Discerning the Body
Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:17–34 are crucial for an understanding of the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper. Paul writes these words because abuses are occurring in the observance of the Supper at the church in Corinth, and Paul intends to correct those abuses. It has come to his attention that their practice of the Supper is undermining its very nature and purpose. As verses 17–22 indicate, there are divisions among the people coming to the Supper, and the more wealthy members of the church are behaving in a contemptuous manner toward those in the church who are poorer.
Paul reminds the Corinthians of the true nature of the Lord’s Supper in verses 23–26 by recounting Christ’s words of institution given on the night He was betrayed. They were to eat the bread and drink the wine in remembrance of Christ. To “remember” in this context is more than mere subjective mental recollection. By remembering, partakers of the Passover were reminded that they were one with those who were brought out of Egypt in the exodus. By remembering, partakers of the Lord’s Supper are reminded that we are one with the disciples in the upper room. When we eat this bread and drink this wine we, the one body of Christ, proclaim His death until He comes (v. 26).
In verses 27–32, Paul explains to the Corinthians that their divisions and their contempt for the poor at the Lord’s Supper amount to eating and drinking in an unworthy manner, and those who do this are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Such people eat and drink judgment to themselves because they are not discerning the Lord’s body. They do not take into account that the congregation is the body of Christ and that it shares in His death by virtue of its union with Him.
Paul encourages the Corinthians to examine themselves before partaking of the Supper. Do we do this today? Do we examine our hearts? Do we examine our motives? According to Paul, we must. We must not shame the poor when we observe the Lord’s Supper. If we do, we are not coming together for blessing, but for judgment (v. 34). We must observe the Supper as the unified body of Christ in order that we might truly proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again.