Test For The Truth, Hold To The Holy
In a world where so many things are fighting for our time and attention, how do we hold onto that which is truly good? Join Dr. Marty Baker for our latest installment of "Hope Beyond Hardship" as we look at 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22.
When I worked for Visible Computers after I exited the Ph.D. program at Dallas Theological Seminary in 1985, we all knew what our boss, John, wanted from us when he left the massive building where we filled orders for large office supply chain stores. Orders had to be picked, stacked on pallets, and placed in truck trailers. Truckers waited for us to fill the large orders, so there could be no messing around, even when our supervisor left the building. We never knew the precise moment of his return also motivated us collectively.
From this, I see a one-to-one correspondence to the Christian life. Our “Supervisor,” the Lord, has left us with much work to do while He has stepped away for a moment. In places like 1 Thessalonians 5, verses 12 through 22, He tells us exactly what we need to be doing through Paul's inspired pen until he unexpectedly returns. Every spiritual worker knows the question they need to answer daily:
How Should We Live In Light Of Christ’s Arrival? (1 Thess. 5:12-22)
Every worker has spiritual duties in three distinct areas that they must always observe to be ready to give an account to the Supervisor upon His glorious arrival.
• Our Duty Toward Leaders (1 Thess. 5:12-13). What does this entail? It entails submitting to their leadership, knowing they have charge of you as Christ’s undershepherds (1 Pet. 5:1ff). Are you an asset or a liability regarding how you respond to the spiritual leaders of your church?
• Our Duty Toward Followers (1 Thess. 5:14-15). Whether the person follows the Lord or Lucifer, we are commanded to exhibit Christ-like characteristics toward them so they sense His love and understand His holiness. How are you doing in this challenging area? Are you making headway?
Paul’s commands build to a climax in verses 16 through 22. Here he gives us . . .
Our Duty Toward The Lord (1 Thess. 5:16-22)
What does this entail?
• Evidencing a joyous inner attitude no matter what life sends our way (v. 16).
• Praying as a habit about anything and everyone (v. 17).
• Being thankful in life’s valleys and mountaintops (v. 18).
• Living so as not to muzzle or stifle the movement of the Spirit of God (v. 19)
• Supporting the revealed Word of God (v. 20).
Paul closes with three more commands calling for perpetual application.
Rule #6: Test For Truth & Hold To The Holy (v. 21). This command is concise and clear:
KJV 1 Thessalonians 5:21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
NAS 1 Thessalonians 5:21 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;
NIV 1 Thessalonians 5:21 but test them all; hold on to what is good . . .
There is some textual variance in the Greek. Some ancient manuscripts include the conjunctive particle, de (δὲ). If this is the oldest reading, and it’s quite possible it is, then it ties this command directly with the preceding one, “Do not despise prophecies” (v. 20).
Since the forth-telling and foretelling aspects of this gift were functional at this time as the foundation of the Church was laid (Eph. 2:20), the command means saints were not to reject the strong proclamation of the Word, nor the prophetic word concerning the future from resident prophets. The ecstatic, uncontrolled prophetic utterances these saints encountered in the Grecian polytheistic system possibly gave them a negative view of prophecy when they became believers. Hence, the need for Paul’s command to test the difference between true and false prophesies. True prophesies align with the sound teaching of the Word of God, and, and they are fulfilled in due time per the counsel of Moses (Deut. 18). If you happen to believe in the totality of this spiritual gift being active today, then this criteria still applies.
If you are a cessationist, like myself, you believe the forth-telling side of this gift is viable for today, but the foretelling side is now non-functional because (1) the foundation of the Church, consisting of the apostles and the prophets, is laid (Eph. 2:20), and (2) the biblical canon is closed so no new revelatory futuristic word is needed other than the complete Word of God. God, therefore, speaks through forth-telling, or through the teaching and preaching of the Scriptures, which are prophetic in nature (2 Pet. 1:20-21). Paul’s rule concerning prophecy, therefore, still applies. A saint must constantly evaluate what they hear against the Scriptures to determine truth from error.
If the conjunctive particle is not part of the original text, and this is possible, it means the command stands primarily alone. This also seems logical because Paul applies the command to “all things.” The Greek scholar D. Edmond Hiebert explains this phrase in a helpful manner:
But the command is in itself general, extending the principle to all things that affect their religious life. The duty to test prophesyings is thus brought under the universal rule that Christians must practice the testing of all things that ask for their acceptance as being from God. Ignorant and untested acceptance of all that claims to be from God is not demanded in any area of the Christan life.
Either way, believers are commanded to pay attention to what they hear and see in a quest to ascertain truth and error. Let’s dig further into this imperatival construction.
Here is how the dual present tense commands appear in Greek:
1 Thessalonians 5:21 πάντα [δὲ] δοκιμάζετε, τὸ καλὸν κατέχετε, (1 Thess. 5:21 WHT)
Allow me to transliterate: panta de dokimazete, to kalon katexete. The similar-sounding commands are a rhetorical device called paronomasia. Regarding this device, Bulliger observes in his massive Figures of Speech Used in the Bible,
But two things are emphasized, and our attention is called to this emphasis by the similarity of sound. Otherwise, we might read the page, and pass it by unnoticed; but the eye or the ear is at once attracted by the similarity of sound or appearance, and our attention is thus drawn to a solemn or important statement which would otherwise have been unheeded. Sometimes a great less is taught us by this figure . . .
Hence, the very sound construction of this command is designed to arrest your attention, while also making it easy to memorize for future application.
The present tense command here calls for perpetual testing. The Greek word is dokimazo (δοκιμάζω). According to Danker’s leading Greek lexicon, this ancient word has two nuances: (1) to make a critical examination of something to determine genuineness, and (2) to draw a conclusion about worth on the basis of testing. Logically, you can see why this term applied to the testing of gold to ascertain whether a given substance was gold, or not. Do you ever watch Pawn Stars? I do. It’s most interesting when someone walks in off the street with an amazing artifact, and potentially priceless, like an Ides of March Roman coin minted just after the murder of Julius Caesar (worth $150,000), or Mary Ford’s, the wife of the guitar manufacturer, Les Paul, personal 1961 Gibson SG Les Paul Guitar (worth $150,000), or even the personal Les Paul custom guitar of Jimmy Hendrix (worth $1 million). At some point, Rick Harrison, the owner of the shop, calls in experts to verify the items before he offers money to the clients. Sometimes the items check out, and sometimes the expert reveals that they are just good forgeries.
Spiritually, we have a higher duty to determine truth from error. John echos Paul’s teaching in 1 John 4:
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4).
The word “spirits” here, pneumati (πνεύματι) is used in the NT of demonic beings (Mark 1:23; 5:2). John alludes, therefore, to the demonic beings who stand behind false teachers and so-called prophets. We are called to test them, which is identical to the command Paul issued to the Thessalonians (δοκιμάζετε).
How do we test? Paul doesn’t say, but I like Hiebert’s answer:
Mere intellectual acumen is unable to make this test. “Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged” (1 Co. 2:14). It is spiritual discernment rather than intellectual sagacity that is required.
The Spirit who resides in you guides you to truth by helping you identify that which is patently false:
13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come (John 16).
Internally, the Spirit will help you sort through the cultural and cultic teachings:
• It’s all right to get a divorce if you are not compatible.
• Smoking marijuana is permissible because it is legal in my State.
• There is nothing wrong with me loving someone of the same sex because it is sanctioned by the Supreme Court, and all love is love, right?
• Christian morality should never be legalized.
• Freedom of religion must be banished because, as Karl Marx taught, it really is the “sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”
• It’s ok for me to date a non-Christian because we really do love each other.
• I should always think thoughts that are within the acceptable thought and verbal guidelines of those in power.
• Christians shouldn’t call people to repentance because this makes people in the LGBTQI community uncomfortable and is viewed as harmful.
• God doesn’t define us. We define ourselves, therefore, it is natural and loving to believe that a man can be a woman, and a woman can be a man. Hence, the Bible cannot be trusted about sex and gender, and to use common sense is really to employ heretical, uncaring thinking.
• Because Christian parents do not support the radical ideology of the ruling elite, they need to be silenced, and their children need to be seen as wards of the State so they can be properly educated so there is a societal progression toward utopia.
• Any differences in outcome for various groups must always be a function of ‘hate.’
• Salvation is based on faith in God plus perpetual good works. The Book Of Ether 8:26, in the Book of Mormon, states: 26 Wherefore, I, Moroni, am commanded to write these things that evil may be done away, and that the time may come that Satan may have no power upon the hearts of the children of men, but that they may be persuaded to do good continually, that they may come unto the fountain of all righteousness and be saved.
I could go on, but I’m sure you get Paul’s point. The Spirit will give you a check in your spirit when you hear erroneous cultural and cultic teaching, and He will, then, direct you to truth. How does this happen?
The Spirit will guide you to truth in your testing by comparing what you have heard or seen against the unchanging nature of the Word of God. This is what Paul did constantly. For instance, when the Galatian church started embracing the teaching of the Judiazers who said that salvation was based on faith in Jesus coupled with perpetual works, Paul quickly demonstrated in his letter how this thinking didn’t square with God’s redemptive revelation. When the Colossian believers started to be tainted by Gnostic teaching, which resulted in them having a low view of the deity of Christ, Paul took them to task with the revealed Word of God. This technique is something akin to laying a counterfeit bill next to a real one. Within a few seconds, the counterfeit is readily identified. Does it have color-shifting ink, is there a watermark, does the bill have blurry borders or printing, is there a security thread, is there raised printing, are red and blue threads running through the banknote? Likewise, when that which is taught is laid next to the true teaching of the Scriptures, that which is true and false will quickly emerge. So, stay in the Word always.
In addition to being a student of the Word, so you can test for truth properly, I’d also advise you to read sound systematic theologies constantly.
• Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology (4 vols.)
• Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology
• Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine
Books like this sharpen your testing ability, so keep one handy on your nightstand for daily reading.
Further, I’d counsel you to read good books written by Christian apologists. These works will train you how to think about cultural and/or cultic issues so you will not be duped, and so you will be able to lead others toward truth and away from error. Here are a few I’d suggest:
• Francis Beckwith and Greg Koukl, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted In Mid-Air
• Erwin Lutzer, No Reason To Hide: Standing For Christ in a Collapsing Culture
• James Sire, The Universe Next Door (he will teach you the difference between sound and unsound philosophy)
• R. C. Sproul, Lifeviews: Understanding the Ideas That Shape Society Today
• Norman Geisler, Christian Ethics
• J. P. Moreland, Christianity and the Nature of Science
Believe me, I could give you many more titles, but I’ll let these stands as a good starting point. Again, if you want to test for truth, you need to be studying truth, the Word, coupled with great books about how to think about what is true versus what is false. What are you reading now? Perhaps you need to up your game to better protect your spiritual walk, while also positioning to have a great impact on those under your care.
Rule #7: Hold Onto The Holy (1 Thess. 5:21). Paul wastes no time presenting this logical outcome of pursuing truth:
21 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;
When you discover truth, hold onto it as tightly as you can. Study it, learn it, meditate on it, think about it, and use it to guide others toward truth. The Greek word here is related to holding tightly onto something with an almost death grip. As you know, I love to work my grip. I have since High School. I used the Captains of Crush professional grips. Right now, I’m working on grip #2, which is 195 pounds per square inch. My goal is to get a world-class certification by closing a #3 grip, which is 280 pounds per square inch. The zeal I have for working out my physical grip is eclipsed by my regimen to enhance my spiritual grip where truth is concerned.
Hence, when I learn about the good way to view equity and equality, I want to hold onto that thinking. When I learn why sex and gender are fixed and not fluid, I want to maintain that grip on the godly goodness of this type of thinking. When I learn what true tolerance means, as opposed to what the Christless culture says it means in their redefinition of terms, I strengthen my grip by working out with books like J. Budsiszewki’s True Tolerance. No matter what the area is, I know truth matters because God is the Lord of all truth. So, when I know what the truth is in a given domain, I constantly work to enhance my spiritual grip in that area through prayer and further study.
How is your spiritual grip? Are there things you are holding onto right now which are not good or holy? It’s time to release them and grip the truth. What our old sinful world needs is more believers deeply committed to not holding onto lies, but to grasping truth with the grip of a powerlifter.
Rule #8: Steer Clear Of Sin (1 Thess. 5:22). Paul’s final command to saints concerning their role toward Christ couldn’t be clearer and more pragmatic:
22 Abstain from every form of evil (1 Thess. 5).
Friberg’s Analytical Greek Lexicon tells us the present tense Greek command here was historically used of the measurement of distance. Ostensibly, it means to be distant from something, not near it. This is how Paul uses this unique word. Since God is holy, we must be holy (1 Pet. 1:16). Holiness demands we frequently think about whether we are near that which is intrinsically evil, and we then determine how to get away from it . . . as soon as possible. We aren’t to flirt with evil, to see how long we can stand near it, to rationalize it so it doesn’t appear as sin, or to hang out with those who engage in evil, knowing their love affair will act like a contagion (Prov. 1). We are to put as much distance between us and the form of evil as we possibly can. Do you? Will you?
Instead of staying away from questionable women, what did Samson do? After multiple women, he started a relationship with Delilah. We all know where that sinful relationship took him, and we know what it cost him, spiritually speaking (Judges 13-16). When no other woman could get him to compromise his intimate walk with God, she did in a most deceptive fashion. His choices threw him into a downward spiritual spiral because he repeatedly stayed as close to the form of sin as he could.
• How about you? Is there any “form of evil” you need to get away from? Ask God to show you what or who it is, then do everything in your power to cut off that relationship or exposure.
• If someone is tainting your thinking about sexuality, it’s time to walk away and walk toward God.
• If someone is tainting your thinking about divorcing your wife on non-biblical grounds, it’s time to walk away and walk toward God.
• If your buddies are dragging you into a gambling habit that’s costing you big-time, it’s time to walk away and walk toward God.
• If you’re sitting in a movie you’ve paid good money for and it’s espousing ideas that run counter to moral wholesomeness, it’s time to walk away and walk toward God.
• If your child is exposed to another child who is saying and doing questionable things at a young age, it’s time to help them walk away and walk toward God.
Do this, and you will grow in holiness, and God’s face will shine upon your life path. Follow both of these commands, and you will be prepared for your Supervisor’s imminent, glorious, and exciting arrival.