When Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread are only a few weeks away, sermons, articles and Bible studies all focus our minds on preparing for this very special time of year.
How many of you teens help your parents by deleavening your room? Maybe the car? The dreaded sofa where the crackers have slipped down between the cushions?
In addition to deleavening, you have probably heard about examining yourself at this time of year. Part of the lesson behind deleavening is not just to clean the house, but to better understand how these physical actions parallel what we should be doing spiritually throughout the year. Leaven represents sin in our lives, and searching every nook and cranny of our homes for crumbs is similar to what we should be doing in our own lives: examining ourselves for the crumbs of leaven that we must get rid of.
When I was a teen, I was never really taught the incredible vision God has for us. This was about the point when I tuned out. Blah, blah, blah … this is another examine-yourself message, and that is only for the baptized people in the Church—and only for the spring season. I’m not baptized, so all I am going to be doing is interrupting my fun with a whole lot of extra cleaning.
But is self-examination only for your parents—only for the baptized? Should you as a teen examine yourself? Let’s look at what the Bible says about this subject.
In 1 Corinthians 11:28, we find the command to examine ourselves in the context of being worthy to take the Passover: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.”
This examination is specifically about (and in preparation for) partaking of the symbols in the Passover ceremony. Since only baptized adults take the Passover, there is no direct reference to teens. But the word “examine” means “to try,” “to test” or “to approve.” That word comes from a root word that means “to think.”
Surely we all should be thinking—even as teenagers.
You might reason, But as a teen, I don’t take the Passover, so I don’t have a part in this examining process. But as we’ll see, self-examination is not exclusive to the Passover season and its baptized participants.
1 Corinthians 7:14 shows that you are sanctified—or set apart for holy use—because of your converted parent or guardian. Because of your parents’ conversion, you as children and teens in God’s Church do have a special relationship with Him. Your friends in school don’t have this contact with God. They can’t because, as a whole, the world is cut off (Genesis 3:22-24). God is saying in 1 Corinthians 7:14 that you are special in His eyes. That is amazing truth!
Do you feel special? When I was a teen, this understanding was only just being revealed to Herbert W. Armstrong, and I didn’t feel very special.
The Bible tells us that “to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). Sometimes the teen mind, or even the adult mind, can say, If I don’t listen, then God won’t hold me accountable. But that is not true. God has given you access to Him, and He expects a lot in return. He expects even you as teens to be learning and growing as you live His way of life.
So back to our original question: Should you as teens examine yourselves?
Joshua 4:1-7 tell the story of the stone monument God had the Israelites build in the Jordan River as a memorial. God set up memorials like that one so that the children of future generations would see those piles of stone and ask questions: Why the stones, Dad? What happened here that God wants us to remember?
For us, the Passover is one of these memorials—a memorial of Christ’s death. The Days of Unleavened Bread are a memorial of the Israelites’ journey out of Egypt, to remind us of our journey out of sin. The deleavening process is also a memorial—to remind us of the extra self-examination required to take the Passover worthily. God set His plan in motion so that parents, children and teens could all have a part in His plan.
Exodus 12 tells the story of the final plague God sent on the Egyptians—the death of the firstborn. Put yourself in that time—in the shoes of a young Israelite teenager. God has instructed your parents to set apart a lamb and sacrifice it at a certain time—and then to wipe its blood all over the doorposts and the lintel of your house. The Egyptian teens of the day would have probably thought you were nuts. You might have thought your parents were nuts too. Perhaps you wouldn’t have wanted to stay inside that night as God had commanded. But as the story shows, if you had not obeyed your parents and stayed inside, you would have died.
As a teen in that time, you might not have understood all of the symbolism, but I’ll bet you would have understood death—especially as you heard the wailing of the Egyptian parents. You would have obeyed first and then understood why God commanded you and your parents to behave in that way.
Mr. Armstrong taught us the principle of understanding through obedience. In his writings, Mr. Armstrong explained that he and his wife kept the holy days for 14 years before their true meaning was made clear. Perhaps you might be 14 years old, or only a few years older than that. Imagine doing something like fasting on the Day of Atonement every year for 14 years—all or most of your lifetime—without knowing any of the reasons behind why you should be doing it. It can be so easy to take our understanding of these days for granted. Mr. Armstrong and his wife simply saw that these days were commanded in the Bible, and they obeyed first—before they understood what the days meant.
As teens—and even as adults—you often have to obey first, and then the understanding will come. David was a shepherd boy, but he was wise beyond his years—and God was working with him. He was anointed king. One day you will be a king and priest too. If David had not been living and practicing God’s way of life daily, he wouldn’t have been used mightily by God. We also can’t expect to go through life doing what we want and seeking our own pleasures. We can’t just leave the Church to get a taste of the world, and then come back as we see the evil day approaching so we can get our reward. It is a process—a daily, weekly, yearly process. This process requires us to continually evaluate where we are in our relationship with God. You should be doing this now. When you become baptized members of God’s Church, you will have had several years of practice examining yourself. What a tremendous blessing!
The same principle applies to prayer, Bible study and meditation—the tools of communication with God. If you are not opening this line of communication today, you won’t be as successful as you mature toward your baptismal commitment. This is an advantage you have, ahead of those who are called straight out of the world.
An examination, just like a test in school, will show where you are weak and where you are strong. During the self-examination process, we need to see the positives as well as the things we need to work on. We need to look into the mirror of God’s law and see where we are falling short (James 1:22-25). Do we measure ourselves according to the stature and fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13), or do we compare ourselves to our neighbor? It is easy to think, Well, I’m not as bad as that guy. But your schoolmates aren’t set apart by God for holy use. They don’t have access to God like you do—yet. There are seven practical things listed below that you can do as a teen to start this self-examination process. Take some time in the next several weeks to evaluate and test yourself to see where you are doing well and where you are not. Then take the positive steps necessary to make some changes now.
So should teens examine themselves? Without a doubt!
Practical Steps to Self-Evaluation
1. Ask God for help first.
We all need God’s help, and as the Apostle Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
God has revealed to us that that Satan was cast down to this Earth on Jan. 16, 1986 (Revelation 12:9-12). That means that when your parents were teens, they actually had it a little easier than you do now. Satan is furious, and he is going after whomever he can devour. You need God’s help to counter his attacks.
2. Read The Ten Commandments booklet.
Go through it to see where you are performing well and where you need to improve. Measure yourself against God’s law.
3. Write down some of your strengths and weaknesses.
Examine yourself for your faults and problems, but also take note of the areas where you succeed. Writing them in a private prayer journal can be extremely beneficial.
4. Formulate a plan of attack.
For instance, the First Commandment says that we should not have any other god in our life above the one true God. You might realize through this self-examination process that you have been spending more time playing video games or browsing the web than you have been in praying, studying and meditating on God’s law.
Part of your plan of attack might be to take one of those time slots where you would normally play video games and replace it with some Bible study. The next day you might replace the time with some prayer, and the next with some meditation. That is one of the lessons from examining yourself: Find the weaknesses, and replace them with something good. Get the leaven out, and put unleavened bread in.
5. Execute your plan.
Don’t just make a plan—put it into action. It is of no use to you if you don’t do anything with it.
6. Stick with your plan.
Be tough on yourself. Exercise self-discipline.
7. Review periodically—especially one year from now.
Next year at this time, you will be able to test yourself again to see how you have grown over the past year. This will give you more things to think about as you grow in the ability to examine yourself.