ʺTest everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.ʺ Powerful words. In these words is the key to our own happiness. Paul is reminding the Thessalonians that we must be alert and ready at all times, for we know not when the Lord will come again. We must not be deluded by the times, nor by those who promise us that they will provide peace and security for us in this world. Only One can bring us the peace and security that we desire.
Paul tells us that, as Christians, we no longer live in darkness, that we are ʺchildren of the light and of the day.ʺ We must not, therefore, go to sleep with the promises of the world. Rather, we are to remain awake, always aware of the fact that we know not the hour or the time of Jesus’ return. This is why he tells us in verses 21 and 22 to, ‘test everything, and to hold on to what is good, and to avoid evil.’ We are not to be like sheep following every fashionable idea of the day. We must test everything. What must we test it for? We must test everything to see if it honors truth, goodness, and beauty. We must test everything in relationship to the Word of God. The times are full of ideas that look and feel good, but each of them must be tested, for the evil is clever and often beguiling. It has to be because it is in competition with Jesus Christ who is all goodness, truth and beauty. Therefore, it cleverly disguises itself in the appearance of goodness, truth, and beauty. This is a dangerous trap. This is why, as Christians, we must pursue knowledge of the good, and then practice it.
The Holy Scriptures, in their entirety, are a compendium of lessons revealing the difference between good and evil, and the consequences that result from both. As Christians we are charged by God to not only come to know the difference between good and evil, but we are to choose the good and turn away from all that is evil. We are to live as Jesus lived, walking always in the light, always doing good. Because so much of the experience of the world is the product of the darkness of ignorance, or worse the darkness of willful evil, we are to be a light to the world. If everything around us is darkness and evil, we are to be the one candle burning in the darkness, in order to give hope to the world. ‘It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.’ This is the right attitude for a Christian. We are to love the world as Jesus did. We are not to condemn the world, or to curse the darkness. Each of us is to be a small candle, charged with God’s love, pushing back the darkness we encounter in the world. We are to be a people bright with Faith, Hope, and Love.
As Christians we are to ‘avoid every kind of evil.’ We can only do this if we know what evil is. It is the absence of good. It is darkness as compared to light. Anything that is selfish, destructive, or manipulative, is to be avoided. Evil can be subtle and, therefore hard to recognize at times. It is revealed in its consequences of course, but it can appear, at first, to be reasonable, proper, and even ‘good.’ We have to be able to discern the difference between that which is really good and that which appears to be good. Again, we have the Scriptures and the Life of Christ as clear guides in this matter. Our consciences also are a good guide. We must learn to pay attention to that inner voice of our conscience. If we are uncomfortable with something, we need to test it to see why.
What is good? Everything that comes from God. As Christians we are being taught the goodness of God in the Scriptures, in our church services, in our Christian communities, and in our prayer lives. This is how we stay awake, how we prepare ourselves to greet Jesus when he comes again ‘like a thief in the night.’ We must ‘hold on to what is good’ by living our public and private lives in total accord with it. As Christians, we know that we live in the middle of paradox. While we are to be concerned with saving our own souls, we know that the way we do this is by knowing, loving, and serving God in this world. This is why we do not simply pray on our knees in the privacy of our rooms, but also on our feet in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. It is in knowing the good, and living it, that we hold on to it, and avoid all that is evil. If we do this we will be like the good servant who is put in charge of the land while the master is away, who keeps to his duties of stewardship even though the master has been gone for a long time, so that when the master returns he will be ready to receive him with a conscience free and clear of any guilt. It is to him that the master will say: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!ʺ (Matthew 25:23)
Lord, we pray that you shine the light of your truth, goodness and, beauty into the dark corners of our souls each day. Help us to know it, to love it, and to serve it with our lives. Make our hearts burn with your love for our fellow human beings and for all of your creation. Make each of us a small candle in the darkness, burning with the joy of our faith, hope, and love in you. We ask these things in your name, Jesus. Amen
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