TRY The Spirits; JUDGE The Prophesying; SEARCH The Scriptures; COMPARE Spiritual With Spiritual; PROVE All Things
Part Three / Conclusion
By Curt Wildy
Introduction to Part Three
In Part One, and In Part Two, we covered the need to hear the teachings of other Christians attentively and objectively; receiving their words with all readiness of mind; not despising their prophesies (and thus quenching the Spirit, by silencing them, shutting them down, or hastily rejecting their words); but instead, searching the scriptures diligently, comparing their words with God’s spiritual words (as found in His holy word, the Bible), thus, making the spirits of the prophets subject to the inerrant Prophets, to see whether the doctrine/interpretation they are bringing is really so. We also reviewed the incredibly interrelated nature of the core words related to trying, discerning, comparing, searching, judging, proving, etc., showing how they were either (a) the same words; (b) from the same dominant root word; or (c) closely synonymous despite having distinct root words. We then evidenced that we try words, and that trying the spirits and trying the words, are absolutely synonymous given that it is from the the spirit that one brings forth the words spoken (whether that spirit is the spirit of devils (a lying/divining spirit), the spirit of man, or, when it comes to the inerrant word of God, the Holy Spirit).
In this final part, I want to look at the question of “what do we do once we have faithfully, prayerfully, and carefully performed all of the above? Once we have heard rightly, tried the spirits, and proved all things, what do we do now?” The answer is a simple but clear one; once we have determined the validity of the prophesyings at issue, we are to hold fast to those words, those doctrines, that are true and we are to abstain from (hold ourselves off from) those doctrines that are false. As we reject that which is false, holding it far from us, we likewise abstain from walking in light of such error, remembering that “evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Note that the following will be a repeat for those who read the original message on my old site; however, some revisions have been made.
We’ve Tried The Spirits, Proved All Things, Searched The Scripture, Judged The Prophecy; Now What?
The primary passage for this section is as follows:
1 Thessalonians 5:19 Quench not the Spirit. 20 Despise not prophesyings. 21 prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 22 abstain from all appearance of evil.
As supported by:
1 Corinthians 2:12-16 “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Spirit teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know [them], because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16 For who hath known the Mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the Mind of Christ.”
Hebrews 5:12-14 “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which [be] the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. 13 For every one that useth milk [is] unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, [even] those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
Philippians 1:8-10 “For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. 9 And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and [in] all judgment; 10 That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ…”
Note: We need to consider the parallels again. Firstly, when we read above prove all things and judge all things, the things that we are to judge and prove are the prophesyings, the things of the Spirit of God, the things that are spiritually discerned, the things of the mind of christ, the things pertaining to strong meat, even the things that are excellent. All of the above point to the same underlying precept and principle; we are to make sure that the words, the teaching, brought before us matches that which is of the Spirit as revealed to us in Holy writ. Secondly, note again the words at issue in the passages quoted above. We see approve and prove (dokimazō/G1381); discern and judge (anakrinō/G350); discern (this time as Diakrisis/G1253 a variation of diakrinō/G1252); and compare (sygkrinō/G4793). These are all directly synonymous, often deriving from the very same dominant root word (krinō), which further evidences the direct inter-connectivity and inter-relatedness of these terms and passages. Thirdly, we are to discern both good and evil, so that we can hold fast to that which is good, even to that which is excellent, as we abstain from that which is evil.
Context is key to all interpretive matters; by failing to note it, many have incorrectly interpreted the meaning of a multitude of passages. This is true for 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22, but especially for verse 22 “22 abstain from all appearance of evil.” Regarding the entire quoted passage, and as stated in the previous parts, God is instructing the us that we are not to quench the Spirit, we are not to despise (set at naught) prophesying, seeing, that The spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Christ (Revelations 19:10) and seeing that All scripture given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). When men come forth to expound upon the word of God, we mustn’t attempt to silence or hastily reject them.
With a bit more detail, let’s consider each portion of 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22.
Quench not the Spirit / Despise not prophesyings
We cannot rightly understand the passage at issue without first understand what it means to quench the spirit and to despise prophesying. We have already gone over the matter but I wanted to give some additional biblical proof-texts.
Acts 19:6 “And when Paul had laid [his] hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.“
[They spoke in tongues, but not the gibberish that the Charismatics and Pentecostals “speak” in today, seeing that unknown tongues simply meant foreign languages. Before God completed the Bible, He enabled some of His people to speak in earthly languages that they had not previously learned. The goal was to prophesy (i.e. speak the truth of God’s Holy word) before the Gentiles in an accelerated manner to help build up the early church].
Ephesians 4:29-32 “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. 30 And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: 32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
1 Timothy 4:13-16 “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. 14 Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. 15 Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. 16 Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”
Romans 12:4-8 “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: 5 So we, [being] many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. 6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, [let us prophesy] according to the proportion of faith; 7 Or ministry, [let us wait] on [our] ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; 8 Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, [let him do it] with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.”
1 Peter 4:10-11 “As every man hath received the gift, [even so] minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 If any man speak, [let him speak] as the oracles of God; if any man minister, [let him do it] as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
1 Corinthians 12:4-11 “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another [divers] kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: 11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.”
1 Corinthians 12:27-30 “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. 28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.6 29 [Are] all apostles? [are] all prophets? [are] all teachers? [are] all workers of miracles? 30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? 31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.”
1 Corinthians 13:1 “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become [as] sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have [the gift of] prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing… 8 Charity never faileth: but whether [there be] prophecies, they shall fail; whether [there be] tongues, they shall cease; whether [there be] knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.”
1 Corinthians 14:1 “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual [gifts], but rather that ye may prophesy. 2 For he that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth [him]; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.1 3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men [to] edification, and exhortation, and comfort. 4 He that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. 5 I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater [is] he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. 6 Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?”
It should be abundantly clear from the passages above that the gift of prophesying (boldly and accurately proclaiming the truth of Scripture in our day) is a gift from the Holy Spirit and we are not to quench the Spirit by refusing to (a) preach/teach/witness the word to others, as God enables, and (b) to hear the preaching/teaching/witnessing of others (especially those with whom we are less familiar or that are less esteemed). We do not listen to just everyone; especially if we know they are false teachers. However, if they come believing the Doctrine of Christ, the True Gospel, we are not to shut them down or shut our ears to them on other matters simply because we do not (a) know who they are; (b) esteem them as being learned; or (c) recognise their interpretation (e.g. because their doctrine conflicts with our traditions or prior understanding on matters). By hearing them out, we can either be edified by the truth that they speak or we can more fully understand their error and help them, and others, turn from it as God enables.
Be Like the Bereans
Whether it was new prophecy from before the church matured and the Bible was completed or prophesying via the existing scripture (as in our day), God’s people were not to set godly witnessing or preaching at naught. Yet, even if the doctrine is not knew, if it contradicts what we believe, we should always be willing to verify (prove) our own stances again and again, challenging our own paradigms, especially in light of the new arguments and proof-texts brought before us (knowing that we, ourselves, see only in part and may be in error).
Acts 17:10 And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming [thither] went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few. 13 But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people.
Note also that the Apostle Paul said what he said to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 because of what he said about them in Acts 17:11-13. The two are sister passages.
“Quench not the Spirit, Despise not prophesyings” = “receive the word with all readiness of mind”
“Prove all things” = “search [examine; investigate, scrutinise] the scriptures daily, whether [the] things [are] so.”
The Parallel of 1 John 4
As we have seen, God set forth the same basic principle when he said “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” As we “try the spirits,” we are “proving all things.” The result of that trying or proving will determine whether we hold fast that which is good or abstain from all forms of [that which is] evil.
It is a battle of the (Greek) echos; once we try the spirits, trying the words, proving all things, we are to then hold ourselves off from [apECHOmai] the bad doctrine. Likewise we are instructed to hold fast to, or hold near [katECHO] the good doctrine. To hold fast is katecho [κατεχω G2722; kat-ekh’-o;] and it literally means to hold throughout or according to. In our language, it would have the idea of holding fast, keeping secure, keeping a tight grasp on something. It is formed from the words kata (meaning according to, down from, through out) and echo (to have or hold). To abstain is apechomai (απεχομαι G567; ap-ekh’-om-ahee) and it means to hold one’s self off, refrain, abstain. It is formed from the words apo (from, separation) and echo (to have or hold). Both words stem from echo, but there meanings are opposite. This play on words reinforces the true meaning, or interpretation, of the often misinterpreted and abused verse “abstain from all appearance of evil.”
What Does Appearance Mean?
Note, the word appearance is eidos [ειδος; G1491; i’-dos] and although it absolutely does mean the external or outward appearance, figure, or shape, of something — it also means form or kind. They were instructed, as we are, to abstain from every form, manifestation, shaping, or kind, of evil… but what evil? The context is doctrinal first and then conduct seeing that our conduct, our behavior and actions, are based upon our (a) doctrinal errors, (b) our doctrinal ignorance, and/or (c) our outright rejection of, or disobedience towards, right doctrine. So we must hold fast to all that is right, just, and true. Likewise, we must hold away from ourselves, or hold ourselves from, all kinds of sinful error, which is all forms of evil.
Now is this just my opinion, is it just fancy or novelty? No, please consider the translations in these other Bible versions [this is not a complete list]:
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 (LITV/KJ3): “Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies. 21 Test all things, hold fast the good. 22 Keep back from every form of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 (NASB): “Do not quench the Spirit; 20 do not despise prophetic utterances. 21 But examine everything [carefully]; hold fast to that which is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 (RSV): “Do not quench the Spirit; 20 do not despise prophesying. 21 But test everything; hold fast what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 (NKJV): “Do not quench the Spirit; 20 do not despise prophecies. 21 Test all things; hold fast what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil.
Some may wonder how the translators justified translating it as form and not as appearance? Consider how God uses the word eidos in:
Luke 3:22 And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape [eidos-G1491] like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.
Here, shape and form would be synonymous.
Spiros Zodhiates (editor of the Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament) states that in the Septuagint, eidos is used to denote manner, kind, or species (e.g. Jeremiah 15:3) and he also believes that eidos in 1 Thessalonians 5:22 means form or kind. Others in agreement with this interpretation include, but are not limited to, Joseph Henry Thayer (of the Thayer Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament); G. Abbott-Smith (of the Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament); A.T. Robertson (of Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament); and George Ricker Berry (of The Interlinear Literal Translation), amongst many others. So basically, the very best of experts on the Koine Greek affirm this interpretation, as does the very context itself (both the immediate context, and the greater context, in light of the parallel passages provided).
What Does Evil Mean?
The word evil is the Greek word poneros/G4190. In the AV/KJV, this word is translated fifty-one times as evil, ten times as wicked, and six times as wicked one. It literally means hurtful, evil, calamitous, ill, morally culpable, vicious, atrociously wicked, bad, of a bad nature or condition, etc. If we are to abstain from poneros instruction (which often leads to poneros actions, that is, wicked/evil/false instruction that leads to such action), we have to first determine what poneros is in the eyes of God. His word must tell us what is and is not evil. As we go through Scripture we see not only direct commandments but guiding principles that pertain to such judgments. Simply put, all that would be deemed literally, and truly, evil (by God’s word alone) is evil. It was never deemed evil to prudently do what God allows, though the Pharisees (as an example) deemed it evil. The Lord Jesus and the Apostles did what appeared to be evil to the false religionists often; but there was no sin involved in their defying the man-made traditions and commandments of such legalists and idolaters. The Lord, Himself,
- Criticised the esteemed religious leaders of the day and “called them names” (Matthew 15:14; 23:33);
- “Resorted to violence” and overturned their money tables (John 2:15);
- Associated with publicans, harlots, those who drank wine, etc. (Matthew 11:19; 21:31-32);
- Healed on the Sabbath day (Luke 13:14);
- Plucked corn on the Sabbath day (Mark 2:23);
- Made Himself equal with God (John 5:18; 8:58-59; 10:24-33);
- Publicly forgave sins (Luke 5:20-24).
Sinfulness lies in (a) doing what God forbids, (b) not doing what God commands, or (c) doing that which is otherwise lawful in an ungodly manner (like knowingly putting a stumbling-block before brethren by eating lawful food and drinking lawful drink in front of them, when you know it disturbs their conscience). Likewise, sinfulness lies in thinking or saying those things that would serve to contradict or set at naught the word of God. It is a sin to accuse someone of sinning, and to falsely judge/condemn them, when God does no such thing concerning the matter.
So as we listen to the prophesying, and prove it, we perceive the nature of it and discover (discern) the truthfulness of the matter. We then act accordingly based upon the instruction that God has given us. In our day, every time someone preaches, teaches, or witnesses faithfully from the Bible alone, they are prophesying, they are bringing good doctrine. Every time someone brings extra-biblical doctrine and tries to pass it off as new light, as a new message from God, we know that they are bringing evil doctrine (Revelation 22:18-19). Likewise, if a person claims to be declaring the truth from the Bible alone, but twists the words to suit their evil notions and intents, they too are bringing evil doctrine.
Moreover, we fail to abstain from the appearance (forms, kinds) of evil doctrine when we accept the doctrine as truth, or walk according to that doctrine as if it were truth. It is evil to accept or embrace evil doctrine; it is evil to accept or embrace those who bring evil doctrine; and it is evil to walk in the light of that evil doctrine. For example, if we bid god speed to someone who does not abide in the doctrine of Christ (2 John 1:9-11), or if we accept their false doctrine and/or fellowship, we have given the appearance of evil in the biblical sense because we appear to all to be at peace with that form, or kind, of doctrine. Likewise, if we rob, steal, pillage, murder, etc., we are giving the appearance of evil in that we are walking contrary to what God calls good and we are walking in accordance with that which God calls evil (by actually committing the evil act). The only evil we need to abstain from the appearance of is actual evil per God’s definition of evil. Anything else is the touch not; taste not; handle not mindset of the Pharisees and Judaizers (Colossians 2:21).
Colossians 2:8, 20-23 “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. … 20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, 21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not; 22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.
The passage above makes it very clear that we are not to become subject to the carnal reasonings/philosophies of men; their carnal convictions; nor to their carnal traditions and commandments… all of which is sheer idolatry. Instead, we must judge with righteous judgment, and that, by the word of God alone. Our natural convictions and understandings are prone towards evil; God’s wisdom alone is pure. Consider the admonitions:
Isaiah 5:20 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! 21 Woe unto [them that are] wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!
Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
Isaiah 55:6 Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts [are] not your thoughts, neither [are] your ways my ways, saith the LORD. 9 For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Thus, if we drink wine in moderation, own a deck of cards, or own a television, we are not giving the appearance of evil (as many would claim). Why? Because, in our day, God nowhere forbids abstinence from all wine drinking, abstinence from all card owning or playing, or abstinence from all television owning or watching. Is it bad to drink wine at times? Yes! Is it bad to play certain card games? Of course! Is it bad to watch certain television shows? No doubt! But it is only bad when engaging in those activities runs contrary to the specific doctrines outlined in the Bible. It isn’t bad just because someone feels or thinks it is bad. It isn’t bad simply because someone says “well, God has really convicted me on this; and I’m not going to back down; and my brothers over here believe it too; so the problem clearly must lie within you.” Again,
We do not judge by outward appearance, we judge righteous judgment!
However, we are to walk carefully when it comes to the consciences of weaker brethren. If eating certain foods, drinking certain drinks, wearing certain types of (even modest) clothes, etc. causes them to stumble — then avoid it in front of them as much as reasonably possible. Likewise, we need to be culturally sensitive as well in that we do not want to purposely antagonise those who may end up being brethren in Christ. As a Christian, I would not want to walk into an Indian restaurant an order hamburgers or Filet Mignon when I know that they do not eat or sell beef. I would not go into a vegan restaurant and ask for a Philly Cheese-steak when I know they are against the eating of meat. Likewise, I would not knowingly drink wine in front of someone, whether Christian or not, who has a history of alcohol abuse or has been in relationships wherein such things have caused them distress. We need to operate wisely, take into account all of the relevant factors, and seek to glorify God in all that we do. However, we do not glorify God when we alter our walk to satisfy the actual Pharisees and Judaizers of this world… The Lord didn’t do it, His apostles didn’t do it (except, at times, when witnessing in the synagogues, etc.), and neither should we.
We are to hear all matters objectively, listening carefully, and analyzing the arguments being made in light of all of the relevant passages found in scripture (as God enables). Those who cannot do this, who cannot handle taking in new paradigms, arguments, proof-texts, etc. are like those spoken of in Hebrews 5:12-14 “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which [be] the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. 13 For every one that useth milk [is] unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, [even] those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Remember, objectively hearing the strong meat, so as to discern whether it be good or evil, is absolutely no different from the command to “prove all things [so that we may] hold fast that which is good [and] abstain from all appearance of evil.” This is a very important means by which, per Philippians 1:8-10, “our love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and [in] all judgment; 10 That [we] may approve things that are excellent; that [we] may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ…” Remember, it is loving to objectively hear one another; it is loving to receive their words with an open mind; it is loving to thoroughly try, even scrutinize, their words (so as to compare them against, and prove them by, Scripture); it is loving to patiently, long-sufferingly, and calmly allow them to do the same to you; and it is loving to boldly, and without hesitation, hold so very fast to that which is biblical and to hold far away from you (or to hold yourself far off from) all that is unbiblical.
Finally, I encourage everyone to consider the above and to abstain from the very real evil of unrighteously judging others because you hold to an incorrect understanding of the phrase “abstain from all appearance of evil.” When we call evil that which God calls good; or good that which God calls evil; or even when we call something that is neither intrinsically good nor intrinsically evil “evil” to suit our own personal (and often, self-righteous) judgments and agendas, we transgress the law. We need to stick to scripture alone and abstain from all forms of doctrinal evil (along with the conduct flowing from it), including that great evil of judging brethren, even condemning brethren, according to our carnal commandments, traditions, opinions, “convictions,” feelings, etc. Such ungodly judgments erect unnecessary walls between the brethren; it causes us to glory in ourselves, and in what we are either doing or not doing, when we should all be glorying in Christ.
To our Lord be the glory, forever and ever, Amen!