GUARD FUNDAMENTAL CHRISTIANITY AGAINST THE ATTACKS AND
DECEPTION OF SELF-CENTERED TROUBLEMAKERS
Frank Thielman: Paul concludes his long exposition and application of the gospel with a straightforward warning to the Roman Christians not to be deceived by any form of the gospel that takes the focus off serving Christ and puts it instead on serving evil human desires.
Thomas Schreiner: The greetings identify those in Rome who support the Pauline gospel, and Paul warmly salutes brothers and sisters in Christ (16:3–16). Now he warns the Romans that not everyone who claims to represent the gospel is legitimate, nor should Christian greetings be extended to all. . .
Paul envisions a potential danger threatening the Roman churches, a danger that exists until Satan is crushed under the feet of believers forever (v. 20). The admonition, then, is not comparable to the problems between the weak and the strong in 14:1 – 15:13. In that text tensions between strong and weak believers in the Roman churches are adjudicated. Here a menace from outside the community is anticipated.
James Dunn: The fierceness of the sudden interjected warning in vv 17–20 is surprising, and in this regard is most closely paralleled by Phil 3:2–21 and Gal 6:11–15. There are too few grounds for regarding it as an interpolation . . . though stylistically it could best be regarded as a postscript (and so with little immediate connection with what preceded); and structurally it is most closely parallel to Paul’s practice of appending a final paragraph in his own hand (1 Cor 16:21–24; Gal 6:11–18; Col 4:18; 2 Thess 3:17), in which he was by no means averse to a final polemical thrust (1 Cor 16:22; Gal 6:12–13); so, e.g., Dodd and Lietzmann. . . it is more likely that the paragraph results from Paul’s realization that his preoccupation with the issue of Jew/Gentile relationships within the Roman churches had almost completely by-passed other dangers from other quarters.
John Toews: The first warning calls for the critical examination of people who destabilize the equilibrium (the stasis) of the churches and who erect stumbling blocks which oppose the teaching the Roman Christians have received. Romans 6:17 and this text refer to a body of teaching passed on to the churches which has a normative quality, according to Paul. People who divide the churches by contradicting this teaching are to be avoided. The stay away from them phrase is characteristic of wisdom exhortations to avoid evil (e.g., Ps. 34:14; Prov. 1:15; 3:7).The reason such people are to be avoided is that they serve their own interests (lit., belly as a symbol for that which is fleshly and evil; so also Phil. 3:19) rather than our Lord Christ (v. 18). This language was used elsewhere in contemporary Judaism to warn against false teaching. These false teachers deceive the unsuspecting (lit., without evil minds or the simple) by smooth speech and flattery.
I. (:17) CAUTION – WATCH OUT
Keep Your Distance — Keep away from those who divide us from fellow Christians and cause us to stumble from fundamental Christianity
“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.”
James Dunn: σκοπέω has the force of “look at carefully, consider, examine” (cf. LSJ), “look at critically” (TDNT 7:414–15). Apart from Luke 11:35 it occurs only in Paul in the NT (and only twice in the LXX)—2 Cor 4:18; Gal 6:1; Phil 2:4; and 3:17—and is characteristic of Paul in that it calls his readers to circumspect and responsible judgment.
Frank Thielman: “Stumbling blocks” (σκάνδαλα) refers to ideas, teachings, or practices that prevent progress (cf. Rom 9:33) and send people down the path to destruction (cf. Rom 14:13, 20). The two types of problems are connected: Paul warns against people who create division and prevent progress in the faith by injecting erroneous ideas and practices into the Christian community.
R. Kent Hughes: Heretics are to be spurned.
II. (:18) DISCERNMENT – DON’T BE DECEIVED
What You See Is Not Always What You Get — An uncorrupted heart can be deceived by something that sounds good
“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.”
Frank Thielman: The Roman Christians should stay away from those who create divisions by their deceptive teaching because such people can use their rhetorical skill to convince others with little theological training to serve the immoral interests of the false teachers themselves. . . He is probably describing people who use language that on the surface seems theologically correct but who draw incorrect conclusions from that language about how believers should live.20 They may have, for example, waxed eloquent on the topics of “grace” and “faith,” but then perverted “the grace of our God into sensuality” (Jude 4) and failed to recognize that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas 2:17).
Thomas Schreiner: The adversaries not only serve themselves but also proselytize others. Paul worries that the “unsuspecting” (ἀκάκων, akakōn) will be deceived through their “smooth and eloquent speech” (χρηστολογίας καὶ εὐλογίας, chrēstologias kai eulogias). The linkage of deceit (ἐξαπατῶσιν, exapatōsin) with Satan (v. 20) suggests that Paul discerns Satan working through the attractive and compelling speech of the adversaries. The Romans must be on guard because the opponents are urbane, witty, and sophisticated. They will not be unattractive boors.
James Dunn: More likely Paul in fact intends a broad and nonspecific warning (cf. Cranfield) to cover a number of possible eventualities, drawing on
(1) some traditional advice from Jewish wisdom (see also on 16:19),
(2) his experience of what can happen to congregations, as gained elsewhere and not least with regard to the church in Corinth (cf. v 17b with 1 Cor 1:10–17; v 17c with 2 Thess 3:6; v 18a with Phil 3:19; v 18b with 1 Cor 2:1–5; 2 Cor 11:5; and Col 2:4), and
(3) his knowledge of the morally dangerous social conditions in Rome (cf. 13:12–14).
In other words, he writes in the manner of a parting exhortation in which the accumulated resources of both his ancestral wisdom and his own hard-won experience serve as guidelines and warning posts for potential hazards for the servants of Christ in Rome.
Michael Bird: Paul does not hold back as he proceeds to describe the unsavory nature of such intruders and their strategy. . . Paul’s language here reflects what he says about his opponents elsewhere like creating dissension (Gal 5:20), serving their own stomachs (Phil 3:19), using flattering speech, (Col 2:4; Eph 5:6), and seductive teaching (2 Thess 2:3). It pertains to those who use religion as a means for self-promotion. Paul does not want the Romans to be seduced or sucked in by any charlatan using pomp to promote a non-gospel, a half-gospel, or an anti-gospel.
III. (:19) CAREFUL OBEDIENCE – LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP
Discern first, obey second — Rather than blind obedience
“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 church at Rome has a good reputation and impact on other believing communities. Paul does not want to see that reputation and impact tarnished and diminished.
James Dunn: The vagueness and impreciseness of the language matters little: it reflects a general rather than a specific concern of Paul. And its importance lies in reminding his readers that evil can take many deceptive forms and that a combination of worldly wisdom and sensitive innocence is their best defense. Just as important here is that Paul draws his terms both from Israel’s centuries-old wisdom and from the wisdom of Messiah Jesus (Matt 10:16)—reinforcing once again the claim made throughout the letter that the revelation of Christ and its meaning for daily living is simply an extension of the revelation given and wisdom accumulated earlier in Israel’s pilgrimage.
John MacArthur: So Paul urges them, he says be very familiar with what is wisdom. Be very familiar with and knowledgeable regarding what is good, innately good. That beautiful word from which we get the name Agatha, innately good. Be good and be wise about what is good and know what is good. That’s why we continually teach the Word of God. And be simple regarding what is evil. Be unlearned, be ignorant, be unsophisticated, be uninitiated. . .
Don’t study false doctrine, don’t study sin, don’t study error, stick with the truth and godly obedience. It’s the old story of the counterfeit. If you want to know a counterfeit, just know what a true bill looks like and you’ll know what a counterfeit is. Tozer‘s old story, he said, “If you had 400 pianos, how do you tune them all equally?” He said if you try to tune every piano to another piano you’re going to have a problem. If you get one tuning fork, tune them all to the one tuning fork, you’ve got it all made. And that’s the way it is in life. If we know what the standard of truth is, everything else can come in to line with that truth.
Michael Bird: There is play on words going on here. Paul said in v. 18 that people who are “naïve” (akakos) get fooled by false teachers, so now in v. 19 he wants them to aware of all that is “evil” (kakos). The chief thought is discerning evil without getting caught up in evil.
IV. (:20a) PERSEVERANCE IN HOPE – HANG IN THERE
God will Crush the Enemy — Though Satan’s aim is to divide and destroy our Christianity, God’s aim is to soon destroy Satan to bring us peace
“And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”
Frank Thielman: Paul promises that God will ultimately defeat the transcendent being who uses false teachers to nurture theological and moral chaos among Christians. . .
The verb “will crush” (συντρίψει) was used in military contexts to refer to the rout of an enemy (e.g., Polybius, Histories 5.47.1), and imagery from the early empire often depicted Roman emperors or armies standing over conquered peoples. The violent idea of crushing an enemy under foot, therefore, would have been familiar to Paul’s audience. The enemy that God will crush, however, is not the false teachers of Romans 16:17–18 but Satan, the clever and deceptive opponent of God and his people (2 Cor 2:11; 1 Thess 2:18; 2 Thess 2:9), who stands behind false teaching in the church (2 Cor 11:13–15; 1 Tim 5:15). Paul often depicted God’s future defeat of evil by using military imagery drawn from the Scriptures (2 Cor 10:3–6; Eph 6:10–17), and that is also his procedure here.
John MacArthur: But the God of peace is going to end the war by bruising Satan, and there’s an allusion to Genesis 3:15, by bruising the serpent’s head. And at that time all division and discord and all lies and all sins that threaten the church, as the work of Satan, are going to be done away with and the battle waged will be over.
James Dunn: With a final flourish Paul pens a slogan of victorious hope: “the God of peace will crush the Satan under your feet speedily.” Here too the continuity with earlier and contemporary Jewish apocalyptic hope is strong: Christians share with their fellow members of God’s election the confidence of a final triumph of good over evil, of God over the most powerful force of evil that afflicts this world. Not only does the slogan reflect this continuity of hope, but it reflects the eschatological expectation which seems to have been characteristic of the Christian movement from the beginning—of the final power of God already pushing back the frontiers of evil (cf. Mark 3:23–27; Luke 10:17–18), of a victory already being won and soon (“speedily”) to be completed. Above all, the slogan, with its echo of Gen 3:15, effectively ties together the whole sweep of salvation-history: God’s purpose is nothing less than the complete destruction of all the evil which has grown like a large malignant cancer within the body of humankind and the restoration of his creation to the peace and well-being he originally designed for it.
(:20b) GRACE BENEDICTION
“The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”
Thomas Schreiner: The benediction concluding the text is aptly included here. Paul often concludes his letters with a grace benediction (1 Cor. 16:23; 2 Cor. 13:13; Gal. 6:18; Phil. 4:23; Col. 4:18; 1 Thess. 5:28; 2 Thess. 3:18). This benediction should be interpreted as a prayer-wish. Paul prays that the grace that called the Roman believers to Christ will continue to be theirs. Thereby they will benefit from the shattering of Satan at the end. Such a conquest cannot be ascribed to their own spirituality. Their triumph is due to the grace that is theirs through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Michael Gorman: The warning and the words of confidence lead to both a promise and a blessing (16:20). Paul puts the Roman situation and struggle in apocalyptic perspective, promising that God will soon defeat Satan, the ultimate cosmic enemy of the church and all humanity (16:20a; cf. “the god of this world” in 2 Cor 4:4). As Ephesians puts it, “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). But at the same time, as Martin Luther declared (in his famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress”), echoing Paul, “for lo! his doom is sure.” The certainty of this defeat is therefore paired with a benediction of grace for sustenance in the struggle (16:20b).
John MacArthur: 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. And “amen” means “so let it be, may it be, may it be.”