1 Thessalonians 5:22
Abstain from every form of evil.
Sermons
Abstinence from the Appearance of EvilG. Peck, D. D.1 Thessalonians 5:22
Avoiding Sins of Every AppearanceC. F. Deems, D. D.1 Thessalonians 5:22
Avoiding the Appearance of EvilB. Beddome, M. A.1 Thessalonians 5:22
Avoiding the Appearance of EvilMemoir of Venn.1 Thessalonians 5:22
Fear of SinC. H. Spurgeon.1 Thessalonians 5:22
Safe ConductT. Brooks.1 Thessalonians 5:22
The Appearance of Evil1 Thessalonians 5:22
The Appearance of EvilGreat Thoughts1 Thessalonians 5:22
The Need of Guarding Against All EvilC. H. Spurgeon.1 Thessalonians 5:22
Warning Against Every Form of EvilT. Croskery 1 Thessalonians 5:22
Closing ExhortationsB.C. Caffin 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22
ExhortationsR. Finlayson 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22
Abstain from every form of evil, whether practical or doctrinal.

I. WE NEED TO BE WARNED AGAINST EVIL.

1. Because we naturally tend to do evil.

2. Because evil is so injurious to our spirits, in repressing joy, prayer, and thanksgiving.

3. Because it gives offence to others. Therefore we ought to abhor that which is evil, to cleave to that which is good.

II. THE FORMS OF EVIL ARE VERY VARIOUS, AND THEREFORE NOT EASILY DETECTED. Truth is one; error is manifold. Satan can disguise error under forms difficult of detection. It is sometimes difficult to decide what is evil. But "a sound heart is the best casuist." - T.C.







Abstain from all appearance of evil
A man will never begin to be good till he begins to decline those occasions that have made him bad; therefore saith St. Paul to the Thessalonians, and through them to all others, "Abstain from all appearance of evil."

I. THE WAY TO FULFIL THIS COUNSEL. You must shun and be shy of the very shows and shadows of sin. The word which is ordinarily rendered "appearance," signifies kind or sort; and so the meaning of the apostle seems to be this, Abstain from all sort, or the whole kind, of evil; from all that is truly evil, be it never so small. The least sin is dangerous. Caesar was stabbed with bodkins, and many have been eaten up by mice. The least spark may consume the greatest house, the tinest leak may sink the noblest vessel, the smallest sin is enough to undo the soul, and, therefore, shun all the occasions that lead to it. Job made a covenant with his eyes (Job 31:1), Joseph would not be in the room where his mistress was (Genesis 39:10), and David, when himself, would not sit with vain persons (Psalm 26:3-7). As long as there is fuel in our hearts for a temptation we cannot be secure: he that hath gunpowder about him had need keep far enough off from sparkles; he that would neither wound conscience nor credit, God nor Gospel, had need hate "the garment spotted with the flesh." In the law, God commanded His people not only that they should worship no idol, but that they should demolish all the monuments of them, and that they should make no covenant nor affinity with those who worshipped them, and all lest they should be drawn by those occasions to commit idolatry with them. He that would not taste of the forbidden fruit must not so much as gaze on it; he that would not be bitten by the serpent, must not so much as parley with him. He that will not fly from the occasions and allurements of sin, though they may seem never so pleasant to the eye or sweet to the taste, shall find them in the end more sharp than vinegar, more bitter than wormwood, more deadly than poison.

II. NOTED EXAMPLES TO INCITE US. Scipio Africanus, warring in Spain, took New Carthage by storm, at which time a beautiful and noble virgin resolved to flee to him for succour to preserve her chastity. Hearing of this, he would not suffer her to come into his presence for fear of temptation, but caused her to be restored in safety to her father. Livia counselled her husband Augustus not only to do no wrong, but not to seem to do it. Caesar would not search Pompey's cabinet, lest he should find new matters for revenge. Plato mounted upon his horse, and judging himself a little moved with pride, at once alighted, lest he should be overtaken with loftiness in riding. Theseus is said to have cut off his golden locks, lest his enemies should take advantage by laying hold of them. Oh, Christian people! shall the very heathen, who sit in darkness, shun and fly from the occasion of sin, and will not you, who sit under the sunshine of the gospel? To prevent carnal carefulness, Christ sends His disciples to take lessons from the irrational creatures (Matthew 6:26-32). And to prevent your closing with the temptation to sin, let me send you to school to the like creatures, that you may learn by them to shun and avoid the occasions of sin. A certain kind of fish, perceiving themselves in danger of taking, by an instinct which they have, do darken the water, and so many times escape the net which is laid for them. And a certain kind of fowl, when they fly over Taurus, keep stones in their mouths, lest by shrieking and gabbling they discover themselves to the eagles, which are among the mountains, waiting for them. Now, if all these considerations put together will not incite you to decline the occasions of sin, I know not what will.

(T. Brooks.)

I. THE NATURE OF THOSE APPEARANCES OF EVIL WE ARE REQUIRED TO AVOID.

1. Whatever may be interpreted as evil by others, so as to become a stumbling block or matter of reproach. Their consciences may be too scrupulous and their tempers censorious, yet we are not to offend or grieve the weak unnecessarily. The omission of things indifferent, can neither be sinful nor injurious, their commission may be both (1 Corinthians 8:13). This must, of course, be understood with some limitation, else there would be no end of conforming to men's humours and fancies; therefore good men must be left to act according to their own scruples and may disregard scruples which have no shadow of reason or Scripture to support them.

2. What may be an occasion of evil to ourselves. Some things not evil may lead to evil. Peter's going into the palace of the high priest led to his denial of Christ. Achan's looking stirred up his covetousness; hence David prays to be turned away from beholding vanity, and our Lord taught us to say, "Lead us not into temptation, but," etc. The fly that buzzes about the candle will at length singe its wings.

3. Whatever borders on evil or approaches towards it. Instead of inquiring how far we may go in gratifying this or that appetite without offending God, let us keep as far away as we can. If you would not swear do not use expletives: if you would be temperate do not load your table with superfluities.

4. The first risings of evil in the heart such as anger, covetousness, uncleanness. "When lust hath conceived it bringing forth sin," etc. "Keep thy heart with all diligence," therefore.

II. WHEN MAY WE BE SAID TO ABSTAIN FROM EVERY APPEARANCE OF EVIL? When our whole conduct will bear the light; when we are sincere in our intentions and circumspect in our actions; when the Divine glory is our aim and the good of man our work. To this end incessant watchfulness is required.

1. In the common concerns of life. Everything like artifice or dishonesty is unworthy of the Christian character (1 Thessalonians 4:6),

2. In our amusements and recreations. They must be innocent and lawful, few and inexpensive, healthful and select.

3. In our daily intercourse. We must speak the words of truth and soberness (Ephesians 4:29; James 5:12).

4. In religious exercises, "Let not your good be evil spoken of."

III. THE MOTIVES. By abstaining from the appearance of evil.

1. Many of our falls will be prevented.

2. It will give credit to our profession, and tend to convince the world of the reality of our religion.

3. It will contribute much to the peace and satisfaction of our minds.

(B. Beddome, M. A.)

The tendency is to place too high an estimate on appearances. Hence outward religion comes to be magnified at the expense of inward holiness. To guard against this great stress is laid in the Bible on piety in the heart: but this has lead people to say, "Appearances are nothing — it is with the heart God has to do." The object of the text is to give appearances their real importance It is therefore connected with several injunctions which relate to inward and practical Godliness and which issue in a prayer which shows that abstinence from the appearance of evil is an essential attribute of entire sanctification.

I. THE IMPORT OF THE PRECEPT. There may be the appearance of evil where evil is not intended and where there is no evil in fact.

1. In our actions.(1) In our social intercourse we may aim to show a proper regard to men of the world for our improvement or for their own, but this association may appear to be the result of elective affinity.(2) In our pursuits we may seem to ourselves to be merely diligent in business, while we may appear to be contravening the prohibition of laying up treasures upon earth.(3) In our dress and furniture we may merely seek our own convenience, while to others we may appear conforming to the world.(4) In our contributions and other expenditure we may seem to be merely liberal, but to others prodigal.(5) In our intercourse with the other sex we may think ourselves only courteous, but appear to others amorous.Conversely —(1) We may shun society for the purpose of avoiding its contamination, but appear to others to forget our social relations and duties.(2) We may design to live above the world, but the world may think us negligent of business.(3) We may intend to be plain in dress, but appear to others to make religion consist in plainness.(4) We may be merely economical, but appear penurious.(5) We may think ourselves correct in our bearing to the other sex, but they may think us morose. It is difficult to determine on which side of the happy medium the greatest evil lies, but as the least appearance of evil is injurious we should always be on our guard.

2. In our words.

(1)We may design to be free and pleasant and yet appear trifling.

(2)We may be in earnest only, and yet appear to be in a passion.

(3)We may be faithful in reproof and appear censorious.

(4)We may only intend to use plain language but it appears course and indelicate.

(5)We may be imparting instruction and be voted conceited.

3. In our spirit.

(1)Zeal may have the appearance of fanaticism;

(2)Elevation of mind, of haughtiness;

(3)Promptness of obstinacy;

(4)Calmness of stoicism;

(5)Humility of mean spiritedness;

(6)Deliberation of infirmity of purpose.

II. THE REASONS FOR THE PRECEPT.

1. Those which affect ourselves. Falling into evil appearances —(1) Results from the want of a correct taste, a well disciplined conscience, knowledge, watch fulness, evils which will ripen into bad habits if not checked.(2) Will mar our own enjoyment of religion when we find that it has done harm.(3) Will ruin our usefulness which depends on our influence, which acts through appearances, and is estimated by them.

2. Those which affect God's glory. We honour God in proportion as we exhibit a practical illustration of the purity of the Christian character before the world. The ungodly associate our blemishes with our religion.

3. Those which regard the well-being of others. All example consists in appearances, and "no one liveth to himself"; we are contributing by our appearances to the formation of the characters of those around us, and any one of those appearances may make all the difference between heaven and hell.

III. INFERENCES.

1. That appearances are of high importance.

2. That appearances, and not what a man means, determine his influence as a member of the Church.

3. That the qualities which will enable us to avoid the appearance of evil should be sedulously cultivated — an accurate judgment, a tender conscience, perfect self-knowledge.

4. That the Scriptures which pourtray so minutely the appearances of evil should be diligently studied.

(G. Peck, D. D.)

1. The "appearance" of material things does not depend entirely upon their form, but largely upon the medium through which, the light in which, and the eye by which they are seen. Some men are colour blind. Some men have the jaundice. Thoughts and feelings are still more liable to be misapprehended, because they must be addressed by one soul to another through the senses — the eye, the ear, the touch, by the pressure of the hand, by speech, by gesture, by writing. A thought or emotion, therefore, suffers a double refraction in passing from one mind to another. And thus it comes to pass that even in communities composed of most serene and wise intellects and loving hearts, the appearance does not always match and represent the ideal.

2. The difficulty of the rule as it stands in our version is this, that there is nothing so good but it may appear evil. To the evil all things seem evil, and you cannot help that. Was there ever a virtue that did not seem a vice to a man's enemy? Does not his liberality appear prodigality, his economy parsimony, his cheerfulness levity, his conscientiousness puritanism, his temperance asceticism, his courage foolhardiness, his devotion hypocrisy? How is it possible to avoid such judgments as these unless a man could have the whole world for his friends? Can the heavenly Father demand more of you than that you really be true and faithful and pure? Must you also fritter your strength away in striving to make your good life seem good in the eyes of perverse men?

3. The attempt to gain the favourable verdict of all men is not only impracticable, but it is demoralizing. It occupies a man with appearances, and not realities; with his reputation, and not with his character. There can be devised no shorter cut to hypocrisy than a constant effort to "abstain from all appearance of evil."

4. What, then, did the apostle mean? The difficulties of the text are removed by the translation "abstain from evil of every form." The lesson is total abstinence from what is really evil. The complementary thought is that evil can never be good by a mere change of appearance. Let us look at some of the ways in which we may follow what is really evil because its appearance is good, and show how Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.

I. UNITY AND UNIFORMITY. The most important thing about any man is his faith. A thorough belief in a real truth is life: it will reproduce itself in the outward action. How easy it is here to find real evil that is apparently good. To strive to compel men to uniformity seems a goud, whereas it is really an evil. One may even quote Scripture in justification. "One faith." A man may forget that the essential principle may be one, while the phenomenal presentation may be manifold. All compulsory uniformity is mischievous. The inquisition produced cruelties among good men, and hypocrisies among bad. In its essence truth has always unity, in its development seldom uniformity. Some think it would be delightful for all men to see truth at the same angle; but if there were but two men who should profess to do it, it would be either a mistake, or a falsehood. Give over the effort to secure ecclesiastical uniformity. Let grace be natural, and nature gracious. Give room for God in man, and in the Church as you do in nature.

II. LIBERTY AND LICENTIOUSNESS. There is something very captivating in "liberty." The very word sounds open and breezy. Liberty has been made a queen and a goddess. More money has been spent for her, and more blood shed for her, than for any other. When one recollects the history of the race, one is not surprised that when Madame Roland was going to her doom, she should have saluted the statue of Liberty with the bitter exclamation, "O Liberty, what outrages are perpetrated in thy name!" It is exceedingly difficult to draw the line between licentiousness and liberty, and hence the danger is greater. True freedom of intellect and heart and life consists in voluntary and exact obedience to the law of God. A compulsory obedience is mere hypocrisy. An inexact obedience is a perpetual weakness. Every step taken in the statutes of the Lord with a free will is a step of freedom. David perceived this when he said, "I will walk at liberty, for I seek Thy precepts." But, the moment a man lifts his foot from the law of the Lord, and sets it down outside, he places it in the nets of evil, and is ensnared. But the modern and atheistic idea of liberty is the absence of all moral law, or the refusal to be controlled by law. In other words, it is licentiousness. Avoid it, no matter what its appearance. How vast are the hull and rigging of the largest vessel on the ocean, and how small is the helm; and yet that little helm turns that great bulk whithersoever the helmsman listeth. Suppose the great vessel should say, "I will not endure this impertinent interference, this incessant control," and should throw the helmsman overboard, and unship both helm and rudder. She would be free then, would she not? Yes, but a free prey to all winds and waves. Is that the freedom to be desired? And yet that is the idea of this age. The State, the Church, the family are to be overthrown, for men must be free! It is pitiful and painful to see human beings struggling to be free, to be hated, to starve, to die, to be damned. Avoid this evil. Remember that no splendour of dress can make a leper clean, and no brilliancy of appearance can make an evil good.

III. JUSTICE AND INTOLERANCE. The dogma of infallibility is not a mere ecclesiastical development. Its seed is in every heart. If we are unconscious of it, who does not act upon it? We pronounce judgment as if there could be no appeal, and act upon such sentences as final. Nay, more. There is a disposition on the part of many to go beyond, and keep surveillance of society, making themselves general detectives. They are often heresy hunters, self-constituted health boards, enforcing social sanitary regulations of their own. The plain fact is, they are censorious. The reason they did not "abstain from" this "evil" is, because it has the "appearance" of good. It seems to evince a high moral sense. It looks like loyalty to truth, and unselfish. The man is not seeking to be popular! He is a martyr to his sense of right? It is good and grand! He applauds himself. He feels that others ought to applaud him. He undertakes to execute his own sentences. The condemned is treated like a leper, like a lost man. All that is done that the purity of the judge shall be evinced. Men and women seem to think that kindness to a sinner is endorsement of, and participation in his sin. Hence the evil of social ostracism. A man that has fallen has so few helps to rise, and a woman who has fallen has no aids but what God gives. "Abstain from this evil" of censoriousness, whatever appearance it may have. It is very easy to get up the requisite amount of virtuous indignation, but it is difficult to keep indignation virtuous. While burning the sins I ought to hate, it will soon begin to burn the sinner whom I ought to love.

IV. GENEROSITY AND PRODIGALITY. The latter is an evil under any name and in every guise. It leads men to be careless and lazy about their expenditures. Because there are so many easy givers, there are so many easy beggars. It is injurious to give to the undeserving as it is injurious to withhold from those who deserve. The man who walks through the streets talking or thinking, and pulls something out of his pocket for every beggar without looking the applicant in the face, or recollecting him ten minutes after, is not charitable. He is a thriftless prodigal. True charity, and true liberality, and true generosity know how much, and to whom, and why, they gave; not in remembrance of self-complaisance, but that they may see how much more they can do. Abstain from the evil of prodigality which has the appearance of liberality.

V. ECONOMY AND STINGINESS. The grip of selfishness on money is the vice that makes a man feel that it is better ninety-nine worthy cases suffer than that one unworthy case be helped. It is a stone-blind vice. Men know when they are liars, thieves, murderers, but they do not know when they are covetous. Every sin committed by man against man has been admitted by some one who was guilty, except two; and one of them is covetousness. It puts on so good an "appearance!" It is called among men prudence, economy, thrift, any word which glosses over the inner viciousness. It was so in the time of David, who said, "Men will praise thee when thou doest well to thyself." But "abstain" from this "evil" of doing so well for yourself that you can do nothing for others, and remember that the Lord will praise thee when they doest well to another.

VI. INDEPENDENCE AND CONTEMPT FOR APPEARANCES. We are not to do a thing that is wrong because it has the appearance of right in the eyes of many, and we are bound to do good, however it may seem to others; but we are also to see to it that our "good be not evil spoken of." There is in some men a swaggering boastfulness of independence of the opinion of others, of determination to do just what they think right, and of regardlessness of the feelings of others. They think it looks well. There is an appearance of stern virtue in all this; of character; of independence. Any voluntary hazarding of the appearance of evil is most foolish, if not criminal. No man has a right on any pretence to "give a just offence to the moral sentiments" of the community.

(C. F. Deems, D. D.)

Venn was given to understand that a lady to whom his ministry had been singularly blessed, had been pleased to requite her obligations by making him heir to her property, which was very considerable. And we may not doubt that he gladly accepted the intended favour, and persuaded himself that it was a seasonable gift from God, for the relief of his mind, and for the comfort of his family. Perhaps he might have so reasoned and felt, in regard to it, but the following letter which he addressed to the lady, on hearing of her kind intention, will show in what a pure, lofty sphere his spirit moved: "My very dear friend, I understand, by my wife, your most kind and generous intention toward us in your will. The legacy would be exceedingly acceptable, and I can assure you the person from whom it would come would greatly enhance the benefit. I love my sweet children as much as is lawful, and as I know it would give you pleasure to minister to the comfort of me and mine, I should, with greater joy, accept of your liberality. But an insurmountable bar stands in the way — the love of Him to whom we are both indebted, not for a transient benefit, for silver or gold, but for an inheritance, incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us. His honour, His cause, is, and must be, dearer to His people than wife, children, or life itself. It is the firm resolve of His saints, yea, doubtless, I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. To be, therefore, a stumbling block in the way of any that are seeking Him — to give the least countenance to any that would be glad to bring His followers into contempt, and call in question their sincere and disinterested attachment to Him would grieve me while in health, darken my mind in sickness, and load me with self-condemnation on a bed of death. How would it also render all my exhortations feeble, and make them be accounted only as pulpit declamation, if, when I was pressing that solemn truth upon my people, 'Love not the world, neither the things in the world,' they could say, our minister, however, was careful to secure the favour of this rich proselyte, and, at length, to gain sufficiently by her! After the most mature deliberation, therefore, it is our request, which we cannot permit you to refuse us, that you will not leave us any other token of your regard than something of little value, but what it derives from the giver. If it should please God that our connection should be prolonged some years, we shall, in our hearts, still more abundantly enjoy your friendship when we are sure that we are not in danger of being influenced by a regard to our own interest. And if we must soon have the cutting affliction of losing you, you may depend on it, we shall not less affectionately make mention of your name, and your unfeigned love for us both in Christ Jesus, than if we had what the world esteems the only substantial proof of your regard. As for our children, whom many will think that we have not the love for that we owe them, by refusing your great favour, I would say only this, we both know of no inheritance equal to the blessing of God; and the certain way of securing it, as far as means can avail, is to be found ready to love or suffer any thing sooner than to incur the appearance of evil."

(Memoir of Venn.)

A missionary magazine, in giving an account of the conversion to Christianity of a high-caste Brahmin in India, stated, as a good test of the new convert's sincerity, the following fact: A Christian friend, knowing that the Hindoo custom of wearing the hair long, and fastened with sacred flowers in a knot at the back of the head, was intimately connected with certain acts of idolatrous worship, advised the Brahmin to cut off this hair at once, and thus demonstrate to all men that he had really ceased to be an idolater. To this suggestion the convert promptly replied, "Yes, certainly, for it is the devil's flag." Accordingly, the hair was immediately cut off.

Great Thoughts.
An old Chinese proverb says, "Do not stop in a cucumber field to tie the shoe." The meaning is very plain. Some one will be likely to fancy that you are stealing fruit. Always remember the injunction: "Abstain from all appearance of evil." Do not stop under the saloon porch to rest yourself, however shady the trees may be, or however inviting the chairs. Some one may fancy you are a common lounger there, and so your name be tarnished. Don't go to a liquor saloon to get a glass of lemonade, however refreshing it may seem to you. Rather buy your lemons and prepare the cooling beverage at home, where others may share it with you, probably at no greater expense than your single glass would cost you. Somebody seeing you drinking at the bar will be sure to tell the story, and will not be particular to state that you were drinking only lemonade. Then, too, if you are careless about the appearance of evil, you will soon grow equally careless about the evil itself.

(Great Thoughts.)

The old naturalist, Ulysses Androvaldus, tell us that a dove is so afraid of a hawk, that she will be frightened at the sight of one of its feathers. Whether it be so or not, I cannot tell; but this I know, that when a man has had a thorough shaking over the jaws of hell, he will be so afraid of sin, that even one of its feathers — any one sin — will alarm and send a thrill of fear through his soul This is a part of the way by which the Lord turns us when we are turned indeed.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

Manton says: "A man that would keep out the cold in winter shutteth all his doors and windows, yet the wind will creep in, though he doth not leave any open hole for it." We must leave no inlet for sin, but stop up every hole and cranny by which it can enter. There is need of great care in doing this, for when our very best is done sin will find an entrance. During the bitter cold weather we list the doors, put sandbags on the windows, draw curtains, and arrange screens, and yet we are made to feel that we live in a northern climate: in the same way must we be diligent to shut out sin, and we shall find abundant need to guard every point, for after we have done all, we shall, in one way or another, be made to feel that we live in a sinful world. Well, what must we do? We must follow the measures which common prudence teaches us in earthly matters. We must drive out the cold by keeping up a good fire within. The presence of the Lord Jesus in the soul can so warm the heart that worldliness and sin will be expelled, and we shall be both holy and happy. The Lord grant, it for Jesus' sake.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

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