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Obedient To The Faith (16:17-27)

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One of Jesus’ most fervent wishes was that all of His followers would be united. Just a few hours before His crucifixion He prayed. After asking God to protect His disciples He said, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21 NIV)

This desire for unity is something which the disciples took seriously. In his inspired letter to the followers of Christ at Rome, the Apostle Paul instructed them how to get along with one another even when they had differences of opinion in disputable matters. He also emphasized the unity that should be between the followers of Christ everywhere by sending greetings from “All the churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16).

At the end of his letter Paul returns to the theme of unity. In chapter 16, verses 17 through 18 he writes, “Now I beg you, brothers, look out for those who are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and turn away from them. For those who are such don’t serve our Lord, Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by their smooth and flattering speech, they deceive the hearts of the innocent.”

Though Christ desires unity, not everyone does. There are some who actively cause division. They deliberately make it difficult for people to follow the teachings of Christ. Why do they do this? Paul writes that they have their priorities wrong. They serve their own appetites rather than Christ. In spite of wearing Christ’s name, they are not submitted to Him. They have put themselves on the throne which belongs to Christ.

How do these people cause division? They do it with smooth words and flattery. That is, they appeal to people’s pride with false or insincere praise. People use flattery as a means to obtain something they want from others. One of the effects of flattery is that it deceives people with an inflated idea of their own importance. It turns people’s attention to themselves and away from Christ and serving Him. When our minds are filled with our own importance, it is inevitable that we will think less of others. We will put our desires ahead of their’s. The result is conflict and division.

How can we avoid division? Paul writes that we must avoid those who cause it. If it is our aim to serve Christ, then we must reject every influence which would turn us away from Him.

Though Paul issued a warning about those who cause division, he had confidence in the people to whom he wrote. In verses 19 and 20 he says, “For your obedience has become known to all. I rejoice therefore over you. But I desire to have you wise in that which is good, but innocent in that which is evil. And the God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

How can we recognize who the followers of Christ are? It goes without saying that if a person claims to be a follower he must actually follow. It is is not enough to merely wear the name of Christ. Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:14 NIV) In light of this, Paul was filled with joy because the people to whom he was writing in Rome, were known for their obedience. What is our reputation? Are we known as people who not only have the name of Christ but also do what He commands us?

Paul indicates that one of the results of obedience is that it will make us wise about what is good and keep us innocent about evil. We become experts in what we practice. The more we obey and do what Jesus commands, the more we will know what is good. As Paul already said in chapter 12, verse 2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (NIV)

Obedience not only makes us wise about what is good, it keeps us innocent about evil. Paul does not mean that we will not be able to recognize evil, but that we will not participate in it. If we keep ourselves busy doing what Jesus wants, we will not have the time or capacity to practice evil.

There is another benefit of obedience. It destroys Satan. Many people do not understand why sin has such a hold on them. Paul tells us the solution is to obey Christ. We will never be able to free ourselves by our own efforts. But when we obey, God gives us victory over Satan and gives us peace. Paul prays that the people to whom he writes will receive grace. He writes in another place, grace “...teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,” (Titus 2:12 NIV)

Though Paul wrote this letter, he allowed others to add their greetings as well. This is a practical demonstration of the unity Christ desired His followers to have. Verses 21 through 24 say, “TTimothy, my fellow worker, greets you, as do Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my relatives. I, Tertius, who write the letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, my host and host of the whole assembly, greets you. Erastus, the treasurer of the city, greets you, as does Quartus, the brother. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all! Amen.”

Paul closes his letter with these words in verses 25 through 27, “Now to him who is able to establish you according to my Good News and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret through long ages, but now is revealed, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, is made known for obedience of faith to all the nations; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.”

Throughout history man has been searching for the meaning of life. For thousands of years it remained a mystery. But now God has revealed it through the Gospel message which Paul and others preached. What God revealed is that through believing on Christ and obeying Him we can know God’s will and be reconciled to Him. It is only through Christ that we can be established. Do you believe in Him? Have you become one of His followers? Do you obey him?