Dokimos

Mount Moriah loomed in the distance, and with each footstep, the mountain seemed to grow bigger and more intimidating. Abraham has spent much of his life wandering, but this journey, these footsteps, were the hardest ones he’d ever taken.

Beside him was his son, Isaac. The son he and his wife had waited decades for. The son God had promised him. The son who was destined to inherit the promises of God and play an integral role in God’s plan for the whole world.

And Abraham was going to kill him.

God had given him the order in no uncertain terms: “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 22:2).

And now the mountain was there, unavoidable, inescapable. Every footstep brought Abraham closer to the moment he dreaded with all his heart.

The Bible doesn’t tell us what was going through Abraham’s head in that moment, but I don’t think it needs to. I think every parent reading this can tell me exactly what was going through Abraham’s head in that moment, because every parent can imagine what it would mean to be in his shoes. To be taking those steps. To have the desire to trust and obey God while wrestling with the fear of what that might cost.

But Abraham took those steps. He walked that path until there was nowhere left to walk. He built the altar. He tied up his son, his only son, whom he loved. He raised the knife. And then…

* * *

There’s a verse we tend to read every year as we set out to examine ourselves before the Passover—the one where Paul urges the Corinthians, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

There’s some strong, intimidating, maybe even confusing language in that verse. It can almost sound like Paul is saying, “Maybe you’ve already failed your calling, and maybe Jesus Christ isn’t even involved in your life, in which case there’s not much hope for you.”

Paul uses an interesting Greek word in this verse. Dokimazo. It means to test, to prove, to examine. It’s the same verb he used one book earlier when he told the Corinthians to examine themselves before taking the Passover. One of the interesting details here—and maybe you’ve already heard this—is that the focus of this word isn’t failure. If you’re using this word to talk about testing or proving something, you aren’t expecting negative results. You’re expecting success.

But the other thing that’s interesting about this word is that it’s actually about testing coins. Money. Dokimazo and its root word, dokimos, are, in their most literal sense, words about examining coinage.

Why? Because even 2,000 years ago—maybe especially 2,000 years ago—counterfeiting was a problem. Coins in the Roman world were struck using hand-carved dies, which wore out quickly. The process of striking the coin wasn’t very precise, so each one came out a little different, and the newest emperor would always want his own face on the money, which meant commissioning new coins fairly regularly. The end result was that even official coins looked different depending on when they were struck, where they were struck, and who struck them.

Enter the con-man. Enterprising counterfeiters discovered that silver was expensive, but copper… not so much. By making small copper discs, overlaying them with silver foil, and striking them with their own hand-carved dies, they could make a convincing forgery.

If you’re a merchant, that’s a problem. Never mind merchants—if you’re anyone, that’s a problem. With even the official coins marked by all sorts of inconsistencies, how were you supposed to be sure that a con artist wasn’t trying to fill your pockets with copper instead of silver? How could you be sure that any given coin was legitimate? That it was dokimos?

* * *

Well, you’re in luck. I hope you’ll pay close attention here, because if you’re ever in a freak time travel accident and find yourself stranded in first-century Rome, this is going to be a really important for you to know. I mean, I can’t help you get back to the future, but no two-bit con artist is going to take advantage of you while you’re there, so that’s something.

Of course, you’ll still be a Christian in first-century Rome, and that comes with its own set of challenges, so…

Anyway. Coins. Right.

The thing about copper is that it’s lighter than silver. A silver-wrapped coin might look right, but it won’t feel right. A fully silver coin is also going to make a unique noise when it’s dropped against a hard surface. Copper can’t replicate that.

Here’s another test: time. Being handled, passed from hand to hand, is going to wear down that thin silver foil and eventually expose the forgery underneath.

I think there are probably a million analogies in each of those tests, but I want to focus on a particularly unique one:

The test-cut.

If you’ve examined a coin for signs of fraud and you’re still not sure, there’s one last dokimion, one last trial you can put it through.

You can whack it with a chisel.

If you’re a coin, this is not a pleasant experience. But it does settle the matter, once and for all, of what you’re made of. It exposes your very core and makes it obvious whether or not you’re legitimate. Whether or not you’re dokimos.

This test happened all the time in ancient Rome. There was actually a job in Athens called the dokimaste, a person who sat in the marketplace and was responsible for testing coins. Often, that meant a good gouge with a chisel to settle any uncertainty. A good coin would be returned to its owner, now with a gouge that made its legitimacy obvious, while a counterfeit would be marked and removed from circulation immediately.

* * *

There’s a lot of imagery, a lot of history, packed into that one word, dokimos. Paul uses it and its variations all throughout his writings, and it shows up in some well-known verses. He tells the Thessalonians to test, to dokimazo, all things and hold fast what is true—what is genuine (1 Thessalonians 5:21). He told the Philippians that Timothy had dokime, or proven, genuine character (Philippians 2:19-22). He told Timothy to show himself dokimos, approved to God, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Every time this concept of dokimos comes up in the Bible, the question at hand is, “What’s at the core of what we’re looking at? Is it genuine? Is it what it appears to be?” And the unstated hope is always that it is, that it will hold up under the examination.

So when Paul tells us, “Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified,” the word he uses for “disqualified” is adokimos—counterfeit.

In other words, Paul is saying to these baptized members, “Make sure what’s inside matches what’s outside. And as long as Christianity isn’t just a part you’re playing, as long as this isn’t just something you’re pretending to be, then Jesus Christ is in you.” And even if you’re not baptized yet, but you’re serious about this way of life, then Jesus Christ is with you.

I don’t think that’s meant to be intimidating. I think that’s encouraging. If your heart is in this, if you’re legitimate, if you’re dokimos, then you have nothing to be afraid of.

But where are my manners? We’ve left Abraham on that mountaintop long enough.

* * *

Just before Abraham landed the killing blow, God called out and stopped him: “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Genesis 22:12).

Again, I don’t think the Bible needs to tell us what Abraham was thinking, what he was feeling, what emotions were coursing through him like a flood.

He was probably shaking like a leaf.

He probably cried like a baby.

It’s easy to imagine the scenario; but maybe a little harder to imagine the intensity of everything that was said or thought or felt in that moment.

Abraham had a history of cracking under pressure. Twice now he had intentionally misled kings about his wife, introducing her only as his sister. He and Sarah had attempted to take God’s plan into their own hands and produce an heir to God’s promises through Sarah’s handmaid, Hagar. At key moments when Abraham should have showed faith in God, he faltered.

But here, in the aftermath of the trial on Mount Moriah, God tells Abraham, “Now I know.”

“Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

That’s an odd phrase from God. “Now I know”? God is the heart-knower. He know us better than we know ourselves. God had known Abraham’s heart way back when He told Abraham, “Get out of your country … to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great” (Genesis 12:1-2).

So why does He say, “now”?

The commentators don’t all agree on this one. Some say the Hebrew phrase is better translated, “Now I have known.” One ancient Jewish commentator translated it, “Now I have made known.” Whatever the best translation, we know that God knew Abraham’s heart and character before Abraham ever raised that knife. But this was still a proving ground for Abraham. James tells us that “faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect.”

The command to offer up Isaac was a test-cut for Abraham. It was a blow from a spiritual chisel designed to show just what Abraham was made of. And as he raised his knife, not knowing if God would stop him or not, he passed the test. He had been examined by God, and the results were clear:

Abraham was dokimos.

* * *

As Christians, it’s our job to be dokimos, too. To be genuine. To have what’s outside match what’s inside. And that’s where trials come in—they’re the uncomfortable test cuts that expose our inner man, that show us just what we’re made of. Peter says, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials”—why?—”that the genuineness [the dokimion] of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested [dokimazo] by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Trials test us. They refine us; give us a chance to peek inside ourselves and see whether who we are matches up with who we should be. Like gold in a fire, they help us identify our impurities and do something about them with God’s help.

James tells us, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials”—again, why? Same reason—”knowing that the testing [the dokimazo] of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). A few verses later, he continues that thought: “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved”—when he is found to be dokimos—”he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

The trials aren’t arbitrary. The trials aren’t just things we need to put up with until we reach the other side. The trial is the test cut. The trial is the examination that takes us and makes it clear, “Yes, this one is dokimos—genuine,” or, “No, this one is adokimos—counterfeit.”

* * *

The good news for us is that, unlike coins, we can change our cores. If a trial shows us we’re not where we need to be, we can look to God for help in building the kind of faith that will be found to praise, honor and glory at Christ’s return.

The test cuts you and I face might not be as extreme as the one Abraham faced. And that’s okay. They don’t need to be. God can and does test our character in the everyday things—in how we keep the Sabbath holy. In how we behave when there aren’t any brethren around. In the things we say and the things we do every day of the week. These are all indicators we can look at to test ourselves as Paul instructed us to do.

And we go through this process—this uncomfortable, difficult process of testing—because at the end is a crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

May we all stand before God in that day as dokimos.

Until next time,
Jeremy

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