“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, KJV)
“but test everything; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, ESV)
So says the Apostle Paul, and it sounds like a very ‘modern’ statement, sitting quite well in our scientific age. But my suspicion is that we don’t apply it quite as much as we might like to think! When choosing to vote for a politician for example, is it always done on the basis of assessing their intellectual arguments or rather on how we feel about them, or even how they look?
Regardless of the accuracy of my suspicion about how people decide what is true, there is a clear and consistent call in the Bible for us to apply our reason to God, his existence, his activity and what he calls upon us to do. God calls on Israel for them to “reason together” (Isa 1:18), Paul reasoned with Jews in their synagogues (Acts 17:2), and Peter was prepared to give a “reason for the hope” which he had (1 Peter 3:15). Far from being a blind, inexplicable feeling which someone either has to doesn’t have, Biblical faith is a rational, reason-based thing. Biblical faith certainly may provoke plenty of emotion but fundamentally it has its foundation in reasoned deduction.
That all sounds very “reasonable” but if we are to test everything – against what? What is the standard or the benchmark for testing something as true? In its context Paul’s urge to test everything sits side by side with the example of the Bereans who were considered particularly open to reason.
“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”Acts 17:11
So the testing which Paul is advocating is against something authoritative, either Old Testament scripture or, in a 1st century context, the authority of the Apostles. John, when also advocating the continual testing of the spirit behind what people teach puts it pretty bluntly:
“We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”1 John 4:1-6
Acceptance or not of the authority of the Apostles’ words (particularly about their witness to the resurrected Jesus) was the ultimate test of truth or error for John.
So in a 21st century context what does “test everything” mean? Well, although it may be necessary for us to engage in a whole lot more effort to prove the existence of God and the authority of the scriptures these days, that doesn’t take away from Paul’s point. Today, just as in the 1st century, the test of Christian belief and practice is still against the established benchmark authority of scripture and although the Apostles have long gone, we have their authoritative writings alongside the Old Testament scriptures.
Do we “test everything” against the appropriate authority in the way Paul advocates, or do we test things using other criteria? Are we prone to prefer a continuation of what has become traditional, or what we have become used to, or what makes us feel safe and comfortable?
Knowing our Bible and reading it effectively is an important first step in following Paul’s advice – and guess what, we have a course that may be able to help you with that in 2022!