This admonition in Romans 16:17 to avoid divisive people and false teachers follows a series of greetings and an encouragement to the believers to use the "holy kiss," a sign of unity and trust. The maintenance of unity and peace in a church community requires attention and intentional work. To maintain peace and unity in the church certain personalities must be anticipated and the leadership alert to the problems they can cause.
In the midst of the peace and unity in the church of Rome Paul sends a sharp warning to be on the lookout for trouble by people who are divisive and people who teach contrary to the Apostolic doctrine. When these people are spotted they should be avoided:
“Watch out for those who cause divisions…contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.” – Romans 16:17-18
“Watch out for” is the verb skopeo and means “to pay close attention to” and “to keep an eye on.“ (Skopeo is used on a positive note in 2 Cor. 4:18; Gal. 6:1; Phil. 2:4; 3:17)
People who cause division are associated with false teaching, and false teaching is associated with division. Paul says the motivation for creating division is not service to Christ or service to the people, but service to “their own appetites.” They do this for power and money, both of which satisfy a craving appetite: one, control and authority; and, two, food and material gain.
The method divisive people use includes smooth talk and flattery. By saying things that attract people the divisive person gains trust and followers who are more interested in how they feel emotionally than knowing the truth that could be used to evaluate people and situations. It is easier to tell the people, “we love you,” than it is to actually teach them the truth. Many people would rather hear a false teacher tell them, “We love you,” than to hear a loving teacher tell them the truth.