The Corinthian church was a divided church. They had issues with just about everything, ranging from preferring leaders to differing moral standards.
Thus it’s not surprising that during the Lord’s supper (aka communion) this division surfaced.
See in the 1st century, communion took place in the context of a meal, called the Love Feast (or the Agape, which means love in Greek). This meal would have been provided by benevolent church members who would bring assorted foods for a quite sumptuous meal. Following the meal, they would break bread, and drink wine, as the Lord Jesus Christ commanded in remembrance of him.
However the distribution of food during the meal was far from equal. The rich would hoard the food, leaving the poor with next to nothing. They would get drunk with wine, losing the meaning of the significance of Christ’s shed blood.Because of this abuse of the Lords Supper, the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian church and tries to address this issue.
IN particular, he challenges each individual to properly discern the body of Christ lest judgement fall on them.
” For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. ”
1 Corinthians 11:29
What does it mean to accurately discern the body of Christ?
To me, it means that one should have a deep understanding of the reality of Christ’s presence in the act of communion. This presence should not be confused with the views of some who believe that the emblems of the bread and drink are literally associated to Christ, and his body and shed blood. Or others who believe that upon consumption, the emblems will take the form of Christ body and blood. These wrong views of communion evidence the struggle many in church history have undergone in coming to understand what discerning of the body of Christ really is.
For me it’s much simpler than that. Christ is present when we take communion simply because He is present when 2 or more of His disciples are gathered in unity in His name (see Matthew 18:20). This presence, though a reality is to appropriated by faith. Simple child like faith which says, He said it, I believe it. Demonstrating such simple faith, makes the experience of Christ in communion a reality. This presence though spiritual, is real, because Christ is real. Again, to reemphasize, Christ is found in the united faith of the saints (or Christians) who in like mind come in agreement to partake of the Lords supper. The saints represent the body of Christ, so discerning his body means recognizing the reality of the identification of Christ’s people with Christ.
A narrative in Acts 9 drives the understanding of the unity of Christ with his people home. The apostle Paul is accosted by Jesus as he tries to further the persecution of the saints from Jerusalem to Damascus. Jesus words are confusing to Paul, see below
3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.”Paul (aka Saul) is confused. He has been destroying Christians not Jesus. Yet Jesus seems to take it personally. So Paul asks who are you Lord? Jesus’ reply is seen belowI am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.
Jesus sees the persecution of the saints analogous to Paul persecuting him. Indeed because the saints are the body of Christ.Thus discerning the body of Christ is truly recognizing his presence among the saints, or better still in the saints.
On a practical level this means, as we take communion, we need to act as if Jesus is there, because he is. Spiritually and literally, in the face of our brothers and sisters.This belief in the reality of his presence should drive us to examine ourselves as stated in 1 Corinthians 11:28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.
And so I conclude this writing with a quote that sums up what this examination looks like.
“When we take communion, let’s not only examine ourselves in terms of our personal sin and relationship with God, but let’s also examine our relationship to his body, his people, his family. Let’s examine whether or not we have wronged anyone, or whether or not there is disunity or conflict between us and another person. Let’s do our best to make sure that we’re at peace with our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Let’s examine whether or not we have prejudice, whether or not we’ve been greedy, whether or not we’re holding bitterness or standing in judgement. ” (Jessie Knight)
– Pastor Olu Jegede