Romans. 16. 19. Says…
As teens we were encouraged to chant it during our worship sessions, and I haven’t meditated on it seriously for quite some time, at least not without breaking into song. But the other day I felt led to meditate on it once again.
I suppose it started with thinking about excellence. I want to live my life in excellence to the Lord. But what does it mean to live in excellence? And the first words that popped into my head were, “Be excellent at what is good. Be innocent of evil.”
In studying this verse I first looked at a few other translations, because it often turns out that verses I have memorized have a slightly different meaning than how I understood them in childhood.
The KJV says, 19 For your obedience is come abroad unto all [men]. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.
The NASB says, 19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.
The original word for “wise” can also mean “skilled.” The word for “innocent” comes for a word meaning, “unmixed, pure.”
So as to be thorough, here is more of the passage: I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. 19Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. (Ro. 16:17-19)
Paul encourages the church members to be on their guard against false teachings. God expects us to use discernment. But does that mean we have to be experts on every threat that we might come against?
I think it’s interesting that in verse 19, our wisdom about what is good is contrasted with innocence about evil. It seems obvious that as Christians we should strive to be “not guilty” of sinful behavior. But why are “wise” and “innocent” contrasted? It sounds as though, if we are “experts” on what is good, we should be “clueless” and “inexperienced” about those practices that are considered evil.
And yet, sometimes we get a different impression. In order to better reach out to non-believers, we should be familiar with their interests. We should keep up with popular television shows so that there is a common ground for conversation. We should be familiar with all religions and visit their meetings so as to know what goes on there and how to pray for them.
My main question is, how informed should we be about the evil in the world around us in order to lead a proper Christian life? The Bible tells us what kind of behavior is sinful. Do we really need to know the details of evil practices in order to know that they are not pleasing to the Lord? Is it harmful to be “sheltered”? Do we need to follow news stories about homosexuality? If a young Christian were offered alcohol and he said “What’s that?” would he be right or wrong in the eyes of God?
Perhaps many of us, when we observe Christians who seem a little naïve, pity them a little. And we may deem them unfit for ministry. But are they really? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could preserve our innocence and our holiness, and walk into a room, and have it fall silent because the presence of God has entered as well?