A Community View of the Lord’s Supper (part 3)

The first guideline for understanding what “unworthy participation” means is found in 1 Corinthians 10:14 and following. Here Paul warns against the worship of idols. He states in verse 21, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” By participating in idolatry in any form we are forgetting the primacy of Christ in our meal, and are profaning the table.

In 11:17 and following Paul discusses the divisiveness of the church. He warns that they are showing contempt for the church of God. By treating others in a contemptible manner they are likewise profaning the Lord’s Supper. This profanation is liable to the judgment of God, and thus Paul exhorts them to look at their attitudes toward Christ and the church prior to participating in such a solemn moment. They are neither loving God nor loving their neighbor and are thus imperiling their own health.

This is not so much a warning to spend time in quiet reflection as much as it is a reminder that they must be mindful of their behavior at all times, so as to not cause offense.

Verse 29 tells us that indeed those who are not mindful, those who eat and drink without examining themselves are bringing judgment upon themselves. The central phrase here is “without judging correctly the body” for it is this which will bring judgment. What then does it mean to judge the body correctly? A traditional way of understanding is to see this as a warning to have a proper comprehension of the elements, and to take them understanding the grace and/or symbolism which they possess. This implies that verses 23-26 are the central part of the section, rather than part of the total argument.

It is not the words themselves, or the symbolic attachments which Paul puts on the bread and wine, which are the issue here. Gordon Fee says, “Paul’s concern lies elsewhere.” In the context we are discussing, Paul’s emphasis is not on the cultic meaning and definitions, but on the way in which the Corinthians are treating each other. The body, for Paul, must be understood in the context of his wider usage, and cannot simply be limited to the use of the term in verse 24, as referring singly to the physical body of the Lord.

Paul’s very use of the word body is interesting and unique, and he intentionally plays around with the several meanings for which he uses it.

The first meaning is the common understanding of the body being spoken of here as indeed representing the body of Jesus. In 10:16 and following, though, we read of a less quoted interpretation of the body and blood which certainly affects the meaning. Calling the cup the “cup of blessing” and the bread the “body of Christ”, Paul proceeds to explain further his understanding of the “body”. He states that “because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we partake of the one bread.” With this, Paul not only relates the bread to the physical body of Christ, but extends the meaning to include the body of Christ which is the church.

The body metaphor is then later discussed in chapter 12 in a more thorough way, as being descriptive and analogical to the life and activity of the church as a whole. Between 10:17 and chapter 12 we find our passage, and thus must conclude that the imagery of the body as being the church must be what is being referred to in 11:29. Paul is in the midst of a unique metaphor, and is developing it throughout these chapters.

To not judge the body correctly implies that one is not correctly understanding, or discerning, the nature and make-up of the body of Christ which is the church. It is to cause division within the body, because one is not aware of the nature of such a body. The word used here is related to the concept of judgment, and implies a discerning, a recognizing as distinct, and attaining to a correct understanding of the object being scrutinized.

If those in the community do not attain to a correct understanding of the nature of the body, as Paul explains in chapters 12 and following, then they will be bringing judgment upon themselves. Paul is essentially saying here “judge correctly, for you will be judged.” And to treat each other poorly, to act in such a way which devaluates fellow believers, to raise oneself up and push others down, and to act in any way which causes division and hardship within the body is to show that one is not properly understanding the nature of the Church, nor of Christ who is the head of the Church.

The judgment here can be thought of as an unfavorable judicial verdict, coming as the result of transgression, which will lead to punishment. Paul warns the Corinthians that unity is not an option in the church. It is of utmost importance that they view themselves as under Christ and as equals with each other. They must act accordingly during their gatherings together. To fail to act and think in such a way will result in God’s judgment and discipline.

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