2 Corinthians 13:5
Once there was a young boy who lived in a small southern town. One day he walked into the down drugstore and asked to use the telephone. The clerk handed him the phone and listened to the one-sided conversation. "Is this you, Dr. Anderson?" the boy said. "Well, I was wondering if you would like to hire a bot to mow your lawn and run errands?" "Oh, you already have a boy?" "Does he do a good job? He does?" "So, you're satisfied with him? You are. Okay, thank you." The boy hung up the phone, thanked the clerk, and began to walk out of the store. The clerk stopped the boy and said to him, "I believe I could use an ambitious boy like yourself working in this store." The boy replied, "Oh, thank you, but I already have a job." A little surprised, the clerk asked, "Didn't I just hear you call Dr. Anderson and ask him for a Job?" The boy replied, "Well, not really. You see, I already work for Dr. Anderson. I was just calling to check up on myself."
That idea of checking up on yourself is a good way of thinking about self-examination. The Apostle Paul, at the end of the second Corinthian letter, admonished the Corinthians, "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified" (2 Corinthians 13:5-6).
The Need for Self-Examination:
This morning's text comes at the end of the Corinthian correspondence. In context, these two verses are a challenge to the Corinthian brethren who were being swayed by false teachers. False teachers who were convincing many of them that the Apostle Paul was cowardly (10:1-2), that he lacked full knowledge of Christ (11:6), that he was not a real Apostle, so he took no wages (11:7-9), and that he did not love the Corinthians (11:11). After defending himself against these charges, he issues the challenge of examining themselves. But this challenge is not only for the Corinthians. This instruction has been preserved for us because we, like the Corinthian brethren, also need self-examination. Not because we are dealing with the same circumstances but because the need for self-examination is present for every Christian in every age.
Consider the repeated instructions in Scripture about the need to test or examine ourselves:
- 1 Corinthians 10:12, "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." Paul warned the Corinthians to be careful that they do not develop an inaccurate picture of themselves. How does one know if they have an accurate or inaccurate view? Self-examination.
- 1 Corinthians 11:28, "But let a man examine himself, and so doing let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup." One can only know if they are judging Christ's body rightly if we are examining ourselves. Our life, conduct, and character. Is how I am living consistent with the teaching of Christ? Do my actions show reverence for and loyalty to Him? Again, self-examination is necessary for this.
- "For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another" (Galatians 6:3-4).
Self-examination is needed if I am to grow as a Christian. Why? In examining ourselves, in testing ourselves, we find the areas of our faith which are strong and the areas which need improvement. So, how do we do this?
How Do We Examine Ourselves?
Self-examination can, at times, not be pleasant. We are looking at ourselves, warts and all, and being honest with our shortcomings. Then resolving to grow in those areas in which I fall short. I believe this is inherently covered in Peter's instruction to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen" (2 Peter 3:18).
Our starting point is prayer. We need God's help if we are going to have an accurate understanding of ourselves. This prayer would ask God to expose our faults and shortcomings, so we can confess those faults and seek to improve in the areas in which we are deficient.
- The Psalmist prayed in Psalm 26:2, "Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my mind and my heart."
- David prayed in Psalm 139:23-24, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties: and see if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting."
Self-examination, after prayer, continues by looking in the mirror of God's word. James writes in James 1:21-27 that to the one who looks at the perfect law of God and does not do it is like a man who wakes up in the morning, looks at himself in the mirror (morning breath and all), and does nothing to change his appearance. One writer made a great observation about this section and its points on the word of God. He said:
"The commandments of God do not represent a ladder up which a man or woman climbs to acceptance with God, but the commandments of God are like a mirror in which a man or woman looks and realizes the condition of his or her own life" (Alister Begg).
And, finally, the real test of self-examination is looking at my actions. We can pray and read the word, but we have not examined ourselves if we never compare ourselves to the word. Jesus said of false Prophets, "you will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16), and John the Baptist said of the Pharisees who he had baptized, "therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance" (Matthew 3:8). While these are two verses deal with those who had not examined themselves, these verses teach us a principle. The proof is in the fruit. Look at your life. What are the fruits you are bearing?
Some Questions to Get Us Started:
I want to end this morning by giving you a few diagnostic questions that we all can use to help us examine ourselves. These questions are not original to me. They came from a blog post titled "Word of the Week: Examine" by Ken Weilever on his blog ThePreachersWord. He offered these questions for our consideration:
- Do righteousness and godliness characterize your life?
- Is your speech wholesome?
- Do you regularly read the Bible?
- Is your worship attendance faithful or sporadic?
- Are you thankful for your blessings or resentful that others have more?
- Are your professed values properly aligned with your daily practices?
- Is your heart right with God?
Self-examination can sometimes be unpleasant, but it is necessary. It is necessary because, without self-examination, we live life without knowing where we've been and where we are going. We just kind of exist. In fact, it is self-examination that brought us to the Gospel. We recognized that something was lacking, that we were not right without our God. That only happens when we take a long honest look at ourselves. But what was the outcome? Salvation!2