Self Examination

Many of us have a negative association with the word test. I know, some of you reading this enjoyed taking exams, but that was probably because you were prepared for them. Even those with high grade-point averages probably did not relish taking tests for which they were unprepared. The uncertainty of how we will perform when tested causes us to dread exams. Despite the apprehension and uneasiness we may have at the prospect of taking a test, we know that tests are important.

Testing is an important spiritual activity. To test means to examine and scrutinize, to determine genuineness or ability with a view toward approval or improvement. We see this usage in scripture in reference to a man who wanted to see what his newly purchased oxen could do (Lk. 14:19). In more modern times, we start the engine, look under the hood, and take the car for a drive to see what it can do. We often don’t mind tests if we are the ones giving the test.

Certainly, in spiritual contexts, it is important that we “test all things” so as to discern between good and evil (1 Thess. 5:21,22). Unfortunately, many are unprepared to do this because they personally have not grown as they should spiritually (Heb. 5:12-14). As a result, many have little ability to apply scriptural principles to current issues so as to “test all things.” Unless the scriptures explicitly say, “Thou shalt not...,” many are unable to determine if something is contrary to the will of God. Why is this? Because instead of being transformed through renewed minds, many have conformed to the world and, therefore, are not able to test and approve what God’s will is (Rom 12:1,2).

This testing is not limited to doctrines but extends to people as well. Those who would serve as deacons are to be those who have been proved (1 Tim. 3:8-10). In other words, they have been first observed and examined in their behavior and are then appointed as deacons when found blameless.

The apostle Paul told the Corinthian Christians that he was testing their sincerity and challenged them to complete the doing of what they had said they intended to do (2 Cor. 8:1-15). Sincerity is tested or proved (shown to be genuine) by willingness and perseverance.

Jesus praised the church in Ephesus for exposing false prophets by testing them (Rev. 2:2). John tells us to test the spirits to see if they are of God (1 Jn. 4:1). Indeed, we are not to be spiritually gullible.

Yes, testing is an important spiritual activity. However, when it comes to testing, we have likely found it easier to be diligent in testing others and their doctrines than in testing ourselves. The ability to test or prove becomes most valuable and practical when we first examine ourselves. Even the spiritual man must beware when attempting to restore one who has been tested and found wanting (Gal. 6:1). If we think ourselves to be something, when we are nothing, then we just deceive ourselves (vs. 3). On that basis each of us is admonished to examine (test, scrutinize) his own work (vs. 4).

This self-examination is primary and prerequisite to being the spiritual one who can restore those overtaken in trespasses. Thus it is imperative that we first remove the beam in our own eyes before we pick specks out of the eyes of others (Matt. 7:3-5). Many of the Jews knew the truth (“approved the things that were excellent”) but were then hypocrites in the application of truth to themselves (Rom. 2:17-24). This gives occasion for blasphemy by those who have not approved the things that are excellent and who have no interest in any so-called excellence that apparently allows such hypocrisy.

Christians have often fallen into the same trap into which the Jews fell. Thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought, we prove what is truth and expose error but then fail to practice what we preach. We must always keep in mind that, even if we have all knowledge, without love knowledge is nothing (1 Cor. 13:2). We examine and correct all of the externals that can be tested by the word of God, but we often neglect the internal self-examination necessary to becoming the truly spiritual people who can restore others not just externally, but internally as well. Before we can effectively examine others as to whether or not they are in the faith, we must examine and prove ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5).

Part of Paul’s remedy was for each participant to “examine himself.” I believe many have misunderstood Paul’s instruction. The Lord’s Supper is not intended to be a time for self-examination or to determine personal worthiness. The examination of self is to precede and therefore guide the attitudes and actions of the participant. Prior self-examination with a view toward approval or improvement would result in the proper partaking of the Lord’s Supper. “Why am I gathering with others to eat this supper? To remember Christ’s sacrifice and share with my brethren in the proclamation of His death” (vss. 23-26).

Diligence in self-examination keeps us humble and selfless in all of our relationships and activities. The Christians in Corinth were described as carnal; this made any discussion of spiritual things nigh unto impossible (1 Cor. 3:1-3). For them the Lord’s Supper (a spiritual fellowship meal) had turned into a carnal, selfish feast. Their profane attitude despised the assembly that had come together for holy purposes. This was the “unworthy manner” that was bringing guilt upon a number of the saints (1 Cor. 11:27).

If we would first examine ourselves to determine that our motives are spiritually sound, then our manner will more likely be worthy. Of course, this principle applies to more than just the Lord’s Supper. We must be ready to test and examine ourselves in all areas of our lives; and, in so doing, we will be of greater and more effective use in the kingdom of Christ.

Testing is an important spiritual activity! “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the hearts” (Prov. 17:3). God knows about our willingness, sincerity, and loyalty. When is the last time you examined yourself?