Listening to the Spirit; Holding Onto Good

This is my sixth week of writing about the fruit of biblical goodness, and we believers know there is no greater good on earth or in heaven for us than that of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is a phrase echoing in my mind as I studied today’s passage: gospel goodness, so I googled it. By no coincidence, but by God’s providence, the first article on the list was The Gospel Coalition’s “4 Reasons to Beware of the Goodness Gospel.” I have never heard of this false “gospel” before, but the suitableness of the article for our passage is unmistakable. 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 says, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” Hoover writes, Through Galatians, I heard the true gospel, which is that I received my justification by faith in Christ, and I also receive my sanctification by the work of the Holy Spirit. All along, I had tried to take the responsibility for producing spiritual fruit in my own heart, but I learned that my responsibility is to respond in obedience and surrender to God’s work in me. The shame, pride, and self-condemnation I’d struggled with all my life turned into freedom and joy. But something else happened. Because of my experience with the destruction of the goodness gospel, I became acutely attuned to its subtle message and realized that I was hearing it everywhere: through the counsel of other believers, from pulpits, and in Christian books. Do more, try harder.” (1)

We all have been influenced to take credit for our salvation and spiritual growth in some way or another. But Paul’s message starts with a vital don’t that opposes any such credit: “Do not quench the Spirit.” Christians have the Spirit of truth, who helps us recognize and embrace true gospel goodness, rejecting what is evil and self-glorifying. He guides us as we test cultural, philosophical, psychological, and sociological trends against God’s Word to filter out and use what is right and good. “The Thessalonians apparently despised manifestations of prophecy and hence were cutting off a valuable source of encouragement and extinguishing the Spirit’s fire.” (2) Matthew Henry writes, “He worketh as fire, by enlightening, enlivening, and purifying the souls of men. As fire is put out by taking away fuel, and as it is quenched by pouring water, or putting a great deal of earth upon it; so we must be careful not to quench the Holy Spirit, by indulging carnal lusts and affections, minding only earthly things. Believers often hinder their growth in grace, by not giving themselves up to the spiritual affections raised in their hearts by the Holy Spirit.” (3) I admit that I do just that sometimes, as my challenge with my anxious puppy continues. Local dog trainers, trainers on YouTube videos, articles, and neighbors all offer feedback and advice as they watch me struggle to get him to calm down around other dogs. The longer it goes on, the wearier I grow; I am sometimes tempted to give up because standard methods aren’t producing results. But then I remember the process that brought me to this point, in complete dependence upon God, through the direction of his Spirit—to say yes to this particular dog. God knows my circumstances and my heart’s desire for ministry companionship to the elderly. As tempted as I am to say aloud what I am thinking: “I can’t take one more surprise confrontation,” I don’t. Instead, I ask God for strength to get through this season of excitability with the Spirit’s wisdom for making reasonable adjustments to my training, per the professional advice available. “The voice of the Spirit of God is as gentle as a summer breeze—so gentle that unless you’re living in complete fellowship and oneness with God, you will never heart it.” (4) I don’t want to deny the Holy Spirit’s power to use my experience for God’s purposes and glory. It’s uncomfortable for and emotionally exhausting—it’s not much fun. But today, most of us are not having much fun and are somewhat uncomfortable because of the pandemic’s restrictions.

Our early Christian forefathers and foremothers would be amazed at the little things that cause us anxiety. We don’t think much about doctrinal conflicts or questions most of the time. But, there were many false teachers in the early church, some even calling themselves prophets, misleading people about the second coming of Jesus Christ. Today, we have sermons, devotions, articles on the internet, Twitter posts, blogs, and books–all of which we should use without neglecting. “Prophecy is used to build up, encourage, and comfort the gathered community (1 Cor. 14:3). Prophecy is also used evangelistically to disclose the secrets of the hearts of unbelievers and lead them to worship God (1 Cor. 14:24–25). Because God used this gift to build up the Christian community, Paul urged the Corinthians to value it highly (1 Cor. 14:4–5, 39).” (5)

Not only should we use the prophetic Word of Scripture, but we should also test it. “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything…” (1 Thess. 5:20-21)It’s worth repeating—we should examine all cultural, philosophical, psychological, and sociological trends against God’s Word to filter out and use what is true and good. “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” Starting with the article today, I felt compelled to read and evaluate it based on what I know of Scripture. I was pretty confident that Hoover’s view would conform to the Bible, simply because it was on The Gospel Coalition’s website. Knowing who has already evaluated the content is beneficial. For the Thessalonian Christians and us, the “tests presumably include the prophecy’s conformity with authoritative revelation, its value for edification, and its evaluation by those with spiritual discernment.” (6) Whenever we listen to a sermon, we should ask ourselves, “Am I able to separate the preacher’s interesting stories and applications from the exegesis and truth of the passage? Am I prepared to make my own application and hold onto it, with the Spirit’s guidance? How will I know if the interpretation doesn’t agree with the rest of Scripture? “Christian faith is not spiritual gullibility.” (7)

We have the Spirit of truth who helps us recognize and embrace gospel goodness, rejecting what is evil, to obey God’s command in verse 22: “Abstain from every form of evil.” “Not only open error and heresy are to be avoided, but what has any show of it, or looks like it, or carries in it a suspicion of it, or may be an occasion thereof, or lead unto it.” (8) We are to filter all trends through a biblical worldview and use what is right and good. “…hold fast what is good.” (v. 21) Tim Challies offers this advice for testing false doctrine: “No wonder, then, that John tells us to ‘test the spirits’ and Paul says, ‘test everything’ (1 John 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:21). It is our sacred responsibility to examine every doctrine to determine if it is true or false…As we test the doctrine, we learn our responsibility toward it: We either hold to it or we reject it…They provide a grid that is useful for testing any doctrine… [They are]…The Test of Origin: Sound doctrine originates with God; false doctrine originates with someone or something created by God—“The Test of Authority: Sound doctrine grounds its authority within the Bible; false doctrine grounds its authority outside the Bible— The Test of Consistency: Sound doctrine is consistent with the whole of Scripture; false doctrine is inconsistent with some parts of Scripture—The Test of Spiritual Growth: Sound doctrine is beneficial for spiritual health; false doctrine leads to spiritual weakness. Sound doctrine makes spiritually healthy, mature, knowledgeable Christians. False doctrine makes spiritually unhealthy, immature, ignorant Christians who may be no Christians at all, and The Test of Godly Living: Sound doctrine has value for godly living, false doctrine leads to ungodly living. Truth never stands on its own, but always has implications in life…Having thoroughly tested the doctrine and examined its effects, we are able to determine how to respond to it. Sound doctrine must be accepted and held fast; false doctrine must be denied and rejected. When Jesus spoke to the believers in Thyatira, he commended them for clinging to truth and told them to “hold fast what you have until I come” (Revelation 2:25).” (9)

How will you apply this knowledge to what you believe? I trust you will make your application with discernment and prayer for the Spirit’s guidance. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” (1 John 4:1-3)

Related Scripture passages for consideration: Ephesians 4:30-32; 2 Timothy 1:6-7

(1) Hoover, Christine, “4 Reasons to Beware of the Goodness Gospel,” 2015, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/4-reasons-beware-goodness-gospel/ Also see her book, “From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel.”

(2) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, 1 Thessalonians 5:19, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(3) Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/1thessalonians-5.html

(4) “His Utmost for My Highest,” Chambers, Oswald, “My Utmost for His Highest,” https://utmost.org/do-not-quench-the-spirit/

(5) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, 1 Thessalonians 5:20, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(6) Boice, Ibid.

(7) ESV, Ibid (1 Thessalonians 5:20)

(8) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 1 Thessalonians 5:22, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/ephesians-6.html

(9) Challies, Tim, “The Five Tests of False Doctrine,” 2017, https://www.challies.com/articles/test-every-doctrine-test-every-teacher/

August 14, 2020

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