Arrogant Christians might not actually be Christians. Nor lazy ones, loveless ones, nor hard-hearted ones. Appearances can deceive, and convictions can be found to be misplaced. Paul, who has spoken so transparently of his love for these Corinthians, extends that love as he urges them to check that they are actually true believers. His test is one we need the courage and integrity to apply to ourselves: “examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” (v.5).
He’s not doing that to undermine their faith, but rather, to help them, as he asks them whether they have a real, saving faith. Notice, the test is given to them to encourage a positive assessment (vv.5-6) – “we are believers” – in order to encourage right behaviour – “we must listen to the Apostle, and live godly lives.” Any Christian who feels that they’re above applying this test to themselves maybe deep down knows that their claim of Gospel faith isn’t actually real. And, just maybe, they want to resist the test because they refuse to let go of sins they prefer to Jesus Christ.
“Our prayer is for your perfection” (v.9). Paul isn’t depressing or mocking them, saying that he’ll only be satisfied by their sinlessness. Paul is realistic, and gently patient with all he serves with the Gospel. What he’s saying is that he’s striving to see them perfect (the same word in Greek as ‘mature’), and won’t rest until he sees ongoing transformation into the likeness of Christ.
Do we have this ambition for ourselves, and for those we claim to love in Christ? If we do, it’ll make us humble. We will be humbly ready to recognise our sins, and to repent of them. We’ll also be eager to pray for and serve others, as we seek their growth in Christ. “Aim for perfection” (v.11) is not a suggestion for the keen minority in the church, but an apostolic command for all Christians. And for that we will need the grace, love and fellowship of God Himself (v.14).
A Prayer to Pray
Lord God, I am complacent, and arrogant. I ignore my sins so often, and lazily claim to belong to you. Wake me up, Lord. Teach me the Gospel all over again, and bring it afresh to my heart, Spirit of God. Give me all grace to lay claim to You, and to know the embrace of Your love. May I adore the perfection of the Son, and offer myself again to His Spirit’s work. Amen.