by J. Randal Matheny, editor
In our midst, we use the phrase from Romans 16:16, “All the churches of Christ greet you” (NET). It’s a wonderful phrase. In context, however, Paul says much more about the churches of Christ than this single phrase.
Let’s note some characteristics of the churches of Christ at the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans, in chapter 16.
#1. Fellowship. “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you” (16).
Greetings must be wholesome, honest, holy, and not carnal or false. The churches of Christ seek opportunities for contact and fellowship with one another. Almost the entire chapter of Romans 16 is composed of Paul’s greetings to the Roman brethren. The mark of Christians is love for one another. Relationships are genuine, based on the tie that saints have with the holy God.
#2. Discrimination. “Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned. Avoid them!” (17).
Using spiritual criteria, discrimination is good and necessary, in order to preserve the integrity of the churches of Christ. The Bible frequently gives instructions not to permit anyone to ruin the saints’ fellowship based on truth and the teaching of Christ received through his apostles and prophets. Every effort should be made to keep this from happening. Such a concern to know about the experience and practice of others, as Paul showed in Acts 19, is healthy.
#3. Reason. “For these are the kind who do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By their smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of the naive” (18).
Churches of Christ have a reason for what they do, as they follow God’s pattern in their actions. They act by principle, not by (preferences for individual) people. The “for” in the verse above explains why it is necessary to avoid divisive people. Appearances deceive: Though they seem spiritual and speak smoothly, divisive people are dangerous and bring death to those who follow them. Again, the issue is the Lordship of Christ, as the verse shows, which is the center of the gospel message (2 Corinthians 4:5).
#4. Obedience. “Your obedience is known to all and thus I rejoice over you. But I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil” (19).
Differently than the carnal and divisive, churches of Christ obey Jesus. Not everyone is happy with such obedience, but the faithful find their pleasure in those who obey: “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3 ESV). In order to continue obeying the Lord, without being deceived by people who serve their own appetites, discernment is needed.
#5. Victory. “The God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you” (20).
Churches of Christ do not have victory in hand, but it is in sight. The church trusts God to overcome the Evil One, and meanwhile she participates in Christ’s sufferings, announces the message of salvation, and deposits her hopes in his life. All this is possible because his grace is sufficient. The certainty of victory strengthens us in trials. The cause of Christ is not reason for despair, but of deepest trust.
by J. Randal Matheny, editor