The Corinthian Church was spiritual – how could they not be Christians? Tongues and the prophetic were prevalent. And yet, sadly, fornication was also present (II Cor. 12:21), along with revelry (I Cor. 10:7) and insubordination (I Cor. 1:10; 3:3; 11:18). There seemed to be a complete lack of discipline. Corinth had a party spirit, and a personality driven church full of division and strife. Paul believes that some of them are not saved.
And yet, he doesn’t de-Christianize them. Rather, he admonishes them to test themselves. And he implies, “You could fail the test!” The Greek is in the present tense – “Keep on examining yourself.” It is in the active voice – it is something they must do themselves. It is in the imperative mood. It is an urgent matter. “Keep examining yourself … see if you are continuing in the faith.” The God’s Word Translation says, “See if you are still in the faith!” The DBR (Douay Rheims) translation says, “You could be a reprobate!” That harsh term seems so culturally insensitive. It means simply, that they could be “disapproved” in the end.
Where has the concept gone, that one might live his life and come to the end and discover that he was lost, not even saved? In this modern age – everyone is saved, and to suggest otherwise is unkind, mean-spirited, callous, narrow and unchristian. That is particularly true if someone goes to church, attempts to live some semblance of a Christian life, or self-identifies as a Christian. Clearly, Paul is not calling for a judgmental spirit to be loosed in the church, but he is calling for serious self-examination. “Prove to yourself … put yourself on trial. Test yourself … see if you are in the faith!”
The first Greek word in the text for examine is peirazete (pi-rad-zo’ – present tense, active voice, imperative mood). It means “to test, to make proof or present proof.” It implies the probing question, “What kind of proof do you have that you are a Christian? That you are really saved?” The root word is peira which means to scrutinize or to assay, as you would certify gold. You examine it to prove its legitimacy. Is it fool’s gold, or is it real? Is it real faith or a fake faith?
The second word for examine or test in the passage is “dokimazete (from dok-im-ad’-zo). It means to discern, to approve or to try. It is the idea of discerning or knowing oneself. It implies knowing or discerning in order to approve. A person who is a-dokimo is not approved.
In I Corinthians 9:27, Paul says of himself, “I keep my body under subjection, lest by any means I become a castaway” or disqualified. The Greek here is upopizo – “I give myself a black eye.” That is unbelievable when viewed from our age of self-love. The word for castaway is adokimo – disqualified. Does Paul believe that he, the great apostle, could end up disqualified? Evidently so.
- Jesus, in Mt. 24:10, says that in the last days, “Many will fall away.” They will betray one another and hate one another.
- Paul declared that the “Spirit speaks expressly … that in the latter times … some will fall away” (I Tim. 4:1). The Greek word is aphistemi – they will not stand. It means to be led away, to depart, to desert, or to let go.
- John says that some were “among us” but they “went out” because they were “not of us.” If they had been of us, they would have continued. So, we are to “test the spirits.” To heighten, not subvert or deny discernment (I John 2:19).
- Peter said that we were to “be on guard” so that we would “not be carried away by lawless” or “unprincipled” men (II Peter 2; 3:17).
- Jude (4, 12) warned about men who had crept in unawares. They were not authentic Christians. They were fruitless and rootless trees in the church orchard, twice dead, plucked up by the roots, and like clouds that carried no rain.
When Mother Theresa was alive, the rich and famous, the powerful and mighty, went by her little mission. The Nuns inside would be prostrated in their morning devotions, singing, “To Be Like Jesus!” And the elite of the world would drool over the sweet sight, the compassion of the good saint and her work among the poor. They wanted their picture made with Mother Theresa. They wanted to brag that they had been there – that they had themselves seen the destitute and dying being cared for. And then, they returned to their nightclub life – unchanged and self-deluded, believing that by identifying with Mother Theresa for a moment that they were in some way like her!
In the same way, Sunday after Sunday, people identify with Jesus. Some aspect of this message draws them. They admire his stand for righteousness. They applaud his compassion. They love his standing down the Pharisees. His teaching is so pure. His life is so selfless. They want their picture taken with him. They want to be identified with Him. But they leave church, and go back to a life that is lived largely without his values, without his bold differentiation from the world, without his radical compassion. They are not like him at all. They are not saved. They are deluded.
Take a moment for for your own self-examination.
Find more prayer resources and writings by P. Douglas Small at www.alivepublications.org.