by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 5 Paragraph # 3 Study # 5 April 12, 2015 Dayton, Texas
20 Despise not prophesyings.
21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.
1901 ASV Translation:
20 despise not prophesyings;
21 prove all things; hold fast that which is good;
22 abstain from every form of evil.
I. Despise Not.
A. Paul's verb shows up in interesting contexts in eleven places in the New Testament.
1. Luke 18:9 reveals it to be dealing with an attitude of superiority toward others.
2. Luke 23:11 uses it to describe Herod and his soldiers in their attitude toward Jesus as they mocked Him and arrayed Him in a "gorgeous robe" before sending Him back to Pilate.
3. Acts 4:11 uses this verb to quote the prophecy that "the stone that was setatnought by the builders has become the chief corner stone".
4. Romans 14:3 exhorts those who are free of conscience to "eat" not to "despise" those whose consciences are not so bold.
5. Romans 14:10 asks "why dost thou set at nought thy brother?" in a setting where brother "judges" brother in things not established by Scripture or Spirit.
6. 1 Corinthians 1:28 says that God has chosen "things which are despised".
7. 1 Corinthians 6:4 mentions those "who are least esteemed in the Church".
8. 1 Corinthians 16:11 contains a command that no one "despise" Timothy because of "latent antagonism" by reason of his association with Paul.
9. 2 Corinthians 10:10 expresses the "contempt" of those who did not think very highly of Paul.
10. Galatians 4:14; Paul's appearance was such that it could have (but did not) elicit "contempt".
11. 1 Thessalonians 5:20.
B. The conclusion we draw is that men often think of God's choices and actions as impossibly inept. Our "this is a joke", when applied to some attempt by someone to accomplish something, is a good example of this attitude. For example, a very poorly constructed tool is often called a "joke" if it has little to no capacity to accomplish what it was designed and set forth to accomplish.
C. The etymology leads into this conclusion in that it reveals a root in "seeing something as nothing" (or "nothing" as "something"), especially in light of some "task". This was very likely Cain's attitude toward Abel, picked up from his parents and Abel's name.
D. The bottom line is this: to "despise" means to exercise a kind of smug superiority over another by thinking oneself to be "obviously" superior.
A. 1 Corinthians 13:2 may well be the best single verse in the New Testament to define the meaning of "prophesying". Paul associates it with the ability to "understand mysteries and knowledge". This puts it well beyond the typical issue of foretelling the future; it makes such foretelling simply one of the aspects of the crucial "understanding".
B. Revelation 22:7 also goes beyond "predicting the future" because people cannot "keep the sayings of a prophecy" if it is simply 'prediction'.
C. At issue is one thing: Truth set forth as a prescription for making choices and taking actions.
1. This is at the heart of "despising" in that it assumes that there is an instruction being given by "prophecy" that is seen as ridiculous. People "despise" what they do not wish to pursue.
2. The assumption is that the "quench not the Spirit" exhortation is coming out of the fact that The Spirit often speaks to people through the voices of other people and those who are hearing are tempted to set the "speech" aside simply because they do not wish to hear it and see the necessary adjustments involved come to pass in their own experience.
a. At issue is God's use of others to voice His perspective on "issues". Why does He not do the "speaking" Himself from within the stumbling believer?
1) On one hand, it is only God's "inner activity" that makes His "outer activity" effective (this is the essence of Paul's "our gospel came not in word only, but also with the Holy Spirit...").
2) On the other hand, Paul's "...but with power..." strongly implies powerful external demonstrations (miracles) that have a potent impact upon the witnesses to them.
3) The fact is that God is within and above the entire "mix" of things said and done in order to get a person to see things in a given light.
b. But when all is said and done, the real issue is the condition of the hearer's heart and mind without regard for how God "speaks". If the heart is unchanged, the speaking will be ignored whether it comes from within or without; and, likewise, if the heart is changed, it does not matter how the truth comes, it will be believed.
1) The very core of the "new covenant" is the promise of a "new heart" (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 31:33) as the main ingredient of a new behavior rooted in the knowledge of God.
2) The essential problem with the "old covenant" was the absence of such a "heart" (Deuteronomy 29:4).
III. Prove All Things.
A. The issue of "prove" is the issue of putting a thing to a test to validate its claim (1 Corinthians 3:13), or to test its elements to ascertain their suitability to a task. This "proving" is an inner mental activity of reasoning that sifts claims and sets them up against established doctrines to see if there is a discordant note somewhere in the "proving".
B. The "all things" is most likely the "prophesies" mentioned in the preceding sentence.
1. This has always been a problematical issue. 1 Samuel 3:19 does not need to exist except for the fact that prophets sometimes got it wrong. 1 Kings 13:18 reveals the duplicity of one with a reputation as a prophet. 1 Corinthians 14:29-32 reveals that even New Testament prophets were not without flawed speech.
2. The problem is not on God's side; it is on the side of human depravity wherein "many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1) and are not always easily seen for what they really are, just as "the angel of the church in Sardis" (Revelation 3:1).
3. Paul's exhortation may well be in a context of multiple persons claiming to be "prophetic" and in need of clear-eyed evaluation (1 Corinthians 14:24 and 31). The issue is not so much whether a person is able to make a mistake as a true prophet (Deuteronomy 13:3; rejection on the basis of false words; Deuteronomy 18:22; evaluation on the basis of outcomes).
IV. Hold Fast That Which is Good.
A. Holding fast is a word used by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 to indicate a "restraining power". It implies an intensified grip (note the etymology). Another implication is that there will be an attempt to break a believer's grip on "that which is good" because those good things have the ability to edify.
B. The "that which is good" is a translation of a concept that includes a beneficial result. 1 Timothy is the "good" book of Paul's letters in that he uses the description 15 times in the very short letter.
V. Abstain From All Appearance of Evil.
A. The "abstain" is a variation of the "hold fast" of the previous verse. It means "hold oneself away from" by etymology and use. It is an intensified idea of staying as far away from something as is possible.
B. The issue is an "appearance" of "evil".
1. The "evil" in view is something that is destructively incompetent.
2. The typical reaction is to ask "what is wrong with this, or that?" because of our reluctance to be restricted.