We began looking last week at this 16th chapter of Romans. We saw Paul’s heart and mind are filled with love and joy as he goes over the list of believers in Rome whom he knows or of whom he has heard. He thinks of those who have helped him, labored with him, been in prison with him, and he pours out his love in greeting them. Paul loved people, look what he wrote to the Philippians:
So, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, my dear friends, keep standing firm in union with the Lord. Philippians 4:1 CJB
In verse 16 Paul has instructed the believers to greet one another with a holy kiss:
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you. Romans 16:16 NASB
The kiss was clearly a token of love, unity and harmony. So now in verse 17 he warns the believers to watch out for people who disturb this unity. So sandwiched between greetings to the Romans from Paul and his companions in Corinth and greetings from the brethren in Corinth to the Romans, the apostle takes the pen to write one of the strongest warnings in his letter.
Some commentators think the passage is misplaced. Some have felt the transition from verse 16 to verse 17 is far too abrupt. The reason is simply that there is a great imminent danger from those who are false teachers. Love is also drawn to caution. And in the middle of this expression of love it comes to the heart of the Apostle Paul to speak a word of caution, because it is the nature of love to warn. William Barclay calls this passage a “last, loving appeal,” and he’s right about that.
Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. Romans 16:17 NASB
“I urge you”—the word “urge” here is parakaleo, which basically means: “to beg, to come alongside to call you to this.” It means: “to encourage someone to do something or to exhort someone to action.” This is the same pleading we saw in Romans 12:1, “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice” and in 15:30, “I urge you, brethren... to strive together with me in your prayers.” So Paul is begging them again to do something and this time it is to be on guard of false teachers.
“Keep your eye on those”—this is from the Greek word skopeo, which has the idea of: “identify it, look through the scope, take a good look at it, observe it, scrutinize it, identify it, pick it out, see what it is.” You will only be able to do this if you know sound doctrine.
“Who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned”—the word “dissensions” is from the Greek dichostasia, which means: “divisions.” This word is also used in Galations 5:20 as one of the deeds of the flesh. Paul is saying take note of those who divide God’s people. So it is clear from this command that Paul is concerned about unity. He wants to promote unity. Watch out for those who cause divisions.
You could probably categorize people and churches along these lines: There are those who emphasize doctrinal purity, and there are those that emphasize relational unity. But do we have to choose? Can’t you love truth and love people? I think you can, but we would most likely disagree with those who fall on the relational unity side as to what love is.
We can see this in the current debate over homosexuality in the mainline denominations. Today we have those who openly support gay ministers and gay marriage. And they do it in the name of God. Never mind that they are overturning the clear teaching of the Word of God. Sometimes they argue that the Bible isn’t clear on the subject or they say that love matters more than what the text actually says or they reinterpret the text to make it say what they want it to say. I recently heard of a homosexual Preterist who defended his sin by saying that Christ did away with sin so homosexuality is no longer wrong. Let me say this again: There is so much distortion of Scripture going on by those who say they are Prestrist that it makes me want to run from that identification.
The kind of love we hear about today is sort of a sick sentimentalism that wants to set doctrine aside in the name of so-called love. Any love that is destructive of truth, any love that is tolerant of error or propagates error, has to be shunned, because that's not the essence of real love. Real love speaks the truth in love.
I think the period of history we live in is not an easy time to be a lover of truth. For Paul, doctrine is the basis of unity. Without the common doctrine they had been taught, the unity would not have been Christian unity. So he is willing to call for truth-based disunity. Edward John Carnell put the matter in perspective when he declared, “It is better to divide over truth than to unite around error.”
Without a common commitment to the truth of the Christian faith, we are left with nothing but personal preference and the whim of the majority. And eventually a church built on personal preference will fall prey to the prevailing spirit of the age. Only a church founded on truth can truly be united.
Let me just add here that one of the greatest challenges in the quest for unity is deciding what belongs in the essential body of doctrine. What exactly is it that we divide over, and what do we agree to disagree on? For me some of the issues to divide over are: salvation by faith alone, the deity of Yeshua, the inspiration of Scripture, and the depravity of man would be on the top of my list.
“Who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned”—the word “hindrances” is the Greek skandala, which refers to any impediment placed in the way and causing one to stumble or fall. It is often translated “stumbling blocks.” This word is used in:
"So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 13:40-42 NASB
So at the end of the age the stumbling blocks will be thrown into the furnace of fire. Hang on to that thought.
“Contrary to the teaching which you learned”—the noun “teaching” is the word didache. We translate it better as “doctrine,” for that is precisely what is meant by “the teaching.” The second key word is a verb, “which you learned.” It is in the same family of words from which we get the term “disciple.” The implication is that we learn as disciples these particular doctrines. If Paul is dealing with the Judiazers, he could be talking about the “doctrines of grace,” salvation by grace alone.
How are they to respond to those who are causing division and are stumbling blocks? Paul says they are to “turn away from them”—the words “turn away” are from the Greek word ekklino which means: “to turn aside, to shun.” It is in the present imperative: “keep on shunning.”
At one time the Roman Catholic Church got into killing everybody that wasn't a Christian by their definition. We're not to kill and torture the people who cause division and cause others to stumble, we are to avoid them, turn away from them.
So Paul says they are to continually mark out and avoid those who cause divisions and offenses. The word that Paul uses in our text for “keep your eyes on” he also uses in a very similar context in Philippians 3:17. Notice what he says:
Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. Philippians 3:17 NASB
The word "observe" is the Greek word skopeo that Paul uses in Romans 16:17. Here it is used in a positive sense of: “watch and follow,” but in our text in Romans it is used in a negative sense of: "watch and avoid."
We see in these two verses the influence of others on our walk. We are to observe and avoid negative influences and observe and follow positive influences. What we must realize is that all our contacts with others inevitably influence us one way or the other. That is because God made us interdependent creatures. We are responsible for the influences to which we subject ourselves. God holds us responsible to avoid evil influences and to seek out edifying ones. Everywhere in the Bible it is assumed that we will be influenced for good or ill:
Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God. 3 John 1:11 NASB
Paul put it this way in:
Do not be deceived: "Bad company corrupts good morals." 1 Corinthians 15:33 NASB
And Proverbs puts it like this:
He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm. Proverbs 13:20 NASB
Imitation is inevitable because imitation is a necessary characteristic of human nature, and whenever a person develops a close tie with someone, they will be influenced by that person for good or evil. So Paul says, “Mark and avoid those who cause division”:
For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. Romans 16:18 NASB
These men are slaves to their own appetites and not to Christ. Their speech is “smooth” or seemingly plausible, apparently offering what appears to be fair interpretations of Scripture. “Flattering” is from a word that actually means: “praise,” so it implies speaking finely or using well-chosen words.
Now, I want you to understand that this is something that's repeated frequently in the Scripture. They are in it for self-gratification. We looked at Philippians 3:17 and saw it was similar to our context; now let’s look at the following verses:
For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. Philippians 3:18-19 NASB
Paul was always concerned with the enemies of the church. He says, "Follow me and others who are pursuing the prize (v17), because many aren't pursuing the prize and they are enemies of the cross of Christ. Don't follow them!"
"Of whom I often told you."—Paul no doubt warned them of these enemies when he was with them. "Even weeping"—this is the only time in the New Testament where Paul actually says he's presently weeping: "As I write, I weep." Paul was deeply grieved over these enemies of the cross.
There is much debate on this “who” of who these enemies are, but I think from the context (Phil. 3:2) that Paul is talking about the Judaizers. This is a continuation of Paul's warning from verse 2. And since this text uses very similar language to ours in Romans, Paul may be talking about Judaizers in our text as well.
Paul says, “They are enemies of the cross of Christ"—“the cross of Christ" is used in metonymy for the atoning work of Christ. This is a good description of the Judaizers.
The Judaizers were a group of people who went around in the first century promoting Judaism. They were pushing Judaism on the believers. They were saying that in order to be a Christian, you must first come through the door of Judaism. You must be circumcised and keep the Law. They were saying, "Yes, you must trust in Christ, but you also must keep the Law." Their object was the overthrow of Paul's form of Christian doctrine and the establishment of a Christianity in which the Mosaic Law should continue in full force, especially in the matter of circumcision. They didn't deny that Christ died, but they said it was not enough. They were teaching that the Law and the cross were both necessary to obtain righteousness. But Paul said:
"I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly." Galatians 2:21 NASB
R.C.H. Lenski writes, "The worst enemies of 'the cross' are not those who object to a crucified Savior, but those who deny that the cross and the sacrifice of Christ alone justify and save the sinner."
We don't have Judaizers around today, but there are plenty of other enemies of the cross who teach that the faith alone in Christ's finished work is not enough. If you are trusting to any degree in your own morality or religious attainments, or if you believe God will somehow recognize any of your good works as merit toward your salvation, you need to seriously consider if you are truly a Christian.
R. C. Sproul wrote:
Perhaps the most difficult task for us to perform is to rely on God's grace and God's grace alone for our salvation. It is difficult for our pride to rest on grace. Grace is for other people-- for beggars. We don't want to live by a heavenly welfare system. We want to earn our own way and atone for our own sins. We like to think that we will go to heaven because we deserve to be there. ("Suffering and Merit?"; Tabletalk Magazine, vol 13, no. 1.)
It is not clear what specific problem among the Roman believers Paul had in mind—perhaps he was thinking of Judaizers, we don’t really know for sure. Maybe he is warning them about immorality as he did with the Corinthians:
I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 NASB
We have some smooth-talkers in our day who promote a prosperity Gospel as a substitute to the Gospel of the crucified Christ. They talk smoothly, flattering their hearers, telling them exactly what they want to hear.
How can thousands, even millions of people, most professing to be Christians, follow some of the bogus preachers parading around their lavish stages? They are deceived by the smooth and flattering speech. They are deceived because they have not anchored their lives in the sound doctrine common to disciples of Yeshua the Christ.
For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. Romans 16:19 NASB
The reports Paul has received concerning the Roman Christians has been very positive and encouraging. Their spiritual reputation is well known among the believers. That reminds me of chapter 1 verse 8:
First, I thank my God through Yeshua the Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. Romans 1:8 NASB
Everybody knew what God was doing in their midst. And because of that it will be a severe tragedy if they fell.
“I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil”—the only possibility of being wise is to have divine wisdom. We must give ourselves to the study of the Word of God. Wisdom is the ability to respond correctly to life’s circumstances.
Innocent is the word akeraios. Keraios is sort of a basic generic word for evil, the a prefix negates that. To be innocent literally means: “to be untainted or unmixed.” It was used for untainted milk. That is, milk that was free from all impurities.
Paul said something like this to the Corinthians. He said:
Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. 1 Corinthians 14:20 NASB
He got this way of talking from Yeshua, who said:
"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. Matthew 10:16 NASB
Believers are to be ignorant concerning evil and experts in what is good:
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Yeshua be with you. Romans 16:20 NASB
“God of peace” is Paul’s favorite title for God. He lived in the peace of God in the midst of the worst circumstances. Paul used one other time in Romans (15:33) after calling on the Roman Church to strive together with him in prayer for deliverance from those opposing the Gospel. According to the Bible, peace is synonymous with salvation/deliverance. Paul is saying that the God of deliverance will:
“Will soon crush Satan under your feet”—up till now in the book of Romans, Paul has never mentioned Satan. In view of how much he has talked about doctrine and practical Christian living, that silence about Satan should caution our Futurist brothers against making too much of the devil.
When you think of the Charismatic movement, you think of speaking in tongues, or Benny Hinn knocking people down, and things like that. But there are some underlying things in the Charismatic world-view that are really very, very terrifying. They have a preoccupation with Satan and demons.
A common myth is that Satan is the source of all our trials, problems, and difficulties. Back in the late 60's and early 70's, Flip Wilson had a saying: "The devil made me do it." And more recently Andrea Yates, the mother that killed her five children, said the same thing. She said that the devil made her do it. Is the devil the cause of all our problems?
What does the New Testament teach about dealing with demons today? Nothing! Does it tell us to call the exorcist? No! Are we told to plead the blood? No! Don't reduce Christianity to a bunch of hocus pocus. The New Testament teaches very clearly that the devil and his demons have been defeated and destroyed by Christ.
The use of the definite article with Satan (ton satanan) found elsewhere in the New Testament (Matt 12:26; Luke 10:18),suggests this is a description or title rather than a name. It is “the Satan.” But what does Paul mean by this? He could be referring to those he sees as the servants of Satan, who seek to undermine the work of God among the Romans. If this is correct, then Paul expects these troublemakers to come under some form of judgment.
The picture given in Revelation is of the apostate Jewish nation serving the will of the state as it persecuted the church. This situation could be reflected here, and if so, then the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 would have been a significant blow to this unholy alliance.
In Genesis 3:15 God promised that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent:
And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel." Genesis 3:15 NASB
When does Paul say that this crushing of Satan will take place? “Will soon crush Satan under your feet”—commenting on this, one commentator writes, “In terms which draw our attention to Genesis 3:15, we are promised that God will subject Satan under our feet. Victory is imminent!” This man is writing in our generation, so who is the “we”? Are contemporary Christians promised that Satan will be crushed under their feet? Who is the “your” feet in this text? He is writing to the first century Roman Christians.
He says victory is imminent. What does “imminent” mean? The dictionary defines it as “ready to take place; especially: hanging threateningly over one's head.” The man writing “victory is imminent” is a Dispensationalist. So how can victory be imminent?
We must understand that the destruction of Satan and the coming of Christ are concurrent events. Satan is destroyed at the Second Coming of Christ:
And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. Revelation 20:10-11 NASB
The devil is destroyed, and heaven and earth pass away at the Second Coming of Christ. So how can Satan’s demise be imminent? According to the Dispensational view, the temple must be rebuilt and then destroyed before Christ returns. There is a Muslim mosque standing on the temple site which must be torn down before the temple can be rebuilt, so how is it imminent? How is it ready to take place?
“Will soon crush Satan under your feet”—listen to how people interpret this: Thomas R. Schreiner writes, “He expected him to return soon, but he never explicitly taught that he would come within a certain time frame. Thus the coming of Jesus is always ‘imminent,’ and the church is always to be on the alert.”
John Piper writes, “‘The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.’ What does that mean? He said that two thousand years ago. How are we today to understand the statements in the New Testament that the coming Christ and the triumphs of His appearing will be soon, and yet two thousand years have gone by?” So Piper connects the demise of Satan and the return of Christ. He goes on to say, “There is one book in the New Testament that addresses this issue directly, 2 Peter 3:8:
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 2 Peter 3:8 NASB
In context this is simply saying that God is a God who keeps His promises. God is not bound by time, but we are! God speaks to us in language that we understand. And when he says “soon” He means soon to the people to whom He is writing. Other wise when He says “soon” it means nothing because it could mean a day or a thousand years. Though God is not bound by time He can tell time.
"I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth. Numbers 24:17 NASB
Here Balaam the Prophet made a prediction of Christ's coming. He says His coming is not now or not near. The coming of Christ was not at hand! It was over 1400 years away and that is a long time. Believers, if 1400 years is a long time, could 2,000 plus years be soon?
Piper goes on to say, “So taking my cue from Peter, I want to close this morning by imagining a conversation between Paul and the Lord who is guiding what he writes. It goes like this:
Paul: O Lord, how long? How long till this great enemy is finally removed and the troubles of the church come to an end?
The Lord: It is not for you to know. My Father has the time fixed in His councils And He is infinitely wise and infinitely good. [DBC, If it’s not for him to know then why did the Lord give so many time references?]
Paul: Lord, could it be long—hundreds or even thousands of years?
The Lord: And if it were a thousand years—or two thousand, would that be long? A thousand years is like a day with me.
Paul: Lord, how then should I speak of this coming triumph? What should I say about the time?
The Lord: Be true to me the way I really am, and say what will help people be ready at My coming. They must not think that they can presume upon My delay. For if they do, they will drift into patterns of indifference and be snatched away to destruction in a moment.
Paul: So do you mean, Lord, that I should say that You are coming soon even though I don’t know that from our side whether it will be soon? That would not be a mistake to say that?
The Lord: No, that would not be a mistake. Say that. It will cause some to stumble, like many other things that I say. Scoffers will come and ridicule My promise. I know that. But if you give the impression that it will not be not soon, you will do far more damage to the truth and to the souls of men than if you stay true to My timeless haste and help the people be always ready and full of hope.
Paul: Lord, if a thousand years or two thousand should pass and You do not come, what should Your people think who read these words in those days? Will they not think, ‘So many hundreds of years have come and gone, there is no reason to think it will be soon any more or that our lives will be interrupted by His appearing?’
The Lord: They should remember that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. It will be sudden and unexpected by almost everyone. The world will be going on as usual (Luke 17:26-31). And sudden destruction will come upon them. Pray for them, Paul, that they not stumble over the word soon. Pray that they will know that for Me it will be soon, and for them it will be sudden. Pray that they will understand that expecting it to be soon is the best way not to drift into indifference and be snatched away in destruction.
It sounds to me like Piper is saying that the Lord knows soon will be misunderstood but if they think it is soon, they will be better off. Isn’t that a little deceptive?
Why did the Lord use so many time statements: “soon, quickly, shortly, standing at the door, this generation, some of you standing here,” if He didn’t want men to understand it as soon? He could have said, “Yeshua will come as a theif in the night.” Then we don’t have a time period, it would be a totally unexpected coming with no time reference.
“Will soon crush Satan under your feet”—the Greek word used here for "crush" is suntribo, it means: "to crush completely, i.e. to shatter." Paul said here to the Roman Christians that it would happen "soon." The Greek word translated "soon"' is tachos. According to Arndt and Gingich Lexicon, tachos is used in the LXX and certain non-canonical writings to mean: "speed, quickness, swiftness, haste." Paul uses this same word in:
But I hope in the Lord Yeshua to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. Philippians 2:19 NASB
Paul says that he hopes to send Timothy "shortly," same Greek word tachos. How soon is "shortly"? If you look at verse 23 he tells us:
Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; Philippians 2:23 NASB
I think that what Paul is saying here is, "As soon as I hear the outcome of my trial, I'm going to send him so you will know what is happening in my life." The Philippians were concerned about Paul, and he wanted to keep them informed. He was going to send Timothy to them just as soon as he knew the results of his trial.
The Bible says that Paul will send Timothy "shortly." Are you excited about Timothy's soon arrival? Why not? I don't know of any Christians that are looking for Timothy to arrive soon. Christians understand that Paul was speaking to the Philippians in the first century when he said this. They don't understand the "shortly" to be to them, but to the Philippians of the first century. Why then, when it comes to the crushing of Satan, do they not take "shortly" in its first century context?
Christians expected Timothy to show up in Philippi in the first century, but they don't believe Paul that Satan was "crushed" in the first century. We must work to be more consistent in our hermeneutics.
Soon cannot mean a short time and over two thousand years, that would render the word soon meaningless! Satan was to be crushed soon!
John McArthur writes, “The word ‘shortly’ doesn't mean in a little bit of time, it means suddenly. When it happens it will happen fast.” What consolation would this have offered to those Roman saints? Interpreting this passage to mean that Satan will be crushed rapidly some two or three thousand years in the future mocks their historical circumstances.
Ray Prichard writes, “Now this hasn’t happened yet. Just read any newspaper and you can tell that Satan hasn’t been crushed under our feet yet.” Seriously? Is that how we interpret Scripture, by the newspaper? Does the Bible teach that all evil comes from Satan? Not according to Isaiah:
Forming light, and preparing darkness, Making peace, and preparing evil, I am Yahweh, doing all these things.' Isaiah 45:7 YLT
I removed Jehovah and replaced it with Yahweh. I like YLT except for his use of Jehovah. The name Jehovah was never heard before A.D.1518. Jehovah is a word which has no meaning in Hebrew. So strike the word Jehovah from you Christian vocabulary, it is not biblical at all. Back to our text, according to the Scripture, Yahweh creates evil.
Prichard goes on to say, “When will that happen? Look at verse 19. Soon! If it was ‘soon’ 2000 years ago, think how much closer it is today.” So “soon” has no meaning to him if it can be a period of over two thousand years.
Tom Constable writes, "’Soon’ does not imply that Jesus Christ would return soon necessarily. Paul meant that the Roman Christians would frustrate Satan's work among them soon as they rejected false teachers.” That’s not with the text says. It doesn’t say that Satan’s work would be frustrated “soon” but that he would be crushed soon.
Who is Satan? Well satanas, the Greek word used here, means: “the accuser.” The church's accuser (Satan) were those Jews who rejected Yeshua as the Messiah and persecuted His Bride, the church:
"These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling. "They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. John 16:1-2 NASB
So Satan was to be crushed soon under the Romans’ feet. This could be a reference to being of Satan or the unbelieving Jews. Both were crushed in A. D. 70 when the Lord returned in judgment destroying Judaism with the Roman army and destroying Satan by casting him into the lake of fire.
“The grace of our Lord Yeshua be with you”—how will the Roman believers—and all of us who follow in their footsteps—develop good eyes to discern dissension, take decisive action in turning away from faulty teaching, and grow faithfully in holiness? Only by the grace of God. None of this happens because we happen to be very special, exceptionally bright, and all-together people! It happens when we rely on God’s promises and trust in His grace. That’s how Paul ends this paragraph before returning to greetings from the brethren in Corinth to the Roman Church (16:21-23).
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