Romans 16:17-18 (TNIV)
I urge you, brothers and sisters, 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.
With the advent of social media and self-publishing, our world has exploded with tweets and blogs and self-help books that promise wisdom for modern living. The same is no less true in the church. In addition to—or in place of—Sunday morning worship, we can access online sermons, Bible study aids, and Christian commentaries launched by anyone with a computer and an opinion to share. Amazon can quickly deliver to our doorstep spiritual answers to our troubling questions in books written by self-professed experts.
How can we discern what is true and right amid this avalanche of information?
The apostle Paul addresses this same problem for believers in the early Roman church. Just because a pastor is popular and clever-speaking, he says, doesn’t mean he or she is credible. Watch out, or Satan may divide your church and set your feet on a wrong path. Further along in the same passage, Paul warns the believers to “be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil” (v. 19b):
“Be wise about what is good.” Wisdom in spiritual things is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who speaks through Scripture and the human conscience. Filling our minds with the words of God helps us to reflect wisely on the sermons we hear preached, the books we read, and even the advice we receive from friends. If messages are dividing believers from one another, hindering discipleship, or failing to lead people to faith in Jesus, then we know them for deceptions and are instructed to “keep away from them.”
“Be innocent about what is evil.” Paul urges believers to be pure and uncorrupted by evil. Notice he says, “be innocent,” not “be ignorant.” Ignorance of evil makes us naive and easy prey to harmful ideas that sound good. Again, familiarity with God’s word and constant communion with the Spirit help us to be wise. We learn to recognize evil in smooth and flattering talk that may seem wise to the untrained ear.
FATHER, I confess I do not have the wisdom I need to always know the good from the evil. Sometimes I am blinded by a person’s eloquence or fine reputation in the church, so that I do not scrutinize what they say as well as I should. I ask that you nudge me when something I hear or read is not in keeping with your word. Teach me what is right and good so that I may share that truth with others.
John 17:20-21; Ephesians 4:11-13
Through what medium in your life are you least likely to filter information for God’s truth and goodness? What is the danger for you in this practice?