“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” (Romans 16:17–18, KJV 1900)
When I was in business, I knew a salesman who we said could sell refrigerators to Eskimos. He was the epitome of a smooth talker. He just had a way with words and could speak to people in such a way at to get them to buy just about anything. He was a definite asset to the company from this standpoint. However, the same tactics could be very dangerous.
Here, Paul writes some final exhortations to the believers in Rome. When we hear final words in a treatise, these words bring something of great importance to the reader. One of these final exhortations is to watch out for the smooth talkers. The KJV phrase, “good words and fair speeches” is translated in the ESV as “smooth talk and flattery.” The people of whom Paul speaks who cause divisions and lead people contrary to correct biblical teaching through smooth speaking and attractive words. They also come with excessive praise for people.
These false teachers come in and deceive those in the congregation that are susceptible. The KJV states they deceive the “simple,” referring to the unsuspecting or naïve. The deceived may be weak in doctrinal understanding. They may have personality struggles such as being insecure, or having an improper view of themselves and thus looking for praise, the thing to which flattery appeals. They just may be weak in the faith and struggling with the lures of their own fleshly appetites.
We see these types of false teachers in operation today preying on the unsuspecting. They are the wolves in lambskins. They sneak into the flock. I know of preachers who purposely twist some of the moral precepts of God’s word, making things that are forbidden morally acceptable. They often skip these passages of Scripture or explain them away as moral precepts for an ancient and unenlightened culture. Some of these preachers say they will never preach on bad things. They always want to say things that make people feel good. They preach believe in Jesus, but forget about sin, righteousness and judgment. Paul says that these teachers do not serve our Lord, but the god of their own bellies.
Paul writes this warning to the believers so that they will be vigilant, on the lookout for the false teachers. He wants the strong to guard the weak, the naïve, and the new believer who has yet to be fully grounded in doctrine. He desires that the church will be strong and united in sound doctrine.
We need this same exhortation today. The reason is that these same types of preachers and teachers still exist. Church leaders, ground your people in solid doctrine. Watch out for the naïve. Believer, watch out for the smooth and flattering talker. Examine everything you hear according to the word of God. If it doesn’t line up, do as Paul said, avoid such teachers.