~by Randy Bushey
Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself (1 Corinthians 11:28,29).
Many believers have longed for the church of the 1st century, characterized by purity and holiness, doctrinal correctness, and an unmitigated passion to follow Christ.
However, the data evidences that in every era, the people of God have struggled to live up to the standards of spiritual maturity and completeness to which Christ has called us.
Exhibit A: the church at Corinth.
1 Corinthians, Paul’s 16-chapter epistle, contains sturdy criticism or a strong rebuke on every page.
And maybe not surprisingly, in 2 Corinthians – the Apostle’s most personal and intimate of all his epistles – Paul is left to defend his very ministry, character and apostleship!
Think of how you would react as a first-time reader of these epistles.
When you thought it couldn’t get any worse in the wealthy city – home to approx. 200,000 free people and possibly as many as half a million slaves – Paul criticizes the church for their conduct at the Lord’s Supper.
Some showing selfish gluttony while others go hungry? Others getting drunk?
How could that local church have sunk to this level at an assembly of those seeking primarily to honour, express love to, and worship Christ?
And it’s staggering to think that nobody in the Corinthian church had the spiritual courage to confront the evident problem – the elephant in the room.
The Apostle shows a combination of frustration and unbelief at the careless and cavalier conduct that characterized the celebration of this central meeting of the church
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (v.26).
Swiss theologian Godet identified the Breaking of Bread service as “the link between his two comings, the monument of the one, the pledge of the other.”
And yet Paul had to warn, Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord (v.27).
And consequently he warned for an introspective self-analysis: Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup (v.28).
Paul then gets to the heart of the matter: the slovenly attitude and sloppy conduct has resulted in the Lord’s serious verdict with extreme, attention-getting punitive consequences: For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died (v.29,30).
What does Paul mean: …in an unworthy manner…without discerning the body??
In the first century, the universal Church struggled with various forms of heresy – flavours of Gnosticism – that denied that the Son of God had come in the flesh; that He possessed a fully physical, human body.
However, doctrinal heresy does not appear to be Paul’s target.
His guns – throughout the epistle – are trained on one constant theme, summarized by its component parts:
– a lack of love;
– a spirit of competitive and selfish individualism;
– an assertion of personal rights;
– resulting in a glaring omission of – and unwillingness to value – unity.
The metaphor of Christ’s church as being His body is the most common of symbols in the epistles of Paul. We are charged with the privilege and responsibility of being His physical representation on this earth.
And as such, we are called to place the highest of premiums on love for each other; a treasuring of corporate worship and service; a renouncing of personal rights; and a priority commitment to unity of the local church.
In an era of personal entitlement, that is a massive challenge for each of us.
Takeaway: Paul concludes this chapter with these words:
But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another — if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home — so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come (1 Corinthians 11:31-34).
graphic by Gary Scott, freeimages.com.