Q: “What does it mean to not give the appearance of evil?”
A: To understand this particular concept you must consider the context it was given in. The Apostle Paul stated “Abstain from all appearance of evil,” but it was after he instructed the Thessalonian Christians to prove all things and hold fast that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). When you consider these two Scriptures together you can keep the one about avoiding the appearance of evil in the right context.
To” prove” something has to do with testing, trying, examining, or discerning something to see if it would be approved. Such approval for Christians would have to come from God. Once a matter is approved then we are to hold fast to that which is good. “Hold fast” means to seize upon it and not let it go.
“Good” in this text points to that which is virtuous. Consider that evil has to do with the lack of character while wickedness is a matter of doing that which is wrong, profane, and corrupt. To be good or virtuous one must be morally upright, righteous in motives, honorable in conduct, honest about what is true, doing that which would be worthy of consideration, and beneficial to those involved. Keep in mind these are the things we are to cling to, seize upon when considering a matter. We are not to let go of what is good in order to do something that would not be beneficial to our testimony or God’s kingdom.
There is also another Scriptural reference we must consider that is found in 1 Corinthians 8:9, “But take heed lest by any means this liberty of your’s become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.”
Now with this in mind, we can now consider what it means to abstain from all appearance of evil. Our life is not our life and we need to remember that we are living the life of Christ by faith (Galatians 2:20). We must ensure that our actions never bring a reproach on Christ. Even though a certain action may not be a sin of commission, nor will it lead to sin, such actions can turn into a sin of omission because we failed to consider how it might be a stumbling block to others. Questionable actions will bring your character into question. Dubious appearance leaves a door open for speculation to gain momentum about our character. It is natural for people to think the worst if they are allowed to speculate. We need to show discretion by being honest with ourselves as to the type of impression our actions will leave. We do not have the luxury to convince ourselves that we know what we are doing and for those who want to think the worst that it’s their problem. However, if you are going to speak into their life about Jesus and their soul, it will become your problem because they will not trust you.
As believers we must remember we are a walking letter, epistle of Christ; therefore, we have to keep in mind the world is watching us and our visible actions will confirm our claims or imply we are a hypocrite that speaks the words but in actuality will ignore them when God’s Word fails to justify selfish desires. It is important to remember we can justify questionable actions when we know there is no real sin attached to them, but we cannot risk tarnishing our testimony by doing something that has no eternal significance to it. It is easy to become a hypocrite and once we do, we lose respect and credibility to those who have been reading our lives (2 Corinthians 3:2-3).
We are to have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5). The main focus of Jesus was to do the will of the Father and our main focus should be to do the will of our Lord Jesus Christ. He left us an example of how we are to conduct ourselves in our bodies and even though some of His actions brought debate, they were never brought into question as far as His moral conduct. Since He never compromised His conduct, His motives were not questioned by those who believed and followed Him.
As Christians it is vital that we show wisdom as to how some of our actions might affect those watching us. We need to display discretion and realistically avoid walking into some innocent situation that will give our testimony a black eye. We need to discern and ask ourselves some tough questions about where we are walking, who we are becoming identified with, and how will those who have a tender conscience in Christianity see it.
There will always be those who speculate about you, but it must not be because of some questionable appearance on your part but because they have a small, wicked mind. A good way to determine whether you should be doing something that might be questionable to others is ask yourself one question, “If I was on the outside watching my particular action, would I question the integrity of it?” As the saying goes, “What is good for the goose is good for the gander.”