Should We Focus on Appearances Regarding Morality?

Biblical Authority Devotional: Morality and Ethics, Part 6

by Jeremy Ham on March 31, 2011

Jeremy Ham, AiG–U.S., demonstrates the importance of examining one's heart when thinking about moral issues.

Abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22)

Today’s big question: should we focus on appearances regarding morality?

In some Bible translations, 1 Thessalonians 5:22 is translated as “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (KJV, emphasis added). The word “appearance” may have had a slightly different meaning in the past, but in today’s language the term focuses on the visual aspect of things. When you’re considering potential moral decisions such as going to movie theaters, people might respond, “You shouldn’t do that because it has the appearance of evil.” Is this type of thinking biblically based?

When it comes to morality, we need to make sure we are relying on God’s Word rather than our own opinions. God commands us to imitate Him (Ephesians 5:1), so let’s look at how God views us:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

If God looks at man’s heart, not the outward appearance, why would He tell us to avoid “all appearance of evil”? If 1 Thessalonians 5:22 refers to the outward appearance of evil, then avoiding evil is based on the relative viewpoint of man. For example, some view going to movie theaters as evil whereas others do not, so whose standard should we go by? Basing morality on appearances forces us to rely on our own opinions rather than Scripture. Of course, we should remember to not be a stumbling block to fellow believers, but this does not mean our morality is based on how others view us.

Furthermore, Jesus stated, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). However, the passage in 1 Thessalonians is not contradictory when you consider the Greek word eidos, translated as “appearance,” can mean “form, kind, shape, or appearance.” Context determines meaning, and “every form of evil” fits much better than “all appearance of evil.

So what does “every form of evil” mean? God wants us to flee from all kinds of evil. “Every form” focuses on the heart rather than the appearance. As fallible human beings, we often get as close to the edge as possible without falling. We try to approach sin without actually crossing the line, but God looks at our motives for why we do things. So if we are just trying to get as close as possible, our heart is wrong, and we are sinning. As we work toward avoiding evil (following our God-given conscience), God will guide us, and we can make the right decisions with His strength, relying on Him rather than ourselves.

Today’s big idea: focus on the motive of our hearts while putting Christ first to avoid evil.

What to pray: ask God to help you make sure your heart is right.


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