"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly; and by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of eh innocent. For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I rejoice therefore over you: but I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple unto that which is evil. And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly (Romans 16:17-20, ASV).
This general statement of the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul lends itself in application to all the Lord's people throughout this last dispensation. It instructs us in our attitudes toward and dealings with false teachers in and out of the church; their motives in teaching error and beguiling people; the results of their false teaching; and the certain judgment and punishment which shall come upon all who pervert the gospel of Christ and "preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which we preached" and "which ye received" (Gal. 1:6-10).
There has never been a time in which God's faithful children have not been plagued with the false in opposition to the truth. Everything our Father ever said and did in our behalf for our salvation has been counterfeited: God by false gods of men's imaginations; Jesus by false Christs; the Holy Spirit by devilish spirits; miracles by pseudo wonders; the church by Catholicism and her children, denominations; the plan of salvation by the faith only theorists and now the "personal righteousness of Christ imputed to sinners" brethren among us; the reign of Jesus in His spiritual kingdom, the church, by a theory of Jesus reigning on earth for 1,000 years; our hope of a heavenly home for all eternity by the materialist's concept of heaven on earth; sprinkling for immersion; mechanical instruments of music for vocal music in worship; associations, cooperatives and human agencies for the local congregations of Christ, etc. On and on we could go with the counterfeits of the genuine as they exist in the world.
If we would remain faithful to Jesus we must patiently endure (Heb. 6:9-15). If we would receive the fulfillment of the promise of eternal life, we must "fight the good fight of faith" (1 John 2:25; 1 Tim. 6:12). We must so grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that we can discern truth from error, true teachers from the false, good from evil (2 Pet. 3:18; Acts 17:11-12; 1 John 4:1-6; Heb. 5:12-14). False teachers, "by their smooth and fair speech beguile the hearts" of the unsuspecting. But we are at fault, if we permit them to do this to us. Paul said, "I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple unto that which is evil" (Rom. 16:19). Each of us still has this personal responsibility to "know the truth," to "hate every false way," and to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints" (John 8:32; Psalms 119:104, 128; Jude 3). The truth of God, the purity of the church in doctrine and practice, the soul of each one of us is worth every effort we must make to "give diligence to present thyself approved unto God," "to give heed to reading, to exhortation, to teaching," and to "take heed to thyself, and to thy teaching. Continue in these things; for in doing this thou shalt save both thyself and them that hear thee" (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Tim. 4:13, 16).
The Commands To "Mark" and "Turn Away"
The apostle commanded our brethren in Rome, and us, to "mark" those false teachers who cause divisions and occasions of stumbling and "turn away" ("avoid" KJV) from them (Rom. 16:17). Our word "mark" is from the Greek word skopos, meaning "a mark on which to fix the eye, to look at;" "to observe attentively and diligently, as they do who are placed in a watch-tower to observe the motions of their enemies" (W.E. Vine, James MacKnight). The words "turn away" or "avoid" are from the Greek word ekkline, meaning "to turn away from, to turn aside, lit. to bend out" (W.E. Vine).
It is scriptural that we reason together (Isa. 1:18; Acts 17:17) dispute (Acts 9:29; 19:8-9), and debate our cause with our neighbor (Prov. 25:9). We must preach the truth and expose false teachers and their false doctrines. When their errors persist, and with divisions and occasions of stumbling resulting or about to result, then false teachers are to be marked. Jesus told His apostles to "let them alone: they are blind guides," speaking of the Pharisees, and condemned them (Matt. 15:14; 23:1-39). Peter marked sinners and false teachers (Acts 2:22; 4:8; 2 Pet. 2:1-22). Paul marked false teachers (Acts 13:8-11). He did not give place to such ones, no, not for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue among the brethren (Gal. 2:4-5). Regarding two false teachers, Hymenaeus and Philetus, who were saying that the resurrection is already past and were overthrowing the faith of some, Paul said their word "will eat as doth a gangrene" and so marked them (2 Tiim. 2:16-18). He marked Alexander the coppersmith, Demas, and Hymenaeus and Alexander (2 Tim. 4:14, 10; 1 Tim. 1:19-20). Such marked ones are to be avoided. Their cancerous doctrines are to be excised.
I submit to our readers that to speak and write the truth, to expose errors of men, and to expose men who teach falsehoods to the damnation of souls, is the doctrine of the New Testament and the practice of our Lord Jesus and the inspired apostles. If this is not so and is not approved of God and is not "the spirit of Christ," then I have missed the tone, tenor and teaching of the scriptures. If it was God's will then that false teachers be so dealt with, it is His will now. If Paul's commands to the Romans were applicable then, so are they now. When we have better (?) manners and methods than our Lord and His chosen apostles, and conceive it improper to publicly rebuke and mark false teachers, then we have gone far down the road to becoming just another sectarian, denominational, compromising, stand-for-nothing body of people.
The Motives And Results Of False Teachers
"For they that are such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly; and by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent" (Rom. 16:18). James MacKnight comments, "The words signify one who promises much, but performs nothing; one who professes to regard the interest of the person to whom he speaks, much more than his own; in short one who fawns and flatters, without possessing any real benevolence . . . . the false teachers, to gain the effection of their disciples, prayed with great seeming earnestness for all manner of blessings to them . . . . Persons entirely free from guilde; persons upright and unsuspicious, but who have not prudence sufficient to enable them to discern and avoid the snares which the wicked lay in their way," are, therefore, deceived by false teachers who set out to beguile the unsuspecting.
No false teachers ever sails under his true colors. Not a one has ever publicly and boldly announced, "I am a false teacher." They all do as Jude said they do, they "crept in privily" or unawares (Jude 4). They almost invariably make pretensions to greater love, sincerity and piety; to greater understanding, patience and spirituality; to new insights, concepts and applications of God's truth never understood before by faithful brethren; and generally there are subtle appeals to human wisdom and preferences, to what is popular among the worldly and sectarianminded (Isa. 5:2;-21). False teachers always try to convey that they are "the good guys," the pious, the kind and sweet-spirited, and that, if we dare to oppose and expose them, then we are "the bad guys" and are lacking in the spirit of Christ and the milk of human-kindness. Poor opposer of error and defender of the faith! He is almost always looked upon as "he that troubleth Israel," as was Elijah (1 Kings 18:17).
False teachers use and manipulate unsuspecting people for their wicked purposes. In covetousness they with feigned words make merchandise of people (2 Pet. 2:3). They speak perverse things to draw away disciples after themselves (Acts 20:3;). They create parties and sects or perdition (Gal. 5:20-21; 2 Pet. 2:1). They make their devouted, deluded followers to be two-fold more the children of hell than themselves (Matt. 23:15). It is still soul-daming to love not the truth enough to study it, believe it, obey it, and then stand for it against all errors and teachers of the same (2 Thess. 2:10-12). People can believe the claims of the Roman Church and their Popes because they love not the truth (2 Thess. 2:1-12). Some brethren, at present as well as in the past, due to this same lack of love for God's truth, have followed the errors of men (errors such as human societies subsidized by the Lord's churches, instrumental music in worship, premillennialism, and of late the "imputed righteousness" theories of Ketcherside-Garrett-Fudge-EdwardsKilpatrick-Hardin-Trotter, etc.).
Each of us is still responsible to God to work out our own salvation by God's will in fear and in trembling (Phil. 2:12). Do not be beguiled, brethren, by the good words and fair speeches of brethren among us today who tell you that God overlooks sins of ignorance; that one sin will not condemn us; that we cannot say that those who are baptized into denominationalism are wrong; that we cannot say that instrumental music in worship or human institutions to do the work of the church are sinful; that the premillennial theory is an opinion and we cannot condemn as false teachers those who teach it; that good baptized people in denominations are our brethren, if not in fact, then in prospect; and that the perfect life and righteousness of Jesus is imputed to you and me. Many are being led astray by these subtle errors taught by the men mentioned above, as well as by others. Divisions and occasions of stumbling are being caused. Factions are being formed. You could well become a victim of these or other errors unless you are willing to study, read, listen, learn, compare, and obey only what is in the word of God, without addition or subtraction.
Certain Judgment and Punishment
"And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly" (Rom. 16:20). Probably the special reference is to the Judaizing teachers who instigated divisions among brethren in Rome as they did in every place. When Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple razed, the Levitical priesthood and worship dissolved, the law of Moses ended once for all, the Jews no longer being a peculiar nation and being sold into foreign countries as slaves, then God truly bruised Satan under the feet of Christians. After the fall of Jerusalem, no longer could the Judaizers effectively persecute Christians, nor could they make any successful claim that the law of Moses had any universal or perpetual application to mankind.
As God judged and punished those false teachers, in time and will do for all eternity, so all false teachers suffer a similar fate. In this life, by the truth of God, they are exposed as teachers of falsehoods (Matt. 7:15-23; 1 Tim. 4:1-3; Isa. 28:14-20). Paul said, "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for even Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light. It is no great thing therefore if his ministers also fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works" (2 Cor. 11:13-15).
God will give us the victory over error. "But thanks be unto God, who always leadeth us in triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest through us the savor of his knowledge in every place" (2 Cor. 2:14). But we can only gain the victory and experience the joy of triumph if we are willing to fight the Lord's battles of truth against error (Eph. 6:1020). We cannot win a battle unless we fight. We must open our mouths with boldness to make known the gospel of Christ (Eph. 6:19). In this manner the God of peace, through spiritual warfare, will bring triumph to His church and victory to every soldier of Christ (2 Tim. 2:1-13; 2 Cor. 10:3-6).
Brethren, we cannot wish, pray and love error and false teachers from our midst. It and they must be opposed, exposed, marked and avoided. This is the way we avoid divisions and offences in the cause of Christ. Error causes divisions and parties; truth inoculates against them and heals them.
Let us obey the divine injunctions of Romans 16:17-20. We must strive to obey every word of God from our hearts. It is God's will that we mark and turn away from false teachers, within and without the church. Truth must reign supreme in our hearts and we must obey it. The church is preserved, divisions avoided, Satan bruised, and the God of truth and glory magnified when we thus submit to Him.