In this chapter we have the call to “Prove all things; hold fast
that which is good” (v21). The verses leading into this command and following it give us an array of vital things in the local church which we must“prove.” To prove, dokimazo, means to test, discern and approve after testing. Here is a testing of “all things” which reveals what we must hold fast to. This proving will of course also reveal things we must reject.
- This proving includes a discerning of those who truly labour faithfully in ministry and as a result of such discerning we are told to“esteem them very highly in love.” We should not withhold such high esteem to a faithful minister but neither should we give to any without testing and discernment.
- We also must use this facility of proving when dealing with every member of the body. We must size up and discern how to act towards each individual person: “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men” (v14).
- We must also use the faculty of proving in order to “Quench not the Spirit” (5:19). To quench is to extinguish or put out the working of the Spirit in the church. Some who are undiscerning quench Holy Ghost conviction of sin or hinder Him speaking in a way to make the church holy. But you can also quench Him in the manifestation of the spiritual gifts: “Despise not prophesying” (5:20). You must not have low thoughts of this genuine gift or set it at nought. Through proving you must discern what is of the Holy Spirit and what is not of Him. Any man who says that he is speaking by the Spirit should be scrutinized and tested (I Cor.14:29, 37).
- We use this facility of proving to also “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (5:22). The undiscerning question nothing. We must stay away from not only evil things but things which give an appearance of evil. We must discern and weigh up all things in coming to a decision as to what we should and should not be identified with.
Isa.5:20-21, Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” When Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, joined himself to the wicked king Ahab in battle he almost lost his life. Here was a godly king who was notorious above all kings for preparing his heart to seek God in prayer. He was a man of prayer yet very undiscerning in his associations. He believed the “judge not” gospel. But God was not happy. He sent a prophet to him saying, “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD” (II Chron.19:2-3).
This command to “prove all things” (dokimazo, to test, discern and approve after testing), is found throughout the New Testament in the wrings of Paul. This is a normal practical part of the Christian life. It is a vital part of the Christian life. You cannot function properly as a believer without proving all things. This “proving” applies to all things at all times. It is a vital responsibility for every believer, young or old. Just take note of the following verse where this same Greek word is used.
You need it in finding the will of God for your personal life: “…that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom.12:2). You must apply it constantly to your own heart: “But let a man examine himself” (I Cor.11:28). Mature leaders use it in choosing the younger preachers they use: “And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have oftentimes proved diligent in many things” (II
Cor.8:22). We must apply it to all our works: “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work” (Gal.6:3-4). You must use it in finding what is acceptable to God and then in applying it within the fellowship of the church: Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph.5:10-11). In the choice of deacons: “And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless” (I Tim.3:10). We must operate in it in reference to false prophets and false apostles: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (I Jn.4:1). “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” (Rev.2:2).
In all of these areas and in many others we have the right to judge. None of these things are outside the right and responsibility of each believer to judge. If anyone says that you must not test or prove these things then they are contradicting the written Word of God. Never let man takeaway your right to weigh up and judge all things. You have a God-given right, liberty and freedom to test all things and no man has the right to deny it to you. Never has this right been so abused as with the function of leadership in the church. We have two extremes in the church, i) First Nicolaitanism. The Lord said he hated the deeds and doctrine of the Nicolaitans (Rev.2:6, 15). This word means to conquer, to triumph or be victorious over the people. This is abusive leadership that uses their position, gifting and calling to manipulate, suppress or conquer the people. ii) The other extreme is the“church of the Laodiceans” (Rev.3:14). The other six churches were churches “of” a certain place. But notice this is now a church of the people. The people ruled. This is a church of the people, by the people and for the people. Is there a biblical balance to prevent such abuse on both sides?
I Thess.5:12-13, “And we beseech you, brethren, to know (through observation and watching) them which i) labour among you, ii) and are over you (proistemi = to stand before; to preside) in the Lord, iii) and admonish (caution and reprove gently) you; And to esteem (consider) them very highly in love for their work's sake.” Church eldership also falls within the boundary of “proving all things.” Eldership is not a law unto itself without accountability. Not only are all believers to be tested but all elders as well. Any elder or ministry that places itself above and beyond accountability is dangerous.
The great task of those who “rule over” other believers is to speak and minister God’s Word or to feed God’s sheep (Heb.13:7). This is the realm of their authority—the written scriptures. If they walk outside the scriptures they have no authority. To “rule over you” is used three times in Hebrews 13 and means to lead with official authority. This is not denominational or educational authority. It is the act of leading within the boundaries of God’s written Word. I want to give you a scripture that I believe is absolutely vital for every believer to know and understand correctly. If misunderstood it may lead to the suppression of your right to judge and your abuse within the church.
Heb.13:17, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” Two vital words are used here that we must understand.
- Obey (peitho) = to be persuaded; to be convinced; to be led to a place of agreement or trust. It is used in 13:18 and translated “we trust” and again in 6:9, “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation…” This is not unquestioned obedience to those who rule. It is obedience that is freely given after trust has been established. Those who rule cannot demand obedience. They must persuade the sheep by the written Word of God. Any Pastor who demands obedience without taking you to the scriptures to persuade you and to gain your confidence is an abuser. But in this word there is also the emphasis that the sheep must be willing to be persuaded by the Word of God. When a willingness to persuade and a willingness to be persuaded come together we have a beautiful harmony.
- Submit = to give place; yield. This yielding is the result of persuasion through the Word. Submission cannot be demanded (though it should be taught). If an elder is truly living by the Word and preaching the Word then we should be willing to yield. It is yielding to a man who has yielded himself, his motives, thoughts, doctrines and desires to the written Word. Both parties are yielding to the authority of God’s Word. And please note again the reason for submitting to such a ruler: “for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief:” Some in the church say they will never yield to any man. Such are out of step with God’s Word. They may judge but their judgment is not Biblical.
Acts 17:11, “These were more noble (higher rank) than those in Thessalonica, in that i) they received the word with all readiness of mind (predisposition), ii) and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” The Berean’s held fast to the right and liberty of testing what Paul preached and taught with the written scriptures. To do such does not mean that you don’t have a readiness of mind to believe and receive. They were testing his words with the Word. Paul was a gifted apostle but he could be tested by the written scriptures. Not just for a moment or a day but daily. For as long as he preached they tested. Paul was also willing and happy for such. It did not offend him, hurt him or make him insecure. These Berean’s proved themselves to be of a noble spirit by “proving all things.” God help all of us be such.