17 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. 18 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. 19 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. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
It is interesting that the fall of man occurred around a tree of knowledge. The tree is called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, Adam and Eve already had knowledge of good. They knew God. They knew what God had said was good. The only new knowledge to be gained was knowledge of evil.
There is a danger in knowing too much. At times, fascination with questions can harm the soul. That was true in the garden. It is surely true in the church. Dangerous doctrines destroy.
Here I do not suggest that any Christian should be cocooned from truth. But what I think we should be cautious about is fascination with evil. We should watch out for people who are eager to question the faith. We should be careful of those who would lead us to deconstruct faithful doctrine.
In verse 17 above, Paul calls on the Christians not to spend time with but to avoid those who question or deny true doctrine. For the most part, the average Christian is not going to be blessed by hanging out with a doubter. Instead, doubters have a way of sewing discord among those who do not share their doubts. In the world in which we live, it is easier for a doubter to sound wise, open-minded, and tolerant.
Paul tells us in verse 19 that it is better to be wise about what is good and innocent of evil. Rather than exposing ourselves to the barrage of doubts and complaints of the sinful world, there is a wisdom in simply focusing on truth. Rather than diving down a rabbit hole of questions and complaints about the faith, we should look more to true and right doctrine.
Ok, now let’s put this in perspective. Some Christians are fascinated with the arguments of those with whom they disagree. We should be grateful to God for well-informed, well-disciplined apologists who can address the doubts and the false doctrine of opponents of the faith. However, for the average Christian, there is not a need to do a deep dive into the doubts of those who would lead us away from truth. Why? The more time you spend arguing against wrong thinking, the more it can do you harm. Constantly opposing false teaching without a regular dose of loving truth for truth’s sake can dry out the soul. Such a person, assuming he remains faithful to true doctrine, can become a bitter and mean-spirited person. Alternatively, some who regularly engage with proclaimers of falsehood can so come to value the good opinion of those who oppose God that they actually compromise in order to look more sophisticated.
What is the path for most believers? Be wise about what is good and innocent of evil. Pour yourself into the truth of the word. Love the Lord. Pray. Seek to understand Scripture more and more. Gather with the faithful to affirm one another’s faith. Take ten looks at Jesus for every 1 look at a doctrine you oppose.
For clarity, I’m not one who thinks we should live in a bubble unaware of the thoughts of others. What I believe is that we should not become so focused on what is negative that it overshadows our love of truth. We should not love arguing more than we love Jesus. And we should not embrace those who teach falsehood so much that we are tempted to compromise truth for the sake of our gaining the respect of the world. Love Jesus first, foremost, and far beyond anything else.