‘Test all things; hold fast what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).’
The church in Thessalonica suffered persecution, and they were a good example to others in Macedonia and Achaia as to how to live joyfully while under attack from adversaries (1 Thessalonians 1:6, 7). Because of his concern for the church, Paul sent Timothy to them to establish their faith (3:2) and to make sure they were holding firmly (v 8) to the truth. Timothy on his return to Paul gave a good report regarding their conduct. So he was comforted (vv 7-9) to hear of their faithful walk with God.
Paul wrote his first letter to them in response to the good news from Timothy. He wanted to encourage the church, and to exhort them to: ‘Test all things (5:21).’ By that he meant for them to follow his example of relying on the Scriptures for guidance as to how to live. They were to ‘test’ everything in accordance with the Scriptures, i.e., the Old Testament, in light of Christ’s fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17), and His institution of the New Covenant in His blood (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24).
The Old Testament through the use of shadows (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5; 10:1) and types (Romans 5:14) foretold what was to come, i.e., freedom from the old law of works under the Mosaic Covenant, and new life through faith by grace (Ephesians 2:8, 9) made possible by the shedding of Christ’s blood (Hebrews 9:22) on the cross, and the life-giving Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8).
Paul wanted the Thessalonians to accept the authority of leaders within the church and to be prepared to be admonished by them (1 Thessalonians 5:12). They were to ‘esteem them very highly in love for their works sake (v 13)’. What were their ‘works’? As leaders of the church they were shepherds responsible for feeding the sheep of Christ (John 21:17), not with grass and water, but with His Word – His Scriptures. They were to teach (1 Timothy 3:2) them and to care for them. They were to be Christlike examples (Romans 15:5).
Although members of the church were being taught by their elders, that did not take away their responsibility for discernment as individual members of the church. What John said in his First Epistle was for them and for all church members: ‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God (1 John 4:1, 2).’
As I was out walking this afternoon I saw three Jehovah Witnesses about their business of preaching a false gospel – false because they say Jesus was created by God and He was the archangel Gabriel. They teach that He is not equal to God in deity, nor is He the second Person of the Trinity. They deny that God came in the flesh, i.e., the incarnate Immanuel, God with Us (Matthew 1:23). Verse 3 of 1 John 4 states that such people are of the spirit of the Antichrist.
We are even obliged to test our own works according to the Scriptures: ‘But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each shall bear his own load (Galatians 6:4, 5).’
But all the time we are to be guided only by what has been written in the Scriptures: ‘Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other (1 Corinthians 4:6).’
Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone.