“Examine…Hold Fast…Abstain”

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19 Do not quench the Spirit; 20 do not despise prophetic utterances . 21 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil (1 Thess. 5).

The Holy Spirit revealed the gospel message through inspired messengers (apostles and prophets), some of whom God had write down what they revealed for future generations, including us. What a blessing God provided us through them!

for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction (1 Thess. 1:5).

The gospel was revealed in words (written and spoken) and confirmed with displays of powerboth by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit-revealed/confirmed word affected them by moving them to “full conviction”:  faithful service to God.

There are two, related, critical dangers in our text, either of which can keep us out of the will of God. Consider …

Danger One:  “Do Not Quench The Spirit”

Imagine what would have happened if the Spirit-inspired men quenched the Spirit by refusing to speak or write His word? The following statement would not be possible!

For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what             it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe ( Thess. 2:13).

Thankfully, they trusted God, faithfully writing what the Holy Spirit moved them to write. The written word became a blessing to both them and us.

Danger Two:  “Do Not Despise Prophetic Utterances”

This is the second, related danger in this text.  The word “despise” has been variously translated, but it means “has no merit or worth … beneath one’s consideration … of no significance and therefore worthy of maltreatment”[1].

What if, though apostles and prophets faithfully wrote the word of the Holy Spirit, people disregarded that message? Well, that happened repeatedly then, and it still occurs today. Otherwise there would not be so many human creeds, false doctrines, opinions, and traditions promoted in this world. They wrestled with this problem, and so do we.

Also, when people view the written word as having “no merit,” “beneath…consideration,” “of no significance,” they manifest this in other ways. We despise prophecies, and thus quench the Spirit in our hearts and lives, when we …

  • read scripture seldom
  • rush through our reading without allowing it into the meditations of our hearts
  • rush through our reading without allowing its message to change our lives
  • view it only academically (rather than as the bread and water of spiritual life to quench our hungry and thirsty souls, Matt. 4:4)
  • view it only devotionally (rather than allowing it to touch not just our feelings, but our lifestyles — our hearts AND our heads)
  • decide what we believe beforehand (preconceived ideas) and read the Bible to prove ourselves correct
  • place more stock in the beliefs of people we know, love, and respect than in the word of God
  • spend more time reading what people say about the Bible than the Bible itself
  • disagree with its teachings, etc..

God’s word, like God Himself, is worthy of better than this. May we, like the Thessalonians, receive it “for what it really is, the word of God,” allowing its message to perform “its work” in we who believe (1 Thess. 2:13).

Three Important Steps:  “Examine…Hold Fast…Abstain”

Valuing the Holy Spirit inspired word will also instill in us a desire to “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21,22).

With the Holy Spirit’s measuring line in our heads, hearts, and hands, we can do these three things:

Step One:  “Examine Everything Carefully

Take no attitude, belief, or practice for granted, whether pertaining to morality or “religious” practices. Examine them carefully. Rather than quenching the Spirit or despising prophetic utterances, use the precious word of God to measure all of these.

Step Two A:  “Hold Fast to That Which Is Good”

Having examined it carefully, if based on the teaching of scripture you find it “good,” hold fast to it. “Buy truth, and do not sell it” (Prov. 23:23a). Be unwilling to compromise the truth of God, regardless what human rationale or emotional plea offered. Truth is truth, and we must stand with God by standing in it.

Step Two B:  “Abstain From Every Form of Evil”

This one has sometimes been misunderstood, based on the King James Version’s rendering —  “Abstain from all appearance of evil” — to mean, if you are not sure, but it could be construed as evil, then you must abstain from it. Things, like playing cards (even if you are not gambling) and buying products from a store with a questionable (or even worse) political agenda, have been blanketed by some as wrong based on this phrase. Some are dogmatic in demanding their view about this too.

But that is not what this verse means. “Abstain from every form of evil” (NASB) is an excellent rendering of this verse. “Form” means “a variety of something, kind”[2]. “…from every kind of evil or wrong…”[3]  “It never has the sense of semblance.”[4]

Further, this verse is telling us the opposite of the previous: upon examining a thing, if you find it good, cleave to it; if you find it evil, abstain from it. Using this differently than the context demands is using it contrary to Paul’s, and thus the Holy Spirit’s, intended purpose. May we not quench the Spirit — or despise prophetic utterances — by using His revealed word contrary to His obvious, intended, contextual purposes.


How do we apply these principles? Based on the following passages (and any other New Testament teaching), when we examine these beliefs/practices, should we “hold fast” to them OR “abstain” from them as forms of “evil”? Insert and “H” for “hold fast” OR an “A” for “abstain” in the blank before each line in this list.

  • _______ baptism unto salvation (Mark 16:16)
  • _______ women preaching to men (1 Tim. 2:11,12)
  • _______ infant baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38)
  • _______ immersion as baptism (Rom. 6:3,4)
  • _______ divorce and remarriage for any cause (Matt. 19:3-12)
  • _______ practicing homosexuals going to heaven (Rom. 1:26,27)
  • _______ the necessity of following the pure gospel (Gal. 1:6-9)

It is not sufficient to say, “I don’t see anything wrong with …” or “It seems to me ….” We need a scriptural basis for what we believe and practice. May we be discerning — not despising — by cleaving to the Spirit-inspired prophetic utterances.


Examine…Hold Fast…Abstain”:  this brief formula is far-reaching and powerful when trying to understand God’s word. Let Him speak through letting the prophetic utterances revealed by the Holy Spirit stoke the fires of our enthusiasm and understanding, spirit and truth, heart and life. We thus glorify and honor Him; He is worthy!



[1] A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT, 3rd edition, Bauer, Danker, Arndt, Gingrich, p. 352

[2] ibid., p. 280

[3] Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 172.

[4] Word Studies in the New Testament, Marvin R. Vincent, vol. IV, p. 51


by Shane Carrington