As we “examine everything” we will find much “good” in which to “hold fast.” However, there are many things in our lives that can be described as “evil.” In verse 22, Paul gives us the flip side of verse 21, we must “abstain from all appearance of evil.”
“Abstain” is a strong graphic word. Literally it means “to shun away from.” It is the idea of being repulsed by something gross. Imagine walking across a field and encountering a rotting animal carcass infested with maggots… well maybe that’s a little much. Of course you would shun away from the putrid sight. Let’s try another approach, imagine walking across the same field when you hear a rattlesnake rattle. What do you do? You shun away from that snake. Paul is saying in the strongest possible terms that we should shun away from “every form of evil.”
“Appearance” means type, shape or kind of evil. Evil comes in all shapes and types. When we carefully discern and discover something is evil, we are to run away from it, shun it. Some forms of evil take little discernment. For example, I don’t have to tell you the occult is evil. Stay away from anything having to do with Satanism or witchcraft.
However, there are many more subtle forms of evil. I think that’s what Paul has in mind here. He’s not talking about overt, obvious evil that even an unbeliever can recognize. He’s talking about covert, sly forms of evil that creep up on believers.
Friend, we must be aware of the subtle nature of evil and run from it!