Through the apostle Paul, God instructed us to “prove all things.” But what exactly does that mean, and how are we supposed to do it?
As Paul concluded his letter to the church in Thessalonica, he instructed Christians to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, King James Version).
Few instructions could be more important for a Christian in progress.
But how exactly does that process work?
Prove all things?
As in . . . everything?
What’s the context of “all things”?
God doesn’t expect us to evaluate the truthfulness of every single idea, concept and theory we come across. If you’ve spent any time at all on the Internet, you know that would be a maddening and impossible task—there are just too many ridiculous ideas out there and not enough time to disprove them all.
To understand what Paul meant by “prove all things,” we need to understand two concepts.
The first is this idea of “all things.” In Greek, Paul was using a single word—pas. Paul wasn’t talking about testing literally everything in the world. Pas asks us to consider everything that fits within the boundaries of the subject being discussed.
That means we need some context. In the New King James Version, translators looked at 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 as three separate thoughts: “Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”
But in some translations, like the New International Version, those three verses become a single sentence: “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.”
Prophecy is more than a divinely inspired foretelling of the future. Broadly speaking, in the New Testament, prophecy can mean any message produced under God’s influence.
On our own, we don’t know what good and evil truly look like. But with the Shepherd’s voice guiding us, we can learn to make the distinction.The apostle Peter explained it this way: “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21, English Standard Version).
With the right context, it’s a little clearer what Paul had in mind when he told the Thessalonians to test pas. He was warning them not to ignore or reject the idea that God can communicate through divinely inspired messages—but at the same time reminding them to test those messages.
As Christians in progress, we should never reject the idea that God has something important to say to us—but if something claims to be from God, we should also never accept that claim blindly.
We should always put it to the test.
What does it mean to test?
But what is the test? How do we go about testing something that claims to be (or even just appears to be) inspired by God? This is another concept we need to understand if we want to make sense of Paul’s instruction.
In an earlier “Christianity in Progress” column (“‘Examine Yourselves’: What Does It Mean to Be Disqualified?”), we discussed Paul’s instruction in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to test or prove ourselves.
In that passage and in this one, Paul used the Greek verb dokimazo—a word that describes inspecting something to confirm it as genuine. Roman coin testers would weed out counterfeit money in the marketplace by gouging a coin to make sure the material on the inside matched the material on the outside. They tested (dokimazo) the coins to make sure they were genuine (dokimos) and not forgeries (adokimos).
Similarly, Paul calls on us to test any message that appears to be prophetic—that is, produced under the inspiration of God. To test something—to dokimazo it—we have to look beyond its appearance and inspect its content.
Paul said to “hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, NIV). The Greek words Paul used for “good” and “evil” (kalos and ponēros) can refer to both physical appearance and moral value. When we test a message by examining its content, what do we see? Is it good—pleasant, beautiful and morally sound? Or is it evil—twisted, warped and wicked?
Testing requires a standard
This command to look beyond the surface appearance of something is hugely important.
It’s easy for a message to sound right—to be well-spoken, well-written, well-presented. But being an engaging speaker or a compelling writer doesn’t make one’s message right and true.
Satan the devil is the ultimate example of this—a wicked, rebellious angel who peddles lifestyles of self-destruction and misery, but who knows how to make himself look like “an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). He is a master counterfeiter with thousands of years of experience making evil things look good and good things look evil.
If we want to determine whether a message is from God, we have to measure it against the Word He’s already given us. “To the law and to the testimony!” declared Isaiah. “If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).
(If you’re still working on proving the Bible for yourself, our booklet Is the Bible True? is designed to help you with that process.)
God’s future messages will never contradict His past messages. God the Father and Jesus Christ are “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). No message that attempts to circumvent, sidestep or otherwise reinvent the truths of the Bible can possibly be from God.
Trusting the voice of the Shepherd
What it comes down to is this:
We can’t test the words we’re hearing unless we’re familiar with the words we’re testing them against.
Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27) and, “they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (verse 5).
Do you know the voice of your Shepherd?
There’s no shortcut or simple trick. The only way to get more familiar with that voice is by studying and living by His words. The more time we spend paying attention to what God says in His inspired Word, the Bible, the easier it will be for us to recognize when other messages are being spoken with the voice of the Shepherd—or the voice of a stranger.
When Moses reviewed God’s law for the Israelites who were about to enter the Promised Land, he warned them, “I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess . . .
“Therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:15-16, 19-20).
Life and good. Death and evil. We cannot hope to recognize those qualities unless we stay deeply connected to the ways, commandments, statutes and judgments of the Lord our God.
On our own, we don’t know what good and evil truly look like. But with the Shepherd’s voice guiding us, we can learn to make the distinction.
Armed with that knowledge, we’ll be more than equipped to follow Paul’s instruction:
“Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.”
If you’d like to suggest a topic for future editions of “Christianity in Progress,” you can do so anonymously at lifehopeandtruth.com/ideas. We look forward to your suggestions!