In this section of Paul’s final greetings to the Roman congregation, the apostle offers a word of warning just before pronouncing a word of confidence. The warning has to do with folks who by their teaching are putting “obstacles” in the way of the Roman congregation. These people are smooth talkers who seem to be serving Jesus but in actuality are only serving their own appetites. This is a strong word against these would-be teachers, and we should pay attention. I think there is good reason to assume that these folks thought they were sincerely following Jesus in offering their obstacle-filled thoughts on the Christian life. Perhaps Paul is referencing here the disputable matters that came up so much last week. If so, these problem makers have begun to run with certain doctrines while forgetting the law of love. Like the Romans, we need to constantly check that our teaching and beliefs reflect the attitude and will of Jesus regardless of how right we might be. It can be so easy to trick ourselves into thinking we are champions of the faith when we’re really just pursuing our own appetites.
The warning that Paul issues is real, but he doesn’t get hung up on the what-ifs of the situation. Instead, he moves quickly to say:
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. – Romans 16:20
Note the triumph in these words. Yes, the dangers that Christians face are real, but they don’t have the last word. Indeed, the very appetites that have led people astray, which agree with the way of Satan, will soon be smashed by the power of God under Christ’s people’s feet.
This balancing act between caution and confidence is a necessary one in the Christian life. We are cautious because we want to please the Lord. We are confident because we believe in the Lord. Putting these attitudes together makes for a hope-filled and holy life.
May God grant us wisdom for both holiness and hope as we pursue his will.