"I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded." - Romans 16:17-18
I used to be certain exactly who Paul is talking about here. I had a pretty darn good eye for those who caused dissensions and offenses, as well as those who did not serve Christ, but their own appetites. I could spot them from a mile away. Their faces lit up my television screen, their voices screamed from my radio, they elbowed their way in front of me in every line.
But lately, all the teachers I trust have been telling me my eyes were not turned in the right direction. It's not the dissenters and offenders Out There I have to watch out for. It's not the appetites, the smooth talk, and the flattery of Those People I need to keep my eye on. It's not the simple minds of Other Guys that are in danger of being deceived. It doesn't help to look out there at all, my teachers gently instruct, because the problem is in here, right in my own head and heart and soul.
So lately, instead of policing the behavior those other people out there, I've been keeping an eye on the only person I really know I can change. Myself.
Those faces and voices and elbows? They're still there. But my teachers are on to something. The more I watch my own behavior instead of theirs, the quieter and less powerful the offenders, Christ-deniers, and smooth-talkers become.
Jesus – Help me keep both eyes on you. Amen.
Jennifer Brownell is the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Vancouver, Washington, and the author of Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon and Caught My Breath, her inspiring memoir.