Self-examination is not easy nor always pleasant. But Christians must do so to confirm our faith and assure our hope in Christ. The doctrine that a Christian cannot fall from God’s grace and be lost is patently false (Gal. 5:4; Heb. 2:1-3; 3:12-14; 2 Pet. 2:20-22). In today’s text, the exhortation warns of being disqualified (“unapproved, rejected,” castaway, reprobate, G96). Paul himself was not immune to the possibility of being disqualified (1 Cor. 9:27). He uses two words in today’s text to urge us to avoid being rejected by the Lord. To prevent such spiritual disaster, we must (1) Examine ourselves. We must expend effort to test and scrutinize ourselves, to explore our conduct and our heart’s motives, attitudes, and aspirations that prompt our actions. The standard we examine ourselves against is “the faith,” the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:11, 23; Jude 3). Do the heart and behavior align with the word of Christ? (2) Test ourselves. This word means to discern whether we are approved. Vine says it means “to prove with a view to approving” (Vine, II:22). We must discern whether our assessment shows “that Jesus Christ is in” us. If it does, then good. Keep it up. If it shows we are deficient, repent and practice righteousness (2 Cor. 12:20-21; Rev. 2:5). Christians use the gospel to examine (inspect) and test (approve) ourselves. By conforming to it, we know (recognize) ourselves and are accepted by Christ.
17 Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. (1 Corinthians 11:17–19, NKJV)
The only other time in 1 Corinthians the apostle Paul is inspired to use the word translated “instructions” in verse 17 is in chapter 7:10, where it is translated “command.” The word carries the force of a message that is enjoined upon us, a charge given by the apostle. He was about to charge them with proper attitudes and conduct when they came together to worship. It had been reported to Paul that the worship assembly of the Corinthian church was marred by division. He would rebuke them, not praise them, for their factious conduct when they came together. (The simple and clear truth is that we must discard every practice that cannot be praised by an apostle.) Their divisions over class and wealth were disrupting and perverting their worship. Therefore, verse 19 does not endorse factions in a church, it explains the effect factions have on a church. Factions serve to identify genuine (true) disciples from those in error (which Paul will show in subsequent verses). Our assembled worship must be decent and orderly, characterized by unity in truth, not divisiveness and strife (1 Cor. 14:40; 1:10).
Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. (Romans 16:10, NKJV)
Most of us have been tempted at one time or another to be held up as notable in the eyes of others. The approval of men is very important to so. However, the man to whom Paul sent greetings is noteworthy, not because men approved him, but because Christ did. Apelles was tried and true in Christ. Elsewhere Paul reminds us “not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends” (2 Cor. 10:18). Every day your faith will be put to the test, so be diligent “to present yourself approved to God” (2 Tim. 2:15). Although the Bible tells us nothing else about this Christian, his life teaches us to be in Christ and to remain true to Christ (Rom. 6:3-4). After all, in the end, the Lord’s approval is what really matters.
15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 16 But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. 17 And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, 18 who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some. 19 Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2:15-19)
The Lord “knows those who are His”; they are approved before Him (verse 19, 15). We must present ourselves “approved to God” by properly handling God word to avoid error and to depart iniquity. Hymenaeus and Philetus failed to do so. They strayed from the truth and overthrew the faith of others with their error. It matters what we believe, teach and practice! If it does not, then why this warning? Clearly, here are Christians who lost their souls – not because God cannot save, but because they “strayed concerning the truth” (cf. Isaiah 59:1-2). Beware, lest you fall (1 Cor. 10:12).