefore, faith and patience, yet a little while

MacArthur says the same:

He devastates and destroys in final judgment to set up His kingdom and bind Satan. And so in a sense we reign with Him and Satan under His feet is Satan under our feet and that’s really where he belongs and what a happy occasion it will be when that comes to pass, when all things are subdued, as 1 Corinthians 15:25 and 28 says, all things are subdued to Him …

The word “shortly” doesn’t mean in a little bit of time, it means suddenly. When it happens it’ll happen fast. And I believe he has in mind there the final full destruction of satanic work and effort that comes in the setting up of the eternal state.

With regard to ‘the God of peace’, Henry tells us that He will put an end to spiritual conflict with Satan, which happens now to the truly faithful and will be completely fulfilled at the Final Judgement:

The victory shall be complete: He shall bruise Satan under your feet, plainly alluding to the first promise the Messiah made in paradise (Genesis 3:15), that the seed of the woman should break the serpent’s head, which is in the fulfilling every day, while the saints are enabled to resist and overcome the temptations of Satan, and will be perfectly fulfilled when, in spite of all the powers of darkness, all that belong to the election of grace shall be brought triumphantly to glory.

Paul’s desire for the grace of Jesus Christ to be with the Romans is a benediction, a blessing. We need His grace to get by in this world, temporally and spiritually.

Henry explains the spiritual importance of grace:

This will be the best preservative against the snares of heretics, and schismatics, and false teachers. If the grace of Christ be with us, who can be against us so as to prevail? Be strong therefore in the grace which is in Christ Jesus. Paul, not only as a friend, but as a minister and an apostle, who had received grace for grace, thus with authority blesses them with this blessing, and repeats it, Romans 16:24.

MacArthur observes that Paul loved to give benedictions because he had so much love for his fellow Christians:

He’s really into benedictions. He gets a few of these in. He got one in at the end of chapter 15. He throws one in here. He’ll give you another one in verse 24, and then a big one in verses 25 to 27, so there are three benedictions in a row here. And this one is a simple one, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.” That’s a prayer, that’s a wish.

I know you need empowering grace. I know you need empowering grace to recognize false teaching. I know you need empowering grace to stay away from it. I know you need empowering grace to hold on in the battle until Christ defeats the enemy. And may that grace be with you.

What a marvellous thought on which to end.

We are nearly at the end of the Book of Romans. My next post will be the final one from this letter.

Next time — Romans 16:21-23

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