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Discerning the Body

July 24, 2022 Preacher: Kevin Godin Series: Growing in Grace

Topic: The Lord's Supper Scripture: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Sermon Text:

Normally St. Patrick’s Day is a regular day for my family except that Beth will prepare a corned beef dinner. We don’t celebrate it but this year I happened to be travelling and my hotel was smack in the center of the festivities, which went on all evening. The more I reflected on what was going on around me, the more I realized how much the real Patrick would have hated it. What was being celebrated was really the opposite of what he dedicated his life to. Rather than honoring Patrick, the celebration denied what he lived for. Today we will look at a similar disconnect that Paul addresses in the church at Corinth.

We are continuing our series Growing in Grace, working our way passage by passage through the book of 1 Corinthians, hearing God’s instructions on how to live as those transformed by His grace. You may recall that in chapter 11 Paul has shifted his attention to issues related to the worship services in Corinth. In the first part of the chapter, he dealt with women’s head coverings and here beginning in verse 17, he is going to rebuke them for the way they were celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

They were going through the motions of worshipping through the Lord’s Supper but in a way that denied the reality and power of what they were supposed to be celebrating. Paul’s main point, and the main point of the message this morning is we cannot celebrate the sacrifice of Christ in worship if we deny its power in fellowship. Let me say that again, we cannot celebrate the sacrifice of Christ in worship if we deny its power in fellowship.

If our coming together in fellowship does not illustrate the gospel, then our worship is false and provokes God. This is a serious assertion, and the apostle uses strong language to make his point so let’s see what the Lord has for us to see. If you have your Bible, please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 11:17. If you are using the blue Bible we provide, it is on page 1196. If you do not own a Bible or have need of one, please take that one as our gift to you.

Paul says,

17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.


He had previously commended them but in this matter, he cannot. This isn’t just a matter of needing to be better informed, this is a problem that needs to be addressed. Paul introduces what follows with a sense of seriousness and urgency. Worship meetings should be a blessing to believers, but here he says that what they do when they come together actually makes them worse off! Friends, it is possible for a worship service to so dishonor Christ that it is better to not go than to participate and that is what Paul says is going on here. He says,


18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.


We knew from earlier in the letter that these Corinthians were separating themselves into factions and some thought they were spiritually superior to others. Here Paul makes an ironic and ominous observation. Those people causing divisions and separating themselves into elite groups are proving that some are more spiritually mature than others, but not in the way they think. I think Paul is saying that those who do this end up proving not their maturity, but that they are not genuine Christians. Paul then gets right to the heart of the matter,


20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses 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 commend you in this? No, I will not.


There are a few things to keep in mind about church meetings at that time. Although in some cases public buildings were used, usually the church met in the homes of wealthier members. Most scholars believe there were no more than 100 to 150 people in the Corinthian church when Paul wrote to them. They seem to be meeting in the homes of prominent members. At this time, they also celebrated communion with a full meal. This meal was a regular part of the weekly gathering on the Lord’s Day.


What is happening here is that the wealthy and elite members are feasting while the members of lower social status are left the scraps if anything. They were not waiting for one another, the first in were taking all the food. Paul says they were drinking so much they were even getting drunk, while nothing was left for those further down the line!


Have you ever been invited to a celebration, maybe a graduation party or wedding reception, but you had to work and so by the time you showed up dinner was over, and you were left picking through what was left? Wondering how long that potato salad has been sitting there and if it is worth the risk? It was something like that.


I can imagine situations where both masters and house servants were believers and the servants are treated like servants rather than brothers and sisters when the home was hosting the church. Whatever the specific reasons, these Corinthians were distorting the very meaning of the Lord’s Supper in the way they celebrated it. Paul is saying that although they are going through the motions of worship, they are not actually participating in worship. They are not actually eating the Lord’s supper.


Paul is going to take them back to basics and instruct them properly. He begins by reminding them of how the Supper was instituted and how they came to know about it. We read this text each week when we celebrate the meal, but let’s take a moment to look at this more closely.


23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.


Paul is clear that the ordinance came from Jesus and Paul passed it on to them as he received it. He mentions that the supper was instituted on the night Jesus was betrayed. It never struck me that Paul points this out until this week but the reference to betrayal reminds us that from the very beginning this meal has been at risk of being eaten by those who fail to live out its meaning. Judas ate this meal with Jesus. He dipped his bread with the Lord and then betrayed him. We should not think that this meal conveys any blessing apart from faith.


Paul points out that Jesus gave thanks. Even as he faced the certainty of death on the cross, Jesus was thankful to God for his blessings and shared them with his followers. He knew what was coming but unlike the Corinthian elite, he was willing to suffer and be humbled so that others could receive the fullness of blessing. Jesus says “This is my body, which is for you.”


It can easily be missed that this “you” for which he gives his body is plural. A southern translation would be clearer, This is my body, which is for y’all”, or maybe in Pittsburgh, “fer yinz”. For whom does he give his body? Not for the elite Christians only. Not for the prominent or wealthy. Not only for those who read dense theology books. He gave himself for everyone who would believe in him. Christ died for his church. If you have just the tiniest sliver of saving faith? Christ died for you. Is your faith weak and inconsistent? He gave himself for you. Maybe you struggle every day with assurance and insecurity. If so, understand that you stand before God with the same blood-bought righteousness as the greatest saints who ever lived.


There is no person apart from Christ who is not a sinner. There will be no sinner in heaven other than those for whom Jesus gave himself to save. He is the only way, and we add nothing to the finished work of Christ. Every person here this morning and every person this sermon reaches has sinned against God. Every one of us have loved ourselves more than we have loved God and acted in ways that we know are selfish and dishonorable. Even more than that, we know that our hearts cannot be trusted. We know that our natural instinct is to satisfy ourselves even if it violates God’s laws or is unloving to others.


But God is holy, and we will be judged. We all recognize that it is unjust for people who do bad things to get away with them. It is an outrage when the guilty go unpunished. Even criminals and prisoners punish those who violate the rules of their communities. Well, God is perfect in his judgments and so he isn’t going to stop after he judges the most obvious sins. Every sin that has corrupted his perfect creation must be dealt with. He cannot be a righteous judge and let the guilty go free and we are all guilty.


The bad news is we are guilty and have no way to make atonement for our sins. The good news is that God is not only perfect in righteousness, but he is also perfect in love. He sent his son Jesus to live a perfect life as a man, so that he could offer himself in our place. Jesus came to be a substitute for every sinner who would put their trust in him as their savior. Believe in him and your sins are exchanged for his righteousness. In his death, Jesus paid for the sins of all who trust in him. He was crucified, died and was buried, as the penalty for the sins he took upon himself. But three days later, he rose again showing that the debt was paid. He has conquered sin and death.


Now he is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven calling all sinners to repent and trust in Him. He offers us glory in his kingdom if we will humble ourselves now. He offers deliverance from the power of sin in our life if we put our faith in him. If you have not yet trusted in Jesus for your salvation it is no accident that you are hearing this message right now. Come to him while he can be found. Tomorrow is not promised to us. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have done, grace and mercy are offered to those who repent and come in faith.


Jesus says the cup is “the new covenant in my blood”. He is combining two references from the Old Testament. Exodus 24:8 speaks of the blood of the covenant that God made with Israel and Jeremiah 31:31 speaks of the new covenant that God had promised to establish. By combining these two references Jesus is saying that his coming death is the sacrifice that establishes the new covenant.


The old covenant was made during God’s decisive act of delivering his people from slavery in Egypt. The new covenant was made during God’s decisive act of delivering his people from slavery to sin. Both events establish a unique relationship between God and the people he saves, and both are celebrated by a form of this Passover meal. Jesus is establishing a new Passover meal that will remember God’s mighty act in delivering his people.


The old Passover was a celebration of God keeping a promise and a looking forward to the fulfillment of another promise. This is also true of the new Passover, the Lord’s Supper. Both are community celebrations. Salvation comes to individuals as they participate in the community of the faithful that are delivered through the power of God.


When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are rejoicing that God has included us as part of his covenant people through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. We have been joined with those to whom the saving benefits of Christ’s death has been applied. We are the covenant community whose sins have been forgiven and who have been delivered from the power of sin. This is a communal meal, and it is a covenant meal. That is why Paul says,


27 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. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.


When Paul says we must not eat “in an unworthy manner”, that we must be “discerning the body”, or that we will “be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord” we must understand this in the context of his message. We must be careful not to be influenced by superstitions as if these elements themselves have some unique power. That is not what he is saying. Paul is drawing upon the connection between the sacrifice of Christ’s personal body and the church as the body of Christ.


Remember, the Corinthians were taking communion in a way that disgraced other members of Christ’s body. To eat and drink in an unworthy manner is to eat and drink in a way that disrespects, demeans, or humiliates others for whom Christ died. It is to deny with your actions the truth about what Jesus has done that the Supper is intended to communicate. Paul says that we are therefore to examine ourselves.


Paul is not talking about the individualistic self-examination that we often think of when preparing for the Supper. He is calling for an examination related to the covenant that is celebrated. Essentially, he is saying we should examine our own genuineness as we participate. It is a communal as well as individual examination. We are to examine if we are indeed among the covenant people and part of this is to be seen in our relationship with other members of the covenant community.


Back in verse 19 Paul said, “19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” The verb “examine” here in verse 28 is the verb form of the noun translated as “genuine” in verse 19.


Paul is calling for the elite self-assured members who insist upon displaying their high status in the church to rigorously examine themselves in light of the true meaning of the meal to see if they are genuine. Is their celebration in that they are by faith members of Christ’s church, or are they celebrating themselves in the pride of the flesh? How can we celebrate the sacrifice of Christ for all our brothers and sisters, recognize that it is by this grace we all come, and yet humiliate them with worldly distinctions that have no part in the kingdom?


Bible scholar David Garland sums it up quite well,


“To worship Christ in a way that shows disrespect toward those who have been ‘united with the Lord,’ have become ‘one with him in spirit’ (6:17), and who share or participate in his body and blood (10:16) is to sin not just against them but also against the covenant reaffirmed in the meal, against the Lord of the meal and of those brothers and sisters in Christ.”


Therefore, when Paul says in verse 29 that “…anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” He is recognizing the Lord’s Supper as covenant ratifying oath. Whenever two parties made a covenant in ancient times it would be sealed with an oath that included acknowledgment of blessings for those who kept the covenant and curses for those who broke it.


Do you remember back in chapter 10 when Paul described the judgment that came upon the Israelites who died in the wilderness because they failed to remain faithful to the covenant? Paul is drawing upon similar covenant logic here. God has promised deliverance for the faithful. When we come to proclaim our participation in the community of faith, we are to examine ourselves because for an unbeliever to participate as a believer brings judgment.


God has provided salvation in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Our part is to trust in that sacrifice. We are to have faith in God’s promise of salvation based on what Jesus has done, which is what the bread and cup symbolize. If, therefore, one is faithless the death of the sacrifice does not apply to them, and they will bear the curse that befell Christ on themselves.


Think of it this way. Let’s say your father owns a fancy restaurant and invites you to come and eat for free anytime you like. You can show up, eat a delicious steak with all the sides, and then when the bill comes you just tell the waiter to give the bill to your father and you are free to go. Now, suppose you have a friend. He hangs out with you quite a bit and so he knows who your father is and about the restaurant. What happens if he shows up and eats without being invited and tries to do the same thing? He is going to be responsible for his own bill, right? He is acting like a son, but he is not. He has no reason to expect that his debt should be paid by another.


So, it is with us. We are invited to come by faith. We are adopted as sons and daughters by faith. He does not require us to perform to earn anything but if we do not have faith, we are not partakers of the covenant. We can come to church, go on mission trips, and even host the worship services in our homes, but if we do not have faith, we do not have Christ and we are left in our sin. In verse 30 Paul says,


30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.


Many of us come casually before God but to come before the Lord is to understand that we cannot treat that which is holy as profane. It is not the crackers that have been made holy, but the brothers and sisters for whom Jesus died have been. They are saints, sanctified, set apart for God. If we mistreat them as if they were common, we invite judgment. This is not to scare us because Paul makes it clear that the discipline of the Father is for our good. His point is that when we judge ourselves, that is seek to honor God in our fellowship and worship, he need not discipline us.


We do not need to be, as some are, afraid of making a mistake in our celebration. Christ’s body was broken, and his blood was shed for sinners. To try and make ourselves perfect, or to try harder to achieve holiness through our own efforts as though that would please God is the exact opposite of what Paul is calling us to do. What he is calling us to do is to approach the table with humility. Be sure that we do not make a mockery of the celebration by participating if we are not trusting in Christ for our salvation.


But all the faithful are invited. If you are struggling against sin in your life, then look to the elements as God’s reminder and promise to you that he has saved you. If, however, there is sin in your life for which you are not seeking deliverance, then you must examine yourself to see if you are genuine. Why would you be friends with that which seeks to destroy you? If you have the Spirit of Christ, how can you not desire repentance. We need to work through those things before we come to the table.


What Paul shows us here is that examination includes, and in fact is perhaps primarily focused on how we treat others. Perhaps someone has wronged you or done something to hurt you. Resolve that with them because it effects your relationship with God. Remember the main point? we cannot celebrate the sacrifice of Christ in worship if we deny its power in fellowship. We cannot love God if we hate our brother. Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 5:22-24 about how important our relationships to each other are as part of our relationship with God.

22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.


Jesus says if you have a problem with someone, resolving it is so urgent that it takes priority over coming to the worship gathering. Paul says in our passage that if our fellowship with other believers does not reflect Christ’s sacrifice for them, we would be better off not coming. All of this theology then leads Paul to a very simple instruction. He says,


33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.


Paul’s first application was that we are to examine ourselves. His second application is that we are to treat each other as equals in Christ. We are to wait for one another. The purpose of the Lord’s Supper is not to fill our stomachs with food and drink but to fill our minds and souls with the truth of the love of God in Christ. It is truly a meal, but it is a spiritual meal that is to represent the reality of what Christ has done. It is a covenant meal that expresses our unity or communion both with Jesus and with one another.

What makes the Lord’s Supper sacred is not the bread or the cup. It is the presence of God dwelling in each believer here. It is the testimony that God has kept and will keep his promises. The wafers are small, but the Lord’s Supper is a spiritual feast far greater than any earthly meal.

When my sin overwhelms me, I can find healing, reminded of the broken body and shed blood of Christ. When I am tired and unsure if I have the strength to go on, I am reminded that I am sustained and energized by Christ who died for me. When doubts cloud my mind and I worry if God really loves me, I am reminded that God sent his son for me. When I am tempted to lose hope, I am pointed to the fact that he came, and is coming again. And when the devil whispers in my ear that I am alone in these needs, I look with joy to you brothers and sisters who eat and drink with me.

The Lord’s Supper is a picture of the gospel. It is a picture of what God has done and is doing to rescue sinners from this world. It is the privilege of the faithful to participate and it is an expression of our unity not only with Christ, but with one another. Let us pray that the Lord would draw us increasingly closer together, using our gifts to serve one another in love, reminded that we cannot celebrate the sacrifice of Christ in worship if we deny its power in fellowship.

Let’s pray [display the Lord’s Supper slide]

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