Paul is more forceful here in verses 17-20 then he has been so far in his approach to the Romans. Paul briefly suggests three protective measures that need to be taken by a Christian church. First, in verse 17a he says: “watch out for those who cause divisions.” Paul has no sympathy with theological sleepiness. Christians are to make a mental note of those who are off-base. Second: “avoid them” (v. 17b). Heretics are to be spurned. Third: “be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” (v. 19b). This is an echo of Jesus’ saying in Matthew 10:16: “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” This is good advice because our tendency is to be as wise as doves and innocent as serpents.
This no-nonsense advice eloquently demonstrates the second aspect of Paul’s horizontal love: it is protective. The connection is clear: When you really love people as much as Paul loved the Romans, you protect them. This is a great example for all of us. We need to love in such a way that we really put it on the line for others and speak the truth in love. Paul’s heart is a loving, protective, and contagious heart.
I picture the scene in chapter 16 like this: As Paul nears the end of dictating his letter to the Romans, his friends gather around him in the home of his gracious host, Gaius. Tertius is writing down Paul’s words, and Timothy, Jason, Lucius, and Sosipater really get into the long recitation of greetings to real people. Their hearts are warmed, and all three interrupt: “Say hi for.” “Me too!” So Tertius writes verses 21-23. We see here that a heart that is filled with love is by nature contagious.
Though Paul was the supreme intellect of the Early Church, and though Paul had a heart that burned for the glory of God, as few have in the history of the world, he would not have been used like he was if he had not had a heart for people. The truly revolutionary heart is not just a visionary heart with great dreams, but a heart that loves people, a heart that remembers names, a heart with a good word for his brothers and sisters, a protective heart, and finally a contagious heart.
The beautiful Greek and Latin names in Romans 16 were names of real people. Each name had its joys and sorrows, its cares, its hope, its trials. All drank of the common cup of human experience. These were, and are, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Someday we will walk with them in radiant white. One of the primary human reasons this is so is that Paul loved them. May we have such a heart so that future generations may say the same of us!
Romans 16:17-23 Study Questions:
What is the main point Paul wants the church in Rome to understand in verses 17-20?
How can we use Paul’s guidance here to discern “false teaching” in the church today?
Paul sends greetings in verses 21-23 from friends of his to the Roman believers. How might these greetings have affected the Roman church?
What has Christ accomplished through you? How have others encouraged you as you have served the Lord?