“Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” (Romans 16:17–20, NASB95)
Yesterday we looked at the closing greetings of Paul; his greeting requested for Phoebe who was delivering the letter, his greetings to many of the people in the Roman church that he knew or knew of, and greetings sent on behalf of those who were with him at the time of the writing of the letter. In looking at these greetings, we looked at the strength of the relationships that they had together in the Lord and that they really spoke of a distant family being drawn together through their common faith. These greetings covered the first 16 verses and then verses 21-23.
Nestled between the greetings to the Roman church believers (2-16) and the greeting sent to them (21-23) we have verses 17-20 which give a strong warning. The unity they had in Christ was built upon by solid, strong teaching. And Paul knew that in the midst of those who were faithful there was also going to be those who did not believe and did not hold to sound teaching. These people would stand in the way of the effort to further the gospel and the growth of the church, and one way in which they would do this is by developing factions—getting people to divide themselves by taking sides.
In looking at the various imprisonments of Paul in the last chapters of Acts it was interesting to see how the Chief Counsel of the Jews, who served as his accusers, was comprised of Pharisees and Sadducees who were united against him. But Paul also knew that they had significant differences on some issues, one of them being over the resurrection of the dead. So, when he perceived that this group was made up of both groups he loudly proclaimed his hope in the resurrection of the dead, and sure enough the Pharisees and Sadducees began to fight amongst themselves (Acts 23:6-10). This was not to be the last time that they fought over the charges and left those hearing the case shaking their heads.
Paul had seen prior to this the intense anger that flares up in people when their pet belief is challenged, and he was warning the believers in Rome to be on guard against these same attitudes flaring up in the church by those who had their own personal agendas and not that of the Lord. Paul went on to say that even in their midst there would be those who were not really saved, but still remained slaves to their own lusts. And some of them could be quite good at selling their wares (agenda) even in the church, saying things that tickle the ears, even deceiving those who are uninformed or unsuspecting.
Paul commended the believers in Rome for their reputation which had spread, and he encouraged them not to let this reputation be tarnished by a bunch of wolves in sheep’s clothing. For that reason they needed to continue to grow in their knowledge and understanding and even to thoroughly embrace and learn from his letter. It is for this reason that the doctrinal teaching of Romans is so complete and comprehensive. The best guard against the lies of men is to hide the truth of God in their hearts.
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:9–11, NASB95)
Paul was strongly encouraging them to protect themselves by becoming people who lived as one according to the truth. By growing in this way they would indeed become wise in what is good and by practice prove themselves innocent in what is evil. They would be people who consistently let the truth of Scripture direct them in the every aspect of their lives.
Paul also assured them that Satan’s power was limited, and that one day soon he would be fully crushed under God’s foot. We have that same promise today, knowing that in the last days Jesus will come again, Satan will be bound and then later released, defeated, and thrown once and forever into the lake of fire.
“When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Revelation 20:7–10, NASB95)
This truth was to give hope to the believers then, and it is to give hope to us today. God has not given up His throne. He is not diminished in power in any way, and Satan then and now is subject to His strong hand. God has everything under control, and He will bring every detail to its right and final end. In this Paul could say with unwavering confidence, “The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”