Unity in Truth
“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.”- Romans 16:17–20
In Romans 16:1–16, Paul sends greetings to twenty-six members of the church at Rome by name, and mentions some others as well. Evidently there were many people in this church that Paul knew from the past. One couple, Priscilla and Aquila (16:3) had been exiled from Rome a few years earlier and had helped Paul during his second missionary journey (Acts 18); now, clearly the ban on Jews had been lifted in Rome and they had returned—with the Gospel.
This catalog of people is not only an interesting picture of life in the early church, it also serves to illustrate the unity of believers. Paul climaxes the list by calling on them to express their unity by greeting each other “with a holy kiss,” and states that “all the churches of Christ send greetings” (verse 16).
After this marvelous expression of spiritual unity in the body of Christ, Paul immediately turns to the negative side of the matter, and urges them to put out of the assembly those who reject the apostolic doctrine and thereby destroy unity in the truth. Paul does not mean that every time someone protests an action of the church, or disagrees over a point of doctrine, he is to be silenced with the accusation of divisiveness. But Paul does mean that those who cause divisions are those who are attacking the fundamentals of the faith, and that such people must be dealt with.
He goes on to describe such divisive people. They “are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.” In other words, they are ambitious. Moreover, “by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people” (verse 18). So, for the protection of the weaker brethren and of new believers, such people must be dealt with quickly and decisively.
Paul reminds them that “everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you.” At the same time he wants them to realize that trouble does come in the church, and they have to deal properly with it: “But I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil” (verse 19). The leaders of the church are shepherds, and they must protect the sheep from wolves.
When joining a church, we often vow to preserve its peace and purity. Unity and peace are difficult to maintain since people are instinctively critical. Decide beforehand that when strife or error comes in your church, your concern will be the unity and preservation of the church, tempered by the need for purity and truth.
Passages for Further Study
1 Corinthians 5:9–11
2 Thessalonians 3:6–14
1 Timothy 6:3–5