Once you’ve worked hard to renew your mind, God wants you to keep it renewed. And one of the best ways to keep it renewed is to be careful of the company you keep.
Believe it or not, there are people out there who don’t have your best interests in mind. They’ll use smooth talk and flattery to try to lead you astray from the teaching you’ve learned-teaching that has helped you in many ways in your life.
In the final chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul warns about such people. Paul says:
“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. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:17-19).
If you look at this paragraph closely, you’ll find some secrets for how to detect when people are trying to lead you astray for the wrong reason.
First, Paul urged the Romans “to watch out for those who those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.”
God had taken a great deal of time to teach the Christians in Rome good solid truths about Himself and the Bible, and Paul wanted them to hold onto those truths. In the same way, God may have taken a great deal of time to teach you some good solid truths about Himself and the Bible, and God wants you to hold onto those truths, too.
If someone comes along and tries to teach you about a “new” truth, or “higher” way of looking at God and the Bible, be wise about how you listen to them. Take what they say back to God and the Bible to see what He says about it in His Word. While there’s value in keeping an “open mind,” you don’t want keep it so open that all the good teaching you’ve already learned falls out!
Be a good student of the Bible, like the people in the city of Berea, who took even what Paul said and examined it carefully according to what they had already learned. The Bible says:
“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).
Second, Paul gave the Romans some simple advice about what to do when they came across people who were teaching them things that were contrary to what they had learned: “Keep away from them.”
Why? Because the company you keep matters. If you don’t choose your friends wisely, Satan will be glad to choose some for you. Satan knows that one of the best ways to lead you astray is to put people in your life who will pull you over to his side.
Paul gave a similar warning in his letter to the Corinthians when he said:
“Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33b).
How can you know who’s “bad company”? By studying not just what they’re teaching, but by studying their character as well. Paul alludes to this when he talked about the motives of those who might try to lead the Romans astray. Paul said: “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.”
Although it’s not always apparent right away, a little study can go a long way in determining someone’s true motives, whether they’re doing what they’re doing to serve the Lord Christ, or to serve their own appetites.
It makes me think of a girl who falls in love with a boy just because he tells her, “You’re beautiful. I love you. And I want to do something special to make you happy.” All his smooth talk and flattery may work in his favor, but it may not work in hers. If the girl were wise, she would study not only the words that were being spoken, but the motives of the person who is speaking those words.
If we’re wise, we’ll do the same: anytime someone tries to speak something into our lives that runs contrary to what we’ve already learned, we need to study not only the words that are being spoken, but the motives of the person who is speaking those words.
I think it’s interesting to note that leading up to this warning about “bad characters,” Paul begins the chapter by listing some good ones, people that Paul knew personally in Rome, and what made them noteworthy or admirable. For instance, he said:
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe… for she has been a great help to many people, including me.
“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them…
“Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.
“Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you” (Romans 16:1a,2b,5b,6).
The list goes on and on, as Paul commends to them person after person:
“Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
“Greet Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord.
“Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.
“Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ…
“Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord…
“Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too” (Romans 16:7-10a,12a,13).
If you want to learn something about a person, a personal recommendation like this goes a long way.
In choosing a doctor one time, Lana and I talked with a friend who worked for a doctor. Our friend told us that when the doctor she worked for needed a doctor, he chose a particular man in town, having seen his practice long enough and knowing his character was strong enough that he trusted this other doctor with his own life. Now that was a recommendation that was worth following.
Contrast this with another doctor we went to visit who, with his smooth talk and flattery, almost convinced us to come to him. But when we went home and looked into his life and practice a little more, we found out that his credentials weren’t quite as good as what he made us believe and that the number of complaints against him by others convinced us to go elsewhere.
This isn’t to say that we might not be led astray at times by a personal recommendation, too, but many times, if we’ll take the extra effort to study the person as well as what they’re trying to teach us, we can save ourselves from being led astray.
Third, Paul concludes his warning with these words: “Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.”
Paul was full of joy over the obedience of the Romans. Everyone had heard about it, he said, and he didn’t want anyone to take that away from them. “Be wise about what is good,” he said, “and innocent about what is evil.”
Again, these are similar to words he wrote in his letter to the Corinthians:
“In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults” (1 Corinthians 14:20b).
Paul wanted the Romans, and the Corinthians, to put their minds to work, being wise about what was good. At the same time, he wanted them to be like children in regards to evil, having nothing to do with it, and being as innocent as possible.
What’s the end result of all of this? As Paul said at the end of his warning: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”
With all the work that goes into renewing your mind, be sure to keep it renewed by being wise about what is good, and innocent of evil. Study the teaching of those around you-and the character of those teaching it-before allowing their teachings into your mind. As you protect your mind, God will protect you, and keep Satan at bay.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for reminding us to stay true to what we’ve been taught about You and Your Word. Help us to study deeply any ideas, and the people behind those ideas, that are presented to us that conflict with what we’ve already heard from You. Help us be wise and innocent so we can keep our minds pure. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
P.S. Last week, I mentioned the importance of enlisting others in praying for you. I wanted to remind you again this week that if you don’t have someone to pray with you, or if you’d just like to get some additional prayers from believers who love to pray, we have a special prayer page set up on our website where you can post your prayer. Although we’re not able to respond in person to all of the prayer requests that come in, we do have about 275 volunteers who have signed up to receive these prayer requests each day and who are glad to pray for you and your needs. To post a prayer request, or to read the requests of others and pray for them, too, please visit:
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 16:1-20. What are some of the words that Paul uses to describe those whom he trusts in Rome, compared to the words he uses to describe those who might be trying to deceive their minds?
2. Can you think of some times when you’ve been led astray by smooth talkers who’ve been serving their own selfish interests?
3. Can you think of other times when you’ve been blessed by the wisdom and personal recommendations of true friends?
4. What are some ways this week that you can “be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil”?