The following is a transcript of the audio.
Discernment is a good thing — an essential thing in the Christian life. But there’s also discernment gone wrong, something Pastor John addressed in his sermon on Romans 16:17. What follows is a clip from the sermon, “Watch Out for Those Who Lead You Away from the Truth,” preached on November 5, 2006. Here’s what Pastor John said:
How can dividing from a false teacher who rises up in the Church promote unity? How can dividing promote unity, which is what he evidently believes it does, because he says: Watch out for those who cause disunity. Withdraw from them. Divide from them. Watch out for the dividers. Divide from them. The only way you can make sense out of that is to believe there is some kind of division that is right and some that is wrong. And what is wrong is the kind or what is right is the kind that is based on those people having left the doctrine. So Paul’s strategy here for preserving unity that he so longs for in the first part of verse 17 is to call for another kind of disunity, namely that doesn’t hang out with people who are on their way away from the doctrine.
With regard to the command: Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught, it is possible to go overboard with that watching out. It is possible to go overboard. I am really hesitant even to say this, because I don’t think we live in a world where that is our sin, by and large. Some churches, some people maybe. It is not America’s besetting sin. So I am hesitant. And yet I know that it happens. And so I want to warn you against it and summon you back to a biblical balance.
What I mean by going overboard with watching out is that you can become so obsessed with doctrinal error that you lose the ability to rejoice in doctrinal truth. You can, I have seen it. You can become so obsessed with purity you cannot rejoice in the truth that should undergird it.
A thought is that it is like one of those dogs, they are beagles usually, who are trained to sniff out drugs at the airport. And they are trained, maybe—I don’t know. I have never seen one on his off hours—they are trained so completely to sniff out drugs that that is all they do is sniff out drugs. If you come into their house they just go sniffing at you, sniffing at your purse and sniffing at your pockets and sniffing at anything you have in your hands. Well, this is not a way to welcome people in the Church.
So it is possible to be come so obsessed, to be so trained in drug sniffing that all you do is sniff drugs, I mean, sniff trying to find them.
And I don’t want us to go there as a church. I don’t want to be there as a person. When I read the book of Romans, you step back and look at the whole book of Romans, yes, Paul pauses—chapter three, chapter eight, these places—he pauses and he draws attention to the mess people are making of his teaching. Sin that grace may abound. And he warns, but in the big picture Romans is just a magnificent display of the work of God in Christ for our salvation. It is a magnificent display that should cause us not mainly to say: Now I have got 10 weapons with which I can destroy enemies, but rather I am saved. I am saved. I have got a solid rock under my feet. I am going to heaven. I will see him someday. And so let the spirit of delight in the truth be the main thing that people taste at this church. And then pray, especially for the elders, that we do have a good beagle nose for any kind of slippage or any kind of movement that would be away from the apostolic teaching.
That was an excerpt from John Piper’s sermon, “Watch Out for Those Who Lead You Away from the Truth,” preached on November 5, 2006. Related to this, on the centrality of emotion in the Christian life, be sure to listen to episode #239 in the podcast series, titled, “Why Stoicism Is Toxic.” So important. Well, when it comes to joy and obedience, which comes first? Does obedience come before joy or does joy come before obedience? We’ll ask Pastor John that very question tomorrow.