(I wrote this meditation to go with a sermon titled “Christians Are The Body Of Christ”)
The church at Corinth had a problem. It was badly infected with the “Me First” virus. In 1st Corinthians chapters 1 through 3, Paul pointed out that the Christians were squabbling over whose conversion was the most valid or authentic. They were also fighting about who was the wisest.
In chapter 4 they were bragging about how superior they were to Paul.
In chapter 5 they were boasting about how progressive and tolerant they were about alternate lifestyles.
In chapter 6 they were fussing about rights. They were taking each other to court to get what they wanted.
Also in chapter six we see that some were putting a priority on pleasure and satisfying their own sexual desires.
Chapter 7 tells us they were having problems in regard to marriage. Again, their emphasis seemed to be on putting themselves, and what they wanted, first.
Chapter 8 deals with food. People at Corinth were going down to the pagan temples for dinner without thinking about what kind of example they were setting for their fellow believers.
In chapter 9 Paul explains how he set his own rights aside in order to better serve the people in the church.
In chapter 10 Paul returns to the subject of eating meat sacrificed to idols. However, this time he approaches it from a different angle. Apparently there were quite a few people in the church who liked to eat out. “Hey, the temple of Apollo serves a pretty mean steak! So, what if you have to give a little bow to the statue before the maitre d’ seats you?”
But Paul points out that this is not as harmless and innocent as people were trying to make it seem. In reality we are not merely individuals, free to do whatever we like. Though we are individuals, we are also a part of a greater whole. Paul makes his argument by referring to Communion. In doing so he introduces a new term, “the body of Christ.” In verses 15 through 17 he says, “I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (1 Corinthians 10:15-17 NIV)
Now Paul had already used the term “body” in this letter. However, he used it to refer to an individual’s own physical body. Here, though, he uses the word to refer to the church as a whole. All of us who participate in the loaf and cup of Communion form one body. Even when we act as individuals we also, in a sense, represent the entire body – that is, the church. What we do is not just our own business – it affects the entire body.
Paul goes on to warn that the meat down at the temple has been sacrificed to demons. As part of the body of Christ, it’s totally inappropriate for us to also fellowship or participate with demons. The two communions are mutually exclusive.
Then, in verse 24 Paul lays down a principle which we should take into account in everything we do, “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:24 NIV) He expands the principle in verses 31 through 33, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10:31-33 NIV)
In the first part of chapter 11, Paul talks about authority. Unfortunately, when people read it they get so wrapped up arguing about head coverings that they miss the whole point – that is that we need to defer to one another within the authority structure which God has established. I shouldn’t insist on doing only what I want. Instead I need to realize that Christ is the head. It is He who should control the entire body.
Then, in the last part of chapter 11, Paul applies these concepts and principles to the church’s practice of taking the Lord’s Supper or Communion. To understand what he says, please realize that, in those days, the church took the Communion during an actual meal. Let’s read starting in verse 17.
“In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!” (1 Corinthians 11:17-22 NIV)
I said that the church at Corinth had a problem with “Me First!” Here we see a horrible example of it. When they came to the table it was “Me First, Me First!” As a result some took way too much and some didn’t get any food at all. Can you imagine someone actually getting drunk on the Communion wine during the church service? Well, they were doing it at Corinth and, in the process, were forgetting the whole purpose of their getting together. The meal was intended as a means to an end, not the end itself.
If the purpose isn’t to have a good feed, then what is the purpose of the Lord’s Supper? Paul already told us what one of the purposes is – it is to commune or share with one another and with Christ.
In verses 23 through 26 Paul tells us two more purposes for the Supper. It is to remember and to proclaim. By means of the meal we remember the covenant Christ has made with us, and we proclaim His death and second coming.
In verses 27 and following, Paul applies what he’s been saying to each one of us personally, “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-33 NIV)
I want to emphasize that phrase, “recognizing (or as your translation may say, discerning) the body of the Lord. Paul has already defined the “body of the Lord” as the church. In the context, to partake of the bread and cup in an unworthy manner is to think of ourselves first, without considering our fellow believers. Just how aware are we of each other – each other’s joys, sorrows, heartaches and blessings?
Today as we eat the bread and drink the cup let’s not be like the “Me First!” Corinthians and so bring judgment on ourselves. Instead, let’s learn to wait for one another, to put one another first, to seek what is good for the other members of Christ’s body.