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… 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. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
— 1 Corinthians 11:23, 27-32
The Apostle Paul began his hard letter to the Corinthian Christians by reminding them of the amazing grace they had received in Christ Jesus: “You were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge...so that you were not lacking in any gift.” (1 Cor 1:5, 7). He thanked God for them, and reminded them that the Lord would faithfully “sustain them to the end” (1 Cor 1:8). In real time, that grace included Paul himself (founder, “master builder,” teacher), the hospitality and provision of Priscilla and Aquila, and the eloquent preaching of Apollos. A question naturally arises: How could a church so advantaged struggle so mightily? And if that wasn’t enough, the most important phrase in Paul’s greeting was that they had been called into personal “fellowship (kοινωνία) with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
So what went wrong?
By all appearances the saints in Corinth were simply not living up to their name. Their selfish, worldly, un-Christlike behavior revealed their disconnect with Jesus. Discrimination, broken relationships and factions flowered and the weeds began to choke the healthy plants. It is not surprising that such attitudes and behaviors spilled over and infected the most sacred rhythms in their communal worship. How painfully ironic when the very rites that are designed to strengthen our bonds as brothers and sisters in Christ, would instead devolve into venues leading to further damage. Thankfully, gardens can be weeded. Paul provides the principle remedy in our passage.
“Let a person examine themselves…” In this instance, Paul assumed his friends (and we) understand what we are to do with the results of our self-examination. A repentant lifestyle includes an ongoing thread of confession, “for we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). But that first step can be tricky, right? Sometimes a quick glance in the mirror is sufficient and we see what we need to see. More often than not, we need to take a longer, closer look.
Please consider these suggestions:
We can’t afford to underestimate our fleshly inclinations to blameshift and rationalize in our relational conflicts. As skilled as we are at diagnosing wrongdoing in others (and rendering hasty judgments), we are often astonishingly slow to recognize our own sin, or worse, blind to it altogether. Understanding these unhelpful tendencies should slow us down in our own personal assessments. Positively and thankfully, the Holy Spirit shines brightly in the dark places when we humble ourselves and ask God to “search our hearts” (Psalm 139:23, 24).
We need healthy doses of Scripture to adequately hold up a mirror to our soul. I’ve found that reading and meditating on the lists contrasting the fruits of ‘flesh’ and ‘Spirit’ speeds up self-diagnosis dramatically (Gal. 5:16-26; all of James(!); Romans 12:9-21). The Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-9) remind us of the very nature of God. A good rule of thumb: The good fruits of our examination and confession should be nothing less than a changed heart. We begin to see Jesus in the mirror.
Paul’s words may confuse or frighten us, but the most hopeful portion of this passage is arguably the suggestion of God’s discipline. Paul had already reminded the believers in Corinth that they were invited into fellowship with the Lord of the universe. When we stray, Jesus will shepherd us with compassion and kindness for sure, but it may also be necessary to discipline us, even severely. There is simply too much at stake. This holy jealousy inspires me to embrace my responsibility to regularly judge myself, so that He doesn’t have to.
May the Lord bless you as you seek Him with all of your heart!
Father, as I hold up the mirror of Your word and invite You to search my heart, I pray that You would bring to my mind and my attention everything I need to see. Thank You for Your stunning provision in Jesus. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit that I may better resemble You. Amen.
Ministry Director, Christian Union Gloria (Harvard College)
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