“You Shouldn’t Do That!!”
Those of us who have been Christians for a lot of years have undoubtedly been told that there are certain things that we must not do… not because they are wrong in and of themselves, but because people might see us and think that we are doing something wrong.
“The Bible tells us to avoid even the appearance of evil!” They would say…
And… well, it is right there in 1 Thes. 5:22… in the King James Version at least.
So, we’ve been taught that if “most people” associate an activity with sin, that we should simply abstain from participation… because of the “appearance of evil.”
This is what we were told about rock music… and playing cards… and dancing… and alcohol… and movies…
But Is That Right?
That’s a very important question! If what we were told is correct, then we need to apply that passage to our lives exactly that way. So, let’s take a closer look at the text. Let’s see if this really is about “appearances.”
Here is the passage in multiple versions:
|KJV||“Abstain from all appearance of evil.”|
|NKJV||“Abstain from every form of evil.”|
“Abstain from every form of evil.”
|NIV||“Avoid every kind of evil.”|
|Amp||“Abstain from evil [shrink from it and keep aloof from it] in whatever form or whatever kind it may be.”|
The underlined words above are each translated from the Greek word, eidos (G1491). It is defined in Strong’s Concordance as “the external or outward appearance, form figure, shape” or “form, kind.” It actually refers to something visible… in other words, it is something actually appearing.
Is “Appearance” Just About “How Things Appear” (but aren’t really)?
The word "appearance," as we use it in English, has the connotation of something which "appears" to be something when in fact it is not. And that’s exactly how it’s been applied to various issues like those I listed above.
But the only English translation that seems to support that idea is the KJV… all of the others seem to go out of their way to avoid wording that leads to that understanding. It’s as if the translators knew that the KJV’s rendering led to a faulty idea about “appearances” so they translated it in a way that show the actual meaning is to avoid real evil, not just something that might be thought by others to be evil.
I would restate Paul’s words this way:
- “Avoid evil, wherever it appears.”
or (to use the KJV’s word)
- “…wherever evil makes an appearance, abstain from it.”
But what if someone else really believes an activity is sinful? Are we morally obligated to refrain from an activity that we know to be morally pure (or neutral) because someone else thinks it’s wrong?
Let’s put it in more stark terms… Does the Bible teach that we are obligated to follow the moral standards of other?
Well, that can’t be what 1 Thes. 5:22 means… Jesus Himself didn’t practice it!
- Religious people of Jesus’ Day considered it “evil” to work on the Sabbath. They had a long list of things which constituted “work.” Jesus was well aware of their list, but did some of those things which had the “appearance of evil” anyway: He allowed His disciples to pick grain (Mark 2:23-24). He healed people (Luke 14:1-6). He told a man to carry his bedroll on a Sabbath (John 5:5-11). When the Pharisees “reminded” Jesus that it was forbidden (read, “sinful”), He rebuked them and rejected their standard of behavior. And He did the “forbidden” thing anyway!
- Religious people of Jesus’ Day knew that it was “evil” to be associated with “sinners.” Jesus knew of their standards yet He spent time directly with “evil” tax-collectors (Matthew 9:9-13) and adulterous women (Luke 7:36-39).
- Religious people of Jesus’ day would never allow themselves to become defiled by touching anything that was “evil” and “unclean.” Yet Jesus touched the dead (Luke 8:40-42,49-54, Luke 7:11-15). He touched and healed lepers (Luke 5:12-13). And rather than rebuke an unclean (bleeding) woman for mixing with the pressing crowd without announcing her uncleanness, He praised her for her faith expressed through her desire to touch Him (Luke 8:43-48).
Why didn’t Jesus avoid the “appearance of evil”? He knew exactly what the religious leaders of His day thought was right or wrong… Why did he blatantly violate their standards?
The answer, of course, is that Jesus was not obligated to follow other peoples’ ideas about right and wrong.
And neither are we.
Avoiding Real Evil
As all the versions besides the KJV show, we are to avoid real evil. In other words, our measure is not others’ opinions, it is God’s Word alone.
And there are things that are truly wrong…
- Premarital sex is wrong (Excellent Biblical treatment of this issue).
- Adultery is wrong. (Exodus 20:14)
- Lust is wrong (Exodus 20:17 "covet"="lust", Prov. 6:25, Matt. 5:28).
As biblically faithful Christians, we must not participate in or condone behaviors that are clearly contrary to God’s Word. At the same time, true Christlikeness means that we are willing to be criticized and persecuted for participating in activities that may “appear evil” to other Christians.
— Matthew Neal
In this Series:
You Can’t Do That! - Introduction
You Can’t Do That! - The “Appearance of Evil”
You Can’t Do That! – the “Weaker Brother” (Part 1)
You Can’t Do That! – the “Weaker Brother” (Part 2)
You Can’t Do That! – “For Conscience’ Sake”