“The Examined Life”
March 10, 2019
Don’t miss the benefits of self-examination.
I. Examine yourself for mercy-in-action. (Luke 6:37-38)
II. Examine yourself for humility in relationships. (Luke 6:39-42)
III. Examine yourself for fruit. (Luke 6:43-45)
IV. Examine yourself for obedience. (Luke 6:46-49)
“It’s Not About the Nail” is a relatively famous short video by Jason Headley, which I use often in premarital and other one-on-one situations. I get that it’s about listening, and not always going into problem-solving mode. But I think it also speaks to today’s topic of self-examination. Some of you, I know, have seen this before. It’s ok, it’s always fun to watch again.
“It’s just, there’s all this pressure, you know. And sometimes it feels like it’s right up on me and I can just feel it, like literally feel it in my head and it’s relentless and I don’t know if it’s gonna stop, I mean, that’s the thing that scares me the most, it’s that I don’t know if it’s ever gonna stop.” “Ya. Wha-you do a have a nail in your head.” “It is not about the nail.” “Are you sure, because, I mean, I bet if we got that out of there…” “Stop trying to fix it.” “No, I’m not trying to fix it, I’m just pointing out that maybe the nail is causing…” “You always do this – you always try to fix things when all I really need is for you to just listen.” “No, see, I don’t think that is what you need, I think what you need is to get the nail out…” “SEE YOU’RE NOT EVEN LISTENING NOW!” “Ok, fine. I will listen, fine.” “It’s just – sometimes it’s like – there’s this achy. I don’t know what it is. And I’m not really sleeping very well at all. And all my sweaters are snagged. I mean – all of them.” “That sounds really hard.” “It is. Thank you.” “Owww!” “Oh come on – If you would just…” “Don’t!”
It's about listening and caring, not problem solving. I get that. But if she would just admit, not only that the nail is there, but that she could take concrete action to make it better, they wouldn’t have this headache. In today’s text, which is the last half of Jesus’s “Sermon on the Plain” as recorded by Luke, we will see the virtues and the benefits of self-examination. I hope we will also see areas and arenas where we can seek God’s help to change our lives.
This message is a little like your doctor running some tests to determine your health. Jesus, the great physician, wants us to be spiritually healthy, and he proposes a number of tests which can be used to determine spiritual health. Like your doctor’s tests, selfexamination is sometimes a bit painful. But it has long-term benefits, because it provides the information needed to take action or make a change. For some today, after this self-examination, you may need the great physician can do more radical surgery. Others may need a change of lifestyle, unhealthy habits exchanged for healthy ones. For others, some kind of daily medication may be prescribed. In any event, there will be benefit from selfexamination, a healthier spiritual life. Don't miss that benefit.
In Luke Luke 6:37-49 Jesus ends this sermon with several short paragraphs that encourage selfexamination. The first set of questions has to do with our attitudes. We want to examine ourselves for mercy-in-action. Luke 6:37-38 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
Jesus has already commanded his disciples to love. He said that we should love our enemies by doing good to them, follow the golden rule, and be merciful as our Father is merciful. These four further exhortations are specific examples of that mercy, mercy in action, and of doing to others as you would have them do to you. These things sound simple. The words themselves don’t need much explanation. But these are things we find hard to do consistently, day to day, and they are at the heart of what Jesus desires for you and me as his disciples.
To judge means to pass judgment, to form a fixed opinion. The word is used of God’s judgment, which he makes in justice toward men, and also of necessary judging that we do between good and evil. Contrary to our culture’s view, this is not always a wrong activity. But it is wrong when done with a critical spirit toward individuals, judgmentalism. Paul devotes most of a chapter in Romans to it. “You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way.” To gently help people engage with the sin in their lives is loving. To beat them up over it, to shame them, is judgementalism. It flows naturally into condemning them. We bad-mouth people, we gossip about them and ultimately we exclude them.
Kent Hughes says “Judgmentalism is merciless. It attaches motives to actions that have never been there. It sees others in the worst light. It pompously assumes the place of God. Judgmentalism is at best a sign of spiritual cancer, and at worst a sign of spiritual death.” He quotes Martin Luther “Do you proclaim his sins? Then truly you are not a child of your merciful Father; for otherwise you would be also as he, merciful. It is true that we can’t show as great mercy to our neighbor as God has to us; but it is the true work of the devil that we do the very opposite of mercy, a sure sign there is not a grain of mercy in us.”
But Jesus knows the explusive power of a new affection. We fight judgmentalism and condemnation in our souls by embracing forgiveness and generosity. Now we should make it clear that when Jesus says “forgive and you will be forgiven” he’s not talking about a work we do to earn God’s forgiveness.
In fact, he may be focus here on the Golden rule. If you are forgiving toward others, they will be forgiving toward you. Even where he does talk about forgiveness by God, it is clear that our forgiving others is a grateful response, a sign that we have received God’s forgiveness. In the parable of the unforgiving servant he is forgiven 200,000 years wages, but will not forgive a few days wages.
It’s the same way with giving. We do not give of time, money, energy, or devotion, as a calculated investment, judging that we will get more back. Rather we give in the expectation and confidence, that we cannot out give God. He will supply all our true needs. We give with the thankful realization that God has already given us everything. In giving us Jesus, and redemption, and forgiveness and the Holy Spirit, God has poured into our laps a good measure, shaken together and running over. And we give our resources and ourselves, our time, our energy, to others out of the overflow of God’s goodness to us.
The first questions of self examination have to do with imitating God’s mercy and living out the Golden rule. “Am I judgmental or condemning in my family? To friends? To brothers and sisters at church? In my neighborhood or workplace? In my politics or on social media?” Maybe the first thing to look for a fixed negative attitude. Do you normally think of a given person in terms of their faults or flaws, the ways they irritate you, the failures they experience? If the lens through which you see someone is usually negative, you may have passed judgment on that person. If that person is at all sensitive, they will feel the judgment, and will respond in kind, forming negative attitudes toward you.
Another way to look at this is in terms of the words ‘always’ and ‘never’ Is there a person in your family, or in one of these other areas, who you think ‘always’ does such and such or ‘never’ does such and such. In arguing with that person, would you be tempted to say “You always.” If so, then you have judged the person. You have branded them as surely as if you took a hot iron and scarred their flesh. Another fixed negative attitude is bitterness. You feel a person has hurt you, and you can’t ever get past that hurt. Fourth is dismissal, where you have judged a person’s character or abilities or past failures, and dismissed out of hand their future suitability for responsibility or even friendship.
A similar thought can be applied to giving. That would include, of course, the giving you plan for the church, missionaries and for other Christian organizations. Those are important, concrete expressions of a decision to give. But we can also examine ourselves for our willingness to give relationally for the well-being of others. Do I horde my time, giving it to others only jealously? Do I use my energy selfishly, keeping the best for my own benefit, and not being willing to pour myself out to help my family, or my church or my neighbors?
Do I store up my money, indulging my whims, but controlling how others spend? Remember the promise of this verse: giving is a blessing. God pours out generously on those who are generous. This isn’t prosperity gospel, especially in context. It’s not primarily material blessing, but true soul blessing.
We first examine ourselves for mercy-in-action. The next verses clearly teach us to seek humility. Verses 39-42: He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. 41Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 42How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.
How does this parable, the blind leading the blind, fit in the context? Jesus wants his hearers to see judgementalism or greed or unforgiveness in their own lives. We cannot help others to live in Kingdom ways, with love for enemies, mercy, etc., if we have not begun to live this way? A person blind to their own faults can not lead another without falling into a pit. Our self-examination is not just for our own benefit but for the benefit of others. Lord Jesus, open my eyes.
We also need to ask if we are trying to imitate anyone other than Jesus. He says: “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” The inference is awesome: he wants us to imitate him, to fix our eyes on him, to become Christlike, serve as he served, sacrifice as he sacrificed, love as he loved, teach as he taught. But if Jesus had stopped there, this would be an idealistic view of discipleship: Eyes open and fixed on the goal of imitating Christ. That’s great, but Jesus reminds us of our all-too-human failings when he tells us not only to open our eyes but to take the logs out. Certainly, those around us, those in our families, even those in our church, have specks in their eyes. Idiosyncrasies, sinful behaviors, personality flaws. But we are not called to examine their eyes, until we first examine our own.
We need to be sensitive to our characteristic sins, the areas where we commonly fail. Jesus says we need to deal with those blind spots, to take out the plank, before we try to help our brothers. For example, if we criticize people for being angry and irritable, we ought to look into ourselves for anger. If we criticize sexual sin we ought to look in ourselves for that weakness. If we criticize people for not being friendly, we ought to see if we have been friendly toward them. Sometimes what we are criticizing is really the log in our own eyes, seen in the mirror of another person’s life. The log in our eye may reveal hypocrisy.
Alternately, we may be un-tempted by the kind of sin we see in another person and have no compassion for their struggle. The log in our eye may be pride or self-righteousness. Finally, as in “It’s not about the nail,” we may not be willing to address our own problems directly. “You need to listen and to care,” we say, and that’s true, but we may need to hear about the nail in our forehead. This nail may not even be a sin issue, but hurt and abuse we’ve received from a fallen world that we’ve allowed to distort our vision of ourselves and others.
The third area of self-examination is for fruit. Verses 43 to 45: “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, 44for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
The Bible speaks of the fruit of the Christian life in several ways. The most central of these is the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and selfcontrol. These are the growing characteristics of a life lived in dependence on the Spirit’s power, and they are essential to the radical Christian life Jesus pictures in Luke and in Matthew. But this isn’t the only Biblical fruit. Scripture calls praise “the fruit of lips that confess his name.” Jesus promises that we will bear fruit as we abide in him. Paul says that the Gospel is bearing fruit all over the world, but he also says that we bear fruit in every good work. So the concept of fruit covers many things, but in all cases fruit is evidence, in our attitudes or behaviors, or in God-given outcomes, of an internal reality. That’s what Jesus is saying. “No good tree bears bad fruit. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good.” External evidence of an internal reality.
When we look for fruit in our own lives, we need to be looking both directions. Is there external evidence in our attitudes or behavior? Do we do good works? Do we do them with joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness? This is the fruit we long for. But we also need to look inward. Is the fruit we display at odds with the attitudes of our heart? Is there, in our hearts, anger or malice or bitterness, frustration or sadness? Is our good work a front for an underlying rot? Jesus is concerned with the inward reality and integrity of our lives. And I think he knows that ultimately through the work of his sacrifice and the gift of his Spirit, as the prophet had said, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” That reality is only taken hold of by faith in the victorious sacrifice of Jesus for our sin.
Only then, when we detect a difference between heart attitude and our external behavior, can we effectively address our own hearts. We do that, I think, by the intake of the Word of God, and by specific prayer. The Spirit is willing to answer prayers about our attitudes, and longs to give us, as internal realities, his fruit. I could tell many stories about folks in our church who have said something like, “Well, initially I felt depressed,” or mad, or hurt or frustrated, “but after I spent some time in prayer, God changed my attitude.” I think he delights to do that. So the third area of self-examination is the area of fruit.
The fourth is the area of obedience. Verses 46-49 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? 47Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”
Some among the disciples call Jesus Lord but do not do what he says. They recognize their need to make him Lord and Master, maybe they even deceive themselves into thinking he is Lord and Master, but when it comes to simple obedience, they fall short. This is not subtle. Jesus has the same expectation for believers that God has throughout the Scripture for his people, that relationship with him leads to life change, that relationship with him leads to obedience. We can have absolute assurance from Scripture that he saves us “not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.” But this does not give us freedom to see his plain commands, his word, and disobey it.
And this obedience, like all obedience in Scripture, is not for his good but for ours. His commands are for our own good. In fact way back in Deuteronomy Moses says “the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive.” Jesus only talks about one of those good things here, that when the storms of life come, we stand. But another good in the lives of so many believers over the centuries has been an assurance of salvation. Obedience reinforces that assurance. If we call Jesus Lord, but we aren’t depending on him, not wanting to obey him or living life for him, maybe we need to wonder if we’ve really put our faith in him. Obedience is never fully perfected in this life. We do fall into sin. But obedience as the goal toward which we live is solid evidence that we’ve been redeemed. Jesus says that the person who hears His words and puts them into practice, is one who digs deep and lays a sure foundation on a rock.
Notice that this is not without effort. It is not the path of least resistance. You’ve got to dig, you’ve got to find that bedrock, you’ve got to lay the foundation. There is an effort involved in obedience. Faith is the rock. Jesus is the rock. His word is the rock. And obedience is building on those things. When you have a history of digging into the word, and a practice of depending on Jesus, and a habit of doing what he says, then when the torrents of suffering and trial and testing, the floods of difficult circumstances and unexplained losses come, you will find yourself truly able to stand on him. It’s one of the great blessings of the Christian life, to find yourself upheld by Jesus when things get difficult.
I love the visual theme this week, St. Malo’s chapel, outside Estes Park, Colorado. It’s a beautiful church built on a rock rising from the valley floor. It’s visually stunning, but also illustrates Jesus’ point. A few years ago, 2013 or so, there was a prolonged rain event in that part of Colorado, and eventually the slope of the mountain came down into the valley in a massive mud and rock slide. All the trees in the valley were wiped out. The mud surged around both sides of the church. But because St. Malo’s was built upon a rock, it was untouched.
In contrast, “the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” Building without a foundation is easier. It even looks the same at first. It’s cheaper. But a life not founded on digging into the word, reliance on Christ alone, and obedience, will not weather the storms of trial and trouble. We saw this in Hurricane Ike, where one house in Gilchrest on the Bolivar Peninsula was built solidly and stood. The rest were wiped from the face of the earth by the storm surge. Are you building your house to stand? Are you anchoring it to the rock? Or is your Christian life just a superficial add-on, something that makes you feel good, but not central. Are you living to please yourself, or to please God?
Jesus encourages self-examination by his disciples. I’ve tried to boil down that self-examination to a few key questions, which I strongly encourage you to find time this week to ask yourself. First, do I display mercy in action? Not judging or condemning but forgiving and giving. Second, am I learning humility in relationships, not seeking to lead others or expose the sin of others before I have gained sight myself and dealt with the sin in my own life. Third, do I display fruit, some at least of the many kinds of fruit discussed in the New Testament, but especially the love, joy, peace, patience fruit of the Spirit of God dwelling within. Finally, do I obey? Am I living my life building by faith on God’s word and ultimately on Jesus? And is that building characterized by obedience to God’s word and to Jesus?
Now I’ve been saying that there is great benefit to this self-examination. As we close I want you to picture the benefits that would come, from examining yourself and allowing the Lord to change what needs change. If you no longer had fixed negative attitudes towards people, the acid in your soul that corrodes relationships would be gone. You would be much more at peace if you were not so quick to pass judgment, so ready to condemn, not so full of bitterness, so unwilling to give. The peace of your soul is attacked by these negative attitudes, as when a man throws sand into the wind.
Taking a log out of your eye is its own illustration: Imagine the discomfort of having a huge object in your eye. You can’t feel the discomfort that your blind spots cause you, but at that moment when you submit to the Lord’s eye surgery, you will find a sense of tremendous relief. Your vision of others will be clearer, your vision of yourself will be clearer, and the headache that you’ve had from your own sin will suddenly disappear. Also you won’t snag your sweaters.
Fruit that comes from a heart of integrity is the third great benefit. As God works on your heart, attitudes and behavior that once seemed impossible will begin to be doable. The Spirit’s fruit is of great benefit. How would you be happier: Filled with hate, or love? Constantly worried, or at peace? Frustrated, or patient? Mean spirited, or kind? Indifferent or faithful? Abusive or gentle? Out of control, or self-controlled? Don’t miss the benefits of self-examination.
Finally, picture that storm rising. The rain comes down as a torrent, the angry flood waters burst upon your house, and upon your life. Some of you are in that flood right now. We’ve had more deep prayer concerns in the church in these last years than ever before, I think. But the life that is digging deep, and is founded upon Jesus himself, and is built up by putting his words into practice, that life will not be swept away. Rather, in him, you will find your refuge and your strength, your shelter in the time of storm.
There is great benefit to self-examination that brings growth in any of these areas.