The Bible instructs us to examine, test and prove what we believe. It isn't good enough to just believe or to accept a doctrine just because it has been taught.
The wet and coolness of spring was finally giving way to the pleasant warmth of early summer, so John and Marge decided it was time to invite the new neighbors over for a backyard barbecue. Over the course of the evening the conversation turned to church and religion.
Since John and Marge were established and comfortable with their church, the new couple asked several questions about their beliefs and why they believed them. John quickly found himself in a quandary with one of the "why" questions because he had no answer. He turned to Marge, who could not answer either. So he turned back to their guests and stated, "I guess I believe it because it's what our Church teaches."
As members of the Church of God, most of us find ourselves faced with questions about our beliefs from time to time. Questions like: "Why do you go to church on Saturday? Are you Jewish?" or "Why don't you keep Christmas? Don't you believe in Jesus?" And we can expect that our neighbors and coworkers will have questions, because our beliefs are in many ways very different from the beliefs of most of our neighbors, coworkers and even family members.
When you are asked questions about your faith, are you able to provide an answer, or do you find yourself in the same position as John? This is not what our Creator wants from those He has called and chosen to live His way of life!
In a list of final admonitions at the end of his letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul told the Church in Thessalonica to "prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21, KJV). The word used for "prove" in the Greek means to "test, examine, prove, scrutinize" (Thayer's Abridged Greek Lexicon).
We are instructed to examine, test and prove what we believe. It isn't good enough to just believe, or to accept a doctrine just because it has been taught. Perhaps now would be a good time for each of us to ask ourselves: "Do I practice 1 Thessalonians 5:21?"
Being Like the Bereans
A wonderful example of doing just that is recorded in Acts 17. Paul and his party had trouble in the city of Thessalonica and had to leave under cover of darkness. They traveled west about 75 miles to the city of Berea, where Paul once again began to preach the truth.
Verse 11 says this of the men and women of Berea: "Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (NIV).
The approach of the Bereans is something you and I can learn from. First of all they "received the word"—they listened attentively and respectfully to the preaching of Paul. They wanted to know what he had to say and make sure they clearly understood him before making any judgments.
Now I suppose it would have been much easier for them to listen and then conclude that Paul was correct, and accept what he said without further worry. But that was not their approach. They understood that the Word of God should be handled with dignity and care, not taken lightly or taken for granted. So they "examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true."
Not only did they open the Scriptures and study subjects for themselves, but we are told they did so daily. They didn't just listen on the Sabbath and look up some things then—they made a study of the Word of God a part of their lives every day! They wanted to know whether or not Paul's preaching was accurate. If they could affirm his teachings from the Scriptures they had (what we call the Old Testament), then they could accept it as something new they had learned.
If, however, they had found Paul's teachings to be incorrect when examined in the light of Scriptures, it is certain they would have rejected them as heresy. Put another way, it was important for them to know what they believed, but it was just as important to know why they believed it!
Their example is a wonderful lesson for each of us in the Church of God today. Paul was not always met with respect, but he was in Berea. It should be the hallmark of every individual and every congregation of God's Church that we listen and approach the ministry with dignity and respect (Hebrews 13:17). That is the starting point.
But we also must know with certainty what we believe, and we need to be sure we know why we believe it. To do that, we have to examine, test and prove our beliefs, carefully examining the things we are taught in the light of Scripture, being certain our faith is secure, not easily moved (Hebrews 13:9).
That is the danger of accepting the Church teachings blindly rather than following 1 Thessalonians 5:21. To the congregation in Corinth Paul wrote: "But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough" (2 Corinthians 11:3-4, NIV).
The Corinthians exhibited the all-too-human tendency to be taken in by a good sounding argument without spending the time and effort to examine it carefully in the light of Scripture. The same thing happened later on in the congregations of the region of Galatia (Galatians 1:6; 3:1). If it could happen to them—it could happen to us!
Where Do We Start?
Understanding that, how can and should we go about examining and proving our beliefs? Where do we start?
We are fortunate to live in an age where studying the Scriptures is more convenient than ever before. Bibles in many different translations are commonly available, and many are fairly inexpensive to obtain. There are concordances that make finding a particular verse or section much easier and faster. There are Bible dictionaries, lexicons, commentaries and Bible atlases to help us further understand the words God chose to use, the circumstances in which the men and women of old lived and how to apply their examples to our lives today.
For those who are a little computer savvy, all of those Bible helps can be found in various computer programs or many times even on the Internet free of charge. A computer can make finding information faster, and often will allow you to pull material together from various sources and save it to a file or print it out as a study of a particular topic.
Church publications also provide a wealth of information that we can use to prove our beliefs. The topics addressed in various booklets have been researched and written carefully to be easy to understand and scripturally accurate.
The Bible Reading Program (www.ucg.org/brp ) has been developed as a means to help each of us read through the entire Bible with a great deal of background information. It is a wonderful source of information and an aid to Bible study.
The United Church of God also has produced and distributed a sizable library of tapes and CDs of the lectures of various Ambassador Bible Center (ABC) classes and sermons collected on various topics. The General Epistles and Epistles of Paul, the book of Daniel, marriage and family relations and much more have been taped and duplicated for each congregation to put in their library. Each provides another tool to use in personal Bible study.
All of these can be a big help to us in following 1 Thessalonians 5:21, but I want to offer a word of caution here: As well written and accurate as a magazine article, booklet and study course may be, as colorful and well presented as an ABC class may be, they are not Scripture, and watching, reading and studying them should not replace reading the Bible.
To effectively use material published by the Church, we should take the approach of the Bereans and listen (or read) intently, and then study the Bible daily to prove what we've read.
Prepared to Give an Answer
The benefits to each of us of examining, studying and proving our beliefs are tremendous. Our faith is strengthened as we become more confident in what we believe. We will not be as easily swayed by a new idea or passing fancy of doctrine that comes our way, because we will not only know what we believe, but, just as importantly, we will know why we believe it—and we can go back and prove it again if need be. We will be able to do what John and Marge couldn't when we are questioned about our beliefs: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15, NIV).
Paul told the brethren in Thessalonica to "prove all things; hold fast that which is good." It was sage advice for the early Church, and it is needful for the Church of God in these end times as much or more than ever.
So once again let's ask, "Do I practice 1 Thessalonians 5:21?" UN