JohnSWilson3 Blog

“…I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.”
November 27, 2009, 3:49 pm
Filed under: L Letter to Romans

It has taken me a while to get ready to write this blog on this latter section of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. Having seen conflict in one form or another as well as been in the middle of it I guess there is some pain you have to work through in the process. One thing that comes to mind is wondering whether it was necessary and the other is was it done properly.

Having read Paul’s letters and seen what occurred in the book of Acts Paul was not one to stay away from conflict, in fact he kind of put himself into the middle of it. But Paul couches conflict with this phrase “I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” It seems to me that there is a whole lot that could be said about this one phrase or proverb. And I am sure I will barely put a dent into it’s understanding. I get a sense that Paul had read the gospel according to Matthew which surely had been written by now. Paul would have read in that gospel how Jesus told his disciples “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” But there is also a sense that perhaps Paul also took what James had written as well: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” The conflict that Paul sees in the body of Christ are those from without and those from within. Jesus’ words describe conflict with those who do “not welcome you or listen to your words” and whom we are to “be on our guard against.” James’ words describe conflict with those in the body of Christ.

If anyone has had time to form real authentic relationships with others, or made an attempt to can tell you, there will be conflict. Is this perhaps the reason the church as an institution does more to prevent conflict by making its services as non-participatory as it can and why most people limit their relationships to just a few, if any at all, and those being primarily shallow in nature, and perhaps why social networks online are more palatable than face-to-face relationships? Jesus, James, and Paul sees conflict as necessary. Why did God allow Adam and Eve to choose between the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? So conflict must occur in our relationships within the body of Christ, not that we go out and look for it it, it just naturally occurs as people get to know each other. Growth is based on how we respond to the conflicts. As I’ve heard it said, “God brings sandpaper people into our lives to smooth out our rough edges.”

Looking at this section in the last part of the letter to the Roman Christians Paul says how important it is in conflict to “be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” Perhaps because when we find out each others differences we are tempted to judge one another, or think wrongly of someone and their motives. Jesus, in the His Sermon on the Mount told the disciples “do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Paul had said earlier in his letter similar words which seem to indicate that his section on being a living sacrifice plays an important role in conflicts. As I mentioned in a previous blog on Romans 12 Paul’s initial statement is the defining statement of the Christian life in the body of Christ. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” Paul goes further to describe the importance of not being conformed “to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” It seems that to Paul we are to be so Christ-centered as a body that when conflict occurs we will know God’s will in the midst of that conflict.

Perhaps the reason why conflict doesn’t really go very well in the church is because we are not as Christ-centered as we should be. Being Christ-centered means just that, we are “not to think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” To be Christ-centered infers that we will be focused on loving one another, because it is Jesus body, it is He who is loving us through one another. If we are not loving one another, then we are not loving Jesus! Paul said that “love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” Paul describes this love among the brothers and sisters as a sacrificial love, as love that offers “our bodies as living sacrifices” to one another.

This entire section and the one like it in what he wrote to the Corinthian Christians in his first letter speak volumes about how the body of Christ lives. We are to never “repay evil for evil” but to “be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge…” Isn’t this the first thing we are tempted to do? We get defensive and the conflict gets worse? But God says ” ‘If your enemy is hungry feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” I find it happens all the time in school, there are certain students who always seem to try and “push my button.” Students are not the only ones who do that, adults do it to. How do we respond? One word – “love.”

After having seen conflict in many different forms and instances and how to deal with them in principle Paul tells the church in Rome “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.” Wow. This is the third time Paul says “I urge you, brothers.” The first was in describing the sacrificial life the body is to live among one another, the other was just a moment ago when he asked them to “join me in my struggle by praying to God for me” “by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit.”

Being Christ-centered means an absolute dependence on Jesus and His life in His body! Do we first go to Jesus in our conflict or do we try and figure out how to resolve it on our own, whether for good or ill? If Jesus is Head of the body then He is the One we go to! Especially in the matters of conflict. But Paul’s description of conflict here is of vital importance to the life of the body! Paul’s talking about someone who is causing divisions and putting obstacles in Jesus way of life we were called to live. Paul had dealt with this before in Corinth. in Corinth there were those who were attempting to make themselves head of the body instead of Jesus. In fact it seemed like this happened every where a Christian community was formed due to his preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. Something was behind the divisions and obstacles in keeping Jesus as Head of His body….”The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” Satan wants nothing more than to divide Jesus’ body and put obstacles in the way of the simple and pure devotion to Christ that occurs when believers gather together organically and share His life with one another. Paul says to “keep away from them.” Is it possible that a simple change that prevents Jesus from being Head of His body is really all that important? According to Paul it was! The reason to “be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil” perhaps is because there may be some good things that someone in the body might want to do but does it keep our focus on Jesus, does it focus on being living sacrifices, does it focus on loving one another, or does it bring the focus on someone in the body other than on Jesus? Does it serve ourselves or does it serve the body?

The Roman Christians had some issues that they needed to work on as Paul pointed out early in his letter, and while Paul said “everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you” he wanted them to be careful about how they lived life together. Paul does not want us to be naive, but to have our minds controlled by the Spirit. He said that “those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” We therefore “have an obligation” to live according to the Spirit! “Those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned” we must “keep away from them” because their minds are controlled by the sinful nature and not the Spirit. Be careful of those who use “smooth talk and flattery” in an attempt to boost your ego or self. We are not to focus on our self! Paul said to the churches in Galatia “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Self is to be crucified! Self is to be made a “living sacrifice”! When someone tells me that the great commandment says to “Love your neighbor as yourself” and so we must be able to love ourselves so we can love our neighbor I heartily disagree! I think this is a misinterpretation of the intent of the scripture which was not self love but sacrificial love. Self love causes selfishness and egotism. As James says “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” Paul says to “live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” and “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying one another. Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing’ he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions.” How we need God’s grace in these matters!

Paul had described a list of disciples for the church to greet just before he gave this warning to the church. Perhaps this was meant as a contrast. Those who lived by the Spirit, lived a sacrificial life, who focused on Jesus being the Head of the body, who loved one another deeply from the heart, in contrast to those who lived contrary to this. The list of disciples describes believers who focused on sincere love. How sincere is our love for one another? Are we focused on what we want or the body of Christ? How do we respond to “smooth talk and flattery”? If there are those who do this can we “keep away from them”? We also need to recognize that the life in the body of Christ is a life in process. Some have not fully realized how their lives are in Jesus and so are still in process, like us all, in crucifying the sinful nature. Paul said to the church in Thessalonica in his first letter to “warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone, make sure nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” When we gather together in Jesus name, we may not always say and do things that are helpful to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore when a brother or sister in Christ says or does something not helpful to the body then love must prevail! We will be tempted to not say anything or do anything when we do not warn, encourage, help, and not have patience. “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” Paul in his second letter to this church says “if anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” Again the need “to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.”

Some are a little more ahead of us in the process than others. Advice and counsel is a good thing – seeking Jesus’ will together. Could this be the reason for conflict, to help us grow closer together with Jesus? It is Jesus who established us and enables us to live by His life. How often do we seek His advice in matters of His body? “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.”


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