Paul writes, “…prove all things; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:21-22). Pointedly, Paul exhorts the Christian to action: “prove,” “hold fast” and “abstain.” The things to filter through the first step is broad in scope. It includes “all things.” Paul’s concise statements provide an uncluttered process to follow in all manner of holy living.
To prove or test all things demands an infallible Divine standard. God’s criterion for us is the “Godbreathed” Scriptures. It is profitable for the teaching, and spiritual training we need (2 Timothy 3:16). The light of the Gospel shining through the apostles’ doctrine exposes the difference between truth and error (I John 4:1, 6). The verbal light Jesus provides is a touchstone for us to determine the difference between evil doers and truth doers (John 3:19-21).
Through the crucible of the revealed Truth of God, we enter the application phase. We must “hold fast” and continue to grasp that which God identifies as “good.” We must also “abstain” and continue to refrain from Divinely proven “evil.” The process of keeping our walk holy is inclusive, demanding, and unambiguous, right? Not so fast…does “every form of evil” mean we are to abstain from that which “appears” to be evil? Or, does this mean I must refrain from evil when it makes its “appearance” before me. The Greek word, “form” denotes the appearance of something, but it is unambiguous when it appears. For example, at Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit descended in a “bodily form as of a dove” upon Jesus (Luke 3:22).
Paul is exhorting us in Thessalonians to continue to abstain from that which God has already characterized as evil.
Starting within, we must abstain from “evil thoughts.” Jesus characterizes the evil that rises from our hearts naming “murders adulteries, fornications, and thefts…”(Matthew 15:19). Where do these selfish and harmful outward uses of the body originate? Jesus begins His list with “evil thoughts.” Wicked thinking heads the list connecting us with “evil deeds.”
Evil thoughts often arise in the stressful times of conflict. When conflicting views of religious teaching collide, we must recognize the teaching which is not manifesting the sound words of the revealed Gospel and observe the behavior of those who do not want to come to the light of Truth for examination. However, we must be careful the controversy does not generate evil thoughts. Paul reminds us that such outward disputes can lead to inward “evil suspicions” (I Timothy 6:3). We can in times of controversy “surmise” the worst in another, that they are utterly corrupt, not just mistaken. But evil proceeds further…
We must also abstain from “evil speaking.” It is noteworthy Paul in I Timothy 6:3 connects “railings” with “evil suspicions.” If we are not on top of abstaining from evil, we will not be on guard to keep our tongue from speaking evil of another. It is easier to blaspheme and ruin another’s reputation when we surmise our disputant has little or no redeeming qualities.
God’s filtering process also keeps us falling victim to “politically correct” thinking. Paul directed the church to “Put away the wicked man from among yourselves” (I Corinthians 5:13). We should not apologize for God’s wording, in the presence of “wokeness”. This fornicating man in Corinth was an evil man – filtered by God’s Word – as a fornicating sinner. But he was not unredeemable, worthy of surmising and blasphemy, for the same man would turn to God in repentance (2 Corinthians 2:5-11). To identify a person as evil is instructive in our walk with God, not impolite and extreme!