17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.
18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. – Romans 16:17-18
Paul seems to have an additional thought while he is sending his greetings. He calls the believers to “watch out”. He brings up the issue of division. One of the things that should make a Christian Church stand out is the unity among the brethren. Paul spoke about this in detail to the church at Corinth:
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. – 1 Corinthians 1:10
King David mentioned it:
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! – Psalm 133:1
And Jesus prayed for it:
that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. – John 17:21
The thing that will challenge unity is selfishness. People who either want things for themselves or want to promote themselves. Paul warns against people who promote ideas that get in the way of the truth. People often pervert the gospel for their own benefit. Possibly to get people to follow them and their ideas. Church history is full of examples of heresy and cults developing, usually due to one person’s distorted doctrine. We need to watch out for these false teachers. Teachers who flatter and manipulate their audience into believing they are to be followed, they promote themselves and their ideas.
The people who do this are trying to fill the emptiness in their heart but going about it the wrong way. They serve their own appetites. The word used here for appetite in the Greek koilia means hollow, an empty space like a belly or a womb. Without God we are hollow and have a deep yearning to be satisfied. A hunger that can only be satisfied by the word of God. People who try to full that emptiness with pleasure from this world in whatever form (money, power, sex etc) will never be satisfied:
Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. – Philippians 3:19
Jesus is the Bread of Life who satisfies our deepest desire which it to be right with God and have a relationship with Him:
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” – John 6:51
Jesus was honest and spoke the truth. So, He did not try to manipulate people. As the Bread of Life He fed his followers with the word of God. He did not try and get people on His side. In fact His message was that you have to die to yourself, repent of your sins and give up you life to serve Him. He did not flatter people to make them feel good about themselves. In the oldest book in the bible Job warns about flattery.
21 I will not show partiality to any man or use flattery toward any person.
22 For I do not know how to flatter, else my Maker would soon take me away. – Job 32:21-22
God gives us wisdom to cope with the lies and heresies that are proclaimed. God does not want us to have naive hearts. Jesus said to His disciples when He sent them out to preach the gospel:
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. – Matthew 10:16
Jesus knew there would be people out there who wanted to “devour” the disciples. To destroy them like wolves kill sheep. But the Lord wanted the disciples to be filled with the Spirit of wisdom. It is the Spirit of God that will keep us from being deceived and devoured.
He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. -John 14:17 (NLT)
It is the Holy Spirit that will guard our minds. But, we need to watch out.