Drawing near the close of his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, Paul wrote what might be described as a series of sentence sermons. Among them, we find the following:
Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22)
These verses ought to be self-explanatory, but some find in them an opportunity to exploit God’s word for evil. This is not a hypothetical caution that these verses could be misused; I am personally aware of a case where Paul’s instruction in verse 21 was used to justify dabbling in sin, and another situation where one defiantly defended choices that would be perceived by Christians and non-Christians alike as something immoral.
Test all things
The Greek dokimazw is defined as “to test, approve, allow, discern, examine, try” (Strong’s). Based upon this verse and this word, I heard a young Christian reason several years ago that we cannot call something good or bad unless we have experienced it. How can you say it is bad or wrong if you have not tried it? I am not sure how far she took her erroneous position, but sadly it served as a justification for selfish and sinful experimentation.
1 Thessalonians 5:21 is not a license to test what some may consider the murky or shallow waters. He is not encouraging Christians to try anything that is not specifically condemned in the Bible.
Test or try are not the best words to convey the thought; examine or discern are better. 1 John 4:1 tells us to test the spirits. How? Taking error for a test drive is not an option. Do not just accept a teacher. Don’t try out his doctrines until we have examined what he teaches. Is it from God or from man? We need to discern between truth and error.
2 Corinthians closes with Paul asking them to verify that they are indeed serving God faithfully. We all need to examine, test, try or discern our faith. This is done by comparing our lives with God’s word. Are we obeying God or not?
1 Thessalonians 5:21 says we are to hold fast what is good. Test all things by the word of God (not by experimentation), and hold to what is good.
Abstain from all appearance of evil
That is how the KJV translates verse 22. Strong defines the Greek eidov as “a view, form, appearance, fashion, shape, sight.” One need not be sinning to violate this verse. We may be doing something that is not sinful, and yet the circumstances of it may have the appearance of evil. The apostle says we are to avoid such.
Consider an example: on a Saturday night, I walk into a downtown bar. What am I doing there? People who do not know me will think I am going in to drink alcohol. They may not believe it is wrong to consume alcohol, but if I knock on their door the following Monday seeking a Bible study, my influence will have been compromised. People who do know me will be confused. They may have confidence in me, but the sight of me walking into a bar would be (should be) unsettling.
So, why am I there? What you don’t see, since you didn’t go in after me, is that I am sitting in a corner booth studying the Bible with someone. BTW, my drink of choice is a coffee, of course.
Is it sinful to study the Bible and drink coffee in a bar? No, but it is unwise. I may not be doing anything evil in the bar, but it has an appearance of evil.
I might defend myself by accusing any who think evil of me. How dare they think I was doing something bad. But why did they think evil of me? Because I did something that appeared to be evil. It wasn’t evil, but it had the appearance of evil. And as such, I was guilty of violating the instruction of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:22.
May we not look for opportunities to justify sin, or to engage in activities that may bear the appearance of evil. May we walk in the Lord’s way, not our own.