The Goal of the Gospel

Romans 16:17-27

April 17, 2011 | Brian Bill

I was looking for some examples of false teaching found on the Internet and in other places.  Here’s some of what I found.  See if you can spot the errors.

  • One preacher told his listeners that if they gave to the building fund at his church, they could expect God to give them a house in return.  
  • Some ministers make use of marketing companies to saturate a certain demographic group with requests for money.
  • It’s common to hear preachers promise healing to people if they sow a seed of money into their ministry.
  • A pastor in St. Louis has taken up the life of a Muslim during the 40 days of Lent.
  • One man claims he is a prophet and that God will relay information to him about people in the audience if they give to him.
  • 18 years after the standoff in Waco between the Branch Davidians and the FBI, one survivor, when reflecting on the anniversary of this event coming up on Tuesday, said this on CNN: “David [Koresh] is the messiah, and he’s coming back…Now we just wait for the kingdom.”

I even found some sites that purported to expose false teachers but when I looked at them more closely, they themselves were doctrinally off base.  It’s relatively easy to pick off TV preachers and take shots at those who seem way off but it’s a lot more challenging to keep our church doctrinally pure, isn’t it?

the goal of the gospel is that all nations might believe and obey Him

Let’s look at the closing verses of Romans 16 where we will discover that the goal of the gospel is that all nations might believe and obey Him.

1. Watch out (17-18). 

After going through a long list of warm greetings in the first part of the chapter, Paul now goes into warning mode: “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.  Keep away from them.  For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.  By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”

You can hear the passion and pleading in the phrase, “I urge you…”  It’s like he’s saying, “I beg of you, please.” The words, “watch out” come from the word in which we get “scope” or “scrutinize” as in scoping out those who are up to no good.  It’s the idea of being on constant alert and keeping an eye on those who cause divisions.  A similar warning is found in 2 Thessalonians 3:14: “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him…”  Jesus put it like this in Matthew 7:16: “Watch out for false prophets.  They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”

In our all-inclusive society, we are not accustomed to language like this.  Why is Paul warning Christians to watch out for wolves?

  • Because they are menacing.  The word “obstacle” was used of a trap or a snare.  We’re warned to “keep away,” which is literally translated as “keep on turning away.”  It’s the idea of scoping out that which is destructive and then shunning it.  2 John 11 says, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him.”
  • Because of their motives.  Verse 18 tells us that they are not serving the Savior but instead their own appetites and desires.  Paul puts it graphically in Philippians 3:19: “Their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.  Their mind is on earthly things.”  That reminds me of the ministry that told people to write out their prayers and include a check in their envelopes and mail them in.  When Prime Time Live investigated, thousands of envelopes were found in the dumpster with the checks removed and the prayer requests still tucked inside.
  • Because of their methods.  Notice that they use “smooth talk” that is as sweet as syrup and “flattery,” which is where we get the word “eulogy” to make people think things that aren’t true.  And they target “naïve” or “unsuspecting” people, especially new Christians.  Paul sounds a similar warning in Colossians 2:4: “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.”  2 Peter 2:1 says that false prophets are “among the people” and “they will secretly introduce destructive heresies.”

Ben Patterson, campus pastor of Westmont College, tells the story of a retired pastor who began noticing that his former congregation was sliding away from orthodoxy.  The pastor saw this as his fault and stated, in two sentences, his great failure as a pastor: “I always told people what to believe.  My great mistake is that I never told my people what NOT to believe.”

I think long and hard about whether to mention books or preachers by name who I believe are spreading false doctrine.  When I do so, I don’t do so flippantly or with any known sense of pride, but rather with sadness.  I do it out of concern for the doctrinal purity of this church.  I’m not into book banning and I certainly am not out to attack the integrity of any individual or malign any ministry.  While Paul doesn’t name those who the Romans should watch out for, he does do so in places like 2 Timothy 2:17: “Their teaching will spread like gangrene.  Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus.”  Several years ago I sounded a warning about the book, “The Shack” and I’m now warning you to watch out for Rob Bell’s latest book, “Love Wins.”

I ordered this book for all the pastors to read because of its popularity and its potential to cause confusion and downright doctrinal heresy.  I’ve read this book carefully and was deeply grieved by the misuse of Scripture, including the reinterpretation of the doctrine of hell and his teaching on universalism.  Kevin DeYoung, a pastor in Michigan has written a lengthy review of this book.  Here’s an excerpt that summarizes the danger: “The bad news of our wrath-deserving wretchedness is so absent that the good news of God’s wrath-bearing Substitute cannot sing in our hearts.  When God is shrunk down to fit our cultural constraints, the cross is diminished.  And whenever the cross is diminished we pain the hearts of God’s people and rob them of their joy.  Bad theology hurts real people.” 

2. Wise up (19-20). 

After telling us to watch out, Paul next wants us to wise up.  Check out verses 19-20: “Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.  The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”

There are two things we’re to do and one huge thing that God is going to do.

  • Focus on obedience.  To obey literally means to “hear under.”  It’s the picture of one who both listens and submits.  Here’s a good question to ask on a regular basis: What does God want me to do?
  • Work at being wise.  Not only should we watch out for false teachers, we must also be wise about what we allow into our minds.  Too many of us are inoculated by that which is evil.  We watch it.  We listen to it.  We talk about it.  In short we are experts on this stuff and we make excuses about why we don’t know more about what is good.  Romans 12:9: “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”  Proverbs 14:15 says, “A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.”
  • God will bring final victory.  I got an email from someone this week who told me that knowing “The God of peace will soon crush Satan” under his feet has given great hope to his marriage.  The word “soon” means that God will do this quickly and suddenly.  It looks like we’re on the losing side sometimes, but Satan will eventually be totally crushed.  This promise goes all the way back to Genesis 3:15 when God told the serpent: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”  God will smash Satan’s plans and bless us as we obey His commands.

Notice that we somehow are included in this as Satan will be crushed under “our feet.”  His full and final defeat will happen under our feet, though it is still future.  Hold on to this truth found in Revelation 12:10: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ.  For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.” 

3. Welcome in (21-23).

Paul next names eight Christians who have greatly impacted him, only this time he lists believers who are with him in Corinth and want to give their greetings to the Roman church: “Timothy, my fellow worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my relatives.  I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.  Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings.  Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings.”

  • Timothy.  Paul mentored Timothy and served as a spiritual father to him.  Do you have someone you are mentoring?  Or maybe you need to find someone to serve as your mentor.
  • Lucius, Jason and Sosipater.  These three are referred to as Paul’s relatives.  Paul had a faith connection with his family and was serving together with them.  Parents, let’s keep driving our faith into the home and look for any opportunity possible to serve side-by-side.
  • Tertius.  He was an amanuensis, which is a hard to pronounce word which means simply that he wrote down what Paul dictated.  Again, this shows Paul’s team approach to ministry.  Some believe that because of poor eyesight he needed someone to serve as his stenographer.  Are you helping someone?  Are you asking for help from others?  I’ve been doing more of this lately and I kind of like it.
  • Gaius.  We know that Paul baptized a guy in Corinth with this same name (1 Corinthians 1:14).  He didn’t stop with opening his heart to the Lord in baptism, however.  He also opened his home as a small group leader.  If you’re a born-again believer, have you been baptized?  We’re going to see some take the plunge in just a few minutes.  And, are you opening your home for God’s purposes?  Are you in a small group?  If you’re gifted and qualified, is there something holding you back from serving as a leader?  We have a waiting list of people wanting to join a group but don’t have enough leaders.
  • Erastus.  As Corinth’s director of public works, he had a significant job and used it to leverage the cause of Christ and His Kingdom.
  • Quartus.  This was a common way to name a slave.  Instead of giving them real names, owners would just use numbers: Primus would have been the first; Secondus was the second slave, Tertius the third and Quartus the fourth.  I love how Paul mixed it up with all people, irrespective of social standing, gender or background.  

4. Witness on (24-27). 

We’re to watch out, wise up, and welcome in.  In Paul’s closing comments, he tells us to witness on in verses 25-27: “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him – to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ!  Amen.”

  • God is establishing us.  This means “to be settled in an immovable position” and is what the second half our mission statement is all about as we strive to equip those who are connected to Christ to become growing and faithful followers.  I love the tense of this phrase: “God is continually able to establish us.”  The Phillips Paraphrase puts it this way: “Now to him who is able to set you on your feet.”
  • We must be gospel-centric.  Notice how committed Paul is to the gospel message and its proclamation.  We’re to give out the seed of the gospel and then watch as God makes it grow.  I’m reminded of the words of Jesus in Mark 4:26-27: “This is what the kingdom of God is like.  A man scatters seed on the ground.  Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.  All by itself the soil produces grain — first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.”
  • We must make known what has been revealed.  Just as the mystery of the gospel is now revealed through the living Word and the written Word, we must be committed to making it as plain as possible to those who do not yet understand.  That’s the whole aim of our upcoming Easter outreach service.  We have designed the service with your friend, co-worker and family member in mind who is not yet connected to Christ.
  • We must send out missionaries and live missionally ourselves.  We see once again that the gospel is intended for “all nations” but we must make sure that we are on mission where we live as well.
  • We must call people to believe and obey.  True faith will lead to totally sold out followers.  When we accept we will obey.  When we trust Him, we will do what He tells us to do.  The goal of the gospel is that all nations might believe and obey Him.  
  • Only a wise God could come up with such a plan.  I love the closing benediction to the book: “To the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ!  Amen.”
Spend some time right now and make sure you are believing and obeying

As we contemplate the amazing truths of the Book of Romans and think back to the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem and the people exploded into praise by waving palm branches, our only response should be to surrender to Him.  If you have never submitted to the Savior by confessing your sins and receiving the free gift of eternal life, do so right now.  If you are a believer and you’ve been drifting, it’s time to come back.  Spend some time right now and make sure you are believing and obeying.  There is no other way but to trust and obey.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?