Thursday, September 18, 2014

FOOL'S GOLD (1 Thessalonians Chapter 5)

1 Thessalonians 5:21, “But test everything, hold fast what is good.”

During the gold rush days, naïve miners sometimes happened upon what they supposed to be the mother lode only to later find that what they had discovered was merely iron pyrite (fool’s gold).  Though fool’s gold looks something like the real thing, it is relatively worthless.  There is even a story of a 1500’s ship captain who erroneously and embarrassingly transported a shipment of fool’s gold back to England.

It is quite possible to be deceived in spiritual matters.  “Satan, who deceives the whole world” is a well-trained master of deception (Cf. Revelation 12:9; 2 Corinthians 11:3).  He who first deceived Eve—and brought sin and error into the world--is at work to this day.  On the one hand, we are encouraged to “not quench the Spirit” and to not “despise prophecies” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20).  The Spirit of Truth has something to say to us and we need listen (Cf. John 15:26; Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).  On the other hand, we need to be careful to ascertain that what we are hearing has indeed come from Him (Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:4).  We can only do that when we are careful to “test everything” and only “hold fast to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

This particular verse of Scripture meets with ready application in the postmodern environment in which we live.  Most people (and many professing believers) deny the existence of an “absolute truth” (Cf. John 18:38).  The “culture-bound” modern church is far too gullible in this respect.  Exasperating the problem is the church’s tendency, in its unwillingness to “endure sound doctrine,” to “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3).  The tragic result is that many are “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14).  Much that is espoused to be “Christian” in our day is in reality like fool’s gold.  It may look like the real thing, but is in reality far from it. 

This present state of affairs is all too apparent.  A new so-called Christian movie or book or song targets a Christian audience and is met with hearty reception—even if its message or contents are antithetical to the truth revealed to us in the Bible.  The church has experienced a radical de-emphasis in the importance of sound doctrine.  I remember, as a young believer, visiting a Christian book store in Portland.  The shelves were filled with books related to Bible study and doctrinal matters.  Today such stores feature a lot of fictional books and even more Christian gifts and “trinkets”—because that’s what appeals to folks.  But Christian trinkets can hardly serve as a suitable substitute for sound doctrine.  Just because a thing is labeled to be “Christian” does not make it so, at least not in the Biblical sense. 

Years ago, soon after we were married, my wife and I attended some evening classes at Multnomah School of the Bible.  I was especially blessed by a study through Hebrews taught by John Lawrence (Mr. Lawrence taught up until ten days before the Lord called him home in 1995).  He approached the Scriptures with a degree of reverence and desire that was contagious.  He would often say, “If the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.”  Mr. Lawrence had absolute confidence in the authority, inspiration, and inerrancy of the Bible (Cf. 2 Timothy 3:16).  He had adopted a “But what does the Bible say?” way of thinking about all he believed and put into practice.  That kind of perspective is a foundational necessity if we are to exercise discernment.

The term translated “test” in this passage was a term used of the testing of metals.  It is here in the present tense implying the need for constant vigilance regarding the need to examine the things we are exposed to.  Fool’s gold can be distinguished from the real thing by examining its shine, hardness, and the residue it leaves behind.  Error can be identified for what it is when it is measured against the standard of God’s inspired Word (Cf. 2 Timothy 3:16). The “Jews (in Berea) were more noble minded than those in Thessalonica” because “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  Theirs is a good example for us to follow.

In this respect it is not enough to merely go to church on Sundays to hear what the pastor has to say.  Every true believer in Christ has the Spirit of God as a teacher (Cf. 1 John 2:27).  The Spirit of God will never speak contrary to the Word of God (Cf. John 4:24; Ephesians 5:18-20 vs. Colossians 3:16-17).  It is incumbent on the Spirit-indwelt believer to be a good student of the Word, maintaining a “but what does the Bible say?” way of thinking about things (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:15).  In this manner the believer is delivered from the embarrassing prospect of latching on to some error (i.e. fool’s gold) as a substitute for the real thing and being “led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).

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