Abstain from the Appearance of Evil
By: Scott Morton
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.  Abstain from all appearance of evil.
As Paul has been closing out this epistle to the church at Thessalonica, he has been giving some practical information for how the believer should live their life. He has been trying to show them how it is that they should be living their lives, as he has already given them the doctrine for this dispensation:
1 Thessalonians 2:13
For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
This is the viewpoint that Paul, Silas, and Timothy (the three individuals who are listed in 1 Thessalonians 1:1 as being the authors of this epistle and the reason why this verse states we) had of the members of this local assembly. Paul had spent three Sabbath days in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-2) reasoning with them from the Scriptures. He explained to them the information that they would need related to this dispensation. This would include information related to the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), who we are as members of the Body of Christ, and information about how it is that we should live our lives.
In this passage, it is stated that the saints in Thessalonica had accepted what was being taught as the Word of God. They did not question that this could have been something that was only being taught as Paul's way of thinking. They understood that this had come from God and accepted it as His Word. This is something that a lot of people struggle with today. When they find out that someone has been using the principle of right division (2 Timothy 2:15) to look at the Word of God, they think that someone is not doing what God has instructed, as they do not think Paul is teaching the things that are consistent with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which is where so many people get their doctrine from today. The reality is that the saints in Thessalonica were to be held up in this manner, as they were doing the things that are right in the eyes of God.
The saints in Thessalonica understood that it is the Word of God that works in the believers. It helps an individual to conform their life to what God has intended for us. This is why Paul gives these instructions to Titus:
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,  Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;  Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;  Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
The Apostle Paul states that it is the grace of God that has brought salvation to all of mankind. There is nothing else that can bring salvation to people during this dispensation. This grace is shown in the gospel given to the Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. In spite of the attempts of other individuals to teach something else as the gospel, this is the only thing that can bring salvation.
The grace of God is also what teaches an individual what is right and what is wrong for us. Israel had the law system for instructions on how they were to live their life. The law told them exactly what to do in all areas of their life, so there was no chance for them to not know what to do. The law had over 600 separate instructions that were for them to use as the guidelines for what God expected them to do. They were to understand the law and would be held responsible for it, even if they broke the least of the commandments.
It would also be evident to all if someone was following the law or not. Deuteronomy 28 shows why this is the case. There are a series of blessings that come for a person if they keep the law and a series of blessings that come if they transgress the law. These blessings were evident for all to see, so Israel was able to look at their neighbors and would be able to see if they were doing what God had instructed them to do. The motivation for them to do the right thing was fear of punishment that would come upon them for failure to follow the law.
This is not something that is given to us, as we are not under the law (Romans 6:14). The law was nailed to the cross with the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:13). Since the law is not in place for us, we have to be motivated by something different. This is why the Apostle Paul said in Titus 2 that it was the grace of God that was teaching us. It is by grace that we are being taught and are now being motivated by love. This is why Paul can give an instruction like the following:
Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.
The law had instructed thou shalt not steal (Exodus 20:15). There was no answer to what they were supposed to do instead. The Apostle Paul gives the �grace alternative� in the instructions to us, as he tells someone they should work instead of stealing. This is the demonstration of love for the Lord Jesus Christ, which is supposed to be what is motivating us today.
What is evil?
If we are going to understand the instructions given to us by the Apostle Paul, we will need to understand some basic things about evil. We will first need to understand what evil actually is.
There is some confusion on this issue, as most people want to make evil the equivalent of sin. This is not what the Bible states, as we can see this from Genesis:
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:  But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
God had given Adam a simple command here in Genesis 2. He was to use any tree in the Garden of Eden for food, except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The verse does not imply that the evil being made reference to here is sin. After they eat of the tree, we see that this knowledge has been given to them and they realize what is evil.
There is a major difference between sin and evil. Sin is something that is clearly defined in the Bible as the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4) and whatsoever is not of faith (Romans 14:23). This puts sin as something that is completely outside of God and He has nothing to do with sin.
Sin entered the picture when Adam (which includes Eve, as prior to the fall of man their name was called Adam) ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There was a clear instruction given to him in Genesis 2:16 that was broken in Genesis 3. Sin is something that entered because of Satan and the transgressions against what God has said:
1 John 3:8
He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
John clearly records that sin is of the devil. This is why the serpent is one tempting them in the Garden of Eden and leads to their fall. He introduces the idea of sin into the picture, as they transgress the command of God and bring the issue of sin and its consequences into this world.
The issue of evil is something that is completely different. Evil is not the actions of doing something that is against God. The Bible defines evil as the knowledge of what is wrong and of the things that are against God. It is part of what we refer to as the conscience of an individual.
The major difference between the two is who is the one that has introduced this to the world. The verse above shows that Satan is the one who brought sin into the picture. When you look at where evil comes from, the following verses point this out:
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?
According to these two verses, evil comes from God. Since we know that God cannot have anything to so with sin, these two things cannot be the same. God has created evil according to Isaiah and has done evil according to Amos. This means that the understanding a lot of individuals have of what evil is does not match what the Bible says. The following definition of evil comes from the 1828 Webster�s Dictionary:
E'VIL, a. e'vl. [Heb. to be unjust or injurious, to defraud.]
1. Having bad qualities of a natural kind; mischievous; having qualities which tend to injury, or to produce mischief.
Some evil beast hath devoured him. Gen 37.
2. Having bad qualities of a moral kind; wicked; corrupt; perverse; wrong; as evil thoughts; evil deeds; evil speaking; an evil generation.
3. Unfortunate; unhappy; producing sorrow, distress, injury or calamity; as evil tidings; evil arrows; evil days.
E'VIL, n. Evil is natural or moral. Natural evil is any thing which produces pain, distress, loss or calamity, or which in any way disturbs the peace, impairs the happiness, or destroys the perfection of natural beings.
Moral evil is any deviation of a moral agent from the rules of conduct prescribed to him by God, or by legitimate human authority; or it is any violation of the plain principles of justice and rectitude.
There are also evils called civil, which affect injuriously the peace or prosperity of a city or state; and political evils, which injure a nation, in its public capacity.
All wickedness, all crimes, all violations of law and right are moral evils. Diseases are natural evils, but they often proceed from moral evils.
2. Misfortune; mischief; injury.
There shall no evil befall thee. Psa 91.
A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself. Prov 22.
3. Depravity; corruption of heart, or disposition to commit wickedness; malignity.
The heart of the sons of men is full of evil. Eccl 9.
4. Malady; as the king's evil or scrophula.
E'VIL, adv. [generally contracted to ill.]
1. Not well; not with justice or propriety; unsuitable.
Evil it beseems thee.
2. Not virtuously; not innocently.
3. Not happily; unfortunately.
It went evil with his house.
4. Injuriously; not kindly.
The Egyptians evil entreated us, and afflicted us.
In composition, evil, denoting something bad or wrong, is often contracted to ill.
Looking at the definition given above, there seems to still be some problems with what evil is defined as. How can God create the things that are listed above? Can God do something that is against His will? Would God create or do something that was not virtuous? The answer to these questions is no, which still leads to the problem of what is considered to be evil.
When Adam was instructed to not eat of tree of the knowledge of good and evil, this was a law given to him of what to do. The issue of good and evil is that an individual knows what is in the will of God (good) and what is outside of the will of God (evil). This is how God created evil, as He has shown us what His will is, so we know if we are doing things that are in His will or not.
God also could do things that would cause grief for individuals. The Old Testament is filled with occurrences of where God did something against individuals because of the fact that they had gone against His will. This would cause grief for individuals, which is part of the definition of evil that is listed above.
When Paul is speaking about evil, he is speaking about the idea of corruption and wickedness. These are the things that Paul is telling us that we need to avoid as believers today.
What is considered evil today?
If we are going to be able to abstain from the appearance of evil, we should know what is considered evil. This will help us to be able to follow what Paul has given to us as doctrinal information for this dispensation.
There are some things that are easy to point out as being evil (against what God would have us to do). The Bible condemns drunkenness over and over again. It would not be beneficial to anyone if a believer was going to the corner bar on a daily basis in order to get drunk. Anyone looking at this would think that the person was unsaved, because they could not see a believer doing this.
Pornography is another area that is easy to state as being evil. This industry promotes fornication and other sexual deviances. This is a large industry in the United States and can be found very easy. It does not take a lot of searching on the Internet to find a website where pornographic pictures or videos can be viewed for free.
There are other things that some people view as being evil and other people do not see a problem with them. The reason for the differences in opinion on some of these things is that there is no verse that clearly states that God has said one way or another on what we are to do with it. Some examples of these things are: playing cards, the Lottery, watching television, and watching sports.
It is clear that there is not a lot of consistency in what is considered evil during this dispensation. Since this is the case, believers today need to know how they need to handle the situations they may end up. A believer might be participating in something they feel is okay and are then seen by someone who does not think this is something a Christian should be doing. This is going to cause some problems, as Paul states what we are to be for this world:
That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;
It is clear from just watching the news that we are living in a crooked and perverse nation. There are all sorts of crimes that are committed on a daily basis, with these crimes seeming to be more vicious every year. Paul did not state that things were going to be getting better, but stated in 2 Timothy 3 that things would get worse and worse as we get closer to the timing of the Rapture and the end of this dispensation.
This is the world that we are to function as lights in. By functioning as lights, we are examples of how to live the life that God intended for us. Individuals who are not saved are to be able to use us as an example of how to live in this present evil world. There is not supposed to be any confusion for individuals that would be using us as the example. When we understand the things that Paul has been teaching we can start to understand what it is that he means by these things.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,  Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.  All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
In this passage Paul lists many behaviors that are the easy things that individuals would point out as being evil. These are the things that most individuals who say they are Christians would be able to avoid.
He then brings up a principle about how all things are lawful for an individual in this dispensation. This is because the law has been removed for the believers in this dispensation. The law was nailed to the cross with the Lord Jesus Christ. The reason for this is that this takes care of the sin issue, where sin is defined as the transgression of the law. If the law is removed, I cannot transgress it, and therefore cannot commit a sin where the punishment for it would be separation from God (see Romans 4:15, 5:13).
Just because these things are lawful, does not mean they are going to be expedient. The meaning of expedient is something that would be profitable. All things in this life are not profitable for an individual to participate in, as there are some natural consequences that can come from actions. If an individual were to smoke cigarettes, there are many different health consequences that can come from this. An individual who engages in adultery is not only risking being infected with certain diseases, they are going to be causing problems in their relationship with their spouse. These examples show that there are consequences that come from things that are not expedient for the life of a believer.
Paul is also bringing up the issue of being brought under the power of these things. A lot of the things that are wrong for an individual to participate in can start to have power over the life of an individual. This power comes from the fact that whatever it is starts to take over the thinking process of the person and the end result is that their life starts to revolve more and more around whatever the problem that is being spoken of is. This power causes a person to keep doing this action more and more and takes them farther away from the Word of God. This is a warning Paul is giving to the members of the Body of Christ to make sure they are not being taken away from the Word of God and falling into the trap of participating in whatever the problem he or she has been dealing with.
This explains how we are to handle the things that are directly listed in the Bible as being things that we are the avoid in life. The question then is what are we to do about things that are not listed as being things to avoid, but some people would still say are evil and we should be avoiding these things.
As members of the Body of Christ we have to be careful on how we deal with the other members of the Body. We should never do anything that would be damaging to these relationships. If there is something that someone in the Body of Christ feels is evil and should be avoided, we should do our best to avoid these things. We are not to do things that would be causing the fellow members of the Body to stumble.
Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.
1 Corinthians 8:9
But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
A stumbling block is something that has a direct effect on the faith of an individual. The Lord Jesus Christ is referred to as a stumbling block to the nation of Israel. They were confronted with who He was and would have to make a decision on who they thought He was, leading to either their acceptance of Him or rejection of the Messiah. The things that we do in life can be a stumblingblock to individuals in their faith. They can see that we are doing these things that they do not understand that we are doing and it leads to their questioning of the Word of God.
What these things should lead to is a discussion with the believers of what the Bible says. As all the saints start to mature, all will be able to see what it is that we should and should not do. However, if the ministry goes the way that the Apostle Paul instructs, there will always be new individuals coming into the Body of Christ. This is why we need to abstain from the appearance of all evil, as we need to be in a good position for these new believers to be able to minister to them.