Vol. 3, No. 8
I realize that I Thessalonians 5:22 says, "Abstain from all appearance of evil." I would like for you to elaborate on the meaning of that verse. Is it right to watch something that is wrong to do? For example, on the television there are many shows and movies that contain sinful things. Is it right to watch them? Is it right to watch a movie in which a man is murdered? Is it right to watch a movie that contains cuss words? Is it right to watch a movie in which a man fights with another man? There are even cartoons that contain what some might consider violent. Even in the various comic books, violence is found. In sports violence is found in a way. Is it right to watch football, of course not putting it or anything else before God? Football contains football players running into one another. Some are even injured. Is it right to watch that? Would that be considered violent? Is it right to watch professional wrestling? Professional wrestling contains fights, brawls, and wrestling among the wrestlers. Sometimes they are injured. Professional wrestling, of course, is fake and the wrestlers do not intend to hurt one another usually and they are trained in their ability to wrestle one another as in a play of actors, yet professional wrestling contains wrestlers getting revenge on other wrestlers, wrestlers insulting one another, among other things. In professional wrestling's matches, wrestler wrestles against wrestler, this could be considered violent by some. Is it right to watch professional wrestling? Is it right to watch school or college wrestling? In this type of sport, wrestler wrestles against wrestler and this wrestling is not fake. They do not intend to hurt one another intentionally usually, yet still man wrestlers man. Is it right to watch this type of sport? Is it even right to watch a movie or show in which a man insults another man? The Holy Bible teaches that we are not to rail against one another. … Also, is it right to eat at a restaurant that serves alcoholic beverages, keeping in mind that you certainly would not drink beer or approve of it? Is it right to go to a sporting event in which beer is served and advertised, keeping in mind that you certainly would not drink beer or approve of it? Is it right to own a movie theater, in which movies shown contain bad words, keeping in mind that you do not cuss or approve of it? Also, is it right to jokingly insult someone else, as long as the person who is being insulted tells you that is okay or perhaps does the same? That takes place sometimes often and those involved consider it a joke, but does God consider it that?
First, the querist poses a long series of related questions that can best be answered by addressing the initial query regarding 1 Thessalonians 5:22. The King James Version of the Bible reads the same as the title of this question above. However, the American Standard Version, the New King James Version, the New American Standard Version and the Revised Standard Version each read, "abstain from every form of evil." The New International Version reads, "Avoid every kind of evil." Often, the King James Version rendering is misconstrued to mean 'avoid everything that might appear to some to be sinful, whether it actually is sinful.' We emphasize that this is not the teaching of 1 Thessalonians 5:22. Rather, the verse really warns not to participate in any category of sin. It is every class or sort of sin that one is to avoid. In other words, all activities that God through the Bible designates as sinful ought to be avoided.
As commonly explained, abstain from everything that even "looks like" evil. But the word signifies "form or kind." ... It never has the sense of "semblance." Moreover, it is impossible to abstain from everything that looks like evil. (Vincent's Word Studies of the New Testament, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft)
Second, one needs to study God's Word diligently to ascertain what it teaches on any subject. In this way, one can know what activities or omissions that God designates as sinful. Beyond that, one may prescribe for himself conduct for Christian living that is regulated by principles associated with what he gleans from the specifics about which God recorded something in his Word. Further, one (such as elders, preachers, teachers) may attempt to persuade others both with respect to what God specifically records in the Bible as well as principles derived from the same. Yet, everyone must be very careful not to make laws where God has not.
Third, we must realize that God's children are not to be of the world, though we must necessarily live in the world (John 15:19; 17:14-16). To totally remove ourselves from sinful people and even some of the sinful activities that they commit would require us to go out of the world, which is not possible. Some people have erroneously attempted to segregate themselves from the world in communes or cloisters. While one, for instance, may be able to not eat out where alcohol is sold (if by no other means, simply by not eating out), many people could not buy groceries if they did not buy their groceries where alcoholic beverages are sold. Shopping for groceries where alcohol is sold without sanctioning or participating in alcohol sales is a fitting example of not being of the world, though we must live in the world.
Fourth, one must be careful not violate his conscience, for that is sinful (Romans 14:23). Irrespective of whether a given activity is sinful, if we believe that it is sinful and do it anyway, we commit sin by violating our consciences (what we perceive to be right and wrong). Therefore, it is important to properly educate our consciences by the Word of God.
Summarized, to answer the sundry questions posed above in a definitive manner would involve, sooner than later, making laws where God did not. The Pharisees were famous for making laws of their own that they perceived would prevent people from coming close enough to a biblical infraction to commit sin. However, the Pharisees tended to view violation of their laws as equal to violating the Law of God. While we can and should urge our fellows to know God's Word and order their lives by its teaching, we must stop short of censoring anyone whose conduct merely violates our opinions or consciences. Whereas our opinions may be wise advice in many instances, only God's Word constitutes the definitive designation of what is sinful.