Meditations in 1 Thessalonians
Part 3 : 29. Test Everything
1 Thess 5:21,22 Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.
The temptation here is to take all three instructions and treat them as one. I have the feeling that if we do that we will miss much, so let’s simply start with “Test everything” and see where we go. That this follows a concern about prophecies must suggest initially that it may apply specifically to prophecies. Testing prophecies is indeed a subject that arises in the New Testament: “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.” (1 Cor 14:29) and “The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.” (1 Cor 14:32) Whatever else these verses say, they say that prophecies should be checked or weighed. We may also add that any ‘word’ that brings teaching that is contrary to the teaching of the Bible is false.
The danger that comes for those who might be in that band that we considered earlier as quenching the Spirit by denying He works in such ways today and then by treating prophecies with contempt, is that ‘testing’ becomes a tool for unbelief. Testing is a subject that comes up a number of times in the Bible and by this we do not mean the testing that is equated with trials, testing that God brings to strengthen us.
No, testing is referred to in the Old Testament a number of times as an attitude and behaviour that expressed unbelief in respect of the Lord. The Psalmist refers back to Israel’s behaviour in the wilderness: “They wilfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the desert?” (Psa 78:18,19). The apostle Paul echoed this: “We should not test the Lord, as some of them did–and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did–and were killed by the destroying angel.” (1 Cor 10:9,10) The ‘testing’ referred to there is clearly an expression of unbelief.
We must distinguish between testing that is unbelief and times when the Lord challenged His people to ‘test’ or prove Him in some manner, for example, “Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.” (Isa 7:10-12) There the Lord invited Ahaz to ask for a sign (?like Gideon?) but Ahaz was not secure enough in God to respond. Through Malachi we see the Lord saying test or prove me: “Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” (Mal 3:10) Those sorts of test were actually positive, stepping out in faith at God’s instigation and finding He was faithful to His word. That is a different slant on the word meaning ‘prove by confirmation of faith.’
In the New Testament we find various other injunctions to test things, for example, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves,” (2 Cor 13:5) i.e. check out the reality of your faith. Then there is, “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions,” (Gal 6:3,4) i.e. check the reality of who you are and where you are in the Faith and realise that all you are is from God. The similar call, “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup,” (1 Cor 11:28) is to check yourself out before God and ensure you are holding right attitudes and behaviour.
The call to “test everything” goes beyond prophecy. It is a call to be aware of what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false. One of the condemnations of the Old Testament was that the people had been blurring truth and reality, blurring right and wrong and it is what we find in today’s relativistic ethics: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isa 5:20)
There is also the testing of people. We should not take people at face value: “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7) This is why there is the gift of “distinguishing between spirits,” (1 Cor 12:10) which reveals the origin of what comes from a person – from God, from purely human selfish thinking, or from the enemy. The apostle John said, “The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1 Jn 2:4) This was a whole area that concerned John, false ‘believers’, those who said one thing but did another: “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.” (1 Jn 2:9) Indeed he kept on coming back to it: “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning,” (1 Jn 3:7,8) and, “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” (1 Jn 3:10)
Finally John hits this subject firmly on the head: “Dear friends, 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. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” (1 Jn 4:1-3) THIS is why we have to “test everything”. It is because we are in a spiritual battle and the enemy uses lies and deception to seek to lead God’s people astray. May we not be so lead!