Don’t you hate it when people misuse the Bible to support their agendas?
It’s especially disturbing when it’s done specifically to condemn others.
Let’s be careful not to act as if we speak with God’s authority unless we know that we’re accurately representing God’s revealed will in Scripture.
Case in point.
I’ve repeatedly heard 1 Thessalonians 5:22 misused in the Church.
When the apostle Paul wrote, “Abstain from all appearances of evil” (KJV), the popular application leads us to believe that he meant “avoid anything that looks like evil.”
This is not what is intended.
“Evil” in verse 22 is contrasted with “good” in verse 21. “Good” is used with reference to prophetic utterances (mentioned in verse 20) which upon examination (verse 21) are found to be genuine. In this context, “evil” likely refers to counterfeit prophetic utterances.
It’s important to examine the immediate context of a verse before jumping to applications. Context is the key word when studying Scripture (see: How should I interpret the Bible?).
Many things have been condemned through misuses of I Thessalonians 5:22.
The door opens to misapplication when you treat this verse as an isolated injunction commanding to abstain from anything that looks like evil.
The New Testament commands us to “abhor (or hate) what is evil and cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9), but this is an example of a more general command. When defining evil, it should be based on explicit biblical commands that specifically name the evil.
The danger of misusing I Thessalonians 5:22 becomes more significant when one remembers that Jesus condemned the Pharisees for judging based on appearance. They were quick to label and condemn people based on superficial evaluations of appearance.
On one occasion, Jesus exposed this tendency by saying, “John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking; and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man, and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners!’” (Luke 7:33-34).
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees saying, “You like to appear righteous in public, but God knows your hearts. What this world honors is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15, NLT).
God rebuked this tendency long ago when He said to Samuel, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
It’s much too easy to allow this form of Pharisaic judgmentalism to enter our hearts!
Self-righteousness is never far away when we make judgmental conclusions based on outward appearances.
Recommendation – “Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15).