“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” (Romans 16:17-19 NIV)
Sometimes being a Christian can be a minefield. The reason is simple as well as sad: we deal with people and are influenced by people. It is sad because there are people who aren’t interested in building up and encouraging others but want people to listen to and follow them.
It seems that some aren’t happy with the simple message we find in the pages of scripture. They may think what the apostles and prophets recorded for us is antiquated because it doesn’t reflect what society around us is promoting, especially what we see on television and social media. They want a new message which is more palatable to their ears because it better aligns with the world’s agenda. At times these ‘new teachings’ can seem attractive: what if by changing this or not emphasising that it would attract more people to consider attending worship with us?
This is not a new problem as Paul wrote about this almost 2,000 years ago. Even in the decades following Pentecost there were people teaching ideas that were against what the apostles had taught. Changing the simple message we find in the New Testament scriptures doesn’t make it easier for people to follow Jesus but leads them away from him. Anything we change to try to ‘improve’ what the Spirit revealed through the writers really has nothing to do with Jesus. As Paul put it, “such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites”. They are self-promoters.
It is easy to get caught up in a new teaching especially if we don’t know God’s word or don’t like some of the parts that we know. Generally new teaching is said to be ‘more loving’ – after all, who wouldn’t want to be more loving? This smooth talk – and sometimes flattering speech – deceives the naive, those who don’t know better.
What is the solution so we won’t be “tossed to and fro by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming,” as Paul put it to the Christians in Ephesus (Ephesians 4:14)? How can we be “wise about was is good, and innocent about what is evil”?
The answer would seem to be obvious: we need to be able to distinguish between good and evil. How can we do this? Again, this should be obvious to Christians: we need to know God’s word.
Knowing God’s word should not be a daunting task. It requires us to spend some time each day becoming acquainted with the Bible by reading and studying it. That is why we provide at least five chapters a week at the end of each article to systematically read through the Old and New Testaments. We need to not only read God’s word but re-read it so that we can learn the truths we find and make them part of our lives. Attending Bible classes at your local congregation will also help us better understand what we are reading.
“Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever! Amen.” (2 Peter 3:17-18)
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Readings for next week: Romans 14-16; Ephesians 1-5