Abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22)
Keep Your Distance
There is a lot of evil in the world, and it has been around a long time. Whenever evil is discussed, it is a cornucopia of things like murder, rape, stealing, torture, adultery, homosexuality, pedophilia, incest, anger, drunkenness, envy, sorcery, jealousy, and the list goes on. Evil is also relegated to the ungodly underworld of criminals and misfits who engage in the heinous crimes of passion and lust. Good people do not consider themselves evil folk. If they can live without any of the identifying marks of evil (see list above), then they feel pretty good about themselves; they have accomplished a level of righteousness and godliness. Sin is often defined by the characteristics of the preconceived major lists of evil things. The heart can believe that without the accusations of evil, goodness will merit acceptance before God.
Paul presents a puzzling challenge to the idea that evil resides only in the major act. After exhorting the saints at Thessalonica to warn the unruly, seek peace with all men, rejoice and pray often and give thanks for all things, he tells the Christians to keep away from evil. A careful reading of the text will show Paul did not warn the saints to keep away from evil but to distance themselves from every form of evil. There is an eternal difference between believing that evil alone will condemn and the reality that forms of evil will also bring judgment. Paul tells the Christians to stay away from anything that looks like, walks, and talks like evil. Every kind of evil needs to be abstained from with the greatest prejudice. He wants the people of God to remember that evil has an allurement that can draw a man to sin if he does not run away and stay away from evil.
In the Old Testament story of Joseph, the young son of Jacob was faced with a terrible situation. He had been sold as a slave to a man in charge of the king’s guards. Potiphar’s wife began to lust after Joseph and attempted to lure him with sexual immorality. Joseph refused, but she continued to put pressure on him daily. One day, she grabbed Joseph, demanding satisfaction, but Joseph ran away. He stood accused of attempted rape, and Potiphar placed him in the king’s dungeon. Joseph could not change the circumstance of being a slave, but he knew the only way to deal with the evil of Potiphar’s wife was to run away. He immediately removed himself from the seductions of Potiphar’s wife. Falsely accused, Joseph did not lose his faith in God but reaffirmed the lesson of dealing with sin in any form and how to react to sin.
The trouble with temptation is that often the greatest allurement is not the act itself but how near the heart gets to the fire. Sin is viewed from the vantage point that being warmed by its coals does not account for sin. The command of God is for His people to stay clear of sin, remove themselves from the presence of evil, and not put themselves in a compromising circumstance that can (and often does) lead to more sin. When a man plays with snakes, it should not come as a surprise if he gets bit. The likelihood is greatly reduced (magnified) that not handling snakes will guarantee the person will not be bitten by a snake. Christians mistakenly believe they can hold sin, and when sin bites, they are shocked and dismayed. Examining why a person falls into sin can be traced to the heart going places and being places they should not have been in the first place.
Adultery begins in the heart. Compromising situations and circumstances develop innocent enough, but then evil abounds because the man void of understanding walks along the street near the temptation. He has gone to the wrong place at the wrong time with good intentions that turn sinful because he did not distance himself from an obvious conclusion. Like a bird seeking a morsel, he is caught in the trap and dies. Drunkenness always begins with the first drink. Believing the first drink cannot lead to sin is folly. If the heart abstains from the evil of drunkenness, the first drink will never happen.
It is possible to live a sinless life if we keep a distance from sin and draw near to God. The reality is the carnal spirit fails so often to measure itself away from the temptation, and the heart is drawn away. Jesus lived a sinless life because He always kept His distance from sin. Every time a man sins, he does so because he is in the wrong place. A man will sin less in life when he can identify the alleys and byways of sin and refuse to travel those roads. Through the grace of God and the knowledge of His word, evil can be more readily identified. It is possible to walk through the woods and get bitten by a snake. Staying far removed from snakes will increase the odds. Sin will catch the heart unaware but exercising discretion and wisdom to refrain from evil will give a greater purpose in life to live godly. Abstain from sin and also abstain from every form of sin.