Psalm 24. 1 – 6; Proverbs 4. 20 – 23|
A few weeks ago I was in a doctor’s waiting room, and I was going to be there for 2 or 3 hours. In my hurry I had forgotten to bring anything to read, but there on the table beside me was this book, Philosophy for Dummies. It looked brand new and was clean—no germs—something I always wonderabout in doctor’s offices. In desperation, I picked it up and started reading. It began with a statement by the philosopher Socrates who said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Really? Author Tom Morris explains; “Unfortunately, it’s one that far too many people live: Getting up, dressing, eating, going to work, breaking for lunch, working some more, going home, eating again, watching TV, leafing through magazines, exchanging a few words with family members in the house or with friends on the phone, changing for bed, and falling to sleep—just to repeat the same thing over and over and over without ever thinking what it all means or how life should be really lived. We wake up already in motion in this life. The raft is already out on the river, and the current simply carries us forward. Rarely, if ever, do we stop to reflect on what we truly want in life, or who we are and want to become, on what difference we want to make in the world, and thus on what’s really right for us. And that is the unexamined life—almost as a sleepwalker, on automatic pilot—a life based on values and beliefs that we’ve never really looked at, never really tested, never examined for ourselves.”
When we correctly examine ourselves, we become wise. But don’t confuse wisdom with ‘education’—book learning; wisdom is insight on life and how to live it. Natural man struggles to find the good and sometimes he will, but what was it Paul told the Jews at Rome about natural law? He says, you Jews, you’ve got the law and you can’t keep it. Look at the Gentiles around you, he says, the Gentiles who don’t have the law do by nature the things required by the law, they are a law unto themselves. Even though they don’t have the law, the requirements of it are written on their hearts; (They) show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another; (Rom 2. 15). So you Jews, who preach the law, then break it, dishonor God . Paul continues in v. 29, He is a Jew which is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
Insight on life—to be truly wise—is easier said than done. Cervantes, creator of Don Quixote, urged us to make it our business to ‘know thyself’—called it the most difficult lesson in the world. Turn to the Bible itself, and the heroes it describes. In Psalm 26. 1 – 3, we read David’s words: Judge me, O Lord, for I have walked in mine integrity: I have trusted also in the Lord; therefore I shall not slide. Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my reins and my heart. For thy loving kindness is before mine eyes; and I have walked in thy truth. Now turn to Psalm 51. 1 – 2, 17) ; we read of a different attitude, where that same David says, Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy loving kindness; according to the multitude of thy tender mercies; blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sins. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise. This is the same man who said, “Vindicate me, because I have led an upright life.”
But back to our view of the unexamined life. To whom is it not worth living? It’s OK for the existentialist, to whom all is vanity, or all is meaningless (NIV). It is worth living to him. Go ahead. Enjoy. What difference does it make? When our lives do have meaning, in the eyes of God the implication for us is that it is not worth living , thus making it absolutely necessary that we examine ourselves and live an examined life. An examination implies a test. You are being compared to a standard. We can’t examine ourselves against the standard of wisdom; success requires a substantive, defined focus against which to be measured. We need to go to grammar school before attending college. Paul suggests, Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know you not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? (2Cor 13. 5) How do we examine ourselves? A good test for Paul’s counsel may be to look to yourself to see if you are pure in heart-- the essence of wisdom. Why? Because we’re told that it is the pure in heart who will see God.
Is your heart impure? What makes it so? First of all we need to acknowledge that this is an examination of ourselves and not others. If you spend all your time talking about how bad everybody is, you are not looking at the real enemy. All we’re doing is making ourselves look good by comparison. Like the Pharisees, depicted in the parable Christ told of those who trusted in themselves: they were righteous, and despised others. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Publican. I fast twice in theweek, I give tithes of all that I possess. (Luke 18. 11, 12). How do we deal with those whose conduct we abhor? Do we say, as Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’? How about, ‘Father, forgive me, for I know not what I do.’? That’s what Paul said of himself: I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but He that judges me is the Lord (1Cor 4. 3, 4).
Now some of us are pure in heart by nature., and I bet you could name some people that you’ve known in your life that are pure in heart, but most of us have to learn how. Are we yelling at drivers on the highway, are we yelling at the TV set, are we talking about the conduct of our neighbors, and fellow workers, are we jealous of the wealth and health of those around us? We need discipline. We’ve got to do what is unnatural, and one way is to do it by the numbers. Let me illustrate: there was a former member of this meeting, (whose name I won’t mention), who now lives in Florida----- and is 6 feet, 5 inches tall. And I was astonished to learn from him some years ago that he was taking dancing lessons. Dancing lessons! And he demonstrated for me. And it was the most unnatural thing in the world; because he was doing it by the numbers. Perhaps I was jealous, because I had no earthly idea how to do the Cha, Cha, Cha. I learned later that he did develop the ability to dance naturally. But you get the point.
It’s impossible to be absolutely pure in heart because of self-preservation, in the gain of food, clothing and shelter. We are self-absorbed. It’s impossible to be pure, purged gold—24 carat gold. But it’s not impossible to be 14 carat gold. What we don’t want is to be gold plated—a veneer over a base metal, and like the Pharisee, a beautiful whited sepulcher, full of dead men’s bones, a perfect illustration of the difference between reputation and character.
You know, you can’t spend your life in self-examination. That will result in paralysis by analysis. But you can set a time—daily, weekly, monthly—mark it on the calendar—when you re-set your face like flint to obey God in your thoughts, words, and actions. All of them need to be tested. All of them need to be tested regularly. Remember, the fountain of all these thoughts, words and actions come from the heart. One way to set the stage for our self-examination is to bring to mind our baptism—the anointing by which we became sanctified and consecrated.
Search me, O God, and know my thoughts;
Try me and know my thoughts, and
See if there be any wicked way in me, and
Lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139. 23 – 24)