Rom. 16:17 I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. 18 For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. 19 For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil.
Chrystostom tells us “Division is the subversion of the church. Turning things upside down like this is the devil’s weapon.” (Homilies on Romans 32) This was exactly Paul’s concern for the church in Rome and he wanted them to be aware that there would be those intentionally seeking to create dissension within the life of the church. These are the ones who are constantly bringing things up which may be contrary to sound doctrine and yet, it sounds close enough that there are those who are willing to listen.
While they may sound as if they are actively defending the doctrine of the church, in reality they are serving themselves. They want to get attention and stir things up and for those who are less discerning, they become concerned about the state of affairs in the church. All of this is based in fear and not in reality. Paul wants the believers to be strong in their faith and to do so they need the Lord’s wisdom so that those who create dissension and offenses win the day. Chrysostom continues, “As long as the body is united he has no way of getting in, but harm comes from division.” (Homilies on Romans 32)
Creating division in the church brings great joy to the enemy. Therefore we ought to think about the ways in which we participate in the activities of the church and whether we are bringing joy to our Lord, or to the enemy. Relationships may suffer within the church community when sisters and brothers don’t get along. Sometimes we hide behind matters of doctrine because we don’t want to deal with the real issues that may be bothering us. We allow our own personal needs to rise above the need of the faith community. Paul talked about people who served “their own appetites” or as some translations say, “their own bellies.” It’s as if creating dissension becomes comfort food to some peoples’ souls. But all of this is contrary to the character of Jesus Christ which is to shine through in the lives of his followers.
Remember the wise words of Chrysostom that when there is unity the enemy cannot find a way in to destroy the church. As we reflect the Image — Jesus Christ — in this world, his motives become our motives and his actions our actions. The holy love found in the Trinity is to flow through our lives in such a way that the community of faith is bound together. It’s important, just as Paul tells us, to avoid those who are trying to create dissension. These days they don’t often gather small groups around them or preach, but instead they spread their thoughts from a safe distance in blogs and e-mails and other social media venues. Their ideas can spread like wildfire and capture the hearts of the simple-minded for they know how to manipulate words to create a state of fear. Paul says not to pay attention and to follow the Lord’s leading and live into Christ’s wisdom.
May we seek the face of God and reflect our Lord and Savior daily in our practice and love for one another.
Lord, I seek you this day and want to be a faithful servant within the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
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