Discerning the Body - 1 Corinthians 11

Updated: Jun 8, 2019

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. 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. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died Community is so important that Paul actually cautioned the Corinthian believers to not even participate in the assembly if they were sowing division!

1 Corinthians 11:27-30 (ESV)

At some point, you have probably heard this text read at Church, closely followed by an exhortation to check your heart before taking communion. Am I right? Well, contextually, there are a couple of things that you need to know in order to properly understand what Paul was trying to say here:

  • He was not talking about communion. He was talking about the early Church’s habit of gathering over food when they met. When they got together for “Church”, they would eat and drink and celebrate in community, and teaching and prophesy and worship and the other gifts of the Spirit would naturally happen as the night went on.

  • The issue here was not believers being mad with one another over offenses, though that is certainly a problem as well. What was happening was, the Corinthian believers were allowing themselves to be divided by a number of things. Theology, class, nationality. They were separating themselves into different factions of believers, and some of those factions, were mistreating the others. In this particular instance, they were arriving early to “Church” and beginning the feast before the “have nots” arrived. They were getting drunk and eating gluttonously, leaving very little for the rest of the body to eat and drink.

Basically, Paul had heard that the Corinthian believers were allowing their differences to become the focus of their interactions with one another, and much of this letter is Paul very firmly correcting that behavior. Not the differences themselves, but the division those differences were inspiring. His heart here was not to comment on anyone's eating or drinking habits, but to challenge them to understand that their love for one another was far too precious to abandon for anything.

The love that exists in the body of Jesus is meant to be a force that unites us in this mission of reaching the world and satisfying the heart of God. When we allow petty differences, whether they are regarding theology or class or race or gender, to divide us, we are dividing the very body of Jesus and rendering it incomplete. This is a serious matter.

Community matters to God.

It is very clear from reading Paul's correction of the Corinthians that the concept of Christian unity is not one that we can afford to be wrong about. Many of the actual practices of the Church are perfectly acceptable to adapt to the individual identity and "flavor" of your Church. It is fine to worship with a guitar instead of singing A Capella as many of the early Churches did. There is nothing wrong with having grape juice with dinner instead of wine if your Church doesn't like to drink alcohol. If your community prefers to take turns praying, instead of everyone joining the cacophony of intercession that early believers engaged in, God still answers prayer. But at the end of the day, if community is not central to the practices of the Church - if everyone is not embraced on an equal and intimate footing - then you have failed to behave in a way that honors the design of God for His Church.

In Christ, as Paul goes on to say in the next chapter of his letter, we are many members of one body. We were meant to do this TOGETHER.

However, it is important to note that there is a major difference between holding each other accountable to the standard of God's Word, and abusing each other because of silly differences.

Many of the things that cause us to look down our noses at our Pastors, our Churches, and our fellow believers are legitimate concerns. Maybe you are worried about the way your Church spends its money. Maybe you think the teaching is far too focused on the elementary aspects of the faith. Maybe you are concerned about your Pastor’s silence on issues of social injustice or even sin. I don’t know what your concerns are, and I refuse to just generally dismiss them. The likelihood is that the things you are concerned about are legitimate.

The question, however, is whether they give you license to abuse the body of Jesus.

In case you were wondering, the answer to that question is always a resounding no.

Does that mean that it is wrong to leave your Church if you have issue with the way it is being run?

That is an incredibly important question, and one I would like to give its proper respect. So I will be addressing it in a separate blog on Monday (the 10th) ! Obviously, if you know my story, you know what my answer is going to be. But the why matters. (If you don't happen to know my story, feel free to check out my blogs, Why I Left The Church and How I Can Believe In Unity And Still Leave The Church, to prepare yourself for Monday! In the meantime, please comment your questions or thoughts on this blog below, or if you would like to contribute a thought toward Monday’s topic, go ahead and shoot me an email at michael@michaellaborn.com

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