Looks like spring and warmer weather has finally arrived for the most part. As a public service, I want to remind everyone to reverse the cables on their car batteries so that the air conditioning comes on instead of the heat. OK, you don’t believe that. I suppose it means that you are a discerning bunch.
The Corinthian church had an issue with discernment. In Paul’s letter to them, he called them out for divisions, for being carnal, for boasting and being puffed up, for tolerating sin in their midst, and a few other things. They were not discerning.
Normally, we speak of discerning as a dichotomy. We judge between good and evil, between fake news and real news, between the clean and the unclean. Yet, perhaps that isn’t exactly correct. Charles Spurgeon said, “Discernment is NOT a matter of telling the difference between right and wrong; rather, it is telling the difference between right and almost right.”
However, in 1Co 11:27-19, we are simply told that the Corinthians were not discerning something. We are not given two alternatives.
27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.~1 Corinthians 11:27-29 (NKJV)
We read this and emphasize the fact that they were not examining themselves. Obviously, this is correct. Still what were they to examine? Certainly, Christians should always examine ourselves as to whether or not we are worthy. If we stop there, however, I think we might miss the underlying tone of Paul’s rebuke.
Barne’s Notes says the Corinthians were not discriminating. The implication is that they were treating it like a party instead of a somber occasion.
JF&B says they were “not discerning—not duty judging: not distinguishing in judgment (so the Greek: the sin and its punishment thus being marked as corresponding) from common food”.
However, looking at it in context, is that really all that there is? What is the “Lord’s body”? What were they doing to prompt this rebuke, and what was the outcome that Paul wanted to see?
Let’s back up and look at what lead up to this statement.
17 Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. 20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.~ 1 Corinthians 11:17-22 (NKJV)
Obviously, he is talking about the Passover service, and it is evident that they were treating it more like a common meal than a somber ceremony. However, what was the cause of this? What was the effect of not properly examining themselves and why the emphasis upon the Lord’s body? Notice he asked if they despised the church of God?
Jesus said others would know His church if we have love towards one another. What the Corinthians were doing was anything but loving. Some were being gluttons, while some were being drunks, and even worse some were being allowed to do without anything at all. They were literally being deprived of the very symbols being used to partake in the Passover! The way they were treating each other was deplorable and anything but loving. They did not have a “foot washing attitude”. I submit to you that when we act selfishly and neglect members of God’s church that we too are not discerning the Lord’s body.
Previously, Paul tells them that the bread is the communion of the body of Christ. Communion is not a little wafer. Communion is another word for fellowship. Fellowship means more than one person, and he extends the analogy of the physical body of Christ to the church.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.~ 1 Corinthians 12:27 (NKJV)
So, what were they not discerning? Many things, certainly, but it appears chief among these things was that they were not discerning that their selfish behavior and neglect of one another was bringing judgment upon themselves and showed disrespect towards the sacrifice of Christ.
1Corinthians 11 reminds me a lot about Isaiah 58, which we usually read around the Day of Atonement. God uses Isaiah to convey His displeasure on how ancient Israelites were treating one another. Do we want God to answer when we call upon Him? God says He will do so if we clothe the naked, feed the hungry, house the poor, free the oppressed, lighten the burdens of others and break the bonds of wickedness.
Logically, this means that if we do the opposite and ignore the needs of others then God may choose to ignore our needs. Think about Lazarus and the rich man. What did Abraham tell the rich man who ignored the needs of Lazarus during his life? To paraphrase, Abraham told the rich man that just as Lazarus’ needs were ignored during his life, then so would the rich man’s needs be ignored in this short period before his second death.
Jesus did something remarkable during His last Passover as a human. He set aside His good clothes, took a towel and some water and washed His disciples’ feet. In spite of what was about to occur, He served others. In fact, the Book of John is filled with words of instruction, admonition and exhortation and prayers for His disciples.
I have a theory. Satan would love to see us busy and distracted. How difficult is it for weak and frail human beings to think about others when they themselves are undergoing stress and trials? The enemy would love to distract us from what we should be doing, and chief among those things would be distracting us from helping and praying for others. Even in the midst of, or perhaps especially in the midst of, self-examination, Christians should have this attitude of outgoing concern and care for others. John records that Jesus did this even as He was feeling great stress anticipating the rest of the events during that Passover.
This is a tough calling. This is essentially impossible – for humans. However, we need to keep in mind that with God all things are possible.
When you consider that self-examination should lead us to humility and a refreshed attitude of repentance, then one of the effects should be a forgiving and loving attitude towards one another. If Christ loved us enough to sacrifice Himself for us, how can we be called upon to do anything less than show respect towards one another and towards that sacrifice simultaneously? Yes, it is important for me to realize He gave His life for me, but it is also important for me to realize He gave His life for you too. To do anything less is to show disrespect towards the body of Christ. To do anything less is to not discern the Lord’s body.
Excellent post, John. Good depth and analysis.