The appearance of evil

The appearance of evil

But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good. Abstain from every form of evil. – 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22

Job 1:8 Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless – a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.

On his regular patrol, a County Sheriff passed a man by the side of the road. He was trying to get into a locked car using a coat hanger. Was he trying to break in, intent on stealing? Or was he merely locked out of his own car, having left his keys inside, and simply trying to open the door to his car?

Could it be that the man was doing evil? Maybe? Or perhaps it was a totally innocent act?

Simply because something appears to be evil does not make it so. The King James Bible translates 1 Thessalonians 5:22 as follows.

1 Thessalonians 5:22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.

However, more recent translations diverge significantly, based upon 400 years of research and discovery regarding the Greek language, vocabulary, and syntax.

1 Thessalonians 5:22 Abstain from every form of evil. (NAS, ESV)

1 Thessalonians 5:22 Stay away from every kind of evil. (NET, NLT)

1 Thessalonians 5:22 Avoid every kind of evil. (NIV)

1 Thessalonians 5:22 Throw out anything tainted with evil. (MSG)

Based on the King James translation, many children of the King assume that 1 Thessalonians 5:22 requires that we are to avoid any behavior that others might perceive as being evil. Therefore we’re not only to stay away from evil but anything that might appear evil to someone else.

What is the focus of the verse? Avoiding the appearance of evil or staying away from all forms of evil?

“One problem with emphasizing the appearance of evil is that it can make us slaves to the perceptions of others. There will always be someone who thinks that something you are doing is wrong or that it looks wrong to him. So, rather than spending our time getting to know God and serving Him, we worry about the possibility that someone, somewhere, might misconstrue our actions” (gotquestions.org).

This, in turn, begs a larger question. Are children of the King to focus on pleasing the Father or comply with standards of conduct or misconduct based upon the subjective, perhaps arbitrary criteria of others?

This verse is often taken out of context, and its meaning has been distorted. In 1 Thessalonians 5:19-23, Paul encourages the Thessalonians to welcome the Holy Spirit’s work and spoken prophecies. They are to be heard, examined and tested to see if they are valid messages from the Father. Those which are good and sound are to be received and embraced, while those that are spurious are to be rejected.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-23

 19 Do not quench or stifle the Holy Spirit.

 20 Do not scoff at or despise prophecies,

 21 but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good.

 22 Stay away from every kind of evil.

 23 Now, may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again.

REFLECT & PRAY

“Blessed is the man, who having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact” (George Eliot).

Father You require that children of the King stay away from all forms of evil. Encourage and strengthen me to do just that.

INSIGHT

The Greek word translated as abstain, avoid, or stay away from is apecho. Apecho has the sense of refraining, restraining oneself from doing something. “Avoid must not be understood as ‘getting out the way of,’ but rather as ‘refusing to do’ or ‘having nothing to do with’” (UBS). In Greek, the verb is in the imperative tense and middle voice. It is a command that we are to follow for our own good.

The Greek word translated as every kind or every form is eidos. The noun eidos comes from the Greek verb eido, to see. From the time of Homer onwards, it stressed the link between what is visible with the reality behind it. The emphasis is not on the act of seeing but instead on what is seen. Rather than concentrating on the appearance of something, it focuses on the form or kind of what is seen. Thus rather than translating it as appearance, recent translations prefer form, class, or kind.

1 Thessalonians 5:22 Reject every kind of evil. (TEV, Good News Bible)

We are to avoid all forms of evil, not merely what appears to be evil. What appears to be evil is not always evil. We have an objective gold standard, the Word of God. It sets the bar for good and evil, moral and immoral, right and wrong.

We are to avoid every kind of evil spelled out in the Father’s standards, not apparent evil in accordance with man’s standards.

The Greek word translated as evil is poneros. Poneros means wicked, immoral, evil, harmful, unprofitable, vicious, degenerate, worthless, or useless. In a moral sense, evil corrupts what is good (1 Corinthians 15:2).

Paul’s exhortation reiterates the words of Job 1:8.

Job 1:8 Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless – a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.

When children of the King are in a right relationship with the Father, they respect Him and His values and abhor and refrain from evil. Children of the King are to keep away from every kind of evil (NIGTC).

“In this context . . . Evil refers, not so much to an abstract quality as to evil action or behavior; therefore, one may render this admonition as ‘refuse to do anything which is evil,’ or ‘refuse to act in any way which even seems bad’” (UBS).

“Avoiding the appearance of evil, or abstaining from every form of evil, means to live in God’s light by the power of the Holy Spirit. We worry not about the perceptions of others but about the integrity of our own walk with Christ. When we avoid every kind of evil, we ‘make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires’ (Romans 13:14, ESV)” (gotquestions.org).

The appearance of things, good or bad, is not our standard. Instead, children of the King are to be guided by the Truth revealed in the Word of God.

Ephesians 5:11 Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.

The problem of emphasizing the appearance of evil rather than evil itself is that it can make us slaves to the perceptions of others.

In the same letter that he wrote about avoiding evil, Paul wrote, “Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4). Our goal is to live righteously before God, not to comply with others’ arbitrary standards of conduct” (gotquestions.org).

“So, what is our conclusion? To avoid the appearance of evil, or every form of evil, means to stay far away from evil. We need not become legalistic regarding what others may perceive to be evil. But we do need to remain cognizant of our witness to the world and of our duty to support fellow believers. We should also be aware of our own tendencies toward sin.”

“Rather than flirting with what could lead us into sin, we avoid evil altogether. It is important not to judge others without first judging our own hearts and motives (Matthew 7:1-5)” (gotquestions.org).

¯\_()_/¯

© Dr. H 2022

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