The examined life (part 1)

Tests. We go through them all the time. We’re not allowed to drive if we don’t pass the right tests. We can’t get our licenses as professionals without passing tests. And we can’t get through college or graduate school without passing a whole slew of tests.

Some of the most important tests, however, are not the ones others give us, but the ones we give ourselves.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul spends four chapters defending his apostleship against a host of accusations and insinuations. His rivals are demanding proof that he is who he says he is, that Jesus actually speaks through him (13:3). Ominously, he suggests that if what they want is a demonstration of power, they’ll get one (13:4-5).

But he also takes a different tack. So you want proof?  he seems to say. Then prove yourselves :

Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Don’t you understand that Jesus Christ is in you? Unless, of course, you fail the test. But I hope that you will realize that we don’t fail the test. (2 Cor 13:5-6, CEB)

Paul’s not dodging the challenge. He’s already answered the accusations in his own way. But he knows that the real problem lies in the hearts and minds of the Corinthians. The false apostles have done a good job of distracting the people, of getting them to focus on superficial judgments: Paul’s not eloquent enough; he suffers too much; he doesn’t have “proper” credentials.

A man less centered in Christ might become defensive and say, “Oh, yeah? You want to test me? Bring it on!” But Paul’s first concern is their spiritual well-being. He prays that they will do what’s right, regardless of what anyone might think of him (vs. 7).

Thus, with the love and patience of a spiritual father, he turns the spotlight around: “Examine yourselves. Test yourselves.” That second verb is especially important, since Paul repeats the notion of testing again and again. Literally, he puts it as a matter of deciding who is “approved” and who isn’t.

When he tells them to examine themselves to see if they’re “in the faith,” it’s not because he’s concerned that they’ll actually fail the test. Rather, he wants to bring them back to their senses: Don’t you get it? Jesus Christ is in you. Focus on that. Ground yourself in that fact. And that will take care of all your questions about who is in me.

Paul doesn’t say anything about how they should go about their self-examination. That may seem unfortunate in this era of prep courses for college entrance and licensing exams, and the increasingly common practice of “teaching to the test.” We want to be ready. We want to get it right.

But Paul doesn’t seem to think any further instruction is necessary.  We just don’t want to miss what he does in fact say. More on that in part 2 of this post.