It’s not unusual in St Paul’s letters that what looks like the end of his argument is interrupted by seemingly sudden warnings. It happens in the letters to the Galatians and the Philippians, too. But in this case, it feels especially fierce and disjointed. What has probably happened here is that, having dictated the rest of the letter to a scribe (Tertius), Paul himself now takes up the pen for himself and writes vv. 17-20 in his own hand.
Why do that? Because Paul thinks what he has to say in these few final verses is especially important – so important, in fact, that he needs to emphasize it by writing it personally. It’s a personal plea that the Roman Christians be on their guard against those who cause division in the body of Christ.
We do well to heed his warning. The fact is, there are (and there always have been) people in the church who are more concerned with shoring up their own power or influence than with shoring up the wellbeing of the body of Christ. Don’t be drawn in, says Paul; don’t play along! God will see off their divisiveness in the end, so don’t get caught up in it yourselves!
Of course, there is another challenge for all of us here, too: we must always make sure that we ourselves avoid inspiring any sort of discord or disharmony at all. Do we?
These devotions were originally written for the parish of All Saints, Ascot and we are grateful for permission to republish them on Fulcrum.
Patrick is curate of All Saints’, Ascot in Berkshire. A musicologist by training, he is married to Lydia, a university lecturer, and dad to Madeleine. He writes (sporadically) at benedixisti.wordpress.com and tweets (even more sporadically) as @patrickgilday.