Avoiding the Ever-Present Danger
As the apostle Paul begins to wrap up his epistle to the Romans he writes, “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them (Romans 16:17 NKJV).”
Here, at the end of this incredible book, he’s urging the church to grow up and come to the understanding that there is an ever-present danger of false teachers (and subsequently false beliefs or doctrines) in the church. The movement to lure Believers into stepping away from their faith isn’t just outside in the world—Paul makes it clear that it’s also inside the church walls.
Specifically Paul is addressing false teachers in the church who, according to Albert Barnes, “insisted strenuously on the observance of the rites of Moses, and who set up claim for greater purity and orthodoxy than those possessed who received the Gentile converts as Christian brethren.” These teachers insistence on these rites caused divisions and strife as they were not in line with the Gospel’s message of freedom and grace (Acts 15:1; Acts 15:24; Galatians 3:1; and 5:1–8).
Today we have many false teachings and teachers. All we need to do is look around and open our ears and we can see and hear people promoting a mixture of Christian and false teaching. It’s subtle and we have to be alert and on guard.
One trouble we have is that false teachers (and teachings) seldom give themselves away easily. Often what they say sounds clear, convincing and attractive. Unfortunately many people are easy prey for those who have subtly different ideas and cleaver ways of putting them across.
Paul, in this text from Romans, offers us the solution:
Know what is “contrary to the doctrine.” How can we do that? By spending time in God’s Word. If you want to know how something works, don’t you generally look for instructions or read the manual? When you sense something is broken and you don’t understand the best way to fix it, isn’t it easy to Google the answer and find it? In the same way, when we think we’re hearing teaching that is contrary to what we think we know about our faith, we need to get into the Word and look it up. In the midst of this battle, we need to go directly to the battle plan (God’s Word). Pastor Chuck Swindoll wrote, “These people set theological traps that bait unwary Christians. Their teaching is attractive, yet contrary to the truth taught by Jesus and the people He personally trained. Today we have this truth inerrantly preserved for us in Scripture. Therefore, a ‘hindrance’ is any doctrine or practice that Scripture does not support.”
There are other resources as well that can help us discern false teaching. Walter Martin’s Kingdom of the Cults is one of my personal favorite resources.
Mark and avoid them. Pastor Jon Courson wrote, “Notice he doesn’t say, ‘Debate them,’ ‘Study them,’ or even, ‘Have compassion on them.’ He says, ‘Mark and avoid them. For they are such serve not the Lord Jesus Christ.’” In other words know who these teachers are and RUN, FLEE, GET AWAY!
The danger of false teachers is ever-present. It’s subtle and alive in many churches today. All it takes is a person who is tempted to say what they think people want to hear and also avoid topics they believe are unpopular. All it takes is a shrewd shift from what Jesus said to something a little different that the world wants to hear. It’s that easy. We need to be discerning. We need to be in the Word. We need to avoid them and their teaching at every turn.
 Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s New Testament Insights: Insights on Romans, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 313
 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary Volume 3: Matthew–Revelation, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2004), E-sword edition