Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Today's passage:  Romans 16:1-18
     There was a movement in education several years back (seems like there is always some kind of movement) regarding grading student work.  Studies showed that negative red marks on student work lowered their self esteem. I'm not sure what the solution to this "dilemma" was, because I had pretty well tuned out after that, but I would not be surprised if the recommendation had been never to point out wrong answers on schoolwork.  I guess that explaining to the kindergartner that two plus two is indeed four and not five would shatter his self image too much, and well, we wouldn't want that.
     I just thought to myself, wouldn't it be more harmful to his self esteem if they were allowed to believe that their wrong answers were alright even into adulthood?  Isn't someone along the way going to make him feel ignorant for his well, ignorance and maybe in a much less kind way than a red mark on a paper?  I can understand that a student might be discouraged at seeing a failing test with red x's all over it, but am I doing that child a favor by not pointing it out so he can learn from his mistake and get it right in the future?  And what about his classmates?  When they see each other's work (which they always do somehow), aren't they going to point out to me or to him that he got two plus two equals five wrong too?
     This brings me to the passage today.  In verses 17-18, Paul writes:
17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple." 
Demetrius the Silversmith Stirs up a Riot
Demetrius the Silversmith Stirs up a Riot
Taken from Treasures of the Bible
By Henry Davenport Northrop, D.D.
International Publishing Company, 1894
     When I saw that word "mark", I immediately thought of taking a big red marker and drawing an "x" across something. Must be the teacher in me.  This is a hard truth.  And what is harder is that Paul points out the exact method a person uses to do this.  A person who is trying to divide a congregation doesn't go about it like a cyclone, although he has that exact effect.  How?  "By good words and fair speeches".  That would probably mean this is somebody who is very well liked.  I have seen this happen in churches before.  The pastor usually has to call out these particular people because it is what the Bible commands. Half the congregation feels this is extreme, because after all,  Mr. Division was such a helpful person.  He would see a need and be the first person there to assist (all the while planting heresy in the listener's ear).  Or Ms. Offence was always so efficient (especially at explaining why the pastor was wrong about the resurrection).

      The pastor has to expose this kind of behavior.  Why?  The end of verse 18 explains why, so that these deceivers can not lead hearts away.  The Bible calls them "simple", which I think would mean naive or trusting.  And who would be the most trusting in our congregations?  New converts and children.  I don't care how kind or helpful or efficient somebody is, if they are filling my children's ears with wrong doctrine, I don't want them teaching my children.  I don't want them around my children at all.  I would be justified in that because Paul doesn't only say "mark them", but he also says, "avoid them".  When a Mr. Division or Ms. Offence is asked to leave, he and she will more than likely take some followers with them, which is exactly why they have to be asked to leave in the first place.  If that kind of behavior is allowed to continue in a church, the whole congregation could be destroyed. I have never seen a  pastor enjoy exposing this kind of thing, but he is commanded to do it.  People may leave, but losing a few (although it would be preferable not to lose any) has to be risked than losing the whole church to heresy.  Church members who only saw the smiling, jovial, everybody's friend, Mr. Division or Ms. Offence may have been too wise for these people to expose their true selves.  Or true motives.  And this is the hardest part because it would be easier to believe that they are just deceived as well and they just need to grow more in the Lord.  And that may be true, but when they are trying to win others over to their point of view, especially in an already established church with a clear doctrinal statement, Paul says they are only doing it for one reason.  They are trying to serve their own belly.  Serve their own belly?  I've heard of filling a person's belly?  But I would guess it means about the same.  Serving one's belly would mean to have a full one.  And how would he be full?  When he has enough money to fill it.  So I'm guessing these deceivers have only one thing in mind.  Money.  I would like to assign purer motives to people most of the time, as I've said before, I like to think the best about people, but Paul is clear that these people are not trustworthy, and their motives are impure.
     If a pastor were to avoid pointing out these people because he was afraid of crushing someone's self esteem, he would be just as guilty as the teacher who fails to grade a paper properly.  Someone along the way is going to catch on, and the damage then might be far worse.

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