These are all tests.

  • A woman wonders what would happen if she stopped calling someone from church. Would that person ever take the initiative to call her?
  • A husband decides to stop saying “I love you” to his wife in order to discover how long it will take her to say, “I love you.”
  • A woman who was meeting with her pastor at church for prayer and counsel now insists that the pastor meet her at her house. There is nothing sexual in this—family members will be there. She says, “If you really care for me you will do this.” She lives over 30 minutes away.

In each of these, the character of someone is in question, and the test is intended to draw out the truth. And if you are like me, you find these tests maddening. Here’s why.

Testing is a prominent theme in Scripture. It first appears in Eden and then continues into the wilderness.

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. (Deut. 8:2)

God tests us. That is what kings do with princes and princesses. If the king’s children are going to rule, they should be refined and have their allegiances examined. Tests, therefore, are an expression of God’s sanctifying love.

But humanity constantly failed the tests, and the theme of testing fades from Scripture until a worthy subject finally appears. So all eyes are on Jesus as he is tested to the extreme in the wilderness, yet never wavers (e.g., Matt. 4:1-11). Now, in Christ, God resumes his testing of us, and we can take joy in that (Jam. 1:2).

Embedded in this is a durable principle of who does the testing: the greater tests the lesser. God tests us; it is an abomination when we test him. We can even discover this principle in our own experience. Let’s say that I tell my children that I will be going out, and while I am out, they cannot have friends at the house. But I plan to be home much earlier than they expect because I want to see if they follow my direction. That might seem a bit sneaky, but a child would not be offended by the ruse because the child is the child and the parent is the adult.

This is why the three illustrations at the beginning are offensive. The one who tests is taking the position of the greater, and I am guessing that, if the lesser passes the test, there will be others tests which he or she will eventually fail. When God tests us it is love. When we test others, we are declaring ourselves above them. We might have other motives, but one of them is pride.

The alternatives? The woman who is making phone calls to someone at church can continue to take initiative—this imitates her God who always makes the first move toward her. If she is concerned that the other person is reluctant, she can ask, “Does it bother you if I call?” The husband who stopped saying “I love you” to his wife can do something similar. He can take initiative in words and deeds. If his wife seems distant or unresponsive, he can ask her about her affections. The woman who is testing her pastor’s care and loyalty? This one is more difficult. She wants to be special. Though this desire lurks in us all, if it persists, it leaves us alone, angry and hopeless. Best to declare war against this one, repent it down to size—repent of arrogance—and enjoy humility and a teachable spirit before God and other people.

Once again, humility and love protect us from foolishness and lead us in a wise course, which might be hard but very good.