Galatians 6:4

‘let each man test his own work,
and then he will take pride in himself’

Self examination and assessment can be good for our spiritual health and wellbeing. Even if we think we’re healthy, monitoring and checking our spiritual pulse and other such markers is a good idea. Here Paul mentions testing our ‘own work. Elsewhere he writes ‘Test your own selves, whether you are in the faith’(2 Corinthians 13:5). So we’re to consider both internal and external evidence (belief and practice), in fact testing even deeper, to make sure that ‘Christ is in’(2 Corinthians 13:5) us, i.e. that we’re living ‘by the Spirit’(Galatians 5:16), so bearing the ‘fruit of the Spirit’(Galatians 5:22) not ‘works of the flesh’(Galatians 5:19), all useful markers that Paul has been talking about as the context of this verse.

However, we must be careful not to compare ourselves with others, in either a jealous ‘envying’(Galatians 5:26) or puffed up ‘conceited’(Galatians 5:26) way, for example regarding things like knowledge, but instead to love, which ‘builds up’(1 Corinthians 8:1). A spirit of constructive love has been Paul’s concern from the start of this section of his letter, ‘faith working through love’(Galatians 5:6) being the ultimate marker. If anyone has fallen into error regarding what Paul’s been teaching, the Galatians are to ‘restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness… and so fulfill the law of Christ’(Galatians 6:1-2), i.e. the ‘law of the Spirit’(Romans 8:2) with its fruit, which includes ‘love’(Galatians 5:22) and so fulfil ‘“‘love your neighbor as yourself’”’(Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19; Galatians 5:14).

There can be a place for some comparison, being inspired by the ‘great cloud of witnesses’(Hebrews 12:1) of ages past, or those who are a good ‘example’(Philippians 3:17) in the present, but Paul’s main point in this verse is that there’s no place for comparison with our ‘neighbor’(Galatians 6:4) leading to envy or more especially conceit. We’re to stand alone when performing this self examination for ‘each man will bear his own burden’(Galatians 6:5), before God.

That brings us to Who we should be assessing ourselves against. The pharisee stood before God, next to a tax collector, and chose the wrong comparator! If he’d been looking the right way he’d have prayed ‘“‘be merciful to me, a sinner’”’(Luke 18:13) and left with a better outcome. We’re to stand before God, and stand amazed – at God not ourselves! In comparison we’ll find that we’re both small and sinful! Even the ‘blameless and upright’(Job 1:1) Job found this, after the long debate with friends about his relative merits; like him we must all stand before ‘Yahweh… “and repent in dust and ashes”’(Job 38:1 – 42:6), realising that we are indeed just ‘dust… like grass… a flower of the field’(Psalm 103:14-15), as Paul puts it here, ‘if a man thinks himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself’(Galatians 6:3).

Nevertheless, we are like flowers of the field, and as such can ‘flourish’(Psalm 103:15) under God’s grace. If through repentance and faith we place the seed of our lives into His hands, He’ll nurture us to grow, flower and bear fruit, something to ‘take pride in’ even. However, that should be as a child standing before our Father, who we delight to please, not before others. So we should be considering ‘what is well pleasing to the Lord’(Ephesians 5:10), not what might attract the applause of others. As Paul wrote earlier in this letter, ‘am I striving to please men? … if I were… I wouldn’t be a servant of Christ’(Galatians 1:10). Pleasing God is what should swell our hearts with purpose, pride and joy.

In a sense we can even ‘boast’(Galatians 6:14), but in our union with ‘the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’(Galatians 6:14), through which we’ve become ‘a new creation’(Galatians 6:15), made ‘alive together with Christ’(Ephesians 2:5), a fruitful branch in His ‘“vine”’(John 15:5). Paul saw himself as the worst of ‘sinners’(1 Timothy 1:15), but could later say ‘by the grace of God I am what I am’(1 Corinthians 15:10) ending with some pride: ‘I have finished the course. I have kept the faith.’(2 Timothy 4:7). He had this secure identity in Christ, with a humble mature and godly form of pride and joy. So he didn’t compete with his fellow runners on this course, but nurtured them in love. The Christian race is not a rat race but more like a relay, with different legs such as ‘he who plants and he who waters’(1 Corinthians 3:8). Each flowering runner must not ‘boast beyond… the boundaries’(2 Corinthians 10:13) of their patch, but all who sow ‘to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life’(Galatians 6:8).

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