Charles Simeon Commentary - 1 Thessalonians 5:22 - 5:22

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Charles Simeon Commentary - 1 Thessalonians 5:22 - 5:22


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DISCOURSE: 2208

ABSTAINING FROM ALL APPEARANCE OF EVIL

1Th_5:22. Abstain from all appearance of evil.

SIN is a tremendous evil. The consequences of one single sin are beyond all our powers of thought or conception. If one only be hardened by it, who can tell where his influence may extend, or through how many generations it may be transmitted? To the individual who commits it, who shall say how much evil will accrue? The Spirit may be grieved; the conscience seared; and Satan may get an advantage that shall never be regained. Hence arises the necessity of standing at the remotest distance from evil: for if a thing be not evil, yet, if it appear to be so, it has all the effect of a positive evil to those who behold it. We should therefore “abstain even from all appearance of evil.”

In discoursing on this subject, we shall consider,

I.       The injunction itself—

This may relate to,

1.       The things we do—

[That which is perfectly indifferent in itself, may either appear wrong, or really be so, according to the circumstances under which it is done. The eating of things offered to idols, or the observance of certain days, were indifferent in themselves; and a person might either do or forbear these things, without improving or injuring the state of his soul [Note: 1Co_8:8 and Rom_14:2-6.]. But if the doing or forbearing these things had any influence to ensnare the consciences of others, it was the duty of every person to pursue that line of conduct which was most inoffensive [Note: Rom_14:20-21.]. St. Paul thought, that though “all things were lawful for him, all things were not expedient [Note: 1Co_10:23.];” and therefore exercised self-denial with respect to things innocent in themselves, lest his influence should induce others, who were less acquainted with Christian liberty, to follow his example, in opposition to the suggestions of their own consciences [Note: 1Co_8:13.]. Ezra might have asked a guard to protect him through the desert [Note: Ezr_7:16-18. with 8:22.]; and Nehemiah might have gone into the temple, to save himself from danger [Note: Neh_6:10-19.]: but they both chose rather to expose their lives to any peril, rather than do what in their circumstances would have been open to misconstruction, and would have been imputed to them as sin. Thus there are some amusements and indulgences which, under particular circumstances and in a limited degree, may be innocent, from which we nevertheless ought to abstain; lest an undue advantage be taken of our conduct, and we be considered as patronizing that, which, under other circumstances, would be positively evil.]

2.       The manner in which we do them—

[Much, very much, depends on the manner in which we do things which in themselves are inoffensive or even good. None can doubt but that alms-deeds, prayer, and fasting, are good in themselves; yet they may be so performed as to be open to the imputation of vanity or hypocrisy: on which account our Lord gives us rules for the due discharge of these duties [Note: Mat_6:1-6; Mat_6:16-18.]. To give instruction or reproof to our neighbours is doubtless an important office; but if it be performed in an unbecoming spirit, we shall appear to others to be only venting our own spleen, and all our endeavours will be lost upon them. Hence is that direction given us by the Apostle, “Let not your good be evil spoken of [Note: Rom_14:16.]]

3.       The end for which we do them—

[Daniel might with great propriety have prayed in his house with his windows shut: yea, it might have been thought, perhaps, more decorous. But, in his circumstances, he determined to die rather than to suspend his devotions, or even to conceal them by shutting his windows. He was in the midst of idolaters, and therefore he judged it necessary openly to confess his God. And, when the edict was issued by the Persian monarch to forbid the offering of any petition to any one except himself for the space of thirty days, Daniel was more bound than ever to worship openly; because the concealing of his devotions would have been considered as a renunciation or denial of his God. Hence he determined to make no alteration whatever in his conduct, but to abide the consequences of his fidelity to God [Note: Dan_6:10.]. Thus should we walk circumspectly, “cutting off occasion from them that seek occasion;” and determining that our enemies “shall find no cause of complaint against us, except concerning the law of our God [Note: Dan_6:5.]”]

To impress this injunction the more deeply on our minds, let us consider,

II.      The importance of it—

The avoiding of all appearance of evil is of great consequence,

1.       To ourselves—

[Our character is stamped by our actions as they appear to the world. God only can judge the heart: man must of necessity form his judgment in a great measure from the outward appearance: though doubtless he is to put the best possible construction upon every thing, so far as truth and reason will admit. We owe it therefore to ourselves to guard against every thing that either deservedly or undeservedly may bring an evil report upon us. St. Paul was very attentive to this, when he had collected a large sum of money for the poor saints in Judea: he desired that some person of established reputation should go with him, that so he might “provide things honest in the sight of all men [Note: 2Co_8:19-21.],” and “give no occasion to the enemy to speak reproachfully [Note: 1Ti_5:14.].”]

2.       To the world around us—

[The world are ever ready to spy out causes of complaint against the people of God, and, when they behold a flaw, to cry out, “There, there, so would we have it.” Instantly they proceed to blame religion itself for what they see amiss in the professors of it; and justify themselves as acting a more becoming and consistent part. On this account we should “walk in wisdom towards them that are without [Note: Col_4:5.],” and, if possible, “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men by welldoing [Note: 1Pe_2:15.].” Indeed, as they may be hardened in their sins by an injudicious conduct, so they may be “won by the good conversation” of those around them [Note: 1Pe_3:1-2.]. It may be, that our light shining before them may constrain them to confess that God is with us of a truth, and lead them to “glorify our Father that is in heaven [Note: Mat_5:16.].” Can we need any greater argument for circumspection? Should not this consideration induce us all to adopt the Psalmist’s resolution: “I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way [Note: Psa_101:2.]:” and make us pray with him, “Lead me, O Lord, because of mine observers; make thy way straight before my face [Note: Psa_5:8. the marginal translation.].”]

3.       To the Church of God—

[A discreet and blameless conduct is no less important as it respects the Church. The weak are of necessity much influenced by those whom they consider as more advanced than themselves: and, if they see any thing done by a person whom they respect, they will be ready to follow his example, even though they are doubtful in their minds respecting the lawfulness of the act itself. Then, even though the act be lawful, they commit sin, because they are not thoroughly persuaded of its innocence [Note: Act_14:23.]. And we, if we pay no attention to their weaknesses, actually sin against Christ ourselves, and are guilty of destroying a soul for whom Christ died [Note: 1Co_8:9-12.]. Let us not then imagine ourselves at liberty to do all things which are in themselves lawful; for we are not at liberty to cast a stumbling-block before a weak brother [Note: Rom_14:13; Rom_14:15.]; but are to consult his good, no less than our own [Note: 1Co_10:24.].]

Infer—

1.       How far are they from real Christians who can live in known and allowed sin!

[Christianity requires us to abstain even from the appearance of evil: how much more from sin itself! Ah, beloved, you may easily see the folly and hypocrisy of calling yourselves Christians, while your whole conduct proclaims that you have no delight in God, nor any higher aim than to approve yourselves to men.]

2.       How excellent is the true Christian in comparison of others!

[Christians are not improperly called “the excellent of the earth.” Behold their care, their tenderness, their circumspection, their “dread of even a garment spotted by the flesh [Note: Jude, ver. 23.].” Their conduct is fitly described by the Apostle; “Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report, these they both think upon” and perform [Note: Php_4:8.]. “See then, Christians, that these things be in you, and abound.” Let not “our boasting of you be found in vain” and delusive. But “as ye have received how ye ought to walk and to please God, so abound more and more [Note: 1Th_4:1.].”]