“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” I Thess. 5:21
1982—what shall we say? How uncertain, from our point of view, are all things! We know not what lies before us. And yet, is there anything uncertain? Will not all things continue as they were: joys but also sorrows, laughter but also weeping, mirth and gladness but also sorrow and grief, life but also death? Surely, the wrath of God will continue to be revealed down from heaven, but the blessing of the Lord, Jehovah, will also continue to rest upon His people. God’s counsel will stand, including double predestination, also in the year that now lies before us.
In our context we have a group of tremendously significant and powerful admonitions. Strikingly they illustrate the axiom that much can be said in few words. Notice, too, their absolute character and unlimited scope. The Word of God is so absolute. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everythinggive thanks. Prove all things. Hold fast what is good. Prove all things, also in the year that stretches out before us.
Many would use this Scripture as a pretext, either to visit forbidden places of amusement and entertainment, or to attend several churches, listening to various preachers. They would in that sense prove all things and keep the good. Now this surely cannot be the meaning of this word of God. We must prove all things. The word “prove” is the word constantly used for the testing of gold. To prove all things certainly cannot mean that we attend forbidden places where there is no gold which we can hold fast. We surely do not dig for gold where we know there is no gold. On the other hand, how true it is that these “loopers,” never hold fast that which is good. They are drifters. To them this axiom applies: a rolling stone gathers no moss.
We read here of “all things.” Literally we read: “But prove all things.” There is a connection, therefore, between this Scripture and the preceding text. Strictly speaking, these “all things” refer to the prophecies of verse 20. These prophecies, God’s gift to His church at the beginning of the New Dispensation, to assist the apostles in their upbuilding, edifying, and teaching activities, are not to be despised, as some in the church would deceive the people of God. Instead, prove them, holding fast that which is good. However, this expression also refers to the church of God throughout the ages, to us, and is therefore too broad to be limited to these prophecies or prophets who served the church of God during the era of the apostles. We must prove all things. The term refers also to everything, to all movements, ideas, activities, trends of thought, conceptions which are forced upon the Church as in the midst of the world, which we cannot evade, with which we must cope, to which we must give an answer as long as we continue in this world. Always we must separate the good from the evil, that we may hold fast to what is good.
Countless are these forces with which we must contend. This text reminds us of another word of Scripture which exhorts us to discern the spirits whether they be of God. This applies to what is called “church” and would reveal itself as such in the midst of the world. Think of what comes to us, over the radio and television, in the name of the “gospel.” Think of all the religious books, magazines, pamphlets, all proclaiming in their own way the blessed gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then, think of all these movements in the sphere of education. Consider all the different conceptions, trends of thought in connection with the child, how we must regard him and approach him psychologically, whether he must be viewed as inherently evil or good, whether he should be disciplined or simply left to himself, to develop of himself. Then, consider all these forces as in the midst of the world—in the field of labor, for example. Some years ago the industrialist sat upon the throne and the government was influenced by him. Lately the working man has ascended upon the throne. Or, think of the field of music, of the magazines, of the radio and television, of songs and speeches, etc., and one is impressed by the fact that these “all things” confront us everywhere.
Besides, these “all things” are spirits, and we must discern these spirits whether they be of God. They are spirits, mighty, spiritual activities, directed by spiritual forces, Beelzebub, which have a spiritual purpose, which would either draw you towards God or away from Him; they are either pure or impure, holy or corrupt; they draw you either heavenward or earthward, to the things above or the things below.
These “all things” or “spirits” we must prove. Indeed, this is not merely an intellectual activity. The apostle here does not merely exhort us to examine them, analyze and diagnose them, fully understand them. That this does not exhaust the meaning here of the apostle is clear. Do we not read that we must hold fast that which is good? A merely intellectual analysis does not guarantee this. Of course, we understand that there is a close connection between these two parts of the text. We must prove these things. The apostle is using a figure here. The word used here is always used for the testing of gold. Gold is proved or tested for the purpose of separating the pure from the impure. It is for this reason that Scripture speaks of being “proved” or “tried” by fire, as gold is proved by fire. And so the meaning of the apostle is clear. Of course, an intellectual analysis is not excluded here. How shall we prove “all things,” the spirits, whether they be of God, unless we also approach them with our understanding? To fight the enemy we must surely recognize him. These “all things” refer, of course, to concrete matters, concrete manifestations, songs and speeches, etc. However, this proving is also a spiritual activity. We must submit them to the spiritual test, whether they be of God, center in God, whether they be good or evil. We must reject that which is evil, that which evilly affects us, and hold fast that which is good for us. This is our calling, also in 1982. The question is: how must we do this?
First, this proving of all things is possible only when we have the power of spiritual discernment, recognition. As stated before, the apostle is using a figure. Now we all understand, of course, that, to test gold or dig for gold, to separate the pure from the impure, the gold from the dross, it is required of us that we be able to distinguish gold, recognize it. And, whoever digs for gold must also desire it. This is also spiritually true. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. To prove all things for the purpose of holding fast what is good, we must be spiritual ourselves. We must have within us that grace of God which spontaneously reaches out to God and the things of God. To prove all things, we must apply to them this spiritual test. The longing for the things of God’s covenant must be in our hearts. The love of God must prompt us; His will must motivate us; it must be our desire to be pleasing in His sight; the spiritual craving for spiritual gold must spur us on. You see, we can prove things from two different points of view. We can put all things to the test because we are concerned about holding fast that which is good. Or, we can prove these things because we would learn how we can continue in the paths of sin, how much of this present time we can have. The apostle surely means that our proving of all things must be the activity of a heart that is seeking and longing for the things of God’s Word and covenant.
Secondly, this proving of all things must always occur through the Word of God. Indeed, there are things we can readily recognize whether they are good or evil. Modernism, the denial of the Divine, the humanizing of Scripture, when occurring boldly, are all quite evident and obvious. The public schools, unions, the dancehall and the theater need not be examined by us too carefully. However, to prove all things is not always equally easy; the enemy, and the things that are bad are not always immediately recognizable. The lie may put on the garment of the truth. The enemy may approach you as a friend. The devil often appears as an angel of light. Trends of thought, conceptions of God and of Christ may not, at first glance, appear to be contrary to the Word of God. Besides, we must always deal with our own carnal nature, which remains with us until the day of our death. The desire to do the will of God may be in our hearts, but we find it difficult to distinguish it from that which opposes it. And, the heart is subtle, more subtle and clever than any other thing. Even the holiest Christian has but a small principle of the new obedience. We are led so easily astray by our hearts.
Hence, we must prove all things by means of the Word of God. It is for this reason that a rolling stone gathers no moss. The Word of God, the pure presentation of that Word, is surely necessary if we are to prove all things and hold fast what is good. So, we must study the Word of God. This we must do in our homes, at catechism, in all our societies. We must acquire and use spiritual literature. Unto that end, may the Lord bless our pastors, our elders and deacons, our parents, our young people, our children, our schools, primary and secondary.
The word “good” here means literally: to be beautiful, excellent in its nature, its kind. Something is good when it is as it should be. God is good. He is as He should be as God. He is the God of infinite and eternal perfection: the God of all light and eternal attractiveness. Evil is that which denies that living God. We are good when we are as we should be, and this is determined by our attitude and relation toward the living God. Anything is good and beautiful when it can serve as a means unto that end, the praise and glory of the alone living and adorable God. How devastating, also in this connection, is the theory of Common Grace, the theory that teaches that also the sinner can please God, that the natural sinner is not wholly depraved, can do much good in the sight of God, that he, to do good in the sight of God, need not love and serve Him, the living God.
We must hold fast what is good. Negatively, we must reject all evil. Proving all things by the Word of God, we must reject whatever is impure, whatever leads away from God, whatever hinders us in His service, in the glory of His Name. And, then, we must hold fast what is good. We must choose the good, select it, make it our own, use it, make it part of our life, walk accordingly. But we must also hold fast to it. The enemy is always around us. Always he would tempt us, seduce us, prevail upon us to lay aside that which is good. And that enemy is strong, so much stronger than we are, has access to all the resources of this world. He is never to be minimized, or treated lightly. He can be opposed only by prayer. Hence, be sober, be watchful and vigilant, hold fast that which is good, cling to the Word of God.
Prove all things.
Hold fast that which is good.
That we may be led in the way everlasting.