“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16–22

One of the first steps in bread making is to proof the yeast. When the yeast begins to bubble, it shows it is alive and you know you have a good batch. Yeast proofing is an apt illustration of God’s command to prove all things.

The Greek word for “prove” is dokimadzo, meaning to put to the test with a view to approving. It is the same word God employs concerning “testing” us; He puts us to the test with the express purpose of approving His precious children (1 Thessalonians 2:4, James 1:3ff, 1 Peter 1:7). The word was often used in the Roman world of assaying metals to determine their purity and content. Just as God tests our faith, assaying purity and content with the view to approve, so we need to learn to prove all things to see what meets God’s approval, and therefore merits our investment.

The immediate context of our verses runs from verse 12 through 24. Paul is calling the Thessalonian believers to greater commitment to Christ by being committed to their spiritual leaders (12f), to their fellow believers (14f), to the will of God (16ff), to the Word of God (19ff) and to the peace of God (23f). Absolute commitment to the will of God is the intended lesson of verses 16–22. Such a completely “sold-out” commitment necessitates a great measure of discernment on the part of the believer.

The challenge for intentionally-minded believers is to be sure that our value system is not just pleasing to ourselves but is pleasing to and regulated by God. We are not infallible as He is. We tend to misread ourselves and Him. Paul ran into this with the church at Rome. Several times he speaks to the issue of discernment and proving (Romans 1:28, 2:18, 12:2, 14:22).

In Romans 1, Paul lets us know that what ails the world and all lost mankind is a false approval system. The depravity of mankind since the fall is explained in verses 18ff. Man suppresses truth in unrighteousness (18) and willfully chooses a darkened heart (21). Man was given over to universal uncleanness in body and spirit because he exchanged the truth of God for a lie (24f). Believing the lie led to an inability to discern sexual propriety (26f). The final degradation is found beginning in verse 28, “And even as they did not like to retain [tested and disapproved] God in their knowledge, God gave [into the power of another hand] them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting being filled with all unrighteousness….” Mankind did not approve of God and so they did not retain the true God; they made a deliberate choice and willingly disapproved of God in their knowledge. Sounds vaguely familiar with our day, does it not? From this we gather that when it comes to your (and my) discernment of God’s truth and genuine good, we are all naturally predisposed to reject God’s truth and embrace every cheap usurping counterfeit. This is the first principle to be remembered when seeking a discerning mind: Do not depend upon your own perceptions to discern God’s approval of your actions.

Since we have a natural bent to reject God’s truth, how are we to gain a discerning mind in proving all things? 2 Corinthians 13:5 starts us off on the right foot: “Examine [test, try, trial] yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test [for approval] yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? —unless indeed you are disqualified [unapproved].” Simply put, be precisely sure that you are born again. Without the new birth and without the Holy Spirit’s aid you will be no different than a morally nice, lost person. This is the second principle: Make your calling and election sure and don’t trust the word of others who may be less discerning than you!

Romans 12:1f uses our word: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove [test for approval] what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Key to discernment in proving all things is being submitted to only the will of God and therefore presenting all of yourself as a living sacrifice to Him alone. Competing interests will always cloud your mind and skew the assaying process in your thinking. This is the third principle: Only Christ must be “Lord of All” in you.

Philippians 1:9f says, “And this I pray that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.” Ephesians 5:8ff reads, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.” This is the final principle: God will only approve what is excellent, good, righteous and true in His eyes and so must we. Trust and obey.