Watch—Avoid—Be Wise

by Jerry Senn

"I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine [teaching] that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil." 
—Romans 16:17-19, ESV

Earlier in Paul’s words to the Roman believers he had urged them not to pass judgment on those who hold different opinions about religious matters (Romans 14:13; 15:1,2). However, before he ends this letter Paul gives words of caution as to potential false teachers who might lead them away from the fundamentals received from the apostles, and other inspired men.

He said,

  1. “Watch out” for men who would divide believers and “create obstacles” to the flow of solid and authoritative teaching. Be on the alert, pay attention. Paul had no sympathy with theological or philosophical ideas not based on God’s clear words. So, he says “take note” of what you’re hearing.
  2. “Avoid” or keep away from, even spurn heretics, rather than engage with them or give them serious attention.
  3. “Be wise” as to what is good and innocent [ignorant] as to what is evil.”

Jesus said, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). This is very good advice—inspired instruction—and is vital to a healthy and flourishing faith. This advice is good because our tendency is to be as wise as doves and innocent as serpents. Often error may seem more favorable than truth.

The last of the apostles, John, wrote: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). And remember, Paul wrote this well before believers were bombarded, as we are, with radio, TV, printed news, internet, or cell phones. So, let’s learn to “Watch out,” “Avoid,” and “Be wise.”