To set the right example—to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world—we must take care of one particular area. Paul mentions it in I Thessalonians 5:22: "Abstain from every form of evil." The KJV renders it, "Abstain from all appearance of evil."
"Abstain" (Gk. apéchesthe) literally means "to hold oneself off" or "to keep oneself from." A common synonym for this word is "refrain." When we abstain or refrain from doing something, we exercise restraint and self-control. We look at the situation with a sound mind, soberly, to ensure that we "do the right thing."
"Evil" is a translation of the Greek word poneros, used some 75 times in the New Testament, mostly as "evil" or "wickedness." This kind of evil is both the act itself as well as the corrupting effect it has on others. It is a broad term that includes many forms of malevolence, malignancy, corruption, and sin.
Notice the views on I Thessalonians 5:22 taken by three well-known commentaries:
» Adam Clarke: Sin not, and avoid even the appearance of it. Do not drive your morality so near the bounds of evil as to lead even weak persons to believe that ye actually touch, taste, or handle it. Let not the form of it, eidos, appear with or among you, much less the substance. Ye are called to holiness; be ye holy, for God is holy.
» Expositor's Bible Commentary: Paul very clearly intends an antithesis with v. 21 here. "Hold fast" to the good, but "hold yourselves free from" every kind of evil that tries to parade itself as a genuine representation of the Spirit. Only then can maximum benefit for the body of Christ in local worship be achieved.
» Barnes' Notes: [Abstain] not only from evil itself, but from that which seems to be wrong. There are many things which are known to be wrong. They are positively forbidden by the laws of heaven. . . . But there are also many things about which there may be some reasonable doubt. . . . There are many things which, in themselves, may not appear to us to be positively wrong, but which are so considered by large and respectable portions of the community; and for us to do them would be regarded as inconsistent and improper.
There are things, also, where, whatever may be our motive, we may be certain that our conduct will be regarded as improper. A great variety of subjects, such as those pertaining to dress, amusements, . . . and various practices in the transaction of business, come under this general class; which, though on the supposition that they cannot be proved to be in themselves positively wrong or forbidden, have much the "appearance" of evil, and will be so interpreted by others. The safe and proper rule is to lean always to the side of virtue. In these instances it may be certain that there will be no sin committed by abstaining; there may be by indulgence.
Because we represent God, any appearance of evil presents a wrong picture of who God is and what He is doing. How we conduct ourselves before the world—and among our brethren in the church—is vitally important.