There is a rather intriguing and mysterious passage in the Bible found in the book of 1 Corinthians chapter 11, in which Paul seeks to correct some of the abuses that were happening in relation to the Lord’s supper. Paul’s main concern seems to be that this celebration of the Lord’s Supper should be done in a way pleasing to God. This is because Jesus Christ Himself commanded it to be done. And Paul writes:
“Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood[d] 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 in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.”
(1 Corinthians 11:27-32)
Now Paul’s primary concern is that we do things rightly but he mentions here, almost parenthetically, a consequence that was happening to these Corinthians because they were NOT doing things in the write way. They were eating and drinking the Lord’ Supper in an unworthy manner. They were also NOT discerning the Lord’s body in the matter. And one of the consequences for the church was that many were weak and sick among them, and some had even died. This Paul explains as being a JUDGMENT from God. When we are judged by God, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.
Wow, there is a lot to explore in this passage …
When we look at the context of this passage, we see that the church were getting drunk on the Lord’s supper, and eating greedily, without considering others, or waiting for others. They were rude, selfish and self-indulgent in their way of handling the matter, and they were coming under judgment.
Is this all it means by “not discerning the Lord’s body”? This is a negative statement by Paul. He talks about something they WERE NOT doing. But one might ask, “What DOES it mean to discern the Lord’s body?” And how does one do it? Is it simply a matter of “waiting for one another” and “not getting drunk”? Or is there more to it? And are there any blessings associated with discerning the Lord’s body?
Where is the Lord’s Body in the Lord’s Supper?
There are deep mysteries involved in the Lord’s Supper, and Christians of different traditions and understandings PRECISELY because the full understanding of the matter is not spelled out in Scripture. Some things are clear and others have been hotly contested over the years.
I am not going to speak dogmatically on this, but rather present some thoughts that I believe are relevant and also in harmony with this passage and other passages in the Scripture.
There are three different kinds of mentions of “the Lord’s Body” at least in Scripture. The first and most obvious one is the physical body of Jesus of Nazareth through which He did so many amazing things for people and for us all. The most important thing that Jesus did through his physical body was to offer it up for us all as a sacrifice on the cross. The precious body of Jesus was “broken” on the cross, and blood was also shed.
Clearly in celebrating the Lord’ supper we are doing this in remembrance of the Lord.
“23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.””
We must remember the Lord’s sacrificial death for us when we take the Lord’s supper. The physical body of the Lord was broken for us. What this actually accomplished for us is explored in other Scriptures. But obviously, if people do not really think of the death of Jesus for us when they take the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist or whatever men wish to call this, they are “not discerning the Lord’s body”.
Jesus took bread, broke it and said, “This is My body which is broken for you”. It is no co-incidence that the bread is broken and the body is broken. The bread then, is at the very least a symbol of the Lord’s broken body. Some would say that in some supernatural sense it IS physically the Lord’s body, or the Lord’s flesh. Roman Catholics and Orthodox believers would affirm this. They say there is a literal physical change. But what kind of miracle this really is isn’t so clear. It is not as if we are tasting human flesh or meat when we (or they) eat the bread. We are not practicing cannibalism when we celebrate the Lord’s supper. But there is a sense in which we are REALLY partaking of the life of Jesus when we celebrate the Lord’s supper. Spiritual things are more real than natural things. Spiritually, the bread becomes the body of the Lord and when we eat of it worthily, it is supposed to bring a blessing. I believe that blessing extends to the physical health of our own bodies. This seems reasonable because of the the prophetic declaration of Isaiah in chapter 53 concerning the death of Christ.
“Surely He has borne our sicknesses [Heb: choli = sickness NOT grief]
And carried our pains; [Heb: makob = pain]
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.“