“Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.” — Romans 16:17
The mature Christian is to keep his eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances. Paul is not talking about hair-splitting over minor interpretations, or about immature believers who are divisive because of personal preferences, as disruptive and damaging as things can be. We are to “shun foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:9). We are to “refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels” (2 Tim. 2:23). Paul is here talking about something immeasurably more serious. He is warning about those who challenge and undermine the teaching which you have learned, that is, the divinely-revealed apostolic teaching they had received.
Keep your eye on such men, Paul says. Mark them out as false teachers who are to be opposed and avoided. Skopeō (keep your eye on) carries the idea of looking at or observing with intensity. It is from the noun form of that word that we get the scope in telescope and microscope. It means more than simply to look at, but to examine and scrutinize carefully.
Paul is not talking about what today is often referred to as a “witch hunt,” an effort that is determined to find fault whether it is there or not. Nor is he talking about legalistic and often mean-spirited and unloving “litmus tests” for an orthodoxy that is more rigid than Scripture.
Evangelicals who adhere strictly but unpretentiously to the inerrancy of Scripture and refuse to join ranks with those who claim to be Christian but denigrate God’s Word are often wrongly accused of being divisive. But God’s true church is bonded by His Word and the power of His indwelling Spirit, who applies and builds the church on and through that Word. The ones who truly cause destructive division and disharmony, the ungodly dissensions and hindrances about which Paul speaks here, are those who promote and practice falsehood and unrighteousness. No institution or movement can rightly claim unity in Christ if they are not unified in and by His Word. Whatever spiritual unity they may have is based on the spirit of this age, which is satanic, not godly. . .
The right response of believers to false-teachers, especially those who teach their heresy under the guise of Christianity, is not debate or dialogue. We are to turn away from them, to reject what they teach and to protect fellow believers, especially new converts and the immature, from being deceived, confused, and misled.
John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 9-16 (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1994) pp. 372,373 (used with permission of Moody Publishers).