Some of the most ignored verses in the Bible may be the instruction the Apostle Paul gave to the church at Thessalonica. “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, NASB) The King James Version expands the thought a touch more, saying, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.” The failure to uphold this teaching is rotting our foundation. Like moisture in the walls, the support timbers are weakening. Like termites eat away at the structural lumber, our moral foundation is getting chipped away at.
The Christian is instructed to “examine” or “prove” all things. This is to measure all things against the truth of the Word of God. Considering the biblical illiteracy of our day, how are we to know the truth that is to be the measuring stick? The result is an ignorance of the moral truth of God, and hence the rise of moral relativism. There is no good in moral relativism, only an erosion of moral righteousness. While our culture says that we are evolving in our sophistication, technology and knowledge, the truth is we are devolving in relation to what God would have the church and society to be.
We are to “hold fast” to that which is good. However, as we fall farther away from our knowledge of God and His ways, we also move farther away from having the knowledge of what is good and righteous in God’s sight. We cannot hold fast to something that we either do not fully believe or that we have little to no understanding of. With the lack of knowledge and understanding, the world (i.e. culture and society) can erode our resolve and faithfulness until we begin to release the things that we once held fast.
Even in the church, individually as well as corporately, we do not “abstain from every form of evil”. We certainly don’t “abstain from all appearance of evil”. That is to say, that if something could even appear to be evil, whether it is or not, it is best to stay away from it. It seems to be our nature that we want to see how much we can get away with. What can we do and still be safe? The unfortunate thing is that we oftentimes go past the boundary, plunging over the edge resulting in sinful behavior.
Had this article begun with examples of how we do this every day in our lives, we likely would not have read this far. We would have felt attacked and the guilt of our sinful behavior would have made us want to look away rather than confront it and repent. Our behavior is to be affected by the Word of God in a positive direction. That includes repenting of our current shortcomings as we confront the sinful or even questionable behavior. Our refusal to do so is arrogance and pride which is sin in the sight of God.
Were we to have a one on one conversation, we would probably come to agreement on what moral and upright behavior is if we were seeking to please our Holy God. I dare say that neither of us would want to allow certain behaviors to take place in our homes such as fornication, adultery, deception, murder, selfishness or greed. Yet we invite it into our homes regularly in the movies, television shows and all forms of “entertainment” that we tolerate. Whether we want to accept it or not, the behavior seen reinforces the pressures being exerted upon us by the world. We say that we are not committing such sins ourselves, but our lusts are being stoked by our actions in what we believe to be our freedom to behave in such a manner.
We again look at the act of overt sin, committing the act itself, and we declare our innocence. We look at the letter of the law and we ignore the spirit and intent of the instruction. In the fifth chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew, Jesus instructs the people who were doing the same thing. He speaks on these topics: murder and anger; adultery and lust; divorce and adultery; oaths and the throne of God; resistance and submission; love and prayer for enemies. We tend to look past this instruction if it convicts us in our behavior or thoughts. If the truth is inconvenient, we ignore it and fulfill our selfish desires.
Are we still declaring our innocence? What of “the appearance of evil”? Are we willing to change our behavior or activities if there is even a chance that they may be perceived by another as evil? Again, our nature and our belief that we have a certain freedom will resist that change. We hang onto the things of this world that bring us pleasure and maintain a low standard rather than submitting our lives to the Word of God, which commands something different. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, NASB) Paul goes on to teach that we are to live in self-denial on behalf of others. We are to set our “rights” aside in order to build up and love one another. If we have eternal life by faith in Christ Jesus, we need to truly grasp the concept of being dead to sin and living for Christ. “For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.” (Romans 6:19b, NASB) Read chapter 6 of Romans; Believers Are Dead to Sin, Alive to God.
What are our activities that have the “appearance” of evil? Is it our entertainment choices in movies or television or music? Is it our social activities in those we associate with or the venues we frequent? Is it in the satisfaction of our own pride or vanity? Is it in our practice of New Age or Eastern Religion practices like mysticism or yoga?
This discussion is sure to hit many nerves, some more raw than others, including mine. The proper reaction is to recognize, repent and recover. Ignoring the issue or rising up in pride and arrogance will only amplify the problem. We need to examine ourselves honestly and fully. We need to determine if we are going to live for self or if we are willing to live fully for Christ. Romans 1:18-32 talks about unbelief and its consequences. It talks about those who “know the ordinance of God” and yet still practice such things that are sinful in the sight of God. Though we may not practice such things, perhaps the closing words are a warning to us to consider our part. “They not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” Do we take part in the sin by quietly approving of the activity or by being entertained by evil?
The answer is to draw close to God and to truly serve Jesus Christ as our Lord. Lord is more than a title; it is His position with a definite function. Are we truly His servants? Jesus is Lord and Master and we are His servants; slaves to righteousness. We need to deeply, thoughtfully consider, as followers of Christ, what it is to be fully committed to serving Him. We need to embrace such commandments as “You shall be Holy, for I am Holy.” Prove all things. Hold fast to the righteous. Abstain from even the appearance of evil. Be slaves to Christ and righteousness.
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be Holy, for I am Holy.’” (1 Peter 1:14-16)