Let a Person Examine Himself (1 Corinthians 11:28) – again

We are all familiar with the apostle Paul’s admonition concerning receiving the Lord’s Supper that a person ought to examine himself before he eats and drinks so that he doesn’t eat and drink to his judgment. But what does the apostle mean, examine yourself? What exactly are we to examine about ourselves? Well, to begin, here are St. Paul’s words:
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning 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.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29, ESV)

When St. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth concerning the Holy Supper of our Lord, he was concerned because they were so divided among themselves. There were such sharp factions and divisions that even at the Lord’s Supper there was fighting, betrayal, and neglect. The rich came early and ate their fill, even getting drunk, while their poorer brothers, who had nothing, received nothing (11:21). Because of this wicked division, the apostle goes so far as to say that those who caused this division were despisers of the Church of God. And because they despised the Church of God, it was not the Lord’s Supper they ate and drank.
To correct the abuses and mend the brokenness of the Corinthian’s gathering, St. Paul repeats again from them what he had received and passed on. That our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body which is for you …” In the same way, He took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” By giving the Lord’s words again to the church in Corinth, Paul is doing two things: 1) He is reminding the Corinthians whose supper it is as well as what it is (the body and blood of Jesus), and, 2) he is reminding them that our Lord has given His Supper it to His Body, the Church, without distinction to class, race, or sex. After all, the words, “For you,” require all hearts to believe. But despising the Church by their divisions, the Corinthians were not celebrating the Lord’s Supper. They were sinning against the body and blood of Christ and against the Church of God, itself!
The amount of bread and wine does not matter (that is, the amount you receive, cf. 11:22). The place and time does not matter. The paraments and vestments don’t matter. Only two things matter: that you gather in Jesus’ name and that Jesus’ words are spoken. So, for example, if you sat down at table and ate bread and drank wine with a group of atheists, even if the words of Jesus were spoken over the bread and wine, it would not be the Lord’s Supper because atheists don’t gather in the name of Jesus. Gathering with atheists, you would not have gathered with the Body of Christ. How do you know you are gathering with the Body of Christ? Because where two or three gather in His name, He is there. Atheists don’t gather in the name of Jesus! And whoever does not gather to Him scatters and does not have the Lord’s Supper, even if they were to repeat Jesus’ words ad infinitum. To illustrate further, let’s say Hollywood puts out another movie about Jesus. When the actors gather together to enact the scene of the Lord’s Supper, they say the words, they eat and drink, but they do not actually celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It’s not because they’re not in a church building that they do not have the Lord’s Supper, but because they are not gathered in Jesus’ name. They are gathered in the name of the maker of the movie. Since they have not gathered in Jesus’ name, Jesus is not there to give them His Supper.
It matters that you understand with whom you gather to eat and drink — the Church, who gathers to her Lord to receive from His hand. Therefore, St. Paul says to the Corinthians, since you despise the Church of God by shunning and shaming your brothers, since you do not gather in Jesus’ name but your own, you do not eat the Lord’s Supper. Instead, you profane the body and blood of Christ, which is not given to just some Christians, but to the entire Church. Since the local congregation is the Church gathered in the name of Jesus, she doesn’t have the right to discriminate, receiving some and shunning other who rightly belong to her (no matter their wealth, class, race, age, or sex).
But that is exactly what the Corinthian congregation did; they discriminated against their brothers and sisters. So the apostle continues, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy matter will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Therefore, let a person examine himself 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” (vv. 27-29). Take note: no less than four times the apostle writes “body and blood” or “eats and drinks,” never separating the two until he writes that “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body (singularly) eats and drinks judgment on himself.” No mention of discerning the blood even though the apostle nowhere else separates the two elements or actions. Why does St. Paul do this? What does it mean?
It means that the apostle’s admonition to “discern the body” is not merely an admonition to believe that the bread is the body of Christ. He has already cleared this matter up in chapter 10, when he writes, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (10:16). So the bread is the body of Jesus and the cup is His blood. But then Paul writes that because we eat of the one bread, we are one body. Our unity is in our eating the Lord’s body together. So unless we discern the body (11:29), that is, unless we discern what we are eating and with whom we are eating, we eat and drink judgment on ourselves.
Therefore, examine yourself. Not to make sure you’re aware of all your sins or to make sure you’re not angry with anyone or that no one is angry with you (the Bible itself says you are unable to do this!), but rather examine yourself so that you confess what you are eating and with whom you are eating it. This is why during the distribution of the Sacrament, many pastors simply say, “Body of Christ.” This reinforces that you are eating the body of Christ, that you are the Body of Christ, and that you eat with the Body of Christ, thus fulfilling the apostle’s admonition to examine oneself and so discern the body.
Now understand, it is not by knowledge or wisdom or understanding that one discerns the body. It is by and through faith. Thus the Small Catechism, “That person is truly worthy [to receive the Sacrament] who has faith in these words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.’” Luther, like St. Paul, says one must discern the body, for in the words “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” we have the words and will of Christ. What is given and shed? Jesus’ body and blood. To whom is it given? To those who gather in His name, hearing His words, “For you.” Why is it given? To grant pardon and peace (forgiveness) to the one who eats and drinks. Thus, the words of Jesus along with the bodily eating and drinking are the main thing in the Sacrament. To discern the body is to have faith in Jesus’ words.
By the by, Luther ends the Large Catechism with these words: “Since the children are baptized and received into the Christian Church (the Body of Christ), they should also enjoy this communion of the Sacrament, in order that they may serve us and be useful to us. They must all certainly help us to believe, love, pray, and fight against the devil.” Even a child know what the Church is.


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