Abstain from all appearance of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:22
Many times, I have heard this verse used to warn Christians to avoid doing those things that might cause others to think you are sinning – to avoid those things that might have the semblance of sin. For instance, we have been warned to not go to eat at places that serve alcohol because someone might see you and assume you were getting drunk. If this is what the verse means, a Christian could hardly function in this world. So many of the places we go and the things we do could be mistakenly interpreted as sin. Even the Lord Jesus Christ did things that made others accuse him of sinning. He healed on the sabbath. He hung out with all kinds of sinners: winebibbers, prostitutes, publicans. He went to their homes and ate with them. Who knows what was going on in there?
We need to remember the context to understand what it means to abstain from all appearance of evil. Let’s look at the two preceding verses as well:
Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22
The preceding context is that of prophesying – or the preaching of what “thus saith the Lord.” Then we are told to prove all things and hold fast that which is good. In other words, don’t just blindly accept the words when someone claims to be speaking for God. We are to test (prove) what was said – like the Bereans. Then after we have tested the spoken words by the written word, we are to hold fast or keep that which is good or that which is line with the scriptures. This is where the abstaining from all appearance of evil fits. After we test the spoken word, if we find it does not fit with the scriptures, we are to abstain from it – to keep away from it. God warns us not to add to or take away from his word. When someone claims to be speaking for God and it does not agree with the scriptures, then that is evil and we should stay away from that – to abstain from what that man has said.
We are commanded in many places to beware of false teachers, to earnestly contend for the faith, to keep the word of God. We must not blindly follow any man. We must prove what he says by the truth – by the word of God.
If a man’s preaching does not agree with scripture, then abstain from him.