I'm of the opinion that it's a good idea not to do unto others what I don't like being done unto me. Revolutionary, I know, but it's my opinion and I'm welcome to it.
You know that guy who sits in every meeting drumming his fingers on the table? Or that coworker who whistles tunelessly and drives you up a wall? Or the kid who sits behind you in church kicking the back of your seat? Or the friend who cannot seem to tell a story without loading it with mindless and quite useless details?
You know, all those people who don't seem to mind at all how irritating they can be. Well, I try not to do that. This creates some difficulties, however. Over the years, I've had people comment to me about this or that and I've tried to change what I do because this or that irritates them ... until I end up being completely unable to do almost anything at all because everything seems to irritate someone at some time.
Enter this famous verse from Paul's first epistle to the church of Thessalonica: "Abstain from all appearance of evil" (1 Thess 5:22). I grew up with that verse. I knew people, friends and relatives, who made it their life's goal. They didn't go to movies not because all movies were bad, but because it was possible that you could be coming out of a theater that was playing Bambi and someone driving by may not have realized that last week's R-rated movie had changed and they would think you were doing something wrong. You don't play cards because, even though you were just playing "Go Fish", someone looking on could easily conclude that you were gambling. As a kid I once took a game for a rainy day to school. This game had dice in it that had numbers on them. You rolled these numbered dice and then tried to fit the numbers into math squares -- "__ + __ = __; __ - __ = __", and so on. An educational game. No, no! The game had dice, and even though you knew they weren't gambling dice, onlookers might not know and you could have the appearance of evil.
This whole thing bothered me for years. You see, it's not very likely that you can find anything you can do that will not appear evil to someone. You may join the military to serve your country and be "evil" because you're joining the military or refuse to join the military because joining the military is wrong and be "evil" for refusing to serve your country.
So ... Paul, what are we to do? We can continue to try to meet its requirement but that's impossible. We could throw out the verse, but that's certainly not a good choice. Or, maybe, just maybe, we can figure out what it means.
As it turns out, this isn't as hard as it seems. The Greek word translated "appearance" is eidos. It is, most literally, "form". It references the appearance or shape of something. So what is actually being said here is "Avoid the form of evil." Of course, newer translations have figured this out (so it's not like I thought this up myself). Green's Literal Translation says, "Keep back from every form of evil." The ESV says, "Abstain from every form of evil." The NAS agrees. So does the New King James. So maybe this wasn't such a hard saying after all. The real difficulty occurs when people don't think through what they're reading. "'Avoid all appearance of evil'? How do I do that?"
Now if only someone can help me out with this whole avoiding whatever irritates someone because I'm running out of options.