Spiritual Disciplines: Self Examination

Spiritual Disciplines: Self Examination
A Message on 2 Corinthians 13:5-6
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 21, 2021
By Doug Wintermute

2 Corinthians 13:5-6 (NRSV)

5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test! 6 I hope you will find out that we have not failed.

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There is a story about a couple that had been married for four decades. As happens with aging their bodies were changing. The husband began to be worried that his wife was losing her hearing.

One night he decided to test it out and see if what he suspected was true. His wife was in another part of the room and was behind him. In a quiet voice he said, “Honey, can you hear me?” No response.

So he tried again by increasing his volume to that of a normal speaking voice. “Honey, can you hear me?” He waited, but again, heard nothing.

In a much louder voice he tried again, “Honey, can you hear me?”

His wife walks around until she is in front of him and says with some irritation, “For the third time, yes, I can hear you!”

The humor in that joke is that while the husband thought that his wife was losing her hearing, if he had done some self examination he would have discovered that he was the one losing his hearing.

Today we are going to continue our sermon series on spiritual disciplines. In this series we have looked at study, prayer, fasting, and stewardship, and today we will conclude this series by looking at self examination.

Spiritually speaking, self examination is taking stock of where you are in your spiritual life. Are you practicing spiritual disciplines regularly (and not only on Sundays)? On your spiritual journey are you moving forward toward God? Do you have a deeper spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ today than you did at the beginning of Lent? Than six months ago? Than a year ago? What is your current status?

Self examination is kind of like doing a personal inventory. When I was in college one year for Christmas break my brother and I worked for the local hardware store in my hometown of Cooper to do inventory. This is where a business takes stock or an accounting of all the merchandise they have for sale. Our job was to count the items on the shelves, and then write down how many of each specific item there was in the store.

Today it’s done by scanners and computers, but back then we did it all by counting it and writing it down on paper. It wasn’t difficult, but it was time consuming. I remember getting to the part of the store where there were bolts and nuts and washers in these little bins, and we had to count each one. I didn’t think we were ever going to get through! But we did, and as a result the store owners knew how much merchandise they had in the store, down to the last bolt.

In a similar way, it’s good for us as part of our self examination to do a kind of spiritual inventory of ourselves. What are the gifts God has given you, and are you using those gifts to do God’s work? How is your prayer life? Are you reading the Bible regularly? Attending worship regularly, either in person or online? Are you tithing? How is it with your soul? You get the idea.

There is another aspect to self examination, and that is to discover when something isn’t as it should be.

Most of you know that two of my three sisters have been diagnosed with breast cancer. My youngest sister, Delinda, had surgery in December and my oldest sister, Diane, had surgery this past Monday. They both have had regular mammograms, but the tumors didn’t show up on mammograms. They both had several other tests, and the tumors didn’t show up on those tests, either. Nope.

They both discovered the tumors by self examination. That’s how they discovered them. And it may have saved their lives.

In the scripture we read today we find the Apostle Paul saying that spiritually it is important to self examine ourselves.

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves.” 2 Corinthians 13:5

To better understand this scripture we need to look at the background of the church in Corinth and Paul’s relationship to it. Let’s back up to around the year 51 AD or so. Corinth was a bustling city, prosperous because it was at a crossroads of sea and land travel routes.

Because of those reasons it was also a crossroads of religion. A wide variety of religious beliefs were present and practiced. It was officially a city in the Roman Empire, so it had a large representation of the Greek gods and temples to them. It was a wild place, with prostitution becoming so rampant at some of the temples that loose women around the world became known as “Corinthian women.”

It was into this world that Paul walked into in his mission to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. And into this powerful pagan maelstrom Paul starts a church of followers of Christ. We can read all about it in Acts 18.

Now even though the scripture we read today comes from what we refer to as 2 Corinthians, in all probability Paul wrote four letters to the Christians in Corinth. He visited Corinth twice: once when he established the church, which lasted about 18 months; and a second time to get them back on track when they were experiencing some pretty serious challenges.

Frustrated by the members of the Corinth church for failing to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, Paul, after he leaves Corinth for the second time, fires off what is known as the “severe letter.” It’s pretty much what it sounds like. And some scholars believe the scripture we read today is part of that “severe letter.”

Being a Christian isn’t easy. And being a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ isn’t easy, either. (Those should be the same things, by the way…) The world and it’s temptations are like the sirens in Homer’s Odessey whose songs lure sailors to their doom. The world’s songs are very alluring and the temptations are great, but so is the destruction.

Now the world is cunning and patient. It sings it’s siren song over time, causing small but serious changes within us. And over time those small changes turn into big changes.

As the musical group Casting Crowns points out in their song, “Slow Fade,”

It’s a slow fade
When you give yourself away
It’s a slow fade
When black and white have turned to gray
And thoughts invade, choices made
A price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It’s a slow fade

That’s why it is important for us as Christians to self examine ourselves. Just as cancer slowly grows without us realizing it, sin can also start off small while growing slowly and imperceptibly in our spiritual lives. It’s a slow fade.

But by performing a self examination we can detect those areas in our life where things aren’t right, identify what is wrong, and then take steps to correct it.

Lent is a good time to have a spiritual self examination. Just as we will clean our house if we know that company is coming, Lent is a season for cleaning our spiritual homes for the coming celebration of Easter.

But self examination is not just for the season of Lent. It should be done regularly throughout the year. While not fun or even enjoyable, it is a good spiritual discipline habit to form.

It is a good habit to establish during Lent, but also to continue after Lent. And here’s a good way to do it.

Beginning the Sunday after Easter we are asking all of our congregation members to be a part of what we are calling Discipleship Groups. These are small groups, with no more than 12 people, that will meet weekly for about an hour to encourage one another in our spiritual journey and hold each other accountable.

These groups are not Bible studies, not gossip sessions, but for the members to meet and answer three questions:

  1. This past week when did you feel closest to Christ?
  2. What did you do this past week in response to God’s call to be a disciple?
  3. Discipleship Denied: When was your faith tested this week through failure?

And that’s it. Simple. Not complicated. The meetings can be done in person, by zoom, by telephone. These small groups can meet at the church, at homes, at a restaurant, and can meet in the mornings, at noon, afternoons, evenings, or whenever.

The purpose of these small groups, described by Kevin Watson in his book, The Class Meeting, is discipleship. Originally started by John Wesley in England, a class meetings is “A small group that is primarily focused on transformation and not information, where people learn how to interpret their entire lives through the lens of the gospel, build a vocabulary for giving voice to their experience of God, and grow in faith in Christ.”

Why do this? There are a few reasons. First is for each one of us to grow in faith in Christ, to grow deeper in the faith. Another reason is to grow the Kingdom of God. The great commission given by Jesus is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Churches with active small groups are growing and vital churches. And we want this church to grow and be vital!

Another reason is that it causes us to pause and self examine our spiritual lives.

One integral part of being a Christian is self examination. Listen to Paul’s words again: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed.”

So my challenge to you today is to test yourself during this season of Lent. Do a spiritual self exam to see “whether you are living in the faith.” As Christians, Jesus Christ should live inside each of us. That way we not only pass the test, but can help lead others into the Christian life as well.

And that’s much better, and much less humiliating, than testing our spouse’s hearing.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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