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 (Manna 7)
Understand Yourself
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“Do you understand yourself?” Yes, without much prior thought, many people assume that they do, and are in full control of themselves. But it is these people who are often heard to say, “Why did I do that?”

Man struggles to come to terms with himself. This view is endorsed by Paul in his disclosure on the double nature of man (Rom 7). We try to live within the standards laid down by God but often find it difficult to keep within them as our emotions govern us to do otherwise. Paul calls the opposing elements in this human dichotomy the carnal and the spiritual man. To appreciate this dichotomy in oneself and to begin to nurture the spiritual side is the key to understanding oneself.

In the Bible we read of men who lacked in self-understanding, many meeting with failure. Two of them provide interesting points for thought:

Cain was envious of his brother Abel, whose offering God accepted. Though God advised, he persisted in his anger and later killed Abel. In letting the carnal man dominate, he, as an animal, destroyed what he saw to be a threat, even his own brother (Gen 3:1-16).

Failure to understand the dual nature in himself made Cain deaf to the spiritual man in him. Unheeding advice from others, he thought he knew what was best for himself. He did not realise that it was only half of him speaking, and being the worse half, it would not do him any good. It is the same with us - wrong decisions are made because many times we only listen to the weaker side of us, the carnal man. A Christian should, however, not be a totally passionless creature. The difference between the carnal man and the spiritual man is not a simple demarcation between passion and reason as the worldly philosopher would have us believe. Instead, it is the difference between decisions made within the law of God and decisions made solely through human impulse and reason.

The story of Job provides another angle on understanding oneself. Job was blameless and upright, feared God and turned away from evil. Then calamity befell him, his children and wealth were taken away, and he was afflicted with sores all over his body. Still, he held fast to his faith, saying that if he had accepted happiness from God, he must also accept sorrow. Such was his attitude, initially. But he became confused when his three friends came to see him. They reasoned with him, saying that God would not punish a good man. Job argued that he was innocent and could not understand why he was being punished. So he asked God to tell him why (Job ). He felt ready to prove himself if only God would give him a fair trial.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). We cannot understand ourselves without help, for even if we realise the existence of a dual nature within us, we still need to determine which part is speaking within us. We often deceive ourselves, thinking that our conscience is always at hand. Job could find no fault in himself and so reasoned that he was perfect, thinking that he had arrived at this conclusion based on God’s words.

He felt ready to challenge the Author of the Word Himself. It needed God to expose his self-righteousness and pride. God answered him out of a whirlwind (Job 38 & 39), questioning him about the majestic and mysterious workings of the universe. Fortunately, Job humbled himself and admitted his sin. The same cannot be said for Satan, who thought he knew better than God. His sad end is a constant reminder to those who think they know everything. Understanding oneself requires the acknowledgement that God understands you better. As such, the man who tries to understand himself also leaves his life to God.

Job’s humiliation in the face of God’s might shows the imperfection of man. We cannot for a moment imagine that we can be “like God, knowing good and evil”, as whispered by the serpent to lure Adam and Eve.

To understand the basic nature of man - that we have a double nature, that we are imperfect and that God, the Creator knows us best - is the basis of a true understanding of oneself. From here we progress to understand ourselves as individuals.

Only by knowing ourselves can we correct and improve our ways. Not realising our faults, we may be unrealistically self-confident. Self-knowledge is therefore a condition to progress. To enable us to live well and progress spiritually, we must pray that God will help us to really understand ourselves, and not be deceived by our own hearts. Here are three things in which we ask God’s assistance:

1.      Help us to know our own ignorance, that we may always be willing to learn. In this, we can emulate the Ethiopian eunuch recorded in Acts 8, a well-read man of great authority. Yet he readily admitted that he did not understand what he was reading, even when asked by a stranger, Philip. Because of his humility, he received God’s grace. As the Word of God is good for reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness (2 Tim ), it is suitable for all Christians.

2.      Help us to know our own weaknesses, that we may always be aware of temptations, which can easily overcome us (I Pet 5:8). From the beginning, the devil has been trying to make man fall. The Lord Jesus has saved us from the bondage of sin, but the evil one tries to lure us back. Preaching to a friend, we are trying to save and snatch a soul from Satan’s itches, but the Christian is always at war in his life. His is a spiritual warfare. From the scriptures we can learn how the struggle between the spirit and the flesh persists, and how believers have coped with them. From those who overcame, we take their qualities, and from those who fail, we learn from their mistakes and try to get rid of any wicked traits we have similar to theirs. Relaying on our own efforts, we cannot withstand Satan’s wiles. Paul warned the Ephesians that they were not wrestling with flesh and blood, but confronting powers of darkness and spiritual wickedness. To be a victorious Christian soldier, we must put on the whole armour of God as described in Eph. 6:13-16.

3.      Help us to know our own strength, that we may fully use the gifts and talents that God has given us. Many of us excel in certain areas, some in music, some literature, etc. But we have not come this far by our own effort and intelligence (Dan ). Rather, everything is from God. God gives talents, not only in learning but also in handicraft (Ex 31:2). In the Bible, God gave Joshua the spirit of wisdom to succeed Moses; Solomon’s wisdom was granted through his prayer. As God told Zerubbabel, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit”; it is only proper that we request for  the fullness of the Spirit of God and His gifts, so that we may use them to serve the Lord.

By understanding ourselves we can progress spiritually, and come close to the goal of perfection. Let us try our best to live a life of a true believer. When the Lord comes again, we will meet Him with glad, joyful hearts. Amen.


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