Romansby David Cook
In Bible commentator J. B. Phillips’ translation of the Acts of the Apostles, published in 1955, he wrote in the preface: “If [the early Christians] were uncomplicated and naïve by modern standards, we have ruefully to admit that they were open on the God-ward side in a way that is almost unknown today.”
Being “open on the God-ward side” is an apt description of the believers in first-century Rome. There was a refreshing unpretentiousness about the early church—their self-sacrifice, the quality of their relationships, and the depth of their commitment are challenges to us all.
However, there is no such thing on earth as a perfect church, and just as Paul has urged previously in the letter (12:1; 15:30), he now urges them to be on guard against those who seek to disrupt the work by providing teaching contrary to the content of the apostolic gospel (v. 17). These are self-serving, smooth-talkers who seek to deceive naïve people. So, Paul urges, “keep away from them” (v. 17). It is a simple and stark instruction.
Paul encourages them to be wise and discerning, yet at the same time to be inexperienced in the matter of evil (v. 19). Such a combination of innocent openness and discerning wisdom is rare. Note that despite everything Paul has taught them about love and respect for one another, it does not mean they depreciate the truth for the sake of love. Apostolic truth is vital and non-negotiable, and must not be watered down so as to be all-inclusive.
Again Paul refers to the God of peace (v. 20), especially appropriate here in the context of friction and division due to the work of the flatterers. He assures them that the God of peace will soon end all of Satan’s activity (v. 20). Paul refers to Genesis 3:15, “he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel”, when he states that God will “crush Satan under your feet”. The victory over Satan is achieved through the death and resurrection of Jesus, but he is further crushed in the personal deliverance of all believers.
As we battle in the midst of strife, we have the hope of final victory and the presence of God’s grace to sustain us in the fight (v. 20).
How do you continually practise the truths of the gospel and guard them against those who would seek to depreciate them?
Can you think of situations where unity and truth conflict? Where do your loyalties lie?