I recently asked a question in my blog as well as on Facebook. The question was how people apply I Thessalonians 5:22 to their lives. The verse says,
“Abstain from all appearances of evil.”
On Facebook, one person responded. She said a person should never be alone with a person of the opposite sex, especially if either one of those individuals is married. On my blog post, I received one response as well. The man who commented provided somewhat of a lengthy response – saying our testimony before the world is vital and we should never be a stumbling block to others. He went on to say he has seen the verse used as a “legalistic bludgeon among believers” and spoke of a situation in which someone used the verse to tell a man with purple hair that he should abstain from the appearance of evil.
I wasn’t too surprised that only two people shared their comments regarding I Thessalonians 5:22. I’m sure I would have gotten more comments if I asked what people thought of verses that talked about spanking children, the love of money, or asking God for things in faith with nothing wavering. But that’s not what I asked.
Let’s look at this verse in greater detail. In Greek, the verse originally read, “apechomai apo pas eidos poneros.”
I don’t normally get into the Greek and Hebrew because I’m not a Greek or Hebrew scholar. However, I know there are people who read my blog who worry that perhaps things weren’t translated accurately so I’m going to take just a moment to clarify.
- Apechomai means “to hold oneself off or to refrain or abstain”
- apo means “off or away”
- pas means “all, any, every, or the whole”
- eidos means “a view or form: appearance, fashion, shape, or sight”
- poneros means “hurtful or evil (properly in effect or influence)”
From the Greek, it is very clear that the verse was translated correctly into our English language when it says, “Abstain from all appearances of evil.”
Now let’s look at the verse in its context.
Let’s read the verses prior to and after the one in question to make sure we are understanding it correctly.
“Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly: and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” – I Thessalonians 5:16-24.
In context, this was a letter to written to the church of Thessalonica. This portion of the epistle was designed to teach the church, possibly to remind the church, of the things they needed to do in order to glorify God.
Not only does the verse in question say the Christian should “abstain from ALL APPEARANCE of evil,” but the verse following it says the God of peace should sanctify the Christian wholly. The word “sanctify” means to set apart. “Wholly” means in one’s entirety.
God wants the Christian to live clean, pure, and holy. That means a Christian ought not to curse, lie, steal, or kill. It means he ought to be faithful to church, he should to keep this thoughts and words under control, and he ought to care for his family. But this verse takes it a step further than that, doesn’t it? So far, in fact, that it makes a lot of Christians squirm in their seats. They don’t want to hear about it. They don’t want to talk about it. They don’t even want to think about it. Especially when they’re put on the spot and asked a simple question or two like,
“How do you personally apply I Thessalonians 5:22 to your life? What APPEARANCES of evil do you intentionally abstain from?”
According to the Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, the word evil refers to “bad qualities of a natural kind; mischevious; having qualities which tend to injure, or to produce mischief.” The same dictionary provides a second definition. It says “Having bad qualities of a moral kind: wicked; corrupt; perverse; wrong; as evil thoughts; evil deeds; evil speaking; an evil generation.”
The lady who commented on my Facebook post said abstaining from all appearances of evil included men and women not being alone together, especially when one of those individuals is married.
Let’s put that to the test. Does it provide an appearance of evil for a man and woman to be alone when they aren’t married?
Let me ask you this. If your pastor was out of town and your church’s pianist was seen going into his house around 10 pm and her car was still there at 9 am the following morning, what would you think? That he was just counseling her? I ask this because I know of a situation where this very type of thing happened. A lady I knew spent the night at an unmarried assistant pastor’s house. She and the assistant pastor said nothing inappropriate went on, but many people in the congregation had their doubts. The assistant pastor had to go because he was no longer considered a man of Godly character. I have known folks to get jobs working one-on-one with a person of the opposite gender and then they end up having an affair and cheating on their spouses in the work place. So yes, absolutely yes, this lady’s comment was correct. A Christian should avoid ALL APPEARANCES of evil and that would include keeping themselves out of a situation where they would be alone with someone of the opposite gender.
The gentleman who commented directly on my blog post said the verse was used improperly when someone told a man who chose to have purple hair that he was not abstaining from all appearance of evil. That gentleman went so far as to say using the verse that way is using it as a legalistic bludgeon. Let’s now test his words and see if he provided an accurate assessment.
First of all, for those who aren’t familiar with the term “legalism,” in Christian theology it is the idea of saying a person must meet certain requirements in order to be saved – certain requirements in addition to believing in Jesus and calling upon God’s name for salvation.
If I tell a person they are not abstaining from the all appearances of evil because they colored their hair purple, that in itself has nothing to do with legalism. However, if I would take it a step further and say, “You are going to split Hell wide open because you have purple hair,” that would in fact be of a legalistic nature.
What about the purple hair? Is that evil? It is my understanding that the whole concept of coloring hair unnatural colors started back in the 1970’s with punk rockers leading the trend. The blue, green, pink, and purple hair colors were a sign of rebellion against mainstream society. I found an article in the New York Times that talks about how this fad started with “British punks.”
When I was in high school in the late 1990’s, the people who dyed their hair outrageous colors called themselves “freaks.” They were the people who partied in the nightclubs and wore dark colored lipstick and spiked dog collars around their necks. Some of the guys wore pantie hose. It was all about rebelling against everything thought to be of decency.
I understand why a person might tell a young man with purple hair that he is not abstaining from all appearances of evil.
I believe this verse applies to a lot of different situations. For example, in Proverbs 20:1 the Bible says,
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.”
Next to my house is a bar that also serves pizza and steaks. I can’t walk into that bar to order a pizza. If anyone sees me walking in or out of there, it might very well give the appearance that I’m a drinker. That could be a stumbling block to anyone I have ever witnessed to.
What about the way we dress? If a woman wears clothing that resembles that which is worn by females propositioning men in big cities, doesn’t she provide an appearance of evil? Like keeping her body pure is not important to her?
Several years ago, I took a teenager into a store with me. He picked up a spray can of some kind and pretended to be spraying someone with it. The cashier instantly yelled, “Stop wasting our products.” He didn’t waste the product, but the appearance was there.
In other words, think about what you are doing. Think about how other people will see what you are doing or where you are going. If it could possibly make someone get the wrong idea, don’t go there or don’t do that.
Like it or not, appearances do matter!