1 Thessalonians 5:22
Abstain from all appearance of evil.
A man will never begin to be good till he begins to decline those occasions that have made him bad; therefore saith St. Paul to the Thessalonians, and through them to all others, "Abstain from all appearance of evil."
I. THE WAY TO FULFIL THIS COUNSEL. You must shun and be shy of the very shows and shadows of sin. The word which is ordinarily rendered "appearance," signifies kind or sort; and so the meaning of the apostle seems to be this, Abstain from all sort, or the whole kind, of evil; from all that is truly evil, be it never so small. The least sin is dangerous. Caesar was stabbed with bodkins, and many have been eaten up by mice. The least spark may consume the greatest house, the tinest leak may sink the noblest vessel, the smallest sin is enough to undo the soul, and, therefore, shun all the occasions that lead to it. Job made a covenant with his eyes (Job 31:1), Joseph would not be in the room where his mistress was (Genesis 39:10), and David, when himself, would not sit with vain persons (Psalm 26:3-7). As long as there is fuel in our hearts for a temptation we cannot be secure: he that hath gunpowder about him had need keep far enough off from sparkles; he that would neither wound conscience nor credit, God nor Gospel, had need hate "the garment spotted with the flesh." In the law, God commanded His people not only that they should worship no idol, but that they should demolish all the monuments of them, and that they should make no covenant nor affinity with those who worshipped them, and all lest they should be drawn by those occasions to commit idolatry with them. He that would not taste of the forbidden fruit must not so much as gaze on it; he that would not be bitten by the serpent, must not so much as parley with him. He that will not fly from the occasions and allurements of sin, though they may seem never so pleasant to the eye or sweet to the taste, shall find them in the end more sharp than vinegar, more bitter than wormwood, more deadly than poison.
II. NOTED EXAMPLES TO INCITE US. Scipio Africanus, warring in Spain, took New Carthage by storm, at which time a beautiful and noble virgin resolved to flee to him for succour to preserve her chastity. Hearing of this, he would not suffer her to come into his presence for fear of temptation, but caused her to be restored in safety to her father. Livia counselled her husband Augustus not only to do no wrong, but not to seem to do it. Caesar would not search Pompey's cabinet, lest he should find new matters for revenge. Plato mounted upon his horse, and judging himself a little moved with pride, at once alighted, lest he should be overtaken with loftiness in riding. Theseus is said to have cut off his golden locks, lest his enemies should take advantage by laying hold of them. Oh, Christian people! shall the very heathen, who sit in darkness, shun and fly from the occasion of sin, and will not you, who sit under the sunshine of the gospel? To prevent carnal carefulness, Christ sends His disciples to take lessons from the irrational creatures (Matthew 6:26-32). And to prevent your closing with the temptation to sin, let me send you to school to the like creatures, that you may learn by them to shun and avoid the occasions of sin. A certain kind of fish, perceiving themselves in danger of taking, by an instinct which they have, do darken the water, and so many times escape the net which is laid for them. And a certain kind of fowl, when they fly over Taurus, keep stones in their mouths, lest by shrieking and gabbling they discover themselves to the eagles, which are among the mountains, waiting for them. Now, if all these considerations put together will not incite you to decline the occasions of sin, I know not what will.
Parallel VersesKJV: Abstain from all appearance of evil.