17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.” (Romans 16:17–18, NKJV)
The word “doctrine” in verse 17 is translated from a Greek word that means instruction or teaching. If doctrine is not important to one’s relationship with Jesus (as many avow), then why did the apostle say to “note” and “avoid” those whose doctrine causes divisions and offenses? If doctrine is not essential to being united in Christ (which many affirm), then why does teaching contrary to what had been learned (from the apostles) cause division (Gal. 1:6-9)? The answer is that doctrine does matter. False doctrine causes division. False teaching divides people from God and from each other. The apostle Paul lays bare the heart of the false teacher in verse 18. His (or her) motive is to serve and satisfy self, not the Lord Jesus Christ. Such a motive is hidden by “smooth words and flattering speech” that deceive the naïve (simple). But, their doctrine conflicts with revealed truth. We must test every message we are taught against the Scriptures to see if it is from God (1 John 4:1, 6). This will protect us against the deception of error. We must trust the word of God more than the word of any human.