The emergence of the COVID-19 Coronavirus has changed our world in a number of ways. Though hard to believe, wearing masks, standing in line to enter the grocery store, and toilet paper at a premium have all become part of daily American life. Part of this great change is the practice of social distancing. Health officials tell us that we can prevent contracting and spreading the virus by maintaining a distance of 6 feet from each other, refraining from hugging and shaking hands, and limiting large gatherings. This practice is good for our physical health but it also bears a striking parallel to our spiritual health.
First Thessalonians 5:22 says, “Abstain from every form of evil.” The word “abstain” means “to avoid” and “keep your distance.” This passage is found in a context dealing with teaching. “Do not quench the Spirit” and “Do not despise prophecies” (1 Thess. 5:19-20) refers to the miraculous spiritual gifts available in the first century, particularly the ability to speak forth God’s Word. The inspired instruction was not to reject a “forth teller” of God’s word but rather to test him–“Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). One who passed the test was to be embraced, but one who failed and was proven to be false was to be rejected. The church was to “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22).
Spiritual gifts are no longer available but the principle of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 is just as applicable. Whether false doctrine, temptation, immorality, or whatever it may be, Christians ought to avoid and keep their distance. Too often, it seems, we try to get as close to sin as possible without touching it. Brethren, “Can a man take fire into his bosom and his clothes not be burned” (Pro. 6:27)? Drawing nearer to God should be our greatest desire. That, by default, will push us further away from wickedness. Social distancing will stop eventually. But sin distancing must be a permanent fixture.