Charles J. Aebi
Dear Aebi: “How do troublemakers use their words to cause division among Christians as is referred to in Romans 16:17-19?”
The English Standard Version of Romans 16:17‑19 says, “17I 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. 18For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery, they deceive the hearts of the naive. 19For 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.” The NIV and NASB read much the same. The NKJV word choice here is not as clear; “naïve” and “innocent” are more meaningful to us today than “simple,” which sometimes reflects poorly upon one's mental abilities.
The questioner is asking what kind of smooth talk and flattery are used to deceive us, create obstacles, and cause division. Paul does not explain precisely, other than to tell us that the troublemakers are not serving Christ but their own selves, their own appetites. The problem with people who do not serve Christ faithfully nor work steadfastly to build up His church is usually the “I, my, me” complex. “My needs are not being met.” “Nobody calls on me to see how I am doing.” “I don’t like the way they are doing things.” “Those Bible lessons don’t apply to me.” “I don’t like …” “The pews are too hard for me.” “ The worship does not inspire me.” “ I need that time for myself.” “ Nobody asks me for my opinion.” “ The church doesn't do anything for me.” On and on it goes, emphasizing the “I, my, me” in ways that show how self-centered they really are.
There are many ways to stir up trouble. One is to criticize those who are trying to get something done; this often comes back to the “my, me syndrome: If it isn’t done my way, it’s wrong. One man in Pennsylvania actually told me, “There are two ways to do a thing, your way and the right way.” Of course, he meant that the right way was his way. We see sometimes this attitude in children, “If you won’t play by my rules, I’ll take my marbles and go home.” Some folk never grow up except in bulk.
Another way people cause division is to gossip about people and things. Some cause division by teaching one’s favorite hobby or idea, which can be contrary to what we learn in Scripture (Rom.12:17). One may divide a church when he goes around to various folk to see how many he can get to agree with him, trying to force people to choose sides. In addition, one may divide his brethren by being “street wise” or wise and experienced in evil rather than what is good. Paul would have us to be innocent concerning evil, with the result that we do not involve others in evil and thereby cause trouble. There are other ways people can cause divisions and offenses or obstacles to faith. Paul’s admonition: AVOID SUCH PEOPLE (Rom.16:17). –2660 Layman Rd., Vincent, OH 45784-9730. firstname.lastname@example.org
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