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).
Unfortunately, a significant number of Christians do not like this passage. It seems “too unloving,” “too harsh” to them. Yet, it is exactly the action the Holy Spirit directed us to take when a person is causing “divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine” taught by Christ’s apostles (2 John 9). Failure to do so enables this person to continue deceiving hearts and overthrowing faith (v. 18; 2 Tim. 2:16-18). False teaching and immorality cause divisions and stumbling blocks. Without repentance, spiritual turmoil results. Often, this disruption begins surreptitiously before coming out into the open (Jude 4; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Rev. 2:14-16, 20-23). So, Romans 16:17 commands two things. (1) Note the divisive, offending person. Some versions translate the word (skopeo) as “mark” (KJV) or “keep your eye on” (NASB). First, the person must be identified. He is sinning by his teaching or conduct (Gal. 5:20). A wolf in sheep’s clothing endangers the flock (Matt. 7:15; Acts 20:29). We identify predators in the pasture, even more so among God’s flock (Acts 20:28). (2) Avoid the divisive, offending person. Second, deny him fellowship (2 John 10-11). Thus his unrepentant conduct is exposed as the darkness it is (Eph. 5:11). It is not a pleasant task to mark and avoid the divisive. But it is necessary to protect God’s people from spiritual danger. And by doing so, the erring Christian is warned to repent while there is still time.