The title of this article is a direct quote of the apostle Paul as it is found in the KJV. As is the case with every passage we study we do well to consider the passage in context. The two verses prior to this one set the context in the area of the miraculous gifts and specifically the giving of God’s revelation. Paul wrote, “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesying” (1 Thess. 5:19, 20). It is essential that we consider this context first as we examine the passage before us.
When we consider the church in the first century, their teaching was no different than ours, if we are teaching from the Bible and the Bible only. The major difference was not in what was revealed, but rather the largest difference was in how it was revealed. God’s message in the first century was given miraculously as men exercised the use of the gifts they received by the laying on of the apostles’ hands. Today, we have the completed product of their work in written form—in the 66 books that make up the two testaments that comprise the Bible.
However, just as it is true today, there were those who went out making claims to be proclaiming the message of God, yet they were not. Therefore, brethren were commanded
believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).
The message must be examined, tried and tested and it must be consistent with the whole of what was taught by the inspired men of the first century. Today we have the same responsibility to receive “the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). Thus we see Paul’s admonition to “prove all things.” Paul wrote,
And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ. (Phil. 1:9, 10)
Notice that both knowledge of God’s will and personal discernment were essential to determine the fitness of a teaching for our approval. This was true in the first century where we see the miraculous employed to give God’s Revelation. It is also true today.
Once a doctrine had been taught and tested, the recipient was responsible, depending on the result of the “trying.” There was the responsibility to either reject or accept what had been proclaimed or taught. In the latter portion of 1 Thessalonians 5:21, Paul tells us that our approval must be very specific. In his words, we see that we must “Hold fast that which is good.” Not only must there be acceptance of that which is good, but we must also bring it in close to ourselves. Paul wrote to the Philippians, we must “approve” those things that have been proven excellent. It must become a part of our lives and our beings.
Things are no different today as far as our responsibility is concerned. Teaching must be received with a ready mind, but it must also be put to the test by searching the Scriptures to see if these things are so. Upon proper validation, there must be an approving of the message in what we teach and what we live. If the message proves to be contrary to the doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ, then we are to reject it and put it far from us.
When all is said and done, the teaching is clear. We must put our approval on that which proves to be the Word of God and we must reject that which does not pass the test. May we strive for the nobility of the Bereans (Acts 17:11) as we study our Bibles more and more.