There’s an idea that Paul’s ending to the Roman epistle is an afterthought.
Many people consider Romans to be Paul’s great theological discourse. There are portions that certainly read that way. But I appreciate the idea that the letter is more pastoral than it is doctrinal. As such, the unity of the Roman congregation wasn’t an afterthought. It was the whole point of writing the letter in the first place.
Read it in that light to gain a different perspective of what Paul says.
So, all that to say, the unity of the church is paramount to Paul.
This is kind of a tricky subject. In Romans 16, Paul says to keep an eye on people who create division in the church. Ultimately, we are to “avoid them.” Exactly what does that mean?
Are we to ignore what they do and what they teach? Do we let them spread their division? Does letting their selfish ambition take root fall on us if we let it go? What about the incident in Galatians 2? This is when Paul says he confronted Peter for his hypocrisy, which could be divisive. Paul stood up to Peter “to his face.”
So, where’s the line between “avoid them” and stand up to their face?
Wherever it is, we’ll most likely find it if we pursue what Paul wanted for the Romans. In Romans 16:19, he said he wanted them “to be wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil.”
I remember I asked a congregation one time if they noticed something I observed. That we want to make sure we teach our children the way of the world. But we don’t put nearly as much effort or attention into teaching them the way of the Lord. We shouldn’t wonder too much, then, where shallow faith comes from.
To be wise in what is good, in part, is to learn God’s goodness. From there, what you learn about God guides how you live your life. Obedience to God’s goodness must guide our learning. It’s this life-long pursuit that will lead us to know when we should avoid those who seek to serve themselves or confront them.
Still, for today, I want to reflect more on what it means and what it looks like to avoid those who seek division. This was a way Paul thought to galvanize the church’s unity.
Confession: I’m more of a rip-the-band-aid-off kind of person. I’d be more prone to address something this important head-on. The unity of the church is at stake! So, someone like me needs to pray extra for godly wisdom and patience.
What about you?