19Don’t quench the Spirit. 20Don’t despise prophecies. 21Test all things, and hold what is good firmly. 22Abstain from every form of evil. — 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
Most of us have either been advised to test everything or we have advised someone else of the same thing. Testing is very important. There are many voices in the world that are asking for our attention. Who is speaking the truth? What should we do?
But there is also a corollary to the advice in this verse. It is this: Prepare to be tested! If everyone in the church is commanded to â€œtest all thingsâ€ then somewhere, sometime, you will come up to be tested. Then it is â€œcrunchâ€ time. We don’t like to be tested.
This can be especially difficult for people who are in authority in the church. Generally pastors and teachers would like their congregation to test everything, but we’re mostly thinking about the things other people say. We want church members to avoid the problems associated with TV preachers or the leaders of that heretical church down the road. We’re less excited when someone questions us!
Jesus said, â€œJudge not that you be not judgedâ€ (Matthew 7:1). Some of us have grabbed that one and run with it. It’s really a pretty good command. I have to say that, because Jesus said it! But I’ve learned something interesting about one liners, partially because I’m so good at inventing them. A one liner only works well when it is received positively and with good sense.
Let me give an example. On the cover of my book What’s in a Version? I have the line â€œthe best Bible version is the one you read.â€ Now I’d still prefer that you not use The Living Bible (the old one, not the New Living Translation which is quite good) for serious Bible study. The translation is not adequate for that purpose. My point in that one liner is that the key issue in Bible translation is whether the people the translation was made from can read and understand it.
Frequently at shows or on the internet I have been confronted by people who explain to me that my one-liner is wrong. They point out examples of times when one could be reading a Bible that wasn’t really the best.
Paul could be said to doing the same thing in 1 Corinthians 5 and 6, in which he tells the Corinthians to â€œclean out the old yeastâ€ (5:7) and that we will judge the world (6:2) and angels (6:3). But is he? Of course not! Jesus himself, a few verses ahead tells us that we can know false prophets by their fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). If we are to know them by their fruit, we are going to have to look critically at that fruit. And need I mention the exception here, where many faithful servants of God have labored long and hard without any apparent fruit. Just consider the case of Jeremiah. The last story we have of him is of the people ignoring the word he brought from the Lord (Jeremiah 42-44). Jeremiah’s preaching resume reads â€œignored by every congregation I preached to.â€ Today, of course, he’s very fruitful. He’s in the Bible. Who would have thought that in his lifetime?
There’s something else we can get from Matthew 7:1, however. We must be prepared to receive the judgment we give. If I expect to test what everyone else says, I have to be ready to be tested on everything that I say. (For a quick application note on Matthew 7:1, look here).
Jesus calls us to be the church, the community of Jesus in the world. To do so, we have to be prepared both to hear and to speak. â€œTest all thingsâ€ implies â€œbe willing to be tested in all things.â€