“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (I Thessalonians 5:21).
Many have quoted this verse as if it were a command to believe nothing unless it has been proven by careful demonstration or logic. But this is not the proper meaning of this verse, for it runs counter to Scripture’s grand theme of faith.
This is not to say, of course, that the Christian faith is unfounded, for it is validated time and again by science, history, logical argument, personal experience, etc. The apostles preached, “That . . . which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life” (I John 1:1). Paul, in our text, insists instead that we “prove all things” in the sense of putting them to the test in order to demonstrate that they are Scripturally sound, in agreement with relevant Scriptural passages.
Our text must be considered in its context, for it follows the commands, “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings” (I Thessalonians 5:19,20). It seems he is saying that while allowing the Holy Spirit to work freely, we should not blindly accept all spiritual manifestations, but test them in relation to result and Scriptural teaching. Note the similar teaching, “Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God” (I John 4:1).
Elsewhere we are encouraged to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove [or ascertain by trial] what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2). The will of God is a life wholly conformed to that of His dear Son and in unity with other believers. Such a life can only be known by experience, “Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10). JDM