Dealing with Dissension

Grace For The Journey

It has taken several months, but today we will complete our study of the book of Romans.  I have personally enjoyed going through this Book and have found it very beneficial to my own walk with the Lord.  I trust that the same has been true for you.

Let’s examine this last part of the book.  It covers three basic sections . . .  

  • Paul gives final cautions in verse 17-20;
  • He extends greetings from his co-workers in verses 21-24;
  • And he gives a benediction in verses 25-27.

By the time Paul writes this letter to the Romans, it is likely that he had been involved in church ministry and missions for about 20 years.  He had met a lot of people over those years and shared in ministry with many of them.  Yesterday we looked at the greetings that Paul extended to those that he knew from such ministry that had either returned to or moved to Rome.  Quite a few of them were specifically commended for their labors for the kingdom of Christ.  But Paul also knew that there were other types of people that professed to be part of the Church.

In verses 17 and 18 Paul cautions the Romans about those who might be among them that would not be helpful in the cause of Christ.  There would be those who would cause problems.  Some of these people would do this simply because they were immature and ignorant.  Others would cause problems because they were the “tares” Jesus referred to in his parable in Matthew 13.  Jesus said in that parable of the kingdom that the good seeds were the sons of the kingdom sown by the Son of Man, but that the tares were the sons of the evil one which were sown by the devil.  They would be gathered and judged at the end of the age.

While it may seem surprising to some that there would be evil people in the church, those who have been around longer know the sad reality of it.  We are usually not shocked when we find non-Christians that do not like us and cause trouble.  We usually are shocked when people who profess to be Christians and love Christ act in very evil ways and disrupt the fellowship of the church.  Paul had been in ministry long enough to not only know God’s warnings about this, but to experience it himself. 

Here in verses 17 and 18 he cautions the Romans about those who would cause dissension and gives them some brief instructions on how to deal with such people.

Dealing with Dissension – Verses 17-18.

Verses 17-18 state, “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.  For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.”

Paul’s urging here is the same at it was back in 12:1.  This is a serious matter and Paul wanted them to pay attention and heed what he was warning them about and take the appropriate action.  Contrary to the popular idea that love just accepts whatever a person does, Paul’s love for Jesus Christ and for his people compelled him to warn about evil people that would harm them.  They must take certain precautions and then take action lest they suffer the consequences of participating in evil themselves.  In these verses Paul tells them the precautions they need to take, the actions they need to take and the danger such evil people bring.


First Paul tells them to take the precaution of keeping their “eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned.”  The verb translated here as “keep your eye on, mark, take note of,” or “keep a watch on” comes the “scope” as in microscope or telescope.  It means to “observe” or “scrutinize by directing your attention to it.”  Here it is used in a negative sense in carefully watching the behavior and teaching of others in order to protect the church from those who turn out to be evil.  This word can also be used in a good sense such as Philippians 3:17 where Paul tells the brethren there to, “join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.”  In other words, the same kind of scrutiny should be made of those who have a good walk with Christ so that we can follow their example.  We want to learn from and follow the example of those who are living in godliness while at the same time take caution against those who are not.

The ungodliness that marks those Paul wants us to keep our eye on are, “those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching you learned.”  “Dissension” means “division,” disunity” or “contention.”  It is “objective disunity” in the community.  It would seem to have a bit of a “political” sense to it in that it results in party divisions within the church.  People take sides against each other based more on personal affiliations than differing in carefully thought out convictions.  It was a problem in the Corinthian church which had split into factions over personal issues, pride, jealousy, and selfishness.  These were believers who thought themselves to be godly and walking in the spirit, but in reality they were walking in the flesh.  Paul lists this in Galatians 5:29 as one of the evident deeds of the flesh.  Jude 18 and 19 tells the character of these who cause divisions as those who follow “their own ungodly lusts for they are worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.”

Paul also tells us to keep our eyes on those who cause “hindrances.”  This is “skandalon,” which is “the trigger on an animal trap.”  Figuratively, the idea here refers to those things that cause someone to stumble into error or sin or would impede a person in their journey.  Paul is specific here that the divisions and hindrances he is talking about are arising because there are those that are contrary to what Paul and the other apostles have taught.  There are people that make professions of faith in Christ and become part of a church.  They can even exhibit a lot of good qualities and could become part of the church leadership.  But there is a problem within their hearts and minds.  They love themselves more than the Lord Jesus Christ and His people.  They think themselves to be wiser than the word of God.  They pervert Biblical doctrine
and twist the Scriptures to fit their own desires. They end up being contentious to one degree or another and try to persuade people toward their personal view.

This can happen over important Biblical doctrine, in which case the person causing division and hindrances is usually rooted out fairly quickly because the heresy they promote is easier to recognize, expose, and deal with.  But it can also happen over issues of no significance or non-Biblical issues.  Many churches have problems with this.  That does not make it acceptable, but it does show the real danger that Paul was warning about here.

Paul is not saying that all divisions are unnecessary.  Divisions should not be made over personality issues or issues of personal preference, but there are things over which there must be a division made between those seek the Lord’s will and those seeking their own will.  All of us quickly understand the importance of dividing between truth and error.  There needs to be division over heresy.  Division must occur when there are
significant issues of doctrine or purity.  In 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 Paul says, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?  Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?  Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?  For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’  ‘Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you.  And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty.” 

There is to be a clear distinction between those who are following the Lord and those who are not.  This particular section not only touches on doctrinal purity, but also on the common activities of life.  Obviously a Christian and a non-Christian cannot worship God together, because the non-Christian is not worshiping the same God.  The same is also true between Biblical Christianity and many sects, cults, and denominations which deny the Bible as the final authority and the God of the Bible.  They may claim to have the same God, but the reality is that they do not.  A false gospel presents a false Christ and that results in a false salvation.  The truth of Jesus Christ can set you free from sin, but lies leave you under sin’s condemnation.  Paul told the Galatians in 1:8-9, who were being disturbed by some who were distorting the Gospel, “But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” 

Paul tells us here in Romans 16:18 the character of these people and their method of spreading their dissension and hindrances.  They are not slaves of Christ, as every Christian should be (Romans 6:22).  They are slaves of their own appetites.  They want to satisfy themselves.  They want their world to fit their desires instead of God’s, and usually they are self-deceived into thinking that their will and God’s will are the same.

Their manner of operation is to use smooth and flattering speech to sway people to accept their view.  They seem so kind and reasonable and they say the things people want to hear.  Their purpose is to deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.  Proverbs
gives some stern warning about flattery.

  • Proverbs 29:5 says, “A man who flatters his neighbor Is spreading a net for his steps.”
  • Proverbs 26:28 adds, “A lying tongue hates those it crushes, and a flattering mouth works ruin.”

Beware of those who flatter. 

The Bible gives many additional warnings about false teachers.  Peter was very direct in saying in 1 Peter 2:1 there will be “false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies”  Their false teaching is often brought in quietly so that it can spread and begin its destructive work before those who have the responsibility for protecting the flock are even aware of what is happening.  The real tragedy is that there are so many that want to have their ears tickled, so they quickly turn from the truth to a false teacher (2 Timothy 4:3).

In Colossians 2:8 Paul tells the means by which these destructive heresies are often introduced, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”  Too often people pay more attention to these things which are at best the foolishness of the wisdom of men and at worst the doctrine of demons than they do to the Word of God.  Such people disgusted Paul.  In his warning Philippians 3:2, he calls them not only evil workers and the false circumcision,” but also “dogs.

As believers we are in the world, but we are not to be of the world.  We are not to be bound together with those who follow the world’s system.  There is to be a separation from such people.  Please understand that holiness and purity of doctrine are serious matters.  Jesus was a friend to sinners, but He never yoked Himself to them.  We are to be the same.  We reach out to the non-Christian with the hope of the Gospel and demonstrate God’s love to them, but we do not tie ourselves into relationships with them in ways that will end up either swaying us from holiness or make us responsible for their sin.

Psalm 1:1-2 gives us the warning we need, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!  But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.”  You are to be a friend to sinners just as Jesus was (Matthew 11:19), but such sinners are not to be your counselors and confidants.  In other words, you can and should be a friend to the ungodly, but they are not to be your best friend or even a close friend.

There are necessary divisions that must occur between Christians and non-Christians. There is also to be a division between true believers and those who falsely profess such belief.  Those are divisions that a Christian must make, even as we will see in a moment at what Paul says at the end of the verse.

Paul’s first caution here in Romans 16:17 is about those that cause division within the body of Christ because of their quest for self-importance and / or glory.  Paul warned the Ephesians elders in Acts 20:29-30 about “savage wolves” that would speak perverse things seeking to draw away the disciples after themselves.  It is important to note that Paul’s warning is that these wolves would arise from among them.  The danger would come from within those who were part of the church and even from among the leaders of that church.

Sadly, some of us have experienced the ravages of such wolves.  I have seen it personally several times.  Sometimes it does not surprise you because the “wolf” has demonstrated a contentious spirit for some time.  That in itself is the warning that the person is not qualified to be a church leader.  I believe one of the greatest problems in churches today is having unqualified leaders.  1 Timothy 3:3 states that an pastor / overseer must be someone who is gentle and not pugnacious or violent.  They are to be peaceable, not contentious, or quarrelsome.  Titus 1:7-8, adds that the pastor elder must be self-controlled and not self-willed or quick-tempered.  At other times, you think you are all working in harmony together toward the same goal, and then you find out that some of your co-laborers do not really share that goal.  They are actually seeking power and prestige for themselves.  That eventually erupts in division.

Paul’s warning here is to be cautious of those who are contentious and causing hindrances and then deal with them before they cause any serious harm to the rest of the body.  This is not “witch hunting” in trying to find fault, but it is active and careful observation of what people are doing and advocating.  The only legitimate standard for this is the Bible itself.  Legalistic standards that go beyond the principles and precepts of Scripture can create outward conformity, but they cannot create the unity of mind, love, spirit and purpose that Christians are supposed to have with one another (Philippians 2:2).


What should be done when such people are discovered?  Here, Paul says to “turn away from them.”  In Titus 3:10 says to, “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.” This turning away or rejection is an action on the part of the true follower of Christ against the one with the false claim.  This is not done rashly, for as Paul says it is done only after and first and second warning.  While Christians are to be kind and gentle, they are also supposed to be strong and firm toward those who would hurt the flock.

The attitude that Christians should have is expressed well in Galatians 6:1-4, “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.”  We are not to approach people from a position of self-righteousness.  We are to be humble, yet we are to confront.  The major purpose of that confrontation is given to us in Matthew 18:15.  Jesus said, “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.”  The goal is correct and to win the brother back and restore him to fellowship, so the first step is go and reprove him I private.

What happens if he does not respond?  Verse 16 says, “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.”  These witnesses act as a protection by establishing the truth by confirming the facts of what is said and the responses.  It prevents unfounded accusations from going any further.  They also bring additional pressure to bear on
someone who actually is in sin.  

What happens if the one in sin still does not repent?  Verse 17 states, “And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer.”  Here at First Baptist, if such a confrontation needs to take place, if members of the church leadership were not part of the witnesses in step two, they will also deal with the one in sin privately before bringing the matter to the attention of the church.  That is just to make sure that, “those who are spiritua’” (Galatians 6) are involved in the process before it goes public.  The whole church can then pray for the situation and bring additional pressure to bear on the one in sin.  Only after the one in sin still refuses to repent are they disfellowshipped, for their refusal to turn from sin demonstrates that they do not share in the same fellowship that we have with Christ.

Many churches refuse to do this for various reasons.  But the Bible is clear on the matter.  It is also the loving thing to do. The same principle applies here as does in raising our children, “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Proverbs 13:34).  Confronting someone about their sin is the loving thing to do.  To leave them alone and tolerate their sin is hateful.

There are other reasons to carry out church discipline and to reject a factious man.  We have listed the following in our constitution:

  • To teach the individual in sin about God and His commands of how He wants Christians to live (Hebrews 12:5-13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Titus 1:13);
  • To keep the church from sin (1 Corinthians 5:2, 6-7; Galatians 5:7-10; 2 timothy 2:14-18);
  • To identify those who are disobedient (Romans 16:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:14);
  • To remove the unrepentant from the fellowship of the church (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14; Titus 3:10-11);
  • To promote the proper fear of God (Acts 5:13-14).

Everyone in the church has a responsibility to, “keep their eye on those who cause dissension and hindrances,” but the church leadership especially so.  No wonder deacons are required to, “Hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” and pastors are to, :Hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (1 Timothy 3:9; Titus 1:9).

Final Commendation And Caution – Verses 19-20.

Paul gives the Romans a final commendation and caution in verses 19 and 20, “For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil.  And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”  Paul rejoiced over the faithfulness of the Roman believers to follow the Lord, yet even for those who are doing well in their walk with the Lord, there is always room to grow.  Paul wanted them to be, “wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil.”  Wisdom is the ability to apply knowledge to the situations in life. Paul wanted them to be very knowledgeable about what is good and apply that knowledge in how they lived their lives.  He also wanted them to be “innocent in what is evil.”  To be “innocent” is to be without a mixture of evil’ to be free from guile; to be simple.  They were not to have a great knowledge of evil.  We do not learn to recognize evil by studying it, but rather by knowing good so well that can quickly tell when something is not good.  The common
illustration of this is how people are trained to recognize counterfeit money.  They handle real money so much that they can recognize a fake bill by just handling it.

Salutations- Verses 21-24.

In verses 21-24 Paul includes greetings from his various co-workers to the Roman believers, “Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.  I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord.  Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you.  Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, the brother.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”  The comments about each of these people explains the reason for including their greetings.  The only one I want us to pay special notice of is Tertius.  The comment here is actually from Tertius himself who was Paul’s amanuensis or secretary who
did the actual physical writing of the letter while Paul dictated it.  This may have been a common way for Paul to write given the fact that in Galatians 6:11 Paul makes special mention that he wrote that letter with his own hand.

Benediction – Verses 25-27.

Paul concludes the letter with a benediction that reflects his introduction, “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.”

Paul wrote this letter to explain the mystery of the Gospel that God had finally reveled to man through Jesus Christ.  This message had been entrusted to Paul, among many others, to proclaim to all nations.  Paul assures them that this same God would establish them in their faith and lives of godliness through what God had revealed through the Scriptures.  Paul says that the Gospel is a revelation of the “manifold wisdom of God” (Ephesians 3:10) so it is a fitting remark that Paul calls Him here
the “only wise God.  The last phrase is the fitting conclusion to this book.  Glory belongs to God forever, and it comes through Jesus Christ who has brought the reconciliation between God and man to all who believe through the redemption purchased with His own blood.  In this letter Paul has explained how all this has come about and what the ramifications should be in our lives.  The only question left is how we will respond.  Your choice will be made in the decisions you make in the daily activities of life.  Will you give God the glory He deserves through what Jesus Christ has done?  Will you be a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God?  Or will you withhold the glory that belongs to God because you walk in your own wisdom to fulfill your own will instead of His?  The former fulfills the purpose for which God created you. The later results in a vain life of chasing after the wind, void of eternal value.  I pray that you will choose to glorify God.  

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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