One of my favorite experiences while working at NASA was getting to watch the test firing at Stennis Space Center of the J-2X engine for the Ares I Upper Stage. It is impressive to watch the massive power of those engines, and even more awe-inspiring to know all of the people and labor behind the design of such an incredible machine. While there are thousands of hours spent on the design of such equipment, the test program is where all of that comes together.
But imagine if the test program consisted of a few engineers just kicking the end of it with their boots and shaking it around in the test stand a little. Then they declare, “Eh, seems good ‘nuff to me!” That in no way would qualify the engine capable of performing properly through the stress of flight. The test program must be rigorous enough to give the program confidence that this particular design is sufficient for a safe vehicle launch and successful mission.
The process of testing isn’t just for launch vehicle engines. Testing and judging rightly are crucial in all things. You must discern if that piece of meat is safe to eat. You must determine whether that car is going to pull out in front of you or not. And you must judge whether a person is safe to entrust with your children. Yet somehow our culture has decided that judgment is a four letter word. They tend to abuse the statement made by Jesus in Matthew 7:1, “Judge not lest ye be judged” (and why that always seems to be quoted in the King James I have no idea). They use this verse to imply that judging is wrong.
However, by verse 6, Jesus says, “Do not give to the dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” In order to do that we must judge to identify the dogs and the pigs. So we are to judge, but we are to judge rightly.
If we are actually supposed to be judging, what are some of the things we must judge? In 1 Thessalonians 5:21, Paul says to “test everything; hold fast what is good.” So we are to test things, but what kind of test program did Paul have in mind? Are we just kicking the tires and saying, “Eh, good enough”? Or are we rigorously assessing things? And more importantly, what are we testing things against?
1. What are we to test? Paul says in this verse that we are to test everything. That is pretty self-explanatory. But in this day, we are constantly inundated with ideas and arguments. We ought to consider all the things we consume without thinking about testing. This would include books we read (including those in the “Christian” section of the book store) and online articles we read (including those by “Christian” authors and websites). We must test what pastors, YouTube personalities, and professors tell us. We must test our best friend’s advice, social ideas, and even our own internal desires. We must test all doctrine, all instruction, and all teachings, basically everything.
2. What are we to test things against? Just like the test program for the Ares I engine had to be rigorous enough to approve the design for flight, our testing of ideas must be rigorous enough to ensure those ideas are fit for our consumption. We can’t just test things based on how it makes us feel. Our feelings are fickle and rarely grounded in truth. We must have a more rigorous method of assessing what is true, something other than just how we feel about it.
When we look back at Acts 17:11, we see the example set by the Bereans. They are counted as “more noble” than the Thessalonians because they tested the teaching that Paul and Silas brought to them. And they tested it against the Scripture. It says they were “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Even with Paul and Silas coming to preach to them, they received the word but then searched the Scriptures to make sure what Paul and Silas were preaching was correct according to God’s Word. It wasn’t whether Paul’s teaching “sounded right” or “made them feel good.” It wasn’t even based on how persuasive or charismatic Paul’s preaching was. It didn’t matter whether the surrounding towns accepted it or not. It didn’t even matter if it would raise money for the local congregation. It only mattered if what Paul was teaching was aligned with God’s Word.
The same principle is found in the sola scriptura from the Five Solae developed by Martin Luther. In 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the church in what would later be known as the Protestant Reformation. There were certain practices and teachings of the church that Luther found violated biblical doctrine. Luther bravely confronted the church in an effort to restore its teaching back to biblical principles. The sola scriptura principle is that all things are inferior to Scripture and subject to correction from Scripture.
Luther understood that even church tradition and statements by church leaders should be tested against the Scriptures. We are to have one authority for ideas, and that is to be the Word of God.
3. Why are we to test everything? This sounds like a lot of work to truly test everything. Why do we need to bother with this? Paul explains in Galatians 1:8, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” If the teacher of a false message – something other than Jesus and Him crucified – is accursed or damned, then we certainly don’t want to be sitting there mindlessly taking in that false message.
Ideas have consequences, eternal ones. Therefore, it is eternally crucial that we are consuming solid doctrine, that is true to the Word of God, leading us to a right understanding of God. Otherwise, we are being led astray, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. That has eternal consequences.
Paul emphasizes that importance to Timothy when he says, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” Paul instructs Timothy to preach the word, not just his feelings or his own personal ideas, but the Word of God. And he commands Timothy to reprove, rebuke, and exhort to ensure the true word of God is understood and communicated to others.
This is the true essence of salvation. The God and Creator of this Universe gave us His Word so that we could know Him which is eternal life (John 17:3). He reveals His nature and His will through His Word. The way to know God is through His Word – not commentaries about His word nor someone’s opinion about His word, but the very word of God. Things outside of Scripture have the possibility of leading us to a wrong understanding of God. Therefore all ideas we encounter must be tested against the very Word of God. Then we are able to test all things and hold fast to what is good, and throw away what is bad.