For an introduction to this series, click here.
Thank you for all your prayers and nice comments this week as my grandma passed away. It has been a tough week but the Lord gives grace. I can tell many of you were praying for me.
There is an interesting story about this chapter. There are many manuscripts - old, hand-written copies (remember that the printing press was not developed in Europe until the 1400s, so hand-copying was the only way to have a book for millennia) - that do not include this chapter. This chapter is almost entirely greetings of different people, and I guess a lot of people did not care to include it. They figured they had the good parts written down, so they didn't need this last part.
But all scripture is profitable, even the parts that seem to be boring. There is one clue in this chapter to a mystery we find in the Gospel of Mark. Mark mentions this very weird detail, among many weird details in his book: "And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross." (Mark 15:21) In the end of Romans we find a possible answer to this: "Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well." (16:13) Those who study these things say that Mark probably wrote his Gospel for the church at Rome. Rufus must have been a leader in the church there, and his father happened to be in Jerusalem at the time Jesus was crucified and carried His cross. Rufus may have also been there. If you have ever heard Ray Boltz's song "Watch the Lamb," that song is kind of based on this story.
Paul does have a little bit of theological wisdom to dispense in this chapter, and it is quite revealing: "I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil." (16:17-19)
I once heard a sermon on that last passage that said we are supposed to be "simple concerning evil." His point was that it is OK not to know what was going on in the world, because we are supposed to be "simple concerning evil" (which is the way the King James translates that last phrase).
If you look at the verse in context, it does not say that we are supposed to be innocent of the evil in the outside world. We are supposed to be innocent from the hateful strife and bad doctrine that comes from those in the church. Now we should not go out of our way, of course, to keep up with the latest fads and know all the latest songs and whatever. But if you’re interested in those things, or say if you are like me and have to write about stuff you don’t always agree with or consider to be right, it’s not a sin. A person who is busy serving the Lord will recognize the evil ideas and mindset of the world. The world always has been and always will be opposed to God and His Church.
But the more insidious evil are those bad influences in the church. This is the evil Paul is warning us about - the evil that creeps in to the church. Satan is surely at work all the time to disrupt the work of God. And yes, he can and does use people in the church, even people who are genuine believers, to cripple a congregation. This is what I am always afraid of being, because I know I like to take on taboos, and I enjoy being an iconoclast. I try to do it in a reverent way and not be critical of individuals, but sometimes I’m sure I take it too far. Please let me know if you think I am. Paul's warning here is quite severe: avoid them, because they are not serving the Lord Jesus, but are deceiving others in the church.
Finally, there is one verse I have always thought was funny: "I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord." (16:22, ESV) Why wouldn't you sign this letter? I know I would, if I had copied out some of the magnificent doctrine that is found in this book. It's kind of like graffitti in the Bible: "Tertius was here." I think that's cool.