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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, December 5, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  1 Thessalonians 5:16–24

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. (NRSV)

There are nine exhortations in verses 16–23 of this reading, six do’s and three don’ts (although one of the do’s is “abstain,” so maybe it’s five do’s and four don’ts). They almost sound like the shouted instructions of a parent to their college-bound child as she pulls out of the driveway: “Eat your vegetables! Brush your teeth! Study hard! Don’t party too much!” You can hear them as a single set of encouragements or pull each one out individually for consideration. Today, four weeks after the election, my attention is drawn to a pair of them right in the middle: “test everything; hold fast to what is good.”

When you read this letter in its entirety, you understand what its author, the Apostle Paul, wants these early Christians to test. They are being bombarded with claims about the second coming of Jesus. The section of the letter just prior to this one lays out in vivid detail what they ought to expect in that occurrence, but only because there are so many competing expectations being expressed among them that they’ve become divided and confused. They need to test what they’re hearing and to measure it against what they themselves “know very well” (1 Thessalonians 5:2).

Check your sources. And boy are there a lot of them. I doubt any collective of humans has had to process as many claims reported by as many competing sources as we do today. It’s gotten so that ignoring all of them feels to many like the only sane option. Otherwise, how do you test everything you hear about, for example, COVID-19 or contested ballots, without becoming exhausted?

Here is where the exhortation to “hold fast to what is good” comes in. Goodness is a metric we can use to test what we hear. One of the historic principles of Presbyterian church order is that “truth is in order to goodness.” Check out this line from our Book of Order: “no opinion can either be more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level and represents it as no consequence what a [person’s] opinions are.”

Are the things we’re hearing and reading promoting goodness? Are they driving us toward compassion and patience and forbearance? Or are they goading us toward vengeance? That simple observation on our part may be the most effective test we can apply.

God of truth, make us truthful. Help us by your Spirit to perceive what is right and good and inspire us by Jesus’ example to do them. In his name. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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