As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:
19Do not be quenching the Spirit. 20Do not be despising prophecies. 21Examine everything. Retain the good. 22Disassociate [yourself] from every kind of evil.
As I related in the last post, I believe these three verses form a single telic unit. Paul’s basic thought is mirrored in Luke’s description of the Bereans, saying they were “more noble than the Thessalonians, for they received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” The basic admonition here is that we should take seriously the Holy Spirit’s work of bringing us the Word, that we should neither disdain nor make light of any preaching or teaching we hear, but then that we should make it our habit to be personally examining those teachings and only holding on to that which is truly Scriptural.
Isn’t it interesting that our admonition is in a letter to the Thessalonians, while in Acts, Luke specifically tells us this was apparently a weakness of theirs – that this is exactly what they did not do as well as the Bereans! They needed an admonition to take the Word more seriously, which is exactly what we’re finding here in vv.19-22.
I would sadly suggest this problem is pervasive today. I have known very few people in my life who really took the Bible seriously. Again, I say this sadly, and I hope humbly, but I fear we are massively guilty in this generation of having quenched the Spirit, of having despised or made light of Bible teaching, and then been utterly devoid of any real personal effort to know our Bibles, to be able to “see whether these things are so.” In short, I fear there is very little Bible in American Christianity today.
It makes me very sad because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. We can only know real faith to the extent we know our Bibles, and without faith it is impossible to please God. Faith arises from the very great and precious promises of God – but if we don’t really know those promises, there is nothing to build faith on. It is only when we know the Truth that that truth can set us free. The fruit of the Spirit only grows in the soil of God’s Word. If we would know love and joy and peace, we must know our Bibles. If we would buttress our hearts with grace, we must have a real, personal relationship with the Lord. Someone once said, “To look into the Bible is to see the very face of God.” When we read and study the Word, and if we’re doing it because we want to know Him, our hearts take their place beside Mary at Jesus’ feet and we too are doing “the one thing needful.” To see His face is to be changed.
I will be forever grateful that one of the first books I ever read as a Christian was “How Should We Then Live?” by Francis Schaeffer. In that book, Schaeffer argued that humanity must have absolute truth or we will always degenerate into chaos, anarchy, and some form of totalitarian oppression. That absolute truth upon which the human race must base its very existence is none other than the Bible, the Word of God. Schaeffer argues that Bible truth was the strength of Western Culture and that, as that culture turns away from the Bible, they too degenerate into chaos and ultimately some form of totalitarian oppression. He wrote those thoughts in the 1970’s and I have sadly watched as his words have proven true in the 50 years since.
Now the fact is I can’t really do anything about an entire culture that quenches the Spirit – but I can change me. Paul’s admonition is very real and very needed. I can honestly say that I have tried to keep up a constant habit of Bible reading and study down through the years – thanks in some large degree to Francis Schaeffer’s early admonition in my Christian walk. It has been a wonderful freedom in my life to know God’s truth and to have it constantly crashing through all my misperceptions of reality, shattering my paradigms, and allowing me to see the world through His eyes. I just wish so much other people could see this, that they could experience for themselves this miracle of the Spirit’s work to open our eyes and see the truth – the truth that truly sets us free.
Perhaps one of my grandchildren may one day stumble across these feeble scratchings. If you do, then can I say to you, get a Bible and start reading it. You can start anywhere. It’s all good. I promise you, if you will, if you will open a Bible and start reading it, God will meet you there. Or should I say, you will meet Him? I promise you that, as you read, the Word will jump off the page at you. It is not like any other book that just lies there on the table. The Word of God is alive. It reaches out and grabs you. Maybe not in the first ten seconds you’re reading. Maybe not even in the first two weeks. But if you keep reading, it will happen. I promise you. And when it does, it will set you free. If you do and if you find my promises true, then gradually try to learn how to actually study it for yourself. I early learned how to use a Concordance, how to look up Greek and Hebrew words, how to use a Vine’s dictionary, and later had the privilege of learning the Greek and Hebrew languages themselves. But please realize, the Lord will start setting you free as soon as you start looking seriously into His Word. From there on, just make it a lifetime’s journey to ever be reading and studying the Bible – however is the best you know how – and again I promise you, 50 years from now, you’ll be glad you did. 50 years from now you’ll still be learning and He’ll still be setting you free.
Don’t quench the Spirit. Take the Word seriously.
Then you’ll know the answer to the question, “How Should We Then Live?”