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In this passage we discover more about divisions in the church. They are not only related to who is following whom, but are more fundamental, in the essence of people’s attitudes to one another. In the very meal that is meant to represent sharing and fellowship, there are symptoms of uncaring division. What is the point of coming together as a church if not to demonstrate love for one another and build each other up?
Paul therefore declares that the meal they are sharing is not the Lord’s supper, and their gathering together does more harm than good. In the first century, Christians ate a full meal together to commemorate Jesus’ death, not just the little cup of juice and piece of bread which we use today. But the Corinthians were treating the moment not as a holy sacrament or remembrance, but as an opportunity to feast. However, the poor were not getting food and others were eating and drinking to excess. This was not the intent of the occasion, Paul implies. It is in this context that he writes the words which most of us know by heart from the church liturgy (verses 23-27). Taking the bread and the cup are symbolic proclamations of our union in Jesus’ death and the beginning of the promised new covenant. It should demonstrate the believers’ fellowship together, not be an example of division within the church. Such ugly behavior is the reason Jesus went to the cross in the first place, suffering punishment for the sins of humanity.
The next part of the passage is a curious exposition regarding judgment. Paul uses the usual word for judgment, krino, and also diakrino, usually translated as ‘discern’ and katakrino, usually translated as ‘condemn’. The way I read it is this: The one who eats and drinks the bread and wine at the Lord’s supper brings judgment on herself if she does so without being aware of the Lord’s body, that is the church; if we are properly aware of ourselves then we will not be judged; though when we are judged by the Lord it is for discipline’s sake, so that on the final day of judgment we will not be condemned. The interesting thing here is that there does seem to be a temporal judgment, that the Lord exercises punishment on his people – in this case in the form of illness and even death – as a disciplinary measure before the day of final judgment.
Is it possible that some of our bad experiences on this earth are judgment in order to direct us back towards the Lord? This is a common theme in the Bible (eg Amos 4:6-12). As I look back over 2020, with its fires, floods, locusts, and other plagues, I can’t help wondering whether God is trying to catch the attention of humanity. We must be careful in our application, however, because not every bad thing that happens is as a result of our (or someone else’s) sin. Job is an obvious case in defense of this point. What we need to remember is that, before pointing the finger at others, discernment must start with me, my own character, my own selfishness and sinfulness. Am I waiting for the other, being generous with the other, building up the body? Or am I guilty of breaking the Lord’s body and pouring out his blood?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, give me discernment of my own sins. I thank you that you died for me, that you took the punishment, and opened the way for me to be friends with God. Help me to be someone who builds and honors your body.