Divisiveness and evil are always a threat to the local church. The reason can be simply stated: people have problems, even believers. The fact that we live in a corrupt and depraved world means that people become disgruntled, disappointed, unhappy, selfish, sinful, and in some cases evil. Even the strongest believers become contaminated with corruption by having to live in the very air of a sinful world. It is because of this that Paul warns the church and its believers: mark divisive people, for they are a constant threat to the church.
Note: this warning abruptly cuts into Paul’s greeting to the Roman church. Paul is greeting various believers in the church whom he has met on his travels throughout the world. All of a sudden, he interrupts his greeting and issues a severe warning. The abrupt interruption is not an afterthought; it is the final exhortation needed by a strong church—an exhortation against an event that is bound to happen: the seeping in of divisive people.
The most effective way for Satan to get a foothold into a strong church is to quietly and insidiously move a divisive person into some teaching or leadership position where he can influence immature believers. Paul knew this, so he left the warning until the end of his letter. It is a warning that must be heeded by a strong church if it is to keep its witness for the Lord.
There are three reasons why a divisive person must be marked and avoided.
- A divisive person causes division and lays stumbling blocks in the way of growth. Note exactly what is said: a divisive person acts “contrary to the doctrine which [believers] have learned.” He causes “divisions and offenses.”
- A divisive person does not serve Christ, but his own desires. Scripture clearly says that divisive persons do not serve Christ. They call themselves Christians, but their Lord is not Christ. They are not committed to His honour and glory and mission, but to themselves—to getting and doing what they want. The divisive person is still given over to the things of this carnal, sensual, and secular world.
- A divisive person uses talk and flattering words to deceive. He uses smooth, persuasive, and plausible words to lead people to take sides with him. He talks and acts godly, and he shows interest and concern for those whom he wants to convince. But note what Scripture says: the motive of the divisive person is to deceive.
The result of his divisiveness is tragic: he deceives the simple, that is, the unsuspecting, the innocent, the immature, the carnal, the new-born believers.
A strong church, such as the church in Roman was in Paul’s day, must constantly be marking and focusing upon what is good and untainted with evil. If a strong church fails to know and do good, it will be penetrated by evil (divisiveness) and it will become a weak church. Therefore, a strong church must always, with the utmost diligence, be looking for what is good and untainted with evil.
The point is this: a strong church must not only avoid evil (Romans 16:17); it must not allow evil to penetrate its fellowship. It must not allow a divisive person to stir up the “simple” (unsuspecting and innocent) believers of the church. A church must be wise: it must mark and focus upon what is good and untainted with evil. It must be wise enough to spot evil and to stop its penetration into the fellowship.
Note another fact: God is going to bruise Satan under the believers’ feet. It is the feet of the believers that God uses to bruise Satan. When genuine believers of a strong church do what God says, then God will act to deliver His people from evil and divisiveness.