“Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22).
In the original language of this verse, the word “abstain” involves “holding off” from taking action. (1) The word “form” signifies an external shape or appearance. (2) Therefore, we can say that this passage relates to our internal choices and external responses. Although we may desire to follow a particular course of action, this portion of Scripture reminds us that we should ask an important question before acting on that desire: “How will this appear to others?”
Of course, people make decisions based upon appearances every day. The question is, “What standard governs those decisions?” For instance, people often base their decisions upon the way they expect a peer group to respond. However, it is more important to ask, “Does this appearance honor God?” before we consider how others might respond.
For example, we can largely “Abstain from every form of evil” with a few simple questions…
- If I choose this course of action, is anything good likely to come from it from God’s perspective? Although God can certainly bring good from a poor decision, that does not grant us a license to make inappropriate choices. If nothing good is likely to come from a particular course of action then we would do well to avoid it- it’s probably evil.
- Does this set a good example for others? If it sets a poor example for others to follow, we should avoid it- it’s probably evil.
- How does this reflect upon Christ? If it reflects poorly upon Jesus, then we would be wise to avoid it- it’s probably evil.
Another commentator offers an alternate approach to this passage…
“…in 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul is specifically talking about truth-claims— prophecies, doctrines, spiritual principles. Verse 22 is actually the last in a series of closely related commands: ‘Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil’ (vv. 21–22).
The Apostle is not urging the Thessalonians to try a little bit of everything, eat the meat, and spit out the bones. I’ve heard people use that expression in a way that minimizes the grave danger of heresy and alternative gospels. The idea here is the polar opposite. Paul is instructing the church to turn away completely from false prophets and purveyors of novel doctrines—to repudiate them altogether.
…Paul’s point is not that we should abstain from morally neutral activities that might look bad to overscrupulous people. He is saying that whatever is evil in character must be shunned no matter what form it takes—even if the false teacher comes disguised as an angel of light or claims to be a brother seeking peace and unity.” (3)
(1) G567 apechomai https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g567
(3) John MacArthur, Shun Evil Teaching, Tabletalk pg. 44 September 2014