How is the Church Strengthened and Protected?
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. 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. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. - Romans 16:17-20
Endings are so vital. How so? Do you remember your reaction to the ending of Sixth Sense the first time you saw it? You were shocked, stunned and compelled to watch the movie again. Now, if you watched Lost, do you remember the ending of that series? You were probably shocked, confused, disappointed and perhaps a bit outraged. Far from wanting to watch it all over again, many fans felt they had wasted their time in ever watching the show in the first place.
Our final devotional in the Book of Romans brings us to Paul's closing concerns and a beautiful doxology. Paul issues a final appeal, gives a final promise and a final blessing, and then closes with a final doxology, an anthem of glory to God.
Paul's Final Appeal: Watch out! Paul has seen the church attacked and torn asunder by false teachers too many times to close this letter without a stern warning, False teachers create divisions and obstacles contrary to sound doctrine. Not all divisions and obstacles are bad; distinctions need to be made between those who teach the truth and those who teach error, those who uphold the true gospel and glorify Jesus Christ vs. those who undermine the gospel seeking their own glory. Those who make bad divisions are seeking followers for themselves, serving their own desires. Their speech is smooth and their flattery thick. Straight talk of sound doctrine drawn directly from Scripture and in line with the true gospel is vital to the health of the church.
Paul's Final Promise: The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. This promise stretches all the way back to Genesis 3:15. God cursed the serpent and promised that the seed of the woman would crush his head. Jesus is the woman's seed who crushes Satan's head, but we share in His victory. Just as surely as God raised Jesus from the dead and gave Him victory over sin and death, so He will give us a full share in this victory. Satan our tormentor, who strikes at our heels, will one day lie crushed beneath our feet!
Paul's Final Blessing: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. It's so easy to read this and see it as some throw-away expression, a mere formality. After all, Paul includes something like this near the end of all of his letters. Nothing could be further from the truth! Paul ends all of letters with this blessing because it is so vital to our lives. The church cannot ever hope to be faithful without the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. You and I have no hope for salvation apart from the continual grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. We need His blessing, His favor, His kindness, His protection, His strength. All of it comes through His grace and grace alone. We deserve none of it, can earn none of it and can't even fully understand our deep need for it. Jesus gives us His grace, and so we are saved!
Paul's Final Doxology: To the only wise God be glory forevermore! It's not surprising that Paul ends his magnificent masterpiece with glory to God! It's also not surprising that the glory God receives comes through the gospel and that our only hope of obedience comes by faith in Jesus, as revealed in the preaching of the gospel! Paul could end this letter no better way than with these marvelous words -
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. - Romans 16:25-27, ESV