Prove All Things

Pithy Pastoral Reminders of a Profound Theologian #6 of 7
Base on exhortation delivered at PCC prayer meeting on 13 Jan 2006


“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)

The apostle Paul is ending his letter to the Thessalonians. The main purpose of his letter has been accomplished. Now, there is some space left on the parchment. Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, inserts a few quick instructions with few words. He is not merely filling up the space. These are important things which He wants the Thessalonians to know.

These are things which we must be reminded too. We have already considered verse 16—“Rejoice evermore”, verse 17—“Pray without ceasing”, verse 18—“In every thing give thanks…”; verse 19—“Quench not the Spirit”; and verse 20—“Despise not prophesying.”

In this penultimate study, the Lord helping us, we want to consider briefly, the 6th instruction: “Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good.”

Let’s understand what the apostle is saying by asking ourselves three questions.

·   First, what does Paul have in mind when he says ‘all things’?

·   Secondly, how do we prove ‘all things’ to be good?

·   Thirdly, what does Paul mean my ‘hold fast to that which is good.’?

1. All Things

In the first place, we must understand that by ‘all things,’ Paul does not mean everything that we come across.

You see, the word ‘prove’ (Grk dokimazw, dokimazô) speaks of testing or examining something to see if it is genuine. In the early days there were many attempts at forgeries. So when a merchant receives a gold coin from someone he does not know, he would either bite the coin, or take a knife to cut a grove on it. Gold is softer than other alloys of the same colour. So if the merchant is able to make an imprint on the coin with the knife or with his teeth, he knows that it is good or genuine; and he would receive the payment wholeheartedly. The process of testing a coin was described with the word ‘dokimazô’, to prove.

Paul wants us to prove all things. He wants us to examine all things to see if they are genuine. It is obvious that we cannot, nor is it necessary for us to do it for everything we come across. As a case in point, Paul would certainly not be teaching us to prove that every coin we come across is genuine and to cling on to it. He is not teaching us covetousness or how to survive in this world. He is teaching us how to prepare for heaven. What then is Paul referring to?

Well, let me suggest that Paul is referring to anything that is presented as truth especially in the preaching and writings of man.

The context suggests that this is what he means, for in the previous verse he exhorts us not to despise prophesying. Now, that means, as we saw: “despise not preaching” or “hold preaching in high esteem.”

We noted that it is through preaching that Christ particularly speaks to his church. “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me” says the Lord.

But we must realise that there is a difference between the Word preached and the written Word. The written Word is the directly inspired Word of God. It is inerrant and infallible. We must receive it wholeheartedly without question as the Word of God to us. Paul is not telling us to prove the Word of God. We must receive it as genuine.

The Word preached, on the other hand, is not inerrant or infallible because the instruments that Christ has chosen to deliver His word are fallible, sinful creatures.

It is possible that what is preached may not be good or true. Likewise it is possible that what is written by men may not be true or accurate. “Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God” (1Jn 4:1), says the apostle John.

The apostle Paul is telling us that we must test all the things that we hear from the lips of man or read from the pen of men; especially when it is presented as being from the Spirit of God.

Prove these things, and hold fast to that which is good.

2. Prove

But how do we prove these things? The answer is well-known to us. It is found in Acts 17—

“These [the Bereans] were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word [i.e. the word preached] with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).

Is it not instructive that the sacred record tells us that the Thessalonians were lacking in their handling of the Word preached, and then the apostle Paul writes to them on the same subject—telling them not to despise preaching and to prove all preaching?

How to prove all things? We must prove all things, by searching the Scriptures to see if what is said by the preacher is true. The written Word of God does not need proving. It is the truth. It is the inspired Word of God. But the preached word needs proving.

Now, this does not mean that we should reject everything the preacher says until we have the opportunity to check what is said against the Scripture. What it means is that it is incumbent upon us to check the Scripture when we have the opportunity to do so.

This is clear from the way that Dr Luke contrasts the Bereans with the Thessalonians. The Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonians, first and foremost because they received the Word preached with all readiness of mind; and then secondly because they searched the Scriptures to see if those things that were spoken were true.

The order is important it must be despise not prophesying first; and then prove all things. You cannot begin to prove anything unless you first despise not the word preached but receive it with all readiness of mind.

But you must not receive all things blindly. Especially for things for which you are not sure are taught in the Word, you must at the soonest opportunity, open the Bible to study if what is said is true.

Now, if the word is spoken or written by someone unknown to you or have very little credibility, and you are unable to prove that it is good (as in that it conforms to the Word of God), then you must reject it.

But what if the word is spoken by someone known you as a faithful minister, or someone who has been appointed as a legitimate preacher of the church, but you are not sure if what is said is true and you are unable (for some reason) to prove that it is good from the Scriptures?

Well, in that case, in accordance with the principle of receiving the word with all readiness of mind, you should get back to the preacher and study the subject further.

You must resist the temptation to let the word fall by the way side.

You must also resist the temptation to simply reject what you heard because you have not been able to prove it to be good for that would go against the principle of reading the word with all readiness of mind.

But neither must you simply take what you heard with implicit faith or blind obedience so that whatever is spoken is taken to be true. As far as possible, you must prove all things.

But beware, you must not keep trying to prove and therefore always remaining unsettled. No, no; for Paul also say…

3. Hold Fast to That
which is Good

We must prove all things so that we can either reject it as bad or receive it as good. We should not allow things to dangle in our mind so that we are not sure if they are true or not. We must not allow ourselves to remain always unsettled and uncommitted.

No, no; we must labour to reach a conclusion. And once we have reach the conclusion that something is right and true, we must hold fast to it and not let it go. We must cling on to it like a limpet to the rock though we be beset by the strong waves of opposition and contrary opinions.

I believe that though sometimes it may take longer, it is possible for every Christian to settle on the truth,—for every Christian is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ.

John says:

“But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him” (1Jn 2:27).

And I believe too that as a Christian matures in the faith, he should become more and more able to discern between good and evil, truth and error; for the writer of Hebrews says:

“For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.  But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb 5:13-14).

The more you exercise your mind to prove all things, the more skillful you will be to discern between good and evil.

Conclusion

Beloved brethren and children, receive the word preached with all readiness of mind, but prove all things; and hold fast to that which is good. Prove all things so that you can hold fast to that which is good.

Unless you do so, you will continue to remain as children tossed to and fro by every wind of false doctrine and human opinions. Amen.