Meditations in 1 Thessalonians
Part 3 : 30. Hold the Good
1 Thess 5:21,22 Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.
I have a horrible feeling we take good for granted and don’t realise that it is something precious and to be held on to. When you talk about holding on to something there is a sense of clinging on to it to make sure you don’t drop or lose it.
Consider things that are ‘good’: love, peace, quietness, security, safety, warm relationships, stable relationships, honouring and respecting people, absence of upset and hurt, honesty and integrity, freedom from crime, freedom from violence, being able to look back and be thankful, being able to look into the future with confidence. Look at so much of modern life in the West and realise the absence of so many of these things. When we were a child our parents kept us free from worry and so many of the above list were true for us, but in so many modern single-parent homes (and two-parent homes) these things are so often absent.
Before Christ, before we received our salvation, the apostle Paul quoted from the Old Testament, “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Rom 3:12) In other words, outside of Christ we have little expectation of finding good, real selfless, godly good, being expressed. Indeed Paul was to go on and declare in a more personal way, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.” (Rom 7:18) Later on in the practical section of that same book he gave the same instruction that we find here: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good,” (Rom 12:9) and in the closing chapter, “I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” (Rom 16:19) Paul’s understanding sharply contrasts with today’s relativistic ramblings where few are able to say, yes there is good and yes there is evil and we know the difference.
But good for the Christian is not just an idea, it is a practical reality. Again Paul was to say to the Galatians, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Gal 6:9,10) Some versions in verse 9 have ‘well-doing’ for the NIV’s ‘doing good’ which is another nice way of putting it. The verse 10 reference is clearly to good deeds. In Ephesians he reminds us that, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,” (Eph 2:10) and of the Colossians he said, “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work.” (Col 1:10) Similarly there is Jesus’ teaching, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16)
Again and again the emphasis is not merely on working but doing good in what you do. Goodness is seen, goodness reveals who we are. When speaking about the widows to be cared for by the church under Timothy’s oversight, Paul described the qualifications of those to be looked after as, “well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.” (1 Tim 5:10) There are some very practical ways of doing good. When speaking to Titus about the qualities of overseers (elders) he said, “he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” (Titus 1:8). Indeed eight times in that letter Paul refers to ‘doing good’.
Indeed we see there the real heart of this call: “Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:13,14) Jesus came to deliver us out of a life of self-centred and godless evil into being those whose life is characterized by doing good, by being good, by being eager to do good. Paul is very specific about it: “I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.” (Titus 3:8)
The writer to the Hebrew understood this as well when he wrote about us maturing and receiving good teaching: “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:14) That is what teaching should do, help us understand the difference between good and evil. Echoing Paul’s teaching about good deeds following, James taught, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (Jas 3:13) Peter also echoes that earlier teaching about good deeds being seen: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Pet 2:12)
Later on Peter quotes psalm 34 to emphasis this same thing: “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.” (1 Pet 3:10,11) The apostle John echoes so much of this in his third letter: “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God.” (3 Jn 11). Remember also, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 5:22,23(+). Goodness comes from God and is to be seen in His people. Good is not only a concept but it is also a practice and it is a vital one that needs restoring to the church in the twenty-first century so that the world may see and believe and be blessed, but it needs working at. May it be so!