Scripture is clear that believers must be faithful to examine and judge our own selves: “If we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged” (1 Corinthians 11:31). This calls for a careful searching and judging of our own hearts. Paul called for this self-examination every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:28). All other righteous forms of judgment depend on this honest self-examination. That is what Jesus meant when He said, “First take the log out of your own eye” (Luke 6:42).
Clearly, the command we previously discussed in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “examine everything” in no way contradicts the biblical strictures against being judgmental. The discernment called for here is doctrinal discernment.
The unusually gullible Thessalonians seemed to have a problem in that regard. Like many today, they were eager to believe whatever was preached in the name of Christ. They were undiscriminating. They were prone to be like “children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). Luke contrasted the Thessalonians with the more discerning church at Berea. The Bereans “were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Evidently the Thessalonians were lacking in discernment from day one.
Paul addresses this continual lack of discernment in both of his Thessalonian epistles. There is evidence in the first epistle, for example, that someone had confused the Thessalonians about the return of Christ. They were going through a time of severe persecution, and apparently some of them thought they had missed the second coming. In chapter 3 we learn that Paul had sent Timothy from Athens specifically to strengthen and encourage them in their faith (1 Thessalonians 3:2). They were unaccountably confused about why they were being persecuted. Paul had to remind them:
You yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass (1 Thessalonians 3:3–4).
Evidently someone had also taught the Thessalonians that believers who died before the second coming of Christ would miss that event entirely. They were in serious confusion. Chapters 4 and 5 contain Paul’s efforts to correct that confusion. He tells them that the dead in Christ will rise and be caught up with the living (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17). And he assures them that although that day will come like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2), they need not fear being caught off guard (1 Thessalonians 5:3–6).
Incredibly, shortly after this, Paul had to write a second epistle, again assuring the Thessalonians that they had not missed some great event on the prophetic calendar. Someone, it seems, had sent them a counterfeit epistle claiming to be from Paul and suggesting that the Day of the Lord had come already. They should not have been duped by such a ploy, because Paul had written so plainly in his first epistle. He wrote them again:
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you. (2 Thessalonians 2:1–3)
There was no excuse for their chronic gullibility.
Why were they so vulnerable to false teaching? Surely it was precisely because they lacked the discernment exemplified by the Bereans. The Thessalonians did not examine everything in light of God’s Word. If they had, they would not have been so easily hoodwinked. That is why Paul urged them to “examine all things,” and why we must also heed that counsel.