by Arthur Pink
"I want you to be wise about what is good—and simple concerning evil." Romans 16:19
No, we have not suddenly turned Papist, nor are we about to inflict upon our readers an article in support of Rome's favorite dictum, namely, that "Ignorance is the mother of devotion" —in accord with which is their idea that it is dangerous to place the Scriptures in the hands of the laity, and therefore, they should be withheld from them. We are very, very far from subscribing to anything so foolish and impious!
The way of the wicked is as darkness—but the way of the righteous is as light—open and above-board. Truth courts investigation and challenges the closest scrutiny. Spiritists may prefer the darkened room, and the poor dupes of the Pope admire the secret confessional; but "Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech" (Proverbs 1:20-21).
Nevertheless, there is an ignorance which is desirable and which serves as a protection to those who maintain it. There is an ignorance of which no Christian needs be ashamed, yes, one which the Holy Spirit has enjoined, and therefore is praiseworthy. "I want you to be wise about what is good—and simple about what is evil" (Romans 16:19).
In the context, the apostle had warned the saints to be on their guard against false teachers, and to "avoid" those who propagated that which is "contrary to the doctrine which you have learned": men who deceive the hearts of the simple (or unwary) "by good words and fair speeches," but who "serve not our Lord" (Romans 16:17-18). It was not that Paul deemed them unestablished in the Faith, or unstable therein; rather, did he affirm "for your obedience [faith and practical response to the will of God, as it was made known to them by His messengers] is come abroad unto all men," which commendation he supplemented with, "I am glad therefore on your behalf." Yet being solicitous of their welfare with a godly jealousy, he added, "I want you to be wise about what is good—and simple about what is evil" (Romans 16:19).
Your reception of the Gospel and responsiveness unto the truth is well known, and evil men are likely to take advantage of this: see to it then that your docility is coupled with prudence, and be watchful of those who would corrupt you. "I want you to be wise about what is good." Let that be your all-absorbing quest: be intelligent —both in knowledge and practice—in the Word and ways of God, so that you are fitted to "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
"And simple about what is evil." "Simple" is here opposed to "wise," and so must signify unknowing and unpracticed in the ways of sin. In the light of the preceding verses, the primary reference is to the evil doctrine of false teachers—be content to remain uninformed, unacquainted with anything that would pollute your faith. But in view of what immediately follows, "and the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly" (Romans 16:20), it obviously has a wider meaning: remain ignorant of everything which would defile your pure minds. Handley Moule renders it "uncontaminated" [by defiling knowledge] as to what is evil." To appeal to your curiosity, to occupy your minds with what is foul, to get your hearts absorbed with evil rather than good—is one of the principal stratagems of the great Enemy.
This divine warning is much needed today. Let us point out a threefold application of "I want you to be…simple concerning evil."
First, of doctrinal evil. There is a great deal of false teaching, often in a novel and attractive dress, now being disseminated both orally and by the printed page. Some of its leading promulgators have acquired a considerable reputation for their learning, originality, oratory, and pleasing personality. They draw big crowds, and some of God's people—though they have been warned against their errors—determine to give these men a hearing; and often, the consequences are most injurious—in no case are they harmless.
It is to that spirit of inquisitiveness, that the devil applies his temptation, as it is against the exercise thereof we are expressly commanded "from such turn away" (2 Timothy 3:5). Not to do so is to parley with what is deadly for the soul. If you have begun to yield—then the divine Word is "Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causes to err from the words of knowledge" (Proverbs 19:27); if you do not, disastrous will be the outcome. If unfallen Eve could be beguiled by lies—how much easier for you to be deceived if you deliberately expose yourself unto error! We should not even read error.
There are those who would be ashamed to be seen attending meetings where known error was taught, who nevertheless do not hesitate to peruse a book written by an errorist. Priding themselves that they are too well grounded in the Faith to be shaken—yet curious and desirous of ascertaining just what this man or this sect teaches, not a few purchase their pernicious literature; and to make it easier for them to do so, Satan often sends the purveyors of such to their door.
We have personally met more than one who was reared in orthodoxy, who bought or borrowed a "Christadelphian," "Russellite," or "Seventh-day Adventist" book, and later became an ardent supporter of their lies! The devil ensnares many in this way.
Parents need to be most careful what literature enters their home! Stifle your inquisitiveness and be content to remain ignorant of what is being taught in the "synagogues of Satan" (Rev 2:9).
Second, carnal evil. We want the reader to bear in mind that this simple dehortation from an acquaintance with anything which would defile the soul, is followed immediately with "And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly" (Romans 16:20), which plainly intimates it is against his efforts to corrupt, and thus we must ever be on the alert. The devil is most persevering, and if he cannot poison our minds with one sort of evil—he will seek to befoul them with another.
Now there is a class of people—by no means confined to the female sex—who are ultra-curious about the affairs of others, "busybodies" (1 Timothy 5:13), and such are very prone to give ear unto an "evil report"; and unless they steadfastly resist him, the devil will see to it they are kept fully supplied. Since "to speak…evil one of another" is forbidden (James 4:11), giving ear unto such is equally so. The next time some gossiper wants to acquaint you with the latest falls of So-and-so, recall this injunction, "simple concerning evil," and say, "Excuse me, I do not wish to hear about it!" Unless you do so, "evil communications will corrupt good manners" (1 Corinthians 15:33).
Third, worldly evil. If Satan fails to absorb us with the treasures and pleasures of the world—then he will seek to occupy and weigh us down with its affairs. In the parable of the Sower, Christ showed that the seed which fell on the third kind of ground was rendered useless by the thorns which "grew up and choked it" (Mark 4:7). Among other things, those "thorns" symbolized "the cares of this world" (Mark 4:19).
In different individuals, those "cares" assume a variety of forms: in some, it is anxiety to obtain the necessities of life; in others, concern over wayward children. But there are many of God's children whose temporal needs are provided for and who have no relatives to occasion them distress, and yet, who are heavily burdened with "the cares of this world." Many a foolish soul is allowing himself or herself to become an "Atlas" —carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. If they were individually responsible for the governing of the world, they could scarcely take matters more seriously or lose more peace on its account.
Posing as an "angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14), Satan is occupying many with the affairs of earth under the pretext of their being so many heralds of the nearness of Christ's return. The alarming international situation, distressing conditions in the political and social realms, the decadence of "Protestantism," and the advances of Romanism are appealed to (just as they were a century ago!) as "proofs" that the Lord is at the very door. There is nothing in such teaching that edifies the soul, or promotes a closer walking with God. On the contrary, an absorption with such matters—instead of drawing the affections unto things above and purifying the mind—drags down the one and defiles the other! If such speakers and writers would give the "antichrist" a long rest and preach Christ—it would be far better! All this emotional and sensational claptrap on "the signs of the times" (Matthew 16:3) will neither hasten nor retard Christ's return by a single moment! But for the believer to read secular literature and listen to the radio—in order to be better informed on current events—turns his attention away from what is profitable, defiles his mind, and disturbs his peace. "Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth" (Isaiah 45:9)—but be you "wise unto that which is GOOD and simple concerning [all forms of] EVIL" (Romans 16:19).