Friday, January 6, 2012

Avoid the Appearance of Evil?

I am on a roll with Bible pet peeves.  Somewhere early in my Christian pilgrimage, I became aware that the Christian was to avoid the appearance of evil.  I didn't know where exactly this was in the Bible, but I assumed it was simply everywhere because it was a given that I was to avoid things that appeared to be evil.  No problem.  This made sense to me in my early Christian life, but I didn't realize the problem of legalism that I was naively walking into.

Evil is everywhere.  Just about everything in our culture has the potential to be sinful in any person's life.  Let me share one example of a story that comes to mind.

The story that comes to mind is highlighted by the picture above.  It is brewed root beer.  I have never had that particular brand, but I do love a good brewed root beer.  This spring our missionaries from Mongolia were in town for a few weeks and we as a church wanted to treat them real good.  So we let them go shopping and we picked up the tab.  He and I really love brewed root beer and I encouraged him to pick up a six pack or two.  It was hilarious watching the two of us carefully searching the chilled "beers" (as we affectionately called them) as they were stored right in the alcoholic section of the stores refrigerator.  We had so much fun with each other that afternoon and later that night in the cabin enjoying the "beers"!  In the cabin that night, it dawned on me that if someone was on the outside of the cabin looking in they could have easily thought the pastor and the missionary were getting loaded based on the amount of "beers" we were consuming and the amount of fun we were having.

Oh, no.  Were we in sin?  We certainly had the appearance of evil for the theoretical person looking in at us.  Were we wrong?  Where does this thought come from?  The answer is from the KJV's translation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 which says, "Abstain from all appearance of evil."  At first glance, I would have to concede that the missionary and I were in violation of God's Word and in sin.

What is the heart of this passage?  I am not going to go on against the King James Version translation of the Bible.  But the language is old...over 500 years old and we in 2012 may not understand the language of the King James era.

Let's look at a few other translations of this verse and see if some clarity can be discovered.

NKJV and NASB, "Abstain from every form of evil."

NIV, "Reject every kind of evil."

NET, "Stay away from every form of evil."

NLT, "Stay away from every kind of evil."

As I look at the other translations of this passage some clarity comes in focus.  The issue isn't appearance, it is participation with evil.  We are to avoid all forms of evil.  In my opinion this sort of changes everything as we are to avoid actual evil, not on the externals.  The concern with the idea that we are "to avoid the appearance of evil" is it creates a priority on the appearance of things--not actually on the condition of the heart which is what God is so very concerned about.  From this I suggest we guard ourselves from legalism on two fronts: 1) how we live our lives...focus on your actual walk with the LORD, not simply the appearance you are projecting, and 2) guard yourselves from casting judgment on others without know all the facts.


Paul said...

Good points! This attitude about "appearances" is firmly ingrained in the Church though. When I am with Christians I just met or don't know very well, I sometimes feel paranoid that I'll say or do something that will offend them. But it's always encouraging to find believers living in the freedom and grace they've been given.

Gunnar Hanson said...

Paul, thanks. Your comment definitely struck on a point that I was going to make concerning the conscience of the weaker brother. I do think there are times when we sacrifice our freedom for the sake of another person's conscience. This life we live is complex!

Anonymous said...

I don't want to get too deep into this, but I don't see the sin in having a couple of cold ones with a good friend. Unless that person is a recovering alcoholic, or if it (in any way) hurts their walk with God. From Romans 14:

"19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall."

This passage doesn't tell us that we can't eat meat. And this passage doesn't tell us that we can't drink wine. It says don't do it if it offends others or if it gets in the way of your relationship with Christ.

Gunnar Hanson said...

Annymous, drinking was not the point of this blog. I covered the topic of drinking in this post:

Anonymous said...

Yep, you're right. I hadn't seen your previous posting about drinking. After reading that, and re-reading "The Way I See It," I am certain I jumped to defend a passage that you DIDN'T dispute!

For some reason, I thought you were equating sharing a drink with "evil." In fact, you equated "getting loaded" with evil. Far more evidence supporting the latter than the former.

Anyway, all of this is to say, you were right and I apologize for going off half-cocked (to borrow a historical firearms term!).

Gunnar Hanson said...

No problem! Good discussion...

Anonymous said...

Great memories, brother! I really appreciated your challenge to be more taken up with living consistent with the substance of who we are in Christ and avoid the distraction of the mere appearance of the peripherals. Thanks for your faithfulness to His Book and Body.