Holiness Principle #8 – Holiness means more than abstaining from evil, it means abstaining from even the appearance of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22
21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
22 Abstain from all appearance of evil. (KJV)
You may have noticed that I switched from the NIV to the KJV when giving the primary verses behind this principle, and for good reason. In the NIV, 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 reads like this: “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” (NIV) Other versions of the Bible such as the NKJV render the last phrase “every form of evil.” I think that these later examples are not the best translations, and I think that the KJV has the right idea here. The Greek word which is translated alternately as “appearance”, “kind”, or “form” is the word “eidos”, which comes from the Greek word “eido”, which means “to perceive by the senses”. Everywhere this word is used in the Bible, it means “outward appearance” or “shape.” So when the NIV uses the word “kind” or when the NKJV uses the word “form”, we should not understand this as kinds or types of evil. We should understand this as everything that has the outward shape of evil. I believe that God’s word is calling for us to take a stand on the higher ground. We must avoid what may appear wrong, even if it is not wrong.
Pastor James MacDonald has an article which has been quite popular and quite controversial which puts this principle into practice. The following is an excerpt from James MacDonald’s article “Five Moral Fences”.
“1. I will not, under any circumstances, ride alone in a car with a female other than my wife or an immediate family member.”
“2. I do not counsel a woman in a closed room or more than once.”
“3. I do not stay alone in a hotel overnight.”
“4. I speak often and publicly of my affection for my wife, when she’s present and when she’s not.”
“5. Compliment the character or the conduct, not the coiffure or the clothing.”
As I look at this list, I notice two things. First, I notice that, while none of these things are in and of themselves sinful, they could each one be an easy gateway into sin. I guess that is why MacDonald calls these fences. Fences are designed to keep things out. Gates are designed to let things in. Having spent a lot of time on the road and in a hotel alone, I know how easy it is to fall into sin. Three ingredients needed to foster sinful activity are present in a hotel room: availability of sinful things, plenty of time, and no accountability.
Second, I notice that, while none of these things are in and of themselves sinful, each one could be easily misconstrued as sinful by an observer. What will someone think of me if they see me sitting in a restaurant with another woman? Perhaps I had no intention of sinning, but the person who sees me and knows that the other woman at the table with me is not my wife, cannot read my mind.
In the same article, MacDonald gives this piece of advice: “Make the fences public.” It is too easy to take down a moral fence unless everyone around you knows about your moral fence.
A comment is in order here. While the listing of moral fences given above is excellent, it might not be your list. Everyone’s situation is different. I would imagine that the listing of moral fences might be somewhat different for a woman than for a man. In my work, I travel alone quite a bit. One of my moral fences is that in a restaurant, I will not allow the host or hostess to seat me at the bar. I go to a restaurant to eat, not to drink or meet someone. While there is nothing wrong with sitting at the bar alone in a restaurant, to me it is avoiding the appearance of evil.
And one more comment is needed here. It is a reiteration from previous principles we have already discussed. Build your moral fences now. Do not wait until you are in a situation to decide what your moral fence is going to be. Do you think the quarterback of a football team waits until the ball is snapped before he decides what the play will be? No, he knows the play he wants to run before the ball is snapped. And everyone else on the field with him knows the play also.
Now, this is what I hear someone out there saying. “You mean to tell me that I can’t do something just because it looks wrong, even though I know it’s not wrong? There’s going to be a lot of things that I can’t do.” And I respond “Right.” But why? Why is it so important to avoid even the appearance of evil? Paul writing in Titus 2:7-8, says this: “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” (NIV) We are to avoid even the appearance of evil because we want to avoid anything that might discredit Jesus Christ in the eyes of someone and thereby destroy our Christian witness to them. How many people have been falsely accused of doing evil, but they lived their lives in such a manner that no one would believe their defense?
How do we know what appears to be evil so we can avoid it? The answer to this question takes us back to our primary verses. Read 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 again. “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” (NIV) In order to determine if anything has even the appearance of evil, we must test everything. And once we have tested it, we only hold on to it if it is good. A couple of words would be in order here: diligence and discernment. We must be diligent. Test everything. Nothing can be allowed to go through the gate in our moral fence untested. We must also be discerning. We must have a keen awareness of what is good to hold on to, and what may even appear to be evil, to avoid.
By Berean Husband
Here are the links for the previous Principles for Holiness posts.