LET A MAN EXAMINE HIMSELF
By Steve Zeisler
This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the state of
Israel. In the same year, 1948, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. A
Bedouin shepherd boy, searching for his sheep in the desolate Judean wilderness,
disturbed a rock which fell into a hole in the ground, shattering something
below. The boy investigated and discovered that the rock had broken a clay
pot in which lay a number of vellum scrolls. He sold the scrolls to a friend,
who later sold them to an antique dealer. This man kept the scrolls in a
shoe box under his bed, not realizing the value and uniqueness of what he
Today, Jews from all over the world visit the shrine of the book in Jerusalem
to gaze upon the scrolls. They are awed that in the very year when Israel
was founded God bestowed upon them the Scriptures in a way that was almost
as dramatic and miraculous as the occasion when God himself spoke from Mt.
Sinai. The scrolls are now the most priceless possession of the nation.
There are even some "Indiana Jones"-type stories told about the
acquisition of this treasure-quite a contrast to the initial discovery which,
as we have seen, was marked by people's ignorance as to what they held in
This is the point I want to bring home to us as we look at a section from
chapter 11 of Paul's first Corinthian letter. Christians have the priceless
treasure of the presence of God in their lives but they frequently undervalue
the truth, and at times fail to see people as God sees them. This is the
problem which Paul addresses in the eleventh chapter of this letter, charging
the Corinthians with failing to value their fellow-men or the truth of Scripture
1 Corinthians 11:17:
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,
in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you.
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.
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.
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy
manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But let a
man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does
not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and
sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we should
not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in
order that we may not be condemned along with the world. 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 may not come together for judgment. And
the remaining matters I shall arrange when I come.
WORDS OF ADVICE ON THE LOVE FEAST
The apostle began this chapter by praising the Corinthians for their observance
of public worship because, in his words, they "held firmly to the traditions."
There were good and praiseworthy elements about their worship. But when
he comes to the issues which he raises in our text this morning, he has
no words of praise for them. On the contrary, they are in need of correction,
he declares. Division and schism within the Corinthian church were the basic
problem, according to Paul. That is why he uses these stern words to the
believers in that church.
But, having chastised them for their divisions, in verse 19 the apostle
makes the comment that "there must be factions among you, in order
that what is approved may have become evident among you." In every
Christian body there will be differences of opinion, in other words. People
do not see eye to eye in all situations. Granted the opportunity, some would
change the way things are done in the church. Christian unity does not mean
that Christians should be in absolute agreement about everything. Thus,
debate and discussion over issues makes evident what God approves of. We
are all familiar with that process here in Peninsula Bible Church. But it
is wrong for Christians to be divided, to lose fellowship with one another,
to band together and exclude others. It is all right to debate, to engage
and learn from each other, but this was not happening in Corinth. There
were divisions and schisms among the brethren there, and that was something
which the apostle could not praise them for.
We should make the point that Christian worship in the first century modeled
itself on the Jewish form of worship. We find two manifestations of such
worship in this chapter. First, when a group of believers met together in
a setting much like a synagogue, they read the Scriptures, prayed, prophesied
and heard the word of God preached. Verses 2-16 are written with such a
service in mind. A second significant manifestation of worship is discussed
beginning in verse 17. The agape or love feast was also borrowed from Judaism.
Believers met together, either in a home or outdoors, to share a time of
fellowship over food, much like the Jewish feasts of Purim or Passover.
We learn from Acts 2 that this was a regular occurrence in the life of the
early church. In our last study we saw that there was inappropriate use
of gifts in the Corinthians' worship services of the first type. And here,
as Paul makes reference to their love feasts, he comments on some inappropriateness
in their meetings. Instead of sharing their food and rejoicing together
over a meal, recognizing that it was during a meal that Jesus directed his
followers as to how they should remember him, a spirit of selfishness and
division prevailed among them. Cliques and factions dominated. The high
and mighty flaunted their positions. The poor and the slaves were set aside
and left hungry. Far from expressing love and a sense of community, their
love feasts were marked by selfishness and division.
As a church, we occasionally have love feasts (pot-luck dinners, we call
them), where as a body we meet for fellowship. But there are dozens of other
occasions when the essence of the love feast takes place. For instance,
we meet for coffee on the patio between services on Sunday. A couple of
our Sunday School groups serve food before their meetings. These are occasions
when we recognize that as Christians we belong to each other. Wedding receptions
too are times when the concept of the love feast is realized among us. Pancake
breakfasts, pie socials, shared bag lunches, all of these things are a type
of love feast
As I was preparing this message on Friday last in my study at home, I was
thinking how I could best illustrate this idea of the love feast. My thinking
kept being interrupted, however, by a steady stream of conversation, laughter
and the noise of dishes being set out in our livingroom. My wife was hosting
a ladies' brunch and among the women present were a grandmother, a young
wife expecting her first child, a new Christian, and several mature women
in Christ. They were meeting together because they all love Jesus Christ
and each other. I should have thanked them for picturing for me what the
apostle is talking about here in this chapter. Then yesterday, I was among
a group of fathers who took their first grade sons to the beach for a day's
fishing, food and fellowship. That too was a love feast, as men and boys
met together to share their love for Christ and for one another.
Paul is saying that this should always be characteristic of Christians,
that we have times for fellowship and food, without exclusivity, gluttony,
or factions. While they did have love feasts in Corinth, the apostle says
that these times were not characterized by love but rather by selfishness
Greedy consumption of food is not the only way in which Christians can allow
selfishness to divide them. There are other kinds of advantages which we
can hoard to ourselves instead of sharing. Some people walk into a room
and it seems everyone wants to greet them. One who has standing in the church,
either because of the number of years he has attended, or the contacts he
has made, can bask in the glory of that, or he can share it with those who
feel they are on the outside. Social standing therefore can be used to include
or exclude others. Parents who have successful, impressive children at times
makes less fortunate parents feel put down and set aside. People who have
traveled widely, or who have been blessed materially, can at times make
those who are not as blessed feel excluded. But the Christian love feast
should be all-inclusive and all-embracing. When we meet together we ought
to look for ways to honor and draw into fellowship with us those who perhaps
are less favored among us.
Next weekend we hold our annual Family Camp in the Sierras. There will be
all age groups there-young, old, single, married. We will be worshiping
together, eating and playing together. What an opportune time for us as
a Christian family to ensure that no one feels excluded. Let us look for
ways to honor those who feel thus, and not form into factions and groups
seeking to minister only to ourselves.
So Paul begins this section with a strong admonishment to the Corinthians
for their failure in these areas. These negative things occur because we
do not value one another highly enough. The poor, the socially awkward,
the new, the different, those whom the Lord calls his sons and daughters,
who are being conformed to his image, are often set aside. Like the Bedouin
boy who discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls, we fail to recognize the priceless
qualities of those who surround us. When we learn to see one another as
Christ sees us, however, then the idea of excluding anyone else will be
abhorrent to us.
RIGHTLY CELEBRATING THE LORD'S SUPPER
The second element of the love feasts which were held in Corinth, the communion
table itself, was observed in commemoration of the last meal which Jesus
ate with his disciples. Then, Jesus instituted the observance that Christians
for all time should remember him by partaking of bread and wine in his honor.
But here, too, there were abuses by the Corinthians in the celebration of
the Lord's Supper. They were perfunctory in their observance of it and had
diminished it in importance. Not only was that wrong, Paul warns that it
may be deadly. Referring to that supper, the apostle says it was held on
the night when Jesus was "betrayed." Many things happened that
night. Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane; he washed the disciples'
feet, etc. Yet Paul identifies that evening as the night when our Lord was
betrayed. I feel that the apostle is is making a direct reference to the
Corinthians here, indicating that they too were betraying Jesus by their
actions at communion. They were not observing the Lord's Supper in worshipful
memory of him, nor were they sitting down together as one body in Christian
fellowship. If we misuse the Lord's Supper, we too will be found to be a
church which has betrayed the Savior.
Here is how Paul describes the institution of the Lord's Supper: "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.'" If your translation reads, "This
is My body which is broken for you," it has not been taken from the
better manuscripts. The statement which Jesus actually made is, "This
is My body which is for you." The body of Jesus was intact upon death.
Not one of his bones were broken, in accordance with Old Testament prophecy.
Jesus wants us to recall the incarnation when we take the bread. God became
human for us. He left his throne in glory, becoming the humblest of men,
born in a stable. But that, according to the writer of Hebrews, is why Jesus
can well understand our weaknesses and why he is able to minister to us.
He suffered as we suffer; he experienced sorrow as deep as anything we feel.
He is personally knowledgeable about you and the situation you are facing.
He could find no expression of his love for us more powerful than the expression
he made in becoming a man. The incarnation (his body) is supremely God's
statement that he is for us.
Then Jesus took the cup, which he described as "the new covenant in
My blood." His blood was poured out for us. The great covenants between
God and humanity in the Old Testament were always sealed by the shedding
of blood to illustrate their solemnity. If the body of Jesus represents
the personal involvement of Jesus with us, his tenderness, love and closeness
with us, then his blood is a statement of covenant, and as such is the most
far-reaching action he can take in our behalf. When warring nations today
enter agreements to end the state of warfare between them, they save thousands
of lives by their decision. Covenants are the means by which fortunes are
transferred from one generation to another. But when God makes a covenant,
he acts in a way that no one can dissuade him; he will not change. Thus,
believers are assured of their inheritance because God made a covenant in
the blood of his Son. Because God gave his word the power of sin is broken,
its stains cleansed, and our certain future is assured. That is the new
covenant, the new agreement between God and man. God has committed himself
and he will not change.
This is what Christians are to remember: the great, personal involvement
of God in the incarnation, and the blood of Jesus shed on our behalf in
order to make us right with God. Let us not trivialize these memories by
the way we partake in the Lord's Supper.
The past, present and future are all witnessed to here. The past, because
we remember something that took place in history; the present, because right
now we hold bread and drink in our hands in order to elicit the memory;
the future, because of Paul's words "in these things you proclaim the
Lord's death until He comes." Each time we partake of these elements
we proclaim to the world who we are in Christ; and we will proclaim this
until He comes again, when all eyes will see him and every knee shall bow
Having recalled the words of Jesus, what problem is Paul suggesting the
Corinthians were guilty of here? It is the same problem we have when we
do not place sufficient value on the people next to us, and when we do not
value highly enough the life and death of Christ; when we treat it as if
it were not a very big deal, not sacred or remarkable, as the shepherd boy
did with the Dead Sea Scrolls. This is what will happen with us if we are
not taken by the truth, if we undervalue the life and sacrifice of Christ.
JUDGING OURSELVES RIGHTLY
That is why Paul goes on to say that Christians should examine themselves:
"If you eat and drink this meal in an unworthy manner," says the
apostle, "you will find yourself as those who crucified Jesus, guilty
of the body and blood of the Lord." This examination which Paul speaks
of is not to be undertaken so as to discover what is not really there. He
is not laying a guilt trip on the Corinthians. The examination is really
for the purpose of saying, "Lord, if you have been speaking to me about
something, I want to agree with you." It is not to dredge up things
that will make us feel bad, but to ask the Lord, "What is it in me
that you want to address?" It is God's examination of us, and our agreeing
Let me recall two things that might help our examination. Verse 21 of chapter
10 says, "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."
One thing you can ask yourself about in this examination is double-mindedness.
Is there a dual loyalty in your life? Are you trying to be committed to
righteousness and unrighteousness at the same time? We might also recall
the word "betrayal" in 11:23 when we examine ourselves. Have we
accepted some payoff from the world to abandon our loyalty to Christ? Those
are the kinds of questions you should ask in your self-examination. The
intent here is not to create an emotional response but to hear from the
living Lord about himself, and then to agree with him.
Paul says that there is a discipline that follows those who are cavalier
about these things, a discipline that includes failing health, even death
itself-which is probably a specific reference to something that happened
in Corinth. But certainly this discipline includes a deterioration in one's
life, or marriage. We think we are fooling the Lord, and then life suddenly
begins to go to hell in a hand-basket. It is exactly this problem of saying
that what Christ says is valuable is not valuable. We should rightly judge
the body, Paul says. That probably is referring to the corporate body of
Christ as well as the sacrificed limbs and heart of Jesus himself. We should
give weight and glory to the body of Christ among whom we sit, and to the
body of Jesus on the cross.
As we come to the communion table, we may want to ask ourselves whether
we have been loveless toward our fellow-believers. Has the Lord been speaking
to us and we have not been paying attention to him? Let us examine our hearts
in light of the truth of God.
Catalog No, 4072
1 Cor. 11:17-34
May 22, 1988
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