17 Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create divisions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned. Avoid them…
I can think of few things that compare to the excitement that surrounded the growth of the early New Testament church. God plucked a “Pharisee of the Pharisees” (the apostle Paul) out of his role as chief persecutor to become the author of nearly half the New Testament. These letters and writings provide a theological framework that has lasted for centuries past and will stand until Jesus returns.
This letter to the church at Rome is dense with theological truth and guidance. Today’s verse comes near the very end of the letter and is dropped in neatly after Paul thanks the many folks who have supported not only his ministry, but also the movement of the early church.
This verse is a warning not in a fearful sense, but in a “have your spiritual antennas up” sense. Paul is urgent in his concern that there would be those who would “cause division” and provide “obstacles” to the growth of new believers in Christ. And what is the grid through which all teaching should be tested? According to Paul, it is “the teaching that you have learned,” or the Word of God itself.
How do we know Paul’s teachings are right and true? We know Jesus Himself visited him on the road to Damascus. After this experience, Paul’s brilliance as a lawyer and his command of the Scriptures were viewed through the lens of God’s grace and mercy, providing the perfect formula to validate his Holy Spirit-inspired teachings and writings.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this verse is the last sentence: “Avoid them.” One translation uses the words “shun them.” There is much written in other passages about false teachers who would try to infiltrate and divide this new and growing church. Paul doubled down on this concept in his letter to Titus. “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10). These were strong words at a time in church history when strong words were needed.
Fast forward now to today. The “grid” that was described above is still strong and true. God’s Word is “living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). As some of us are reminded every week, we should “Hear it, believe it and live.”
Questions to Ask Yourself
- We need to remember that those who can appear to be good teachers are not always what they seem to be. Are there sermons or podcasts to which you listen that might need closer attention to be sure the teachings align accurately with the Word of God?
We must have our spiritual antennas up so we can watch out for things to avoid!
- Find something to use as an antenna, such as a pool noodle or other object.
- Make a simple obstacle course (outdoors or indoors—where there is plenty of space).
- Blindfold the person going through the course and give them the object being used as the antenna.
- The person must use their “antenna” to find the obstacles to avoid in order to complete the course.
- Have fun switching up the course for different players so they won’t know where the obstacles are.
- Talk about how we need to have our spiritual antennas up so we can avoid obstacles like division, false teachings, and lies.
Pray for Global Workers in our church family, Coulson and May, as they are temporarily stateside due to the pandemic. Pray for sweet time with family, who they are normally far away from. Pray they have patience in limbo as they await next steps for their return to Southeast Asia.