16:18, "For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own
belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple."
This morning, we see an overwhelming tide of information like never before. So much information is flowing back and forth, someone could basically find scores of information about any subject in just minutes. Unfortunately, the massive flow of information makes sifting truth from error harder in a sense. Like water coming from a fire hydrant, it is not very drinkable until it has settled a bit, and information today is not very beneficial until it has been sorted to determine the accuracy and validity of the statement. (I Thessalonians 5:21) As we go about processing the things we see, hear, and perceive, we need to keep foremost in our mind the single source of truth that needs no sifting. The Holy Bible is completely without error (II Timothy 3:16-17), and therefore, it is the standard - or "measuring stick" - against which all other informational sources must be judged. If that is foremost in our mind, we become less apt to fall prey and victim to some things that Paul closes his Roman epistle with. Let us look at what our behaviour should be and learn better how to prove all things, hold fast that which is good, and conduct ourselves in a more Godly fashion.
In closing this epistle to Rome, Paul makes mention of many names that are dear unto him, but he also warns (as he does in other places) against those that will assuredly come to divide, spoil, and deceive the people of God. These men fall into two categories: 1. wolves in sheep's clothing - basically they desire to fulfill their fleshly desires at the cost and blood of God's heritage (Acts 20:28), and 2. deceivers that truly believe what they are teaching but lifted up about it, refusing to yield the ground and thereby dividing God's people (I Timothy 1:19-20, II Timothy 2:16-18). Regardless of the type of man it is from the categories above, our course is very similar. The end result is the same. At the end of the day, our best course is to simply avoid them and stay away from them.
After the admonition to mark and avoid them, Paul goes on to describe some of the things that these men are able to do. The phrase that is most upon our mind this morning is "deceive the hearts of the simple." Paul asserts that these men are very skilled at winning people to their way of thinking through their fair speeches. The reason that they are so successful is twofold: 1. their speeches are quite captivating to the ear, and 2. their audience is quite captivated by their very innocent mindset. In the first instance, fair speeches that captivate the ear can sometimes captivate the ear in a good, moral way. Not all of these fair speeches are appealing to the flesh, but some of them really and truly appeal to the goodness of the hearts of God's people. The speech speaks of Godly qualities like humility, patience, etc.
One of my late father's favourite expressions was, "There are some really good subjects that I can go and preach anywhere. If I tell folks how to live a Godly life, most any pulpit will receive me." His point was that there are many things that we, as God's people, share in our attempts to walk after Him. Sadly, many today would not as readily accept teachings on Godly living as they would in my father's day, but I would suspect that none - save the household of faith - would accept the base foundation for those good deeds that is the doctrine of salvation and it associated principles. Yet, sometimes, fair talkers can convince the hearts of the simple that "we are the same." If I walked into a Methodist, Southern Baptist, or Presbyterian church and preached a sermon on Godly living from the beatitudes, I could probably convince some there that I was the same as they were if I wanted to.
Fair talkers can also convince the hearts of the simple that "we are not different." While that statement sounds similar, there is a difference between "we are the same" and "we are not different." In the first case, I just have to build enough of a building to make someone believe that my house looks like their house. In the second case, I have to convince people that differences in our houses really are not differences at all. Yet, in both cases, the hearts of the simple can be deceived by both speeches due to the art and craft of the speaker. Now, let us look at what it means to have the heart of the simple, learn how to avoid falling into this mentality, and then proceed more circumspectly in the walk of our Saviour.
The word "simple" here literally means "innocent" or "distrusting no one." In a very simple way, the heart of the simple is the heart of a child. Children are very trusting, and the innocence - while not referring to the curse of sin - does entail being innocent or unexposed to certain ways of the world. Children have not learned some of the darker ways in which the world operates, and they do not distrust people until they learn that there are people worth distrusting. In the sense that Paul is describing here, we should not be like children. Our labours in the realm of malice should be attuned like a child's, but our understanding needs to be attuned to that of men. (I Corinthians 14:20) The heart of the simple has a child's understanding. He does not process the data, analyze it, prove it, and see whether it was good and worth holding onto.
A simple, innocent mind is too trusting to believe in their heart of hearts that someone is being either erroneous or untruthful. To their credit, they can many times be great peacemakers, but they generally get swept off their feet by error and do not even realize that they are being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, and the cunning craftiness and sleight of men. (Ephesians 4) Therefore, if we desire not to have this be our outcome, what is our course? To avoid having the heart of the simple (yet having the malice of the simple), we need to be well-versed in the word of God. We need to all be able to hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. (II Timothy 3:9) Whether a minister, deacon, or rank and file member, we need to be able to stand and defend what we believe and why we believe it. Without this critical knowledge, we will hear something preached or spoken or read it written and say, "That sounds like what I believe." Even if it is 99% of what we believe, the equation 99% truth + 1% error = 800 error. As a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump, so a little error makes the whole lump an error.
Furthermore, we need to add with the knowledge the fortitude to stand firmly for things that are truly essential to our cause and way of life. As Paul had no reservations about marking and avoiding (Romans 16:17), shunning profane and vain babblings (II Timothy 2:16), and rebuking people to the face (Galatians 2:11) when necessary, we need to be prepared to do likewise with similar cause to do so. A simple heart will say, "Let's try to get along." While peace is to be highly prized in our lives, the way of truth must supersede peace or we will fail to ever have peace. As Solomon warns against two types of fools, we need to understand whether we: 1. answer not a fool according to his folly (Proverbs 26:4), or 2. answer a fool according to his folly (Proverbs 26:5). The answer to which is the course depends on the type of fool we are confronted with. If he is promoting error due to ignorance, may we instruct him more perfectly and keep him from being wise in his own conceits. However, if we find him unreasonable and impossible to yield erroneous ground, Biblical prudence dictates that we just leave him alone lest we end up like him - just as impossible to deal with and unreasonable. Indeed, my preference would be to be able to have the heart of the simple, not distrust anyone, and "get along with all." Yet, our Lord was eaten up at times with zeal over His Father's house, and may we - as prudence dictates is necessary, not what we simply desire - be equally zealously affected by the purity and cause of the Lord's bride.