“Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
1 Thessalonians 5:21 offers a brief but effective means of guarding against spiritual deception: “prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (RV). This passage reminds us that we should evaluate the teachings, ideas, and beliefs we encounter against the Scriptures to verify their truthfulness and accuracy. This is especially true of any “Christian” group or organization that derives its primary teachings from sources other than the sixty-six books of the Biblical Scriptures.
However, this does not only apply to religious organizations that promote unbiblical beliefs. This same idea holds true on an individual level as well. You see, it is not uncommon to encounter intelligent and accomplished individuals who hold deceptive or self-serving spiritual views. An incident involving an Old Testament leader named Nehemiah illustrates this unfortunate reality…
“Later I went to visit Shemaiah son of Delaiah and grandson of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home. He said, ‘Let us meet together inside the Temple of God and bolt the doors shut. Your enemies are coming to kill you tonight.’ But I replied, ‘Should someone in my position run from danger? Should someone in my position enter the Temple to save his life? No, I won’t do it!’
I realized that God had not spoken to him, but that he had uttered this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. They were hoping to intimidate me and make me sin. Then they would be able to accuse and discredit me” (Nehemiah 6:10-13 NLT).
So it seems that Shemaiah had a reputation as a religious person who possessed the ability to speak prophetically. However, Nehemiah quickly determined that he was not what he appeared to be. The clue that alerted Nehemiah to this unfortunate truth was the fact that this alleged prophet suggested a course of action that was contrary to God’s Word. A genuine, God-honoring prophet would never have suggested such a thing.
In reality, two of Nehemiah’s adversaries named Tobiah and Sanballat had hired Shemaiah for one purpose: to persuade Nehemiah into making an ill-advised decision that would damage his reputation and advance their agenda. This meant Shemaiah held an ulterior motive that involved making money under the guise of spirituality. In a similar manner, there may be any number of other religious hucksters who advocate spiritual beliefs that effectively disguise other motives today.
We can protect against these and other spiritual dangers by following the counsel of 1 Thessalonians 5:21: “…examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (NASB).