Scripture Reading: Romans 16:17-27, Matthew 7:15-20, Jude 24-25
I took a personality test the other day, and I wasn’t thrilled with the results. It confirmed what I already knew: I avoid conflict like the plague. Put me in a tension-filled room and I’ll moonwalk away so fast, you’ll never even know I was there.
I tell you this not to confirm that I was raised in the 80s (which I was), but so you’ll understand why I so desperately want to misinterpret today’s passage from Romans. I’ll show you what I mean.
Here we’ve come to the close of the longest of Paul’s letters. We’ve heard him preach on sin and salvation, grace and faith, and now we’re leaning in to see how he’ll land the plane. What does one say to wrap up what would become known as the most comprehensive expression of the gospel in all of Scripture?
He begins his conclusion with a warning:
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… (Romans 16:17).
This is where my comfort-loving ears perk up. Steer clear of those who cause problems? Avoid conflict at all costs? If that’s what our friend Paul is selling, I’m buying in bulk. But he continues:
…because such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites. They deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting with smooth talk and flattering words (v. 18).
No smooth-talkers allowed? Yep, works for me.
In my humanity, I want Paul’s words to leave me right where I am: a well-intentioned gal who doesn’t like to rattle or be rattled. I want a divine endorsement for a head-down, hands-off way of living. I want to look to the folks on my right and my left and say, I’m fine. You’re fine. Everything’s fine. In short, I want to read Paul’s words as permission rather than admonition.
He keeps writing:
The report of your obedience has reached everyone. Therefore I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise about what is good, and yet innocent about what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you (vv.19-20).
Crushing evil is not a passive activity. Our holy and sovereign God is currently and constantly at work, overcoming darkness with light (John 5:17). As Christ followers, our work is not passive either. We are called to right doctrine and right living—to cling to Christ and to His gospel, shunning all false gods and gospels that beg our worship. This is Paul’s parting reminder.
It’s true that I’m predisposed to being a coaster—a person who’d rather stay the course than question questionable coordinates. But the gospel Paul presents in this letter is not a matter of right or left. It’s a matter of life and death. The mystery of Jesus Christ has been “revealed and made known through the prophetic Scriptures, according to the command of the eternal God” (Romans 16:26). Our Savior has come. He has opened the way to God, the rescue and restoration of our wrecked, restless souls.
The truth is, you and I are not fine. We “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But in God’s great love and compassion, we have been “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). What’s more, “since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
This is the gospel. This is our hope.
This is what we cling to, what we live by, what we fight for—to the glory of the One who created us, saved us, and calls us His own.
To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ—to him be the glory forever! Amen (Romans 16:27).