Wise to Good, Innocent to Evil (Romans 16:17-27)

Scripture Text: Romans 16:17-27

Wise to Good, Innocent to Evil (MP3)

Wise to Good, Innocent to Evil (Sermon Text)


We have covered a lot of ground in Paul’s letter to the Romans. I called our trek through this letter the Romans Road to Riches, and we have certainly uncovered a wealth of God’s rich truth. We discovered the power of salvation for everyone, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ. We read that everyone has sinned and fallen short of what God desired for us, and the penalty for our sin is death. We read that though we deserve death, God was gracious and demonstrated His love for us by giving us His Son, Jesus Christ, to save us from our sin. We read the wonderful promise for those who follow Jesus Christ, that there is no condemnation and there is absolutely nothing in this world, good or bad, that compares to what God has prepared for us. We know the gospel of Jesus Christ is for all who will receive Him, and that the Church ought to be working together to share this good news with the world. Now, at the end of the letter to the Romans, we read some final words that warn us of evil, exhort us to action, and motivate us to praise. Let us look at this final section of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Avoid Troublemakers

Paul began this final section of the letter by warning us about troublemakers. There could have been a sermon on just the first two verses of this passage. There is so much here the church needs to know. No doubt all of us have dealt with troublemakers in our lives. Some of us have been troublemakers, causing problems in other people’s lives. Troublemakers are, unfortunately, a part of life. We are going to face them. The question is, what should we do when we encounter them? I admit I have not aways done a good job of recognizing troublemakers and dealing with them. I have let them, well, make trouble for me and for others, when I could have done something more productive about it. What does Paul say about this issue? Look at verses seventeen and eighteen.

Romans 16:17–18 17 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. 18 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.

There will always be opposition to Jesus Christ and His work. Perhaps, we need to first understand what troublemakers do in the church. What kind of problems do they cause? Paul wrote here that they cause divisions in the church. They split up the unity of the Body of Christ. They also create obstacles to the faith and hinder people from hearing about Jesus or growing in faith. Troublemakers teach things that are contrary to the gospel and lead people away from Christ. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote that troublemakers promote speculations, divisions, and controversy rather than truth, stewardship, and godliness (1 Timothy 1:3-4, 6:3-5). In his letter to Titus, Paul said there were some, mostly Jewish Christians, who were “upsetting whole families” by teaching false things for greed (Titus 1:10-11). He told Titus that these people must be silenced.

This false teaching is most obvious when people say things that are blatantly false. For instance, if someone says Jesus is not the only way to salvation, or you can save yourself if you just work hard enough, or you are not really a bad person, that person is lying to you. That is a false gospel that leads people away from God, and it needs to be rebuked. But, creating hinderances to the faith can happen in not so obvious ways, too. It can happen by focusing on things that do not really matter. The more the church focuses on material issues at the expense of eternal issues, the more she becomes an obstacle to the faith. We put a black eye on the face of Jesus Christ when we are too busy focusing on what we have rather than telling others Who they could have.

Paul also wrote that troublemakers do not serve our Lord, but rather themselves. They want to do what brings them satisfaction or makes them look good. If you do not serve Christ, then you serve yourself, and ultimately, you serve Satan. One other thing Paul said about these people is that they deceive people who do not know to reject such things. They do this by smooth talk and flattery. I think of politicians who will say what you want to hear in order to get your vote. They use words that sound good but are really a lie. There are politicians in the church. What they say may sound good, but it deceives people. Jesus warned us to beware of false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing but who are really ravenous wolves (Matthew 7:15). Ravenous wolves are vicious and destructive. That is exactly how troublemakers are. They can tear apart the fellowship of God’s people, if we let them. They can put a stain on the image of Christ. They can tarnish the witness of the church and make her ineffective for the gospel.

So, what should the church do about these people? Paul urged the church to do two things with people like this — watch out for them, and avoid them. We are to pay careful attention to those who might cause problems for the church. We are to be on the lookout for such people. We have to watch out for them because they will lead us astray and they will lead the church astray. Thus, Paul told the church to avoid these people. Basically, he said we should have nothing to do with them. Paul used the same word in chapter three of this letter to describe the way we are with sin. Look at the following.

Romans 3:12 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.

We have all avoided doing good and we have all avoided God. Now that we know Christ and are following Him, we need to turn away, avoid, what is evil. Christians must be alert, for these false teachers and divisive people may lure us with pleasing words, that are motivated by selfish desires. We have to avoid what and who will lead us astray. We need to have nothing to do with them. The best way to avoid this is to know what God has said. If what someone says is contrary to scripture, then it is a lie. Turn from it.

You are most likely thinking of someone else. You may be thinking about someone or some people who have caused trouble for you or for the church. Have you stopped to consider whether you have been a troublemaker in the church? Have you, either by what you have said or what you have done, created problems in the church? Have you caused disunity among God’s people? If we are doing things to break up the fellowship of the church, then we are not showing Jesus Christ to the world. How will the world see Christ when His own people are too busy causing problems for themselves? Let us be a people who follow our Savior and be the church He desires us to be. We must be wise to the works of Satan for he desires to tear us apart, which leads me to the next point.

Be Wise and Be Innocent

Therefore, since there are people, even in the church, who cause trouble for the church, Paul exhorted the church in Rome to be wise and innocent. But first, Paul mentioned the Roman church’s obedience and faithfulness. Look at the following verses.

Romans 16:19–20 19 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. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Paul wrote that the obedience of the church in Rome was known to all. This is the obedience of faith that leads to life (Romans 1:5, 6:16). This is the obedience Paul desired to see in the Gentiles to whom he preached (Romans 15:18). This is the obedience we ought to have to God’s will for our lives. Apparently, the church in Rome had faithfully obeyed God’s will, at least on some issues, and that had made them famous. Would it not be great to be known as a church that is faithful to God and His Word? Better to obey God than to obey man (Acts 5:29). Paul mentioned the Roman church’s famous obedience to the faith in the very first chapter of the letter where he thanked God for them because their “faith is proclaimed in all the world” (Romans 1:8). Even with all the issues that Paul had heard about in the church in Rome, they were still famous for their faith. It is a good thing when the church is faithful and obeys God.

For their faithfulness, Paul rejoiced. He was pleased with their faithfulness. They were the kind of church Jesus would be proud to have. They were the kind of church Paul was proud to know. Are we that kind of church? What do people know about us? What reputation do we have? Paul wanted the church to continue in their faithfulness. He wanted them to continue with their good reputation and to be known throughout the world as the kind of church all churches should be. Therefore, Paul encouraged the church to do two things in these verses. He wanted them to be wise to do what is good. At the same time, the church needed to be diligent to avoid false doctrine and division. Jesus said something similar to His disciples. Look at the following.

Matthew 10:16 16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

I think we need to remember that Jesus spoke those words in the context of enduring persecution. When we face opposition, those who oppose our faith, and sometimes violently so, we have to be wise in dealing with that opposition. At the same time, we have to be innocent, or pure, of any hint of evil. That may have been the intent of Paul writing the church “to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.” In the midst of enduring hardship, ridicule, attacks from the world, it is important for the Church to maintain a consistent witness of Jesus Christ. The Church is to have an uncompromising holiness. When trouble occurs, even from within, God’s people have to make sure that they are bearing the image of Christ and not the image of the world. How we deal with trouble says a lot about what we believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul then assured the church that no matter what they endure, no matter what trouble comes their way, God would soon crush Satan — the great enemy of God, the source of all evil, and the accuser of the saints. This should encourage us that though we go through various difficult times, God, like a divine warrior, will bring about a final resolution to evil. It may not happen when we want, it may not happen as soon as we would like, but God has promised to do it, and to do it soon. He will finally crush Satan and bring about an everlasting peace. Paul was likely alluding to Genesis 3:15, when God promised Adam and Eve that He would crush the head of the serpent — Satan. We are promised trouble in this life, but we are also promised a final end to all trouble. Those who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will enjoy an everlasting peace.

Praise God for Everything

The last few verses of the letter, as with many of the letters in the New Testament, is a song of praise to God. Paul had written a lot of things to the church in Rome. He reminded them of the gospel. He encouraged them to be one, unified church. He exhorted them to continue the work of God and rejoiced in their faithfulness. He then brought the letter to a close by praising God, but first, he “greeted” a few more people.

Romans 16:21–23 21 Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen. 22 I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord. 23 Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.

Paul acknowledged more people who worked alongside him in the ministry. He did not work alone, just as we do not work alone. This reminds us that the church needs all of its members working together to do the work of the Lord. Timothy was probably Paul’s most famous coworker and may have been his most beloved colleague in ministry. One thing to notice is that someone named Tertius actually wrote the letter on behalf of Paul. He functioned like Paul’s scribe or secretary for the letter and was probably known by the recipients of the letter. It was common for those writing letters in the first century to dictate to someone else, but the content of the letter is still Paul’s. After these final greetings, Paul then closed the letter with a wonderful doxology — a song of praise.

Romans 16:25–27 25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Paul mentioned that God is able to strengthen us. God wants to strengthen us. When you are weak or feel defeated, turn to God who has an inexhaustible supply of strength. We need His strength. Paul wrote something curious here, though. He wrote, “according to my gospel.” That may sound strange, but Paul did not mean to suggest that the gospel was his. He did not invent the “good news”. Paul’s gospel was his faithful preaching and teaching of what he had learned from God that centered on Jesus Christ. This gospel was a mystery that had been kept secret but had now been revealed. The prophetic writings Paul mentioned are the Old Testament scriptures. The gospel is not only a mystery that has been revealed, but also a prophecy that has been fulfilled. As some have said, the Old Testament is Jesus Christ concealed, while the New Testament is Jesus Christ revealed. What was prophesied before and written in the Old Testament, has been revealed and fulfilled in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Praise God!

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only news which is truly good and the basis for the strength we receive from God. As Paul mentioned in his doxology, it is God’s will that this gospel go to all nations, so that people will hear it, respond to it, and be saved. God has commanded His people, the church, to carry this good news to everyone in the world so that people will know the hope that is in Jesus Christ. Paul then comes to the main point of the doxology. The God who has planned salvation in this way is all wise, and he deserves glory forevermore. All that Paul had written comes to this final point — glory and honor to God forever! Romans could not end in a more fitting way, as God’s glory should be the theme of our lives and the joy of our hearts. Because all things come from God and all things are for God, we ought to praise God. We exist to serve, worship, and praise Him.


In closing, Paul has warned us of evil, exhorted us to action, and motivated us to praise God in all things. Let us recognize those who cause trouble for the church and avoid such obstacles and hinderances to our faith and the work of Christ. Let us run with endurance the race that Christ has given us, knowing what is good and doing it, and resisting what is evil. Let us lean upon Jesus Christ for strength in times of trouble, praising Him in all circumstances for He deserves it. Lastly, let us remember the reason for this letter as we go forth as followers of Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:16 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Do not be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ for it is the power of salvation for everyone. Stay true to the gospel. Stay true to Jesus Christ. Amen!

This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.

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