Sunday, 31 January 2016

Self-Examination

Paul was concerned about abuses of the Lord’s Supper in Corinth ((1 Cor. 11:28). Their practice was to have the Supper as part of a congregational meal or ‘love feast’ that was held in the home of a wealthy believer. It is not clear how this practice began, but it is referred to elsewhere in the New Testament. Probably it was connected to acts of kindness of rich believers towards poorer Christians, many of whom were slaves with little possessions.
The problem in Corinth was connected to what took place at this extra meal. The wealthier believers showed a lack of love for their poorer brothers and sisters by commencing the meal before they arrived. These poorer Christians could not come until their daily work was over, and by the time they arrived the meal had been eaten. Moreover, the believers who feasted ate too much food and drank too much wine; obviously such feasting rendered them unfit for focussing on the Lord in the Supper.
Paul regarded those practices as totally unacceptable. The Lord’s Supper is not the place where social divisions are highlighted, nor is it the place where physical needs are met. Instead it is a time for displaying unity among God’s people and for feeding one’s soul on Christ. Paul’s remedy for this abuse was for each individual to engage in self-examination.
 Features of self-examination
Self-examination is mandatory before the Lord’s Supper. Paul is not merely giving a sensible suggestion for a temporary situation marked by specific problems. Instead he is giving Spirit-inspired guidance to every believer in every place and age concerning their preparation for the Supper.
As we prepare for celebrating the Supper we rightly focus on the necessity of prayer for the preachers who will minister God’s Word to us. We also pray for the presence of Jesus to be known in our midst. Further we hope that there will be new professions of faith. If all these happen, we conclude that it was a good communion. But if any of us do not examine themselves, such will not have a beneficial communion even if those other blessings are present in the congregation.
Paul’s words also contain another aspect to note, which is that he did not expect self-examination to prevent a person going to the Lord’s Supper. The implication is clear: the process of self-examination will deal with any reasons why a person should not come to the Supper.
Details of self-examination
It is important to bear in mind that there are certain things we should not be looking for when we engage in self-examination. One such thing is perfection. This should be obvious, given that no-one in this life ever gets near that state. Linked to this is the tendency for some people to set impossible high standards, particularly in regard to inner devotion. They would like to pray for several hours a day, they would like to read the Bible for another several hours, they would like to engage in some form of Christian work for a further few hours, and before they know it they have a day that is forty hours long! Such a standard is not feasible. We should remove such notions from our spiritual outlook and attempt to develop a balanced spirituality. So what should we look for in self-examination?
One feature is the willingness to confess one’s sins to God. Even the shortest time of self-examination will prove that we are sinful. While it is important to discover our particular sins, our response to them is also important. We are to confess the sin to God and ask for his forgiveness and his help in dealing with it.
A second feature that self-examination should reveal is the desire to be Christ-centred. The previous point about confession of sin is one reason why a believer should be focussed on Jesus because it is through his sacrificial death that we are pardoned. We need Jesus in wide variety of ways, and these have been described as his offices of prophet, priest and king. As our prophet, he teaches us about God’s will; as our priest he represents us as our Advocate in heaven and gives us the blessings of the Spirit; and as our King he rules over us and protects us. Self-examination will reveal our ignorance, which means that we need Jesus to teach us; it will reveal our sinfulness, which means that we need Jesus to defend us and cleanse us; and it will reveal our spiritual weakness, which means that we need Jesus to defend us against the power of indwelling sin and from the devil’s attacks.
A third feature is a genuine love for all believers. As we saw earlier, the lack of practical expression of this love was one of the problems in the Christian church. Love for one another needs to be recognised because the Lord’s Supper is a corporate meal. I suppose we could ask a simple test: do we prefer to be with the people of God or with another legitimate group (a local political party, a local charity, a local fishing club, a local sports club)? There is nothing inherently wrong with membership of those other groups. But which do we prefer?
The Lord’s Supper is a family meal of the children of God. At it we meet with those for whom our Elder Brother died, in whom is indwelling the Spirit of adoption, who are destined to live in the Father’s house in heaven. We love family gatherings, whether at birthdays or Christmas or at holidays. It is unnatural for a believer not to want to be at this table.
A fourth feature is longing for heaven. Believers soon realise, once they begin the Christian journey, that this world is not their home. The presence of sin, the experience of suffering, and the frailties of life make this world unattractive and heaven attractive. They are negative ways of longing for heaven; in addition, there are positive ones such as experiences of the presence of God, the comfort of his promises, and the beauty of Jesus.
 Benefits of self-examination
Firstly, the Lord’s Supper usually gets rid of doubts that a Christian may have. The devil does his best to encourage doubts and the only way to deal with them is to face up to them. If any of us have doubts, we should go home and assess them, see if they are valid (which they will not be), and resolve to resist them. The best way to deal with the devil’s suggestions that we should not go to the Lord’s Table is to go to the Table depending on Jesus.
Secondly, the Lord’s Supper increases our assurance. Many Christians are bothered about lack of assurance. The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace for increasing assurance. Nobody ever gets assurance apart from a means of grace. Therefore, we should come to the Supper in order to have our assurance increased.
Thirdly, self examination is not a barrier to the Supper, but a door to it. This was recognised in the ancient custom of fencing the table. As we have seen, it is not concerned with perfection but with desire for Christ’s presence, with the direction of our walk, and with our dedication to the Master’s service.

Fourthly, self-examination will enable us to come to the table intelligently, gladly, and humbly. It will inform us about our need of Christ as well as our love for him. Our minds will have discovered where we are on the spiritual pathway, our hearts will rejoice that we belong to Jesus, and we will humbly give all the glory to him.