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.
13 Because from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is given to covetousness; And from the prophet even to the priest, everyone deals falsely. 14 They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, Saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ When there is no peace. (Jeremiah 6:13–14, NKJV)
Jerusalem and Judah were headed for destruction in the days of Jeremiah. Covetous hearts – greedy for power and wealth – guided both prophet and priest to speak falsely to a population that loved to have it so. These religious charlatans “healed” the spiritual ailments of the people with superficial dressings. They proclaimed “peace, peace,” even though hostility toward God and men ruled the day. Even now, religious leaders, with many followers, preach messages that fail to heal men’s soul – even as those souls rush headlong toward eternal ruin. Messages of peace that tolerate immorality are proclaimed. “Peace” is advanced at the expense of divine truth. (Indeed, evil is called good, and good is called evil, Isaiah 5:20.) Jeremiah’s warning remains relevant, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it’” (Jer. 6:16). No peace can exist where sin reigns. Changing its definitions and ignoring its reality reveals hearts that are greedy for selfish gains, not selfless hearts devoted to the Almighty.
For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. (Matthew 15:19, NKJV)
Jesus identifies sin even though men and women refuse to do so. Such is the case with “adulteries” and “fornications.” The world often calls adulteries “love affairs,” but God calls it sin that He judges (Romans 7:2-3; Hebrews 13:4). Fornication is the general term for all forms of sexual immorality, including premarital and extramarital sex, homosexuality, bestiality and incest (1 Corinthians 6:9; Jude 7). In many (if not most) cases, the world calls fornication good, but God calls it sin. It is a work of the flesh that prevents one from inheriting the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19, 21). The world (that does not know God) demands we accept their sinful conduct. But, the word of God is clear that we cannot approve of sin in any form, including sexual sins (Ephesians 5:5-11). Sin does not disappear simply because people refuse to identify it as such. Jesus died for adulterers and fornicators – for all sinners (Romans 5:8). We ask our religious neighbors who are acknowledging such sinful conduct as acceptable, “Why did Jesus die?” He died for our sins. If there is no such thing as sin (like adulteries and fornications), then Jesus died in vain. We must identify and repent of every sin, including these (2 Corinthians 12:20-21). The wages of sin is eternal death, but God forgives sins and gives eternal life in Christ Jesus the Lord (Romans 6:23).
3 Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. (1 Corinthians 7:3–4, NKJV)
One of the biggest sources of marital problems is selfishness. Marriage establishes a moral obligation to deliver (render) to one’s mate the good will of sexual fulfillment which he or she is due. To use the marriage bed as an incentive for good behavior or a punishment for bad behavior is not the will of God. Such selfish treatment of the marriage bed chips away at the emotional and spiritual stability and security it is designed to provide. To be even more emphatic, the apostle explains that in marriage your body belongs to your spouse, not to yourself (verse 4). Each one has authority (right, privilege, jurisdiction) over the other’s body. Such authority is not tyrannical, oppressive or abusive, but respectful and affectionate. When a husband or wife says their body is nobody’s business but their own, they reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of marriage as a hedge against sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 7:2). In marriage, your body belongs to your spouse. The marriage bed binds two souls together in unselfish fulfillment, and thereby gives protection from the moral defilement of sexual immorality.
24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 1:24–25, NKJV)
Mankind is under the wrath of God, and for good reason (Rom. 1:18-21). The refusal to honor and thank God plunged humanity into the darkness of pride and the foolishness of elevating human wisdom above God and His truth (Rom. 1:21-22). This led to idolatry – the corruption of true worship (Rom. 1:23). Idolatry (false worship) feeds on fleshly lusts. Impure worship opens the door to immoral living. When God is ignored and His truth is devalued, the boundaries of moral restraint (that are set by divine truth) are increasingly ignored. Just as false worship abandons truth for lies, immorality abandons the moral restraints of truth. Instead of honoring God with the body, it is used to fulfill the sinful lusts of the heart (1 Cor. 6:13, 15, 19). One must not think he is honoring God while using his body to fulfill the dishonorable lusts of immorality. When the truth of God is exchanged for the lie of idolatry, immorality follows. God allows it to happen, but His wrath is revealed against it. You cannot serve the god of self, and expect to be blessed by God our Creator.
3 But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; 4 neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Ephesians 5:3–5, NKJV)
Continuing to warn against immorality, the apostle comes to “filthiness” in verse 4, which is indecency or nastiness. It particularly identifies communication that is obscene and shameful. That would certainly describe many (if not most) of the entertainment today, but it certainly is not limited to those venues. “Foolish talking” is silly buffoonery, stupid nonsense. Our words reveal our hearts. Therefore, our words should be kind and graced with thankfulness, not laced with vapid blather. “Coarse jesting” is crude jokes, rude and profane repartee, vulgar speech. The double entendre, that is designed to titillate with sexual innuendo, has no business coming from the lips of the righteous. There is no misunderstanding the apostle; fornicators, the immoral, the covetous and idolaters will not inherit heaven. Christ can save you from these sins, but, if you continue to commit them, you will not inherit heaven. Do not rationalize and remain in these sins; repent and renounce them all.
For the Lord brought Judah low because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had encouraged moral decline in Judah and had been continually unfaithful to the Lord. (2 Chronicles 28:19, NKJV)
The Lord allowed the kingdom of Judah to be oppressed by enemy states during the 8th century B.C. Assyrians, Edomites and Philistines plundered Judah because king Ahaz was “continually unfaithful to the Lord,” and because he “encouraged moral decline in Judah” (2 Chron. 28:16-18). It is undeniable that our country has been encouraging moral decline for a very long time. The “sexual revolution” of the 1960s promoted fornication and adultery, fracturing the home and paving the way for accepting the homosexual lifestyle as normal and natural (which it is not, cf. Rom. 1:24-28). Alcohol and other drugs decimates lives and destroys families (1 Pet. 4:1-5). Pornography has captured and corrupted souls – fueled by passion and internet accessibility on cell phones, tablets and computers. “Sin is a reproach to any people,” and America is no exception (Prov. 14:34). The Old Testament shows that God does not long endure any nation that mocks faith in Him as it rushes headlong into immorality. Now is the time for our nation to heed the warning God gave Israel: “Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord God. “Therefore turn and live!” (Ezek. 18:31-32)
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11, NKJV)
The Lord has spoken plainly and sin and its deadly effect. Sin keeps souls out of the kingdom of God. The enemies of the cross obscure this truth, deceiving blinded minds about this simple fact. Immorality prevents one from inheriting heaven. The gospel has power to save sinners of every stripe and sort. Every sinner must be convicted of the reality of his sin and its eternal death in order to come to Christ for salvation. “Do not be deceived” into thinking you can live as you please in the indulgence of the flesh, refuse to be “washed,” “sanctified” and “justified” from your sins, yet still have God’s eternal blessings. “And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8). Will you? Or, will you be deceived?
5 For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them.” (Ephesians 5:5–7, NKJV)
Negative incentives are just as needed as positive reinforcement. God’s judgment against the sins of immorality is clear and plain, convincing us to turn away from sin. There is no heavenly inheritance for anyone who fulfills the lusts of the flesh in defiance of God’s call to holy conduct. Immoral Christians will not escape God’s wrath. Fellowship with sin brings one under God’s wrath against sin; do not be deceived. Listen to God’s warnings of His wrath against sin and you can think soberly and choose wisely when tempted to sin. Ignore His warnings and you imperil your soul.