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many are weak and sickly…

27-08-2013 - Posted by Andre Piet

images7 Question: Paul writes in 1Cor.11:30 that many in the ecclesia of Corinth were weak and sickly, and not a few fell asleep, because they did not discern the body. What does he mean? What is that, “discerning the body”? Does the Lord punish with diseases? Did this happen only then or does it still happen, now? What can we learn from this passage? Answer: In this passage, Paul discusses all kinds of abuses in the meetings of the ecclesia in Corinth. They came together to eat, but Paul does not call it the dinner of the Lord (11:20; literal: Lordly dinner). One was hungry and another was drunk (11:21). Paul corrects this by reminding them of what he had heard from the Lord, Himself, that in the night He was given up (11:23), He took a loaf of bread and said, “This is My body…” (11:24). With, “My body…”, Jesus was referring to the body of Christ, the ecclesia (10:16)! From the “Gospels”, we would, indeed, not draw this conclusion, but this was made known to Paul. “For we, who are many, are one bread, one body, for we all are partaking of the one bread.” (10:17). This is what the Corinthians were to remember, whenever they enjoyed a communal meal (11:24). The bread and the cup were for a recollection of Him who was dead. This was to be done until He comes again. (11:26). Paul, here, is not speaking about a religious ritual, in which one takes a piece of bread and a sip of wine, but about a real meal (11:33). Especially, as that is experienced in the setting and ambience of a home (cf Acts 2:46). Of the ecclesia in Corinth, we also know that, indeed, they came together “at the home of” (Gaius; 1:14; Rom.16:23). The joint meals in Corinth were an “unseemly” display (11:27). They did not discern the body (11:29), i.e., they were eating bread without realizing what it represented and without making a difference with a regular meal and with disdain for each other (11:22). Paul concludes:

For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. -11:30-

Paul points to three effects. Sickly goes beyond being weak. The word ‘sleep’ could possibly be taken metaphorically, signifying not being awake, spiritually. But because of the connection with weak and sickly, that is not obvious. The word for “sleep” that Paul used, here, occurs in this letter four more times (15:6,18,20,51) and always in the sense of asleep in death. So we have to think of a descending series that Paul, here, lists: from weak to sickly to death. That many in the ecclesia were weak and sickly or even died, Paul blames to the fact that they did not discern the body of the Lord. How did Paul come to that conclusion? Would they not just as often experience weakness, being sick and dying, outside the ecclesia? Perhaps, but Paul especially means to indicate that the ecclesia, in properly discerning the bread and the cup, has an “elixir of life”. A medication! We should, of course, not reverse this and say, whoever is weak, sickly or dying, is not discerning the body; as if believers would, eventually, not fall asleep. But it does mean that Paul assigns a medicinal effect to discerning the body of the Lord. Bread and wine symbolize Him, who was stronger than death, and therefore is Lord (11:26). Being thoroughly convinced of this fact will have a revitalizing effect on one’s whole constitution (cf Prov.17:22). Coming together to eat and to remember Him who has been dead, is not a ritual, but a celebration and in this case also a blessing for our body. Not for nothing is the cup called “the cup of blessing” (10:16). We share the bread and think of the unity that we form, together, as the body of Christ. And we lift the cup and say: to your life! With ever so many more reasons than the ‘Preacher’, in his time, we can echo him in saying:

Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart… -Ecclesiastes 9:7-