Guarding the Churches
Robert Wurtz II
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. (Romans 16:17, 18)
Paul employs a familiar verb to solicit action from the Romans when he writes, “I beseech you.” This is the Greek word parakaleo and in this context means to call to ones side to urge them to action. It is a sincere and earnest plea to do what is written next, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. Obviously, the Christians to whom this epistle is addressed, were unified in believing and acting upon the teachings they had received. However, Paul warns them that some people will not accept the form of Christianity he teaches, and will therefore lead people astray with fair speeches that deceive simple-minded folks. These people are not serving Christ, but their “own belly.” That is to say, they are as the sons of Eli in the Old Testament who abused their priestly position in ministry, using it for their own belly — rather than regarding God’s purposes. (See 1 Samuel 2:1ff)
Paul is writing the Romans and urging them in the strongest of terms to avoid a similar situation as to what happened with the House of Eli. These men in 1 Samuel 2 were charged to do the service of the Jehovah (YHWH), but they high-handily abused their position to the point that God warned Eli of coming judgment. Nevertheless, because he honored his sons more than God, he never stopped them and the bad behavior continued. What were they doing? They were walking contrary to the doctrine that they had received. God had given Israel the Law along with specific instructions for the priests. In spite of that, they were fornicators and gluttons. Scripture refers to them as children of the Devil, even though they were functioning as God’s servants.
Paul knew that people who behave badly have to be dealt with in decisive ways. The challenge is found in getting Christians to take Paul’s words seriously and actually do what he is saying. I am convinced that a great amount of trouble that exists in the churches of God today is the consequence of not taking warnings and directives like this one Romans 16:17,18 seriously. There have always been people who creep in unawares to being divisions and offenses contrary to what God’s word teaches. It was in Eli’s House in the Old Testament and later Paul warned the elders at Ephesus of similar patterns. What are we to do?
Serious moral failings such as were found in the House of Eli are to be dealt with by the churches in accordance with Paul’s teachings to the Corinthians. Fornicators and such must be removed from ministry and put out of fellowship if necessary in order to see repentance. In extreme cases the church is to turn the person over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh until they truly repent (emphasis on truly). Otherwise, a fornicator will destroy a church. No doubt many of churches have been split because leaders failed to deal properly with a fornicator. Indeed, the “spirit of Eli” has wrecked many harvest fields. Nevertheless, God is not mocked, and will hold the leaders who have allowed this to happen accountable on judgment day.
In the case presented in Romans 16, we do not have a directive to turn the offenders over to Satan or any such thing. This could be because the offender is being harbored and protected by some church. This makes for quite a dilemma. Sadly, it happens all too often in modern times. Offenders don’t usually stay in the church they divided with their bad behavior, they move someplace else. Some go from church to church wreaking havoc and leaving a trail of stumbled souls all over the place.
What can we do in such situations? Paul told us to mark them and avoid them. Marking them according to A.T. Robertson means “to keep an eye on them so as to avoid them.” Our Greek word for avoid according to Vincent is better translated as “turn aside.” When you see them, go the other direction. Have no fellowship with them whatsoever. Do not bid them godspeed with your presence. In other words, give no one the impression that you are in agreement with them. If you are a minister, don’t share the platform with them. Vincent continues, “Not only keep out of their way, but remove yourself from them if you fall in with them.”
This is Paul’s plea for dealing with those who profess Christ, but cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned. Bad behavior cannot merely be ignored. Sometimes offenders will find refuge with people they have charmed with their good words and fair speeches. Charm is the ability to make a person like you. It is not a spiritual gift, but a potentially dangerous character trait. People who are charmed by bad people often hang around with them — overlooking their behavior until it’s too late. eventually something awful happens and the churches of God are damaged. This is why Paul says, I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. He is concerned more about the safety of the churches than maintaining friendships. He was no Eli and this is no small directive. We do well in this crisis hour to heed Paul’s words and take them as seriously as “thou shalt not murder.” This would position us as God’s people to protect as many of the flock as possible from the destruction divisions and offences cause.
The Destructiveness of Division
Robert Wurtz II
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. (I Corinthians 1:10, 11)
Paul really hits the ground running in his letter to Corinth. The situation is serious and he intends to nip it in the bud. Their behavior was completely unacceptable and was becoming a reproach on Christ. Therefore, it is no accident that Paul takes up his pen in the power of the Holy Spirit and gives for some a crash course on basic Christianity and for others a refresher.
Paul had received word from Chloe’s household that trouble was brewing at Corinth. Though they were proficient at moving in the gifts of the Spirit and working in ministry, there was a crack in their foundation that had to be dealt with before everything that had been built simply flew apart. Paul puts his finger on the problem in the 3rd chapter when he diagnoses the people as “carnal.” For though he had sown to them spiritual things, they were still moving in the flesh (carnality Gk. sarkikos). “It is a bold and cutting figure, not without sarcasm, but necessary to reveal the Corinthians to themselves.” (A.T. Robertson)
Are You Not Carnal?
We have a definition of carnal when Paul stated, “For you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Cor. 3:3) Rather than living in the Spirit – they were walking in the flesh. In other words, they were behaving just like “mere men” – unregenerate men. God has called the churches and His Saints to be an expression of the kingdom of God in the earth. We are God’s representatives on earth. We’re supposed to be demonstrating how the kingdom of God does things. What happens when the image of Christ is distorted in the churches because of carnal behavior? What happens when Christians begin to imitate the world’s behaviors and conflicts? Paul lets the church know it was Chloe’s house that brought this to his attention and then he lists three things as evidence of their carnality: envy, strife, and divisions.
Envy comes from a root meaning zeal and it can be a good or a bad thing. When it turns to jealousy or envy it can lead to our second problem, strife. This means “long and complicated disputes.” The KJV’s strife is from a Greek word that is translated as rivalry by the ESV. Where there is rivalry there is sure to be division. Webster defines a rival as “a person or thing competing with another for the same objective or for superiority in the same field of activity.” Rivals do not operate in unity though technically they could be on the same team. Rivals typically view their opponent as the enemy. In the churches of God this leads to our final word divisions. In Classical Greek the word for division (schismata sci÷smata) means the rending of material such as a garment or cloth. It is torn in two. The jealousy and envy led to a rivalry that lead to the tearing apart of the church.
The Road To Rivalry
It is a tough pill to swallow, but in modern times rivalry is often a direct consequence of setting up denominations and churches in a worldly organizational structure that creates “positions” and “offices” of authority to be filled. Jesus told the Disciples that we are not to be organized like the Gentiles, but His words have been ignored in the main stream (Matthew 20:25-26). What happens? People are asked to vote on whom they want to lead them or who the person they feel the Lord is calling to the position. As surely as Jesus warned us and then commanded us to avoid it, this model is a recipe for total destruction. One group is hearing God say ____ should be voted in while the other group says God is saying ____ should be voted in. Each group is sure of their spirituality and that the other group is “missing it” or under the influence of the Devil (demons). All the while both groups have fallen into the trap of carnality and are in the cross hairs of Paul’s warnings in I Corinthians 1-3 and Galatians 5. While lauding themselves as spiritual – they just became the epitome of carnality and don’t even know it. Majority rule is democracy and the kingdom of God is not a democracy. We are called to come together in the mode God has established and seek His will until we can agree in unity as to what to do. In other words, 51 to 49 or a two-thirds majority may work in the US Senate, but it is an abomination to the kingdom of God. After all, one of the greatest flubs ever made in the Bible came when Joshua and Caleb were out numbered 10 to 2. That was an 83% majority and they totally missed God.
What happens? Factioning begins. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Because the names are ancient and far removed from our situation, we can’t see ourselves in this passage. But what if you and I replace Paul, Apollos, Cephas and Christ with rival ministers in our church or denomination? Think of some names. Think of some people that are jockeying for positions within the organization. They believe they are called, it’s God’s will, and that is that. If they don’t get in they are disillusioned at best and bitter at worst.
Everyone a Prophet
Can you imagine being in an environment like Corinth where it seemed like everyone was moving in the gifts of the Spirit? (1 Cor. 12:7,11) Even the women prophesied. (1 Cor. 11:4) Paul asked them, “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, everyone of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation.” Everyone believes they are hearing from God! Everyone. How could you counsel these people once the infighting begins? They would seem to be the most high-minded and impossible to coach people on earth. “I’m hearing from God – so don’t tell me anything!” Really? They each have a red phone on their desk (hotline) and when they pick it up – God answers? Paul dealt with these “super spiritual” folks by calling them carnal.
Understand that as soon as the voting begins the rivalry begins. Why? Because positions have been created by men and they have to be filled by men. Then we ask God to tell us who He wants us to put in our man-made positions? What if the next time the people are handed a little white paper to write a name on, everyone just goes ahead and writes it as a sentence, “I am of ____” or “I am of _____.” Then maybe we’ll understand the magnitude of what we are doing. We need to seek God’s will until we can agree upon it in unity – not in a majority.
The Scourge of Schism
What happens? One group believes “their man got in” while the other group believes “we missed God” – just like the Republicans and Democrats every two years after election day. Then each group tries to rally their troops to right the wrong the next election. But it doesn’t end there. In fact, it is just beginning. An undercurrent of strife develops that begins to eat away at the very foundation of the churches. The one group feels slighted and is offended… envy develops and a feud is in the making. The other group tries to hold their position so they don’t get voted out in the next election. Pretty soon everyone is looking at the other as the enemy and questioning motives. Everything each side does gets interpreted and spun so as to fuel the feud. Then they are seeking little subtle ways to retaliate or dig at one another. Oh, nobody will admit as much. Of course not. Were all too spiritual and what were doing is of the Lord. Really?
The scourge of schism is so profound in many circles that it is going to take God to intervene to bring correction to all of the mess that we see. There are no Paul’s to bring correction. We have God’s word on the matter, but few are paying attention to it. We give lip service to infallibility and authority and mock the very things God has said. We could end this all today by simply abandoning our traditions and get right with God. God calls the envious, rivalry and strife-laden behavior as rife carnality (a hidious sin) – while everyone keeps on pretending they are pleasing the Lord. All the while few – if any – are prepared to put an end to it all.
Dwelling in Disunity
Why pray for revival if we are going to go on grieving the Holy Spirit behind the scenes? Will God honor the feuding that goes on between rival groups? I think about Jesus who deals with people coming to the Judgment seat. Here were people that were doing all kinds of “wonderful works.” You know, works like Judas was doing while he was stealing from the money bag (see John 12:6, Luke 9:1ff). They are duped by the ancient notion that miracles authenticate ministry. In fact, they believed their miracles were evidence that they were saved. How shocked they must have been when Jesus told them to depart from Him, “you workers of iniquity.” (Matthew 7:21-23) Could some of these people have been Corinthians who were moving in the gifts, but were as carnal as unregenerate men? It is insane to go on behaving badly and then tell ones self that because it appears God is doing miracles that we must be pleasing Him. He is happy with us or He wouldn’t work miracles among us. Really? Ask Judas how that works out.
Paul jumped right in the middle of the situation at Corinth and sought to get them back on track. Otherwise, why pray for a move of God? So we can be sure and get that position that we feel “is God’s will for our lives?” What’s the use of even praying when were not right with one another? When there is, as James says, bitter envy and strife in our hearts? What says the scripture?
The divisive and rival carnality is such a stench in the nostrils of God, that He will not accept our worship if we don’t get things right. How can we do something as basic as love one another in an environment of rivalry? We may give lip service to it – but who is treating their rival like they would want to be treated? This is why Paul wrote I Cor. 13. to the Corinthians church. They needed to learn to love one another. How can you do the most basic Christian things when everyone is expected to suit up and pick sides?
I am convinced that we will fake another move of God before we see one – while His people refuse to come together in unity and simply love one another. Away with the rivalry. Away with the politics. Let’s be the church or take the sign off the building.
Are You Frustrated? (tiskul)
Robert Wurtz II
We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please [his] neighbour for [his] good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me. (Romans 15:1-3)
This word dates middle-15th century and is from the Latin frustratus, pp. of frustrari “to deceive, disappoint, frustrate,” from frustra (adv.) “in vain, in error,” related to fraus “injury, harm” (see fraud). Related: Frustrated; frustrating. The word carries the idea of something being an impediment to the success of what was planned or hoped. It is amazing how distressing it can be when things don’t go the way we want them to or the way we think they should. Notice how the New Oxford uses the word in a sentence, “young people get frustrated with the system.” Why? Because they are young and usually incapable of effecting change. Couple that with idealist notions and you have a perfect recipe for frustration. How does this play out in the churches of God? Do people get frustrated? Do leaders? Do members of the churches? If so, what is the solution? Our text gives the solution, We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.