Examining Ourselves Rightly

Introduction

The most difficult role for parents or Church leaders, in a similar context, is the role of one who must bring discipline and correction to the family or to the Church Body.  However, the Apostle Paul found himself in this role, as he describes it in his first letter to the Corinthian Church.  Since what follows is such a lengthy passage, we will examine it separately in parts.

Part I

In the first part Paul describes the problems that need to be corrected.  As Paul describes them, they consist of schisms and divisions in the Corinthian Church instead of solid unity:

But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.  (I Corinthians 11:17-19)

Clearly, Paul understands the sinful human nature, for he writes that these factions and divisions have occurred for an all-too-apparent reason:  those who believe themselves to be qualified to lead (those “who are approved”) also desire to be recognized as being in charge (“so that they may become evident among you”).  

Part II

In the second part of the passage taken from his letter, Paul describes an even more troubling problem in the Corinthian Church, one which was probably more prevalent among the believers as a whole:

Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you. (I Corinthians 11:20-22)

When the believers in the Corinthian Church come together, Paul writes, they come to eat and drink, not to “remember” the Lord Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for their redemption from the consequences of their sins.  Instead, they are only concerned about filling their bellies and soothing themselves with alcohol.  Their desire to gorge themselves is so strong that they even compete with one another, leaving some with nothing, while others are bloated with bread and wine.  

Clearly, this description is nothing like the communion observances we have in most protestant churches in our culture today.  As a child, I was struck by the tiny pieces of unsalted crackers that were passed on a silver plate down the rows of pews by the deacons, along with the tiny cups filled with grape juice. There was no way, under the watchful eyes of my parents, I could have filled myself with such small portions of juice and crackers, simply because there wasn’t enough on the plate for anyone to take more than a minimal amount.  

We knew we weren’t sharing a meal. My mother taught me to gaze at the elements after they were passed, while I prayed and asked for forgiveness for my sins, not allowing myself to be distracted by anything around me or spilling what was in my tiny cup.

Part III

Therefore, in the next part of his letter, Paul describes how the Lord’s supper should be observed:

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 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.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. (I Corinthians 11:23-26)

Their purpose in gathering to partake of the bread and wine, therefore, was definitely not to gluttonously fill themselves with bread and wine, but instead to remember what Christ accomplished as the “Lamb of God” by sacrificing His broken body and His blood, as well as to proclaim the victory of His death and resurrection until He comes again.  

For both elements of this Last Supper, the bread and the wine, Jesus asked that they remember Him, His broken body and His sacrificial blood that was spilled for them. And He asked also that they continue to remember Him as often as they celebrated the Last Supper in the future, thereby proclaiming His death and the results of His sacrifice until He comes again.

Part IV

In this next portion of Paul’s exhortation, the Apostle explains not only the proper attitudes the believers in Corinth needed to have while partaking of the Lord’s Supper, but also the proper behaviors they should have as they drink and eat:

27 So then whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in a way that is unworthy [of Him] will be guilty of [profaning and sinning against] the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But a person must [prayerfully] examine himself [and his relationship to Christ], and only when he has done so should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks [without solemn reverence and heartfelt gratitude for the sacrifice of Christ], eats and drinks a judgment on himself if he does not [a]recognize the body [of Christ]. 30 That [careless and unworthy participation] is the reason why many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep [in death]. 31 But if we evaluated and judged ourselves honestly [recognizing our shortcomings and correcting our behavior], we would not be judged. 32 But when we [fall short and] are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined [by undergoing His correction] so that we will not be condemned [to eternal punishment] along with the world. (AMP Version: I Corinthians 11:27-32)

To sum up these admonitions, Paul cautions believers not to eat of the bread or drink from the cup in an “unworthy” manner.  If they do, he writes, they will bring judgment upon themselves for “sinning against” (See above AMP v. 27) the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, resulting in weakness, sickness, or even death (v. 30).

By following and acting upon these admonitions, we will neither incur the consequences of sinning against the Lord’s Body and Blood, nor be “condemned to eternal punishment along with all non-believers” (See v. 32 above):

Instead, Paul’s remedy is that believers need to “judge themselves rightly” so they will not be judged or condemned along with the world (v. 32).  

Part V

Paul’s final teaching on this subject, therefore, entails that believers should “wait for one another,” eating at home rather than using the elements of the Last Supper to satisfy their hunger.  Avoid the temptation, he writes, so that the whole body does not come together “for judgment” (v. 34):  Here is the definitive passage:

So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come. (I Corinthians 11:33-34)

Eating and Drinking the Lord’s Supper Unworthily

What does the Apostle Paul mean when he counsels believers not to eat and drink of the Lord’s Supper “unworthily,” or in an “unworthy manner”?  (See I Corinthians 11:27 in Part IV above.)  

The secret to solving this mystery lies, I believe, in the consequences and ramifications of the incurred judgments, which are “weakness, sickness, or even death.”  Paul writes that we must “judge” and “examine” ourselves  to ensure that we are not
“sinning” against the Body and Blood of Jesus, a sin that may incur weakness, sickness, or even death.  (I Corinthians 11:30)

Most clearly, since Paul is writing to believers in the Corinthian Church, a person cannot participate fully in the Lord’s Supper unless he or she has become a true believer in Jesus Christ and has accepted by faith what He accomplished as the “Lamb of God,” the ultimate and final sacrifice for the sin that separates us from God, our Holy Father.  

This is why even churches that practice “open communion,” or, in other words, churches that allow even non-members of the church to participate in the Lord’s Supper, will most often still warn everyone who partakes to ensure they have committed their hearts and lives to Him, through faith in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice to avoid the results of taking the communion unworthily.  

Paul’s teachings and corrections are definitely directed in his letter to those who have indeed submitted to the Lordship of Jesus, having committed their hearts and lives to Him and become members of the Church of Corinth.  Therefore, we must assume that his injunctions and warnings apply to everyone in the True Church, including all believers in the Church today as well.  

It seems wise to ask, what are we missing from Paul’s message to the whole Church?  Why does it appear that many people today are weak, sick, or even dead?  Are we partaking of the Lord’s Supper unworthily?  Have we diminished the significance of the communion sacrament and disregarded the implications of not examining ourselves according to Christ’s own guidelines?

I believe the key to discovering the meaning of this mystery is found in the following passage from John’s Gospel:

After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:28-30)

This is what Dr. Michael Brown writes about John’s description of Christ’s final moments on the cross:

What did Jesus mean when He uttered the words “It is finished!” in John 19:30?

The phrase actually translates one word in Greek, tetelestai, from the root teleō, which means “to finish, fulfill.”

Significantly, this specific form of the verb, tetelestai, is only found twice in the entire New Testament, both times in John 19.

In fact, the two occurrences of tetelestai are found within three verses of each other: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ … When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:28, 30).

Do you see that? Although the verb teleō occurs 28 times in the New Testament, the form tetelestai is found only twice, and those two occurrences are in the same context, right next to each other, making the meaning perfectly clear.

Jesus was saying, “Mission accomplished! Everything that had to be done has been done! It is finished!” (Source: Click Here to View Brown’s article)

First of all, therefore, Jesus asks for something to quench His thirst in order to “fulfill the Scripture.”  See the prophecy in the Psalms:

They also gave me gall for my food
And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. (Psalms 69:21)

Then, when He has received the sour wine from the sponge held up to Him, He says, “It is finished!” and “gives up His spirit” in death.  

We learn from this passage that, even on the cross, Jesus was intent on ensuring that all of the prophecies found in the Old Testament concerning His atoning death were fulfilled and “accomplished” before He gave up His life.  Jesus then declared that His mission was finished: He had completed all that had been prophesied and that His Father had planned in sending His only Son to be sacrificed.

What is probably missing in our participations in the times for ‘rembrance” during communion, therefore, concerns our inability to acknowledge and receive the fulness of what Christ came to accomplish on the Cross.  These relate to the three conditions that result from our not holding fast in faith to what He “finished”: His triumph over weakness, sickness, and death on our behalf.  

In Remembrance of Him

One passage in the Book of Hebrews states this idea in specific terms:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Clearly, many believers in the Early Church, just as in churches today, needed to be reminded about “remembering,” or the acknowledgement in faith and the appropriation of the magnificent provisions of Christ’s sacrifice on the Church’s behalf.  What does this mean?

Particularly as we “remember” Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, we need to focus on receiving “mercy and finding grace in times of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Since Jesus Himself was tempted just as we are, yet He did not fall into sin, we need to identify with the One who overcame all of the consequences of all sin.  

Jesus could vicariously sympathize with us, when the sins of the world were placed on Him, while identifying Himself as the One who took the punishment for all of our sins, receiving in His own Body on the Cross the consequences of sin as He suffered and died, even to the point of being “forsaken” by His Father because of those sins (see Mark 14:34 and Matthew 27:46).  

While in the Garden praying, Jesus knew not only what He would suffer physically on the cross, but also what He would endure while having the sins of the world placed on Him.  Imagine what He must have experienced, for He was without sin and knew no sin, yet suddenly while on the Cross He felt the sins of a world filled with wickedness placed on Himself, the spotless Lamb of God.

As a result of His willingness to receive this judgment, the consequences of sin were done away with, including weakness, sickness, and even death.  Therefore, Jesus Himself, as our propitiation for our sin, endured weakness, sickness, and death for the first time in His life, suffering not only death and entombment, but also three days and nights in Hell itself.  Is it any wonder why He asked His Father. . . 

“Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Jesus was in such agony over what He would experience and endure that He suffered from hematidrosa (or “sweating blood”) (See definition of “hematidrosa” caused by extreme stress“). Yet even knowing what He would experience, He was willing to take our place and drink the cup offered to Him.  

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. (I Peter 2:24)

And beforehand, during the Last Supper with His disciples, He broke the bread and offered the cup to demonstrate to them how they could remember His sacrifice on their behalf.  Consequently, we today have also been instructed how to identify with Jesus’s offer of redemption through His own death, finding eternal life also through His resurrection.

Conclusion

Whenever I send a package via United Parcel Service, I receive a “tracking number” so that I can determine the progress of the package as it is being delivered.

In the same way, the Lord has given us a means of tracking our own progress as Christians in the ways of the Lord.  We daily need to examine and judge ourselves completely, while identifying with Jesus Christ and holding fast our confession of faith.

However, we also need especially to remember His accomplished work on the cross as we take communion, in order not to be judged and suffer the weaknesses, sickness, and even death that have fallen on some believers. We need to judge ourselves continually and appropriate by faith all that the Lord Jesus purchased for us when He drank the cup that was given to Him according to the will of His Father in Heaven.

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