Guarding and proclaiming the unchanging truth in a changing world

In thanksgiving… for the Good from God (1 Thess. 5:19-22)

19th November 2020

In thanksgiving… for the Good from God (1 Thess. 5:19-22)

The Rev. Dr. Jonathon Wylie

“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19–22, ESV)

We live in a relativistic age. What one person deems good another person deems evil, and it is tempting to think that our time is like the pre-monarchic days in Israel when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). To a Christian living in the 21st century, Paul’s assertion in 1 Thessalonians 5:19–22 that there is such a thing as objective good and objective evil feels like a counter-cultural breath of fresh air.

Paul’s concern in these verses is with the pernicious threat of false teaching. He knows that evil teachings can be packaged in persuasive words, just as wolves sometimes appear in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). This is why he commands the Thessalonians to “test everything.” They must learn to evaluate everything they hear to determine whether it is genuine (see 1 John 4:1). Importantly, Paul does not advise that Christians disregard people who claim to speak for God altogether. While this may seem like the safe and easy option, it would actually amount to “quenching the Spirit” since the Spirit is the one who inspires genuine prophets and teachers. Further, Paul insists that Spirit-led prophecy nourishes the church and is useful for building up the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:1–5). Thus, he exhorts the church to acquire the ability to distinguish what is true from what is false, what is good from what is evil.

The question is How? How can we “test everything,” and how can we know whether something is good? To the Christian, God himself is the standard by which goodness is determined, for he is supreme goodness (Mark 10:18). Accordingly, a thing’s goodness is the extent to which it conforms to God’s will and character. To “test everything” is to compare every message, every idea, every claim to the character and will of God, who is the essence of goodness. We can do this because God has revealed himself in a variety of ways, most clearly and authoritatively in his Word - that is, the Word written in sacred Scripture and the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ. Because the supremely good God has revealed himself in the Bible and in the Incarnation, we may determine what is good by testing everything against these canons. Whatever conforms to God’s character and will as revealed in Scripture and in Jesus, let us cherish dearly. Whatever does not, we must reject.

What these verses urge us to do, then, is to fix our hearts and minds on God as he has revealed himself in Scripture and in human flesh. This means, implicitly, that these verses call us to humility and gratitude. Humility because we are under the authority of the One who teaches us what is good. Gratitude because the Good One has generously revealed himself in word and flesh, enabling us to know what is true and good (see Psalm 19:7–11; Psalm 119; John 1:14).

May those of us in the GAFCON community, together with all the saints in the one holy, catholic and apostolic church, ever love God by cherishing the revelation of God. And may we ever hold fast what is good with faith and courage. Which is to say, may we hold fast to God and to the things of God, for God is goodness itself and the author of all that is good.

The Rev. Dr. Jonathon Wylie
Priest in the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word and teaches humanities and theology at Covenant School in Huntington, West Virginia.


The Prayer of General Thanksgiving:

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

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