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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Discerning the Body

What does Paul mean in I Corinthians 11 when he says, in verse 29, 'For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner[e] eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s[f] body.'?


When most people have translated, and still translate, this verse; traditionally it has been thought to contain an almost mystical instruction. When most people read this verse, they read Paul's instruction as saying something like 'we need to understand or realize the seriousness of what Christ has done for us, in the extent that He went to, in order to save our souls', even to the extent of almost mournfully contemplating this, and whether or not we are worthy to partake of the 'Lord's Supper'! In a sense I agree with reasoning like this: it is a very serious matter, what Christ did for us, and we should not treat this matter with any measure of frivolity or levity; but neither should we be mournfully serious, doubting our worthiness to partake of 'the Lord's Body' if we have recently had an impure thought or have a standing 'tiff' with a brother ( or sister ) in Christ. Some will even say that, based on Matthew 5:22-24, and possibly other like passages, we should not partake of the 'Lord's Supper' if we have aught against our brother. I can agree in principle with this reasoning, and I'll reveal my thinking on this a little later; but I do not think that we should abstain from 'the Supper' just because a brother ( or sister ) has a problem with something that we've said or done. One problem that I've always had, though, with this sort of doctrine, is; if our brother ( or sister ) won't forgive our transgression, or accept our forgiveness, then does this 'disagreement' mean that this person has the 'power' over us to keep us from the 'Table'? I agree,as I said, in principle, with this doctrine because Paul said , earlier, in verse 20, 'Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper'. I think that the traditional 'stance' here, would be that Paul was reprimanding the Corinthians for gathering, not to partake of, or commune with Lord's Body, but to take their meals, in an almost bragging manner, before those who were 'less fortunate'. When, in the next several verses, we read, '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.'; I think we have a clue as to what Paul was referring to in verse 29. By accusing them in this manner; Paul was telling them, in other words, that the Lord's Supper', or 'Communion', as it is most often referred to, in catholicity, was NOT the eating of bread ( or meat ), nor the drinking of wine, or other beverages! Paul had said earlier, in the context of Christian love, in Romans 14: 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit'. Jesus Himself said, in Matthew 6: 31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.' While Jesus indeed said, in John 6: 48 'I am the bread of life'.; it is evident, though maybe not to everyone that first heard these words, that Jesus was speaking metaphorically of our becoming one with Him, in partaking of, or communing with His Body, in a spiritual way. I think that when Paul wrote those words of warning to the Corinthian church; I believe that he was reminding them that they were all one, in Christ, and that they were not acting in the spirit of love when they flaunted their wealth of food before those who had not so much to eat: that their gathering to eat together, to commune together, was not merely a 'supper', but a supper in communion with one another. They were not being reprimanded for eating, in other words; but for not eating in love. Remember Paul's discourse, in what is known as 'The Love Chapter'? He wrote, 'Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, it profits me nothing.' I think that Paul employed this same principle in chapter 11. If the 'Lords Supper' was not being observed with love, or in Christian charity, then the Corinthian church was not meeting to observe the 'Lord's Supper'; but in order to serve their own selfish lusts!

The point that I'm making here, and what Paul was saying, I believe, was that we often tend to focus so much on the 'elements' of the Lord's Supper, that we almost seem to forget what it's all about! Remember; Paul said, in Romans 14: 19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. ( Compare what Paul says in verses 22 & 23 with what he says in I Corinthians 11:28 & 29 ).
He says, in Colossians 1:24, that we are the Body of Christ, in I Corinthians 6:15, that we are 'members' of His Body, in I Corinthians 12:27, he reminds us that we are His body and also 'members' of each other ( see Ephesians 2:19, 4:25 ), and again, in Ephesians 5:30, that we are members of His Body.

I believe that fellow Christians, weak and strong, are the Body that Paul warned the Corinthian church, and warns us, to 'discern'!

Paul uses the Greek diakrino in verse 29 above to show that we should distinguish between, even to the extent of preferring those other members of Christs Body, the Church, over those who are not, and even to ourselves.

In Christ's service,
and in His Kingdom,
Charles Shank

1 comment:

Charles Shank said...

Division has always been a disease of the church... The Love Feast, which should have been the sign and symbol of perfect unity, has become a thing of divisions and class distinctions. And here there is something which only the newer translations reveal. In the older translations, it is said that to eat and drink at the sacrament without discerning the Lord's body is the way to judgment and not to salvation. But in the best Greek text, the word Lord's is not included. The sin is not to discern the body; that is to say, not to discern that the church is a body, not to be aware of the oneness of the church, not to be aware of the togetherness in which all its members should be joined.
George Fox