Paul was fully aware that there would be troublemakers in the church. It is likely that the ones he has in mind are Judaisers, who focussed on requiring Gentile believers to practice the Levitical ceremonial law. This large group had infiltrated the Christian church and had influenced a lot of people. On one occasion, they had even affected Peter the apostle and Barnabas the colleague of Paul.
Those who argued for the continuation of the ceremonial law had failed to appreciate the uniqueness of the work of Christ on the cross in liberating his people from having to adhere to those details. In effect, they had a Jesus plus something religion. The outcome was an increase in legalism, the denial of Christian liberty and the creation of divisions. Church members were no longer identified as followers of Jesus, but instead had become identified with certain groups.
Paul wrote this letter from Corinth, and the church there had been affected by various ideas, resulting in the formation of different parties in the church. He was in Corinth dealing with the consequences of wrong divisions and obviously he would not want similar devastation to happen in the church in Rome. So he wrote to them with very clear instructions about what to do.
Basically, Paul says three things to them. First, he points out the teaching style of the false messengers – they use smooth talk and flattery to win over people. If someone is always commending you, watch out, because each of us should know that we all have defects in our spirituality. It is almost like listening to adverts in which the smooth, calm voice assures the viewer that they really will look different if they try the advertised products. But it is all flattery. Paul says that those who fall for the wrong teachings are naïve.
Second, Paul expects his readers to know the doctrines that they had been taught. This may have been one reason why he wrote about those beliefs in his letter to them, because in it he has provided a clear explanation of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. It is fair to say that a Christian who has understood the doctrines mentioned by Paul in this letter will not be led astray by false teachers. But if they don’t know their doctrines, then they are easy prey.
Third, Paul gives a very simple way of not being affected by the false teachers – avoid them. In his day, if a person did not hear such people, then they would not be affected by them. Today, it is more complex because there are many ways of spreading wrong ideas – literature, DVDs, TV and radio, and the internet. Paul makes it very clear that believers in Jesus should not listen to false teachings. I suppose we could liken Paul to a doctor who is advising people how to prevent being affected by a plague spreading through an area.