Spiritual Discipline Series
This year, Expository Files will features 12 articles on Spiritual Disciplines For Every Christian. Our writers will convey to us from the Bible, the simple disciplines that need our attention, to please God and be effective, disciplined people.
By “spiritual discipline” we mean those things God has given us to do. When done consistently, we not only glorify God and serve others well, we build discipline and long-term strength into our lives.
Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” But there is little danger of an unexamined life in society today! Modern life is full of tests for examination and evaluation, though they may not be the kind Socrates was talking about.
“Careful self-examination” is easy to say, easy to tell others, but it is hard, and can be unpleasant. In my library I have many books that talk about self-examination. Barnes and Noble has a whole section devoted to self-examination. Amazon is full of self-help books. Self-help is a thriving industry all by itself.
For all the literature, there is no “for-sure-bet” to be able to objectively examine myself with 100% pure objectivity. Furthermore, I have never met anyone who is 100% completely objective. I have met a few who thought they were objective. We all have our own prejudices, our own familial influences, our own religious leanings and our societal influences that motivate us. It is simply hard, if not impossible to be able to be objective when looking at ourselves.
In fact Paul acknowledged that, “For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves by themselves, are not wise” (2 Cor. 10:12). When we measure our self by our self we are never wrong. We never see our own flaws and inadequacies. Worse, we never see our own sin. Measuring ourselves by ourselves is a subjective standard.
Therefore, we need an objective standard by which we can measure ourselves. Paul further says, “For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends” (2 Cor. 10:18). It is not important that I have a favorable evaluation of myself. What really final matters is how does God see me. Therefore, I examine myself not in comparison to myself or others, but by what and whom the Lord approves. Christ is the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2). He sets the pace for us.
When Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile he found the two fastest half-milers with whom he could train. One would run the first half-mile and then the other would run the second half-mile. Roger Bannister, however, kept running. He kept the pace set by the two fastest half-milers.
Even so, our pace setter is Christ (Heb. 12:2). He set the best example to the “nth” degree. We do not measure ourselves by the world. We do not measure ourselves by our brethren or friends. We do not compare our sin versus the sin of another. When we do we have not elevated ourselves but come out the same as everyone else. In other words, when we compare ourselves to a pig we really have not given ourselves much of an evaluation. We still look pretty good comparatively. However, when Christ set an example of how to please the Father, how to respond to threatening and abuse, how to treat those who abuse us, we have a pace setter that elevates our lives and hearts (John 8:29; 1 Pet. 2:21-23; Matt. 5:43-45). Therefore, any self-examination is measured by Jesus the Christ.
Now, with Him as our standard we can take a serious look at ourselves. Again, this is hard, it is so easy to examine others. It is so easy to continue to do the same old things in the same old ways. Self-examination begins with me. The first step is to remove the beam from my own eye (Matt. 7:1-5). Before I condemn or judge others I need to first look at myself. Am I guilty of that for which I am about to pass judgment on another? Have I first taken care to consider myself (Gal. 6:1)? How can I effectively help a brother who is overtaken in a fault, if that same fault has overtaken me and ruined my life? I need to meekly and honestly look at myself compared to Christ before I seek to restore another. Self-examination is a test many never take.
Paul will exhort, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourself whether yourselves. Do you not know yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you – unless you indeed are disqualified” (2 Cor. 13:5).
Self-examination is a test many never take. Take note of yourselves appears three times in this verse. Not only is it emphasized by repetition; it is emphasized by being placed at the beginning of the sentence. A more literal reading may be: “You yourselves test …. You yourselves prove … Jesus Christ is in you.” The reason for the emphasis is that only we ourselves know whether Jesus is really truly in us.
There are three criteria for passing the test. The faith test does not take into account church attendance. It does not give credit for prayer, Bible study or good works. There are three words that tell us the criteria of passing this exam: test, prove and recognize.
The first, “test” or “try” refers to how coins are tested to determine their genuineness and their full weight. Is the coin genuine or fake, genuine or disapproved? They are to apply the right test to see whether they are in the faith. A few honest questions will soon enough reveal whether they are spurious or genuine. “Do you not fully know yourselves, i.e., realize concerning yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you?” The Corinthians must have this realization, “unless you are disapproved,” i.e. tested and found false, only pretending. The aim of the test is assure they are genuine. Paul had required this of himself, and is concerned that they know he is genuine, not spurious. Spurious Christians would not be able to know. Their judgment would be blind. But, Christians are able to test themselves and to realize their genuineness. If they are able to detect the presence of Jesus Christ in themselves they should be able to recognize others in whom Christ’s power operates, especially those who helped to put Christ in their hearts. Therefore, he calls on them to prove themselves. The irony of this passage is the Corinthians valued themselves as being exceedingly knowledgeable but were really puffed up (1 Cor. 8:1).
The second word, “prove,” is the word for examine. Think about the word in the relationship of a student and teacher. The teacher must have tangible proof that the student has progressed through one grade before passing the student to the next grade. Tests provide proof that the student has successfully completed his or her work and learned the require material. Just think of all the tests you have taken in your life. Tests in school. Driving tests. Medical tests. Occupational tests. Not all of these tests could be described as fun, yet every one of them have value. Some of them reveal aspects of who we are and what we know. Some of them give us needed information. They represent milestones or offer us admittance to a new privilege or opportunity. Many tests require preparation, and often the knowledge gained in the process is the real benefit. Other tests are personal and are sometimes hard to see their rewards until long afterward. Maybe we have lost a loved one or experienced a failure of some kind. Perhaps a dream has died or financial disaster has devastated our world. Personal tests are the most difficult of all, and we don’t always pass them with flying colors. God allows tests and trials in our lives in order to make us more dependent on Him and to bring us to a point of greater spiritual maturity (Jas. 1:12).
The third word, “recognize,” indicates a full confidence and deep knowledge. Are you sure Christ lives in you? All of us struggle with faith at times, but if Christ lives in us we should have a sense of peace and security concerning salvation. This examination requires honesty and introspection. The purpose is not to see whether you pass or fail, but to answer life’s most important question: Are you in Christ? Is Christ in you? If Christ is in you, is He making a difference? Is your thought life different? Have your attitudes, goals, habits and lifestyle changed to better reflect God’s purposes in your life? We should see signs of effort and increasing spiritual maturity. Is He seen in how I am as a husband? Wife? How I receive His word? When people see me do they see the Father?
Self-Examination and Leadership
There is a lesson here to teachers as well as students in the faith. If you are in leadership, remember your purpose! You’re supposed to be lovingly shepherding sheep, not driving cattle (1 Pet. 5:1-3)! The opposite picture is seen in Diotrephes (3 John 9-10). Don’t miss the picture of Diotrephes. He may have been in the right pew but Christ was not in him. He loved to be first among them.
James will say, “Be not many teachers, knowing you shall come under greater condemnation (Jas. 3:1). It is serious to take the word in mouth and deliver with the tongue. No man who preaches is sinless. But, it sure makes a difference if the man preaching the word is an example of one living by the word. (1 Tim. 4:16). The man teaching needs to be qualified, that is genuine. He needs to be an example of faith, love, righteousness, peace and love (1 Tim. 4:12).
Paul will say, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. Paul subjected himself to rigid discipline. Subjection means to bring into bondage as captives from battle. Paul considers his body as one with which he must contend. He must mortify the body and debilitate it. It must be slave to the soul, not the soul to the body. Thus, I bruise or beat the body. The idea is, “I lay it flat with the right blow in the right place lest it deprive me of being a herald of the gospel without charge.” A herald was one who proclaimed conditions of the games, displayed the prize, exhorted combatants, excited the emotions of those who were to contend, declared the terms of each contest, pronounced the names of the victors and put the crown on the heads. He summoned the contestants and proclaimed the winners. If he is making the announcement he wants to be found consistent in his life with the announcement he is making. What he speaks he wants to be found practicing them in his life. After the combat, the prize winners would pass before the judge and it would be determined if he obeyed the rules of the combat. If he was found underhanded the crown was stripped from him and he was cast away. One disqualified. Today we say of the athlete, he failed the drug test. He is not qualified to compete. He is not who he says he is.
Self-Examination in Practice
There is not an area of our lives that is exempt from self-examination. Let’s take a little self- examination in a few areas of our lives.
First, consider the husband wife relationship. Our standard of measurement is the Lord. The husband is to love his wife in the same manner Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). Each husband must ask himself, “Compared to how Christ loved His bride, the church, am I loving my bride in the same manner? Am I dying for her? Are my dreams, wishes and wants secondary to hers? Am I sacrificially giving myself for her happiness?” When it is pointed out that I can improve in a certain area of my life as a husband, do I seek to improve or just sit like an old toad on a stump, saying, “Nobody is changing me.” The love Christ had for His bride was proven by action and measured by sacrifice. He gave Himself for her. Am I truly giving myself for her? Am I seeking to live with understanding? Am I doing her good by understanding her dreams, wishes, wants and desires. Here is the serious rub, if not, my prayers are being hindered (1 Pet. 3:7). Which means, my worship is not pleasing to God. My relationship with my wife and how I love her compared to how Christ loved the church has everything to do with how my worship is accepted by God. Are we genuine? Is Christ in us? Are we judged qualified?
Not only husbands, but wives, do you submit to your husband as the church does to Christ (Eph. 5:22). I know that word “submit” is not a popular word today. I know some women say, “I am not submitting to him or any other man. I am woman, hear me roar.” Well, you can do that, but you cannot do that and be as Christ wanted his bride to be toward Him. Submission is really not an ugly word. The idea is of reverential submission (Eph. 5:33). Wives submit because of a deep respect for their husbands. Their husbands have so demonstrated and proven their love for their wives that the natural, and axiomatic response is, to give herself to him. And once again, this is serious. If women fail to fulfill this role they give the adversary an opportunity to speak evil of God (Titus 2:1-5). Are you genuine? Is Christ in you? Are you judged qualified?
Consider another area of our lives, that of discipleship. A disciple is not only a learner and follower but one who tries to become like his master. A teacher taught his disciple and the disciple took on the personality, character, disposition, nature and teaching of the master (Luke 6:40). When I become like my teacher that affects the way I think, talk and even handle my possessions (Luke 9:25). It affects how I relate to my family (Luke k. 14:26). Disciples of Jesus are transformed into His image (Rom. 8:29). When I become like Him how will that affect my priorities? How will that affect what I value? How will that lead me to please God before and above myself (Luke 6:46)? Obedience is an attitude of submission to God and complying with His will in all things (Col. 3:17; John 8:29). So, have my possessions taken over my life (Luke 12:15)? Am I redeeming the time by giving myself in discipleship to Him above all else (Eph. 5:17). In the parable of the unjust steward Jesus commends the sons of this world and says, “They are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). Jesus is not commending the unjust steward’s unjust behavior. He is simply saying the steward knew what he wanted and he went after it, no excuses. Everything was subjugated to that one thing. In that way he is wiser than sons of light who say they want abundant life in Christ but instead everything else is more important. No, for this steward there was just one important thing. Will we do all we can to save our own souls? There is one telling sign. “He that is faithful in least will be faithful in much” (Luke 16:10). However, if we are unjust in using our riches they will testify against us. “No man can serve two masters…” Our hearts tell on us. Are we genuine? Is Christ in us? Are we judged qualified?
Further, consider how we respond to the word. The Hebrew writer said of the Jews, “The word they heard did not profit them…” (Heb. 4:2). James said, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was” (James 1:23-24). What good does it do to hear the word if in the end we are not going to do anything with what we have heard? When Paul preached to the Athenians, they told him to come back when he learned something new. They loved to hear new things (Acts 17: 32). Hearing was just a past time for many of them. They were fascinated by some new thing. It did not profit them. The Jews heard the word preached but it did not profit them. We have the word preached, will it be of profit to us? Are we hearers and doers or like the individual who looks in a mirror and goes away the same as he came? No change. The word will change the heart but it must be heard and applied. When I hear or read the word and walk away because, “I am okay and you are okay” it is of no profit. I must ask, “How does this apply to me? How can this make me more like my Master? How will this help me become a more Christ-like person with my neighbors, enemies and family?” The word was intended to be engrafted so that which was filthy would be laid aside and that which was holy implanted (Jas. 1:21). Why learn that Christ is righteous if am not going to practice righteousness (1 John 2:29)? Why learn that He is pure if I am not going to strive to be pure (1 John 3:4)? Why do learn to love my brother if in the end I am still going to hate him (1 John 4:7)? Are we genuine? Is Christ in us? Are we judged qualified?
Self-examination is a real challenge, but imperative. If God were to open the private door to the arena of your heart, would he find Ashtoreth, Baal or Moloch winning the match? If so, ask Him for self-control. He longs for you to be a winner. Remember the words of Paul, “I fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith” (2Tim. 4:7).
As we continually examine ourselves in every area of life let’s strive to be completely honest, measure ourselves by Christ and resist the temptation to rationalize. Embrace the truth of God and apply it. It will transform us. The reward is so much greater for those who are approved.
By Rickie Jenkins
From Expository Files 23.4; April 2016