The Appearance of Evil

Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22)

The biggest problem I see with Christians today is that, when looking on the surface, there is no distinction between a believer and a non-believer, with the possible exception that the believer attends church on a semi-regular basis. Other than that, when observed from outside of the church walls, believers look and act pretty much like unbelievers. Believers and non-believers wear crosses around their necks. Believers are just as likely to consume alcoholic beverages at restaurants just like unbelievers. Female believers often dress just as immodestly as unbelieving women. Believers and unbelievers are equally fluent in foul language. Believers, like unbelievers, deface their bodies with hideous tattoos except that believers tattoo themselves with “Christian” messages and symbols.

Throughout Scripture, God makes it clear that He wants His people to be holy, i.e., set apart from the world, distinct from the world. Five times in Leviticus, God calls for His people to be holy, “for I the LORD am holy.”[1] Peter repeats the same exhortation in the New Testament: “Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy (1 Peter 1:16), showing that God does not change in His expectation of His people. Be holy, sanctified, consecrated to God, and be separate and distinct from the world.

Paul writes a whole chapter to the church in Corinth providing a practical example of holy living.[2] In Corinth, pagans would offer meat sacrifices to their idols. The meat not burnt up in the holocaust was then sold in the temple market. There was nothing wrong with the meat; it was perfectly good to eat. However, some Christians would not dare to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, while others saw no harm in eating this meat. The latter rightly reasoned that idols were no gods, therefore meat sacrificed to them had no significance. Those who gave significance to the meat sacrificed to idols were offended by those who saw no problem with it.

In his argument, Paul agrees with those who think nothing of eating meat sacrificed to idols, but because of their maturity, he directs his argument to them. “Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth” (1 Corinthians 8:1, emphasis mine). That “knowledge” says that idols are not really gods, therefore meat sacrificed to them is really insignificant. However, he warns that such “knowledge” can make us proud and as Christians, our “charity” (agapē) should cause us to seek to build up the weaker Christian. He goes on to point out that “… if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:2, emphasis mine). Our understanding of God’s Word and our freedom in Christ can often cause us not to consider the frailty of a weaker brother or sister that has not reached our level of maturity. If we do not understand this, then we “know nothing as we yet ought to know.”

Paul goes on to explain that if the mature Christian does something that is not sinful, like eating meat sacrificed to idols in Paul’s example, and an immature Christian sees him do this act and perceives it as sinful, then the mature Christian causes the immature Christian to stumble in his faith. Rather than edify the weaker Christian, we have set a stumbling block before him. “And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?” (1 Corinthians 8:11, emphasis mine). Do you want to be responsible for that? “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Corinthians 8:13, emphasis mine).

Paul was talking about meat sacrificed to idols. We do not see a lot of that in our day and time, but there are other things we do that are “borderline” or “questionable,” which a non-believer or an immature Christian might consider “sinful.” God, as revealed through Paul, would have us give those things up rather than offend a weaker brother or sister or even an unbeliever. The freedom we have in Christ should never be an occasion for an immature believer to stumble.

Our lead verse says “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). Before we act, we need to consider how those looking on might see and perceive our actions. Could our actions be taken the wrong way – as sinful? Then, out of our love for the lost and the weaker brother or sister, we should abstain from those actions.

Reader, Jesus is coming soon. Are you prepared to meet Him? If not, please read my page on “Securing Eternal Life.”


[1]  Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2, 20:26; 21:8

[2]  1 Corinthians 8

1 Comment

Filed under Apologetics, Christianity

One response to “The Appearance of Evil

  1. Raymond Peterson

    Superb points that you give to us in this article. Thank you for taking this time to continually focus our minds.