Avoid Every Appearance of Evil!

Avoid Every Appearance of Evil!

If we look at the broader context of the New Testament as a whole, we see that Paul was certainly not speaking about avoiding every appearance of evil in 1 Thessalonians 5. His own mission was governed by the mantra, I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I might save some (1 Cor 9.22). Further, consider the life of Jesus. The distinct impression one gets from the gospels is that Jesus simply did not have the same scruples about his associations that the religious leaders of the day had. They avoided the appearance of evil at all costs; Jesus seems almost to have had the opposite approach to life and ministry (see, e.g., Luke 7:39). Even his disciples had been oppressed by all the rules and traditions of men. But Jesus freed them from such nonsense.

Christian Leaders and the Gray Areas of Godly Life

When Christian leaders talk about how to live a godly life, they eventually turn to the gray areas those things that are right for some but wrong for others. You know the list: drinking, smoking, watching R rated movies, playing cards, dancing, using colorful language, listening to Country-Western music (OK that last one is not a gray area; it should be taboo for everyone), etc. That’s the short list.

Initial Freedom in Christ: Articulated and Appreciated

And the way the instruction on such matters goes is all too often along these lines: First, our freedoms in Christ are articulated, clearly stated, appreciated.

Qualifiers to Freedom: Comfort, Judgment, and Love

Next come the qualifiers: but don’t exercise your freedom in Christ if it will make someone uncomfortable, cause someone to judge you, is not entirely loving, etc. This would be bad enough if it just ended there. By the time all the qualifications are stated, the freedoms that we allegedly have are almost all stripped away. Paralysis begins to set in.

1 Thessalonians 5:22 – A Verse Used as a Weapon

But the coup de grace comes with a single verse from 1 Thessalonians, utilized as a weapon against all those who enjoy their lives in Christ: But even if what you do is loving, makes no one uncomfortable, doesn’t cause anyone to judge you, remember that you are responsible to avoid every appearance of evil. So, if in doubt, don’t do it.

Questioning the Interpretation: “Avoid Every Appearance of Evil”

That’s how the verse reads in the KJV: Avoid every appearance of evil. It’s 1 Thess 5.22 and it puts a damper on everything. But does it really mean this? Does it really mean that even if something looks like it’s evil to some, we can’t enjoy it? Hardly.

True Meaning: Abstaining from Every Form of Evil

The Greek text really should be translated, abstain from every form of evil. There is a genuine correspondence between form and evil: that is, stay away from evil things. But the reason that form (or, in the KJV, appearance) was used is because Paul is speaking about false doctrine.

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