Be Wise, Knowing Your Hope in Jesus


Sermon Text: Romans 16:17-27
Sermon Series: “Romans Chapters 9-16”

Main Points:
I. An appeal to watch out for false teachers
II. Smooth talk and flattery vs. the naïve
III. Be wise, knowing your hope in Jesus
IV. You’re not alone in this hope
Conclusion: The doxology of all saints to God

With these words we’ve just read, the Apostle Paul concludes his letter to the church at Rome. From the start of his letter and up to this far, the apostle has focused on revealing the truth of God. He taught us about God’s gracious offer of salvation to sinners. In chs. 1-11, he has taught us ‘what to know’ and in the next four chapters ‘how to live it out.’ Then, in this last section, he closes his letter with his last words for his fellow believers in Rome.

These days, many of us write much less letters, but what would you say at the end of your letter that is for one you dearly love? I believe that all people of all generations would say the same, that is, the most important things to say. Ending a letter would not be as substantial or weighty as the last words at someone’s deathbed, but there’s a similarity. Ending is the most important part of writing a letter.

A missionary who lost her life at her mission field had left a letter to her pastor, and I want you to see what I mean at the end of her letter.
‘Dear Pastor,
You should only be opening this letter in the event of my death. When God calls, there are no regrets. I tried to share my heart with you as much as possible, my heart for the nations. I wasn’t called to a place; I was called to Him. To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, His glory my reward.’

The missionary continued in her letter and wrote a short poem, saying this:
‘The missionary heart:
Cares more than some think is wise,
Risks more than some think is safe,
Dreams more than some think is practical,
Expects more than some think is possible,
I was called not to comfort or to success but to obedience.’

Then, listen to its conclusion:
‘There is no Joy outside of knowing Jesus and serving Him. I love you and my church family.
In His care,
Salaam (Peace), Karen.’

All this missionary has said earlier is summed up in the closing words – that is, ‘There is no joy outside of knowing Jesus and serving Him. I love you and my church family.’ It’s a powerful ending. With this ending, we could sense what had gone through her mind with her call and work for Jesus.

More so is what we hear from this closing section of Romans. Being inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul pours out his heart to his readers – firstly, to those believers in Rome in the 1st century AD and also all others after them up until now, including you and me. A few points he emphasises and let us hear one by one, taking them as urgent and important matters for us and for Christ’s church.

The very first point in his last words for us is a stern warning against certain people. Listen to his words as recorded in v. 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.” He warns us against ‘false teachers,’ telling us that they’re divisive, create troubles, opposing the gospel the apostles have taught. Seeing this listed first, we sense how weighty and urgent this warning is in the heart of the apostle for our benefit.

Some of you might consider this warning not so strange or weird because it’s not so difficult to hear of the existence of deceivers and divisive people in churches. But if you consider the fact that the early church was with the apostles in their midst, something like this could hardly take place. It was a time of powerful preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Lord’s disciples reached various places in the Roman Empire and spread the good news of salvation. The power of Jesus’ gospel was witnessed not only by words preached, but also by miracles and wonders performed by the apostles. Converts were thousands in number and churches were built everywhere. Those who believed in the only Saviour of the world tasted the Spirit’s renewal of mind, soul and life. The Lord’s messages for His church were delivered directly to their ears and hearts by the Lord’s apostles.

In such an environment, false teachers appeared and allured people to false doctrines? In such a time under the power of the word and the Spirit, churches were led astray, abandoning the true doctrine they had learned from their apostles? Would that be possible? I don’t think it would be possible at all. They had the apostles with them, and whenever anyone brought a strange teaching, they could readily inquire its legitimacy, couldn’t they? So, this warning Paul gives to the Roman church is strange to our ears.

Truth is, the weight of this warning is the same for us of the 21st century. Over two millennia since the apostles’ time, the weight of this warning against deceivers has never been weakened. In fact, it seems that our situation is much worse than that of Paul’s contemporaries. They had the apostles, but we don’t; they had quite a number of the first witnesses of Jesus in their midst, but none as such do we have. Unlike their luxury, we have nowhere to inquire other than the Bible. So, many beguilers have come into Christ’s church and divided the flock, laying obstacles that are contrary to the apostolic teaching.

This is, in fact, why the Apostle Paul lists this warning as the first in his last words for the Lord’s dear ones, including you and me. This is the reality of living in this fallen world. Christ’s church is always under attack; deceivers will always creep in and allure people, thus, break the unity and put enmity among Christians. As was in the apostles’ time, it continues now and will be the same until the end of the present age which is the time of our Lord’s glorious return to us.

No wonder why this is the first urge of the apostle for the church. Keeping the faith pure, thus, keeping our unity in Christ is the most important call.

Then, Paul talks about how false teachers divide churches. The means they employ are smooth talk and flattery.

What does he mean by ‘smooth talk’ and ‘flattery’? If anyone talks to you and you immediately figure out that he is a smooth talker, you’re not hearing a smooth talk. If anyone flatters and you realise it as you hear him, that’s not flattery. Smooth talks and flatteries are almost undetectable at the spot, not for a while after that moment either, if you know what I mean. Those who employ these means and divide churches at the end are wolves in sheep’s clothing, not easily identifiable or recognisable.

That’s because anyone who is a smooth talker, anyone who flatters, would not tell you ‘Jesus is not the Saviour.’ Instead, he’d agree and say, ‘Jesus is the only Saviour of the world.’ I mean, he’d never deny anything that is essential to our faith and well-known truth. But he’d carefully question any matter that seems to be less important to the minds of Christians.

For example, a false teacher would never touch verses like Jn. 3:16 or Rom. 1:16-17 and deny their teachings. But he’d begin questioning on verses that draw less attention from people. That is exactly what the serpent did in the Garden of Eden. At the time of the apostles, as another example of flattery and smooth talk, some people came to the early churches like those at Rome and Ephesus, and commended their faith in the Lord Jesus. They said they’d help the people of the early churches grow deeper in the faith, and told them to follow the OT laws and the traditions of the Jews. Their point is in this sense, ‘You believe in the Lord Jesus but you lack one thing, that is, circumcision. Your faith alone is incomplete, but with your circumcision it’ll be complete. Your faith and work will surely guarantee your eternal life. That’s how we’re sincerer in this faith than you are, and firmer in our practices; and we want you to join us, and we’d love to see you become one of us.’ They taught a different gospel, that is, salvation by faith and work, which was a direct contrary to the gospel the apostles preached, that is, salvation by faith alone, sola fide! They were called the Judaisers – in another word, one of the smooth talkers of the 1st century.

We too hear ‘smooth talks’ of the Judaisers in our days. In fact, we’re challenged by numerous flatterers. Some of them talk about the day of worship while another group focuses on the duration of a day in Gen. 1-2. As numerous beguilers are there, a well-known historical smooth talker group is the followers of Arminius who claim the same thing as the Judaisers of Paul’s time, that is, salvation by faith and work.

Then, the apostle points out in v. 18 that these smooth talkers and flatterers deceive ‘the hearts of the naïve.’ He means that the naïve are prone to the deceptions of beguilers. By ‘the naïve,’ Paul does not mean the innocent or pure in heart, but anyone who is not interested in knowing the truth of God and Jesus, who is indifferent to the doctrine taught by the apostles. The naïve are, for example, those who regard the admonition of God’s word light, the weight of church membership insignificant, coming to worship service optional, being accountable to the authority of elders set over the flock of Jesus Christ uncomfortable, and so on. One who is naïve, thus, strayed by any beguiler is not sinless but responsible also. That’s because such a naïve person is indifferent to God’s careful and patient instructions.

The apostle warns us all to not be like that, not to be naïve or ignorant of the teachings of the Bible, but eager to know Jesus and the Father, be hungry and thirsty for the truth of God, grow in every respect in the faith, growing in the whole counsel of God!

This is what the apostle means in v. 19 when he says to us, ‘be wise’! Being wise means knowing and growing and firmly standing on the truth of God as revealed to us through His word. Once you stand firm in the truth, you know how to be innocent to what is evil. Only by hearing and knowing the truth of the Bible do you know what evil is, thus, can you know how to be innocent to what is evil.

But the most important trait of being wise is to know your hope in Jesus. What is your hope and mine in Jesus? Paul points it out in v. 20, “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet [our feet]”! He means, you might be under attacks of the devil in this world, our church might experience troubles caused by various beguilers and impostors, the whole world and Christ’s earthly church seem to be in a great turmoil, but be wise – that is, know your Lord and His saving power and good plan for His beloved as revealed in the Bible – and most of all, believe firmly in this truth, that is, your God and mine will SOON crush Satan under OUR FEET!

Being wise in the Lord is to know all His truths and this hope you and I have in Jesus our Lord and eternal King! So, be brave and firm and persevere! Be constant in prayer and rejoice in hope.

What a joy it is to hear more words from the apostle! Having urged us to be careful and avoid smooth talkers and flatterers, having told us to be wise, not be naïve, he gives us some names such as Timothy, Tertius, Gaius and so on. Some we know but of others we have little knowledge. It might sound an abrupt interruption in the apostle’s last words.

But it carries a true and deep encouragement to us. The message is that we’re not alone in all these. Instead, we have multitudes of fellow members of God’s house on our side. As all of these people named here have gone successfully through their trainings for righteousness, we will also, by God’s grace and power, reach the end of our path. These people like Timothy and Tertius and Gaius and all saints of God in heaven testify to this as true and greet us in the Lord. Their testimony is that we have one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all who is faithful and carries us, His beloved, in His arms. After all, you and I and each of us in this church are to one another firm evidence of this truth. We’re not alone in this hope.

So, it is natural to hear the apostle’s conclusion – that is, a doxology, praise song to God! And I pray that this is yours and mine too to our gracious and mighty Father. In fact, this song of praise is sung by all believers of all times. Our physical ears might not hear it, but our revived and renewed soul can surely hear it. In fact, we’re singing this doxology even now together with all saints of all times.

As the conclusion of today’s sermon and of the entire series on Romans, let me read this doxology to you. As you hear it, please join the great throng of heaven and earth in the Spirit and sing along in your souls. Here it is:
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 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 – to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” ***

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