Friday, July 4, 2014

DOCTRINAL NAIVETY (Romans Chapter 16)

Romans 16:17-18, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.  For such persons do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve.”

As with most of the New Testament epistles, the letter to the Romans includes a warning regarding the danger of false teachers.  This admonition to “watch out for,” comes at the end of Paul’s letter and succinctly summarizes the reason for concern.

Two commands are given: 1) Watch out for; and 2) Avoid.  The term translated “watch out for” is the Greek skopeo from which we derive the term scope in microscope or telescope.  It carries the meaning of looking at or observing with intensity.  Inasmuch as it is in the present tense it speaks of an ongoing practice.  The second command, avoid, means to “avoid association” or “have nothing to do with.”  It is also in the present tense.

The post-modern day in which we live is by definition a day of naivety and gullibility when it comes to doctrinal issues.  The time when they “will not endure sound teaching” has come (Cf. 2 Timothy 4:3).  As a result of this doctrinal deficiency many in the church lack any ability to exercise discernment.  The believer in Christ is well-served to take to heart the repeated admonition to be on the alert to the presence of false teachers (Cf. Matthew 7:15, Acts 20:28, Philippians 3:2, Colossians 2:8, 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 2 Peter 2:1, 1 John 4:1).

The false teachers are recognizable by their fruit (Cf. Matthew 7:15).  They cause divisions.  Lacking the Spirit they practice the deeds of the flesh—“enmities, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions” (Galatians 5:20).  They “create obstacles” (Romans 16:17).  The term “obstacles” translates the Greek skandalon.  According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary the term “originally was the name of the part of a trap to which the bait is attached, hence, the trap or snare itself.”  Vine’s goes on to say, “In the NT skandalon is always used metaphorically, and ordinarily of anything that arouses prejudice, or becomes a hindrance to others, or causes them to fall by the way.”  As with the snare of an animal trap into which the bait is placed, the faith-upsetting hindrances of the false teacher are not readily apparent.  Their false teaching is cleverly disguised and dressed-up in Christian-sounding garb lest it be readily identified.  Deceptively disguised their false teaching is doubly dangerous.

False teachers are deceptively charismatic with their words.  Their speech is characterized by “smooth talk” (i.e. eloquent, attractive, pleasant sounding words) and “flattery” (i.e. speech adapted to captivate the hearer; Cf. 2 Timothy 4:3; Isaiah 30:10).  By way of contrast the Apostle Paul refused to tamper with God’s Word or water it down by telling people what they wanted to hear (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:1-2).

The false teacher sets his sight on the naïve, those lacking the spiritual wherewithal to know better—the unsuspecting and easily duped.  They are those spoken of elsewhere by Paul and likened to “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). 

The only sure antidote for doctrinal naivety is Spirit-imparted doctrinal discernment and growth in spiritual maturity.  And to exercise discernment one must pay careful attention to the Word (Cf. 1 Peter 2:2).  The Bereans were commended inasmuch as they “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  Every believer is exhorted to follow that example and to “test everything” and “hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  The standard by which all teaching is to be measured is the Word of God—“the doctrine you have been taught” (Romans 16:17).  With respect to all matters of faith and practice the believer needs to continually sift all matters through a “But what does the Bible say?” filter, lest they be deceived.  False teachers and their teaching need to be recognized and avoided.  Inasmuch as doctrinal naivety characterizes the modern church, the admonition given in this passage is especially timely and relevant.

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