Discerning The Body

Discerning The Body
by Rev. Jonathan Gale
Bayswater Chapter
The Order of St Luke The Physician in New Zealand
27th June 2013

1 Corinthians  11: 17 – 33

Abuses at the Lord’s Supper

17 Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. 19Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. 20When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. 21For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. 22What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!

The Institution of the Lord’s Supper

23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Partaking of the Supper Unworthily

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. 28Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves. 30For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. 32But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. About the other things I will give instructions when I come.





The poor old Corinthians. They come in for big stick on a whole number of issues. They seem to be typical of a church that has begun with great enthusiasm but has been unable to translate that into maturity.

Gordon Fee in his commentary on 1 Corinthians says, [1]”Although they were the Christian church in Corinth, an inordinate amount of Corinth was yet in them, emerging in a number of attitudes and behaviours that required radical surgery without killing the patient.”

One has to admire them for the spiritual gifts they operate, for that takes faith. But we don’t admire them for the way they treated one another.

Whether the abuse they were guilty of was of a sexual nature or involved the wealthy acting insensitively towards their poorer brothers and sisters, it would seem that the church in Corinth needed a spiritual doctor.  They were spiritually ill.


But it seems they were physically ill too and that the two were connected. Now we need to understand that physical illness is not part of God’s plan for our lives. It is not what he desires for us. But he does sometimes allow it. If God is sovereign then we can come to no other conclusion. Even in the story of that most unfortunate of characters, Job, Satan needed God’s permission before he could do anything to Job.

Why God allows Illness is a question in the same category as why God still allows death. Both are in a general sense residual – by that I mean they are a residue (something left over) from the Fall.  The Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 15: 26 that the last enemy to be defeated is death. So death is allowed by God possibly as a reminder of the seriousness of the Fall; in other words of the seriousness of sin, and therefore of our need of salvation.

Illness is another enemy. That is why Jesus went about healing the sick. Eventually it too will be defeated but for the moment it is to be resisted where it can be. One of the ways of resisting illness is by leading healthy lifestyles. But there is more to illness than just the physical. Paul sees a connection between something spiritual and illness.


But neither is illness a result of sin in a specific sense. In other words we cannot point a finger and say that man or woman is ill because he or she sinned. In John 9 we read this:As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 3Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned;

Illness is, in a general sense, still in the world because of the Fall, but we cannot blame any specific illness on personal sin.


In our reading Paul says we are to examine ourselves and not eat and drink the elements of bread and wine in an unworthy manner29For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves. 30For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

These are startling words. Not discerning the body causes weakness, illness and even death! Now this is not the time to go into the theological arguments as to why this is so and what it means exactly, so I’m simply going to tell you the conclusion I’ve read from a number of theologians over the years.

Simply put the body here that is not being discerned is the body of Christ – the church. So what does he mean by not discerning the body? It’s important for us to know if we are to lead healthy lives.


The church is made up of its members, Christians, each with their special function and place, and the head of the church is Christ. We are interdependent (we need each other) and to function as the church we need to be connected to Jesus, the head. You remember the story Jesus told of the vine and the branches? We are the branches and we are to remain attached to him.

Not living accordingly – that means not recognising our dependence upon Christ and one another – in other words treating one another badly as the Corinthians were and not repenting of this behaviour before sharing in the bread and wine of Communion is what displeases God. Our sharing together in Communion is an affirmation of our oneness in Jesus and we should not make a mockery of this holy sacrament by participating in the symbols but denying the inner reality they represent.


In short, living good Christian lives helps combat illness in our lives but it is no guarantee that we will not get ill.


Pastor James Bradley points out that in Hebrews 11: 34 we read “some escaped the edge of the sword” while three verses later, “others “were put to death by the sword”. In verse 39 the writer says “these were all commended for their faith.”

[2]“It seems clear that we can’t measure faith by results. Faith is a virtue and value on its own merit. Our faith is not based on what we get, it’s based on who we trust.”


Here is the secret to healing: a simple trust in God and his goodness and wisdom. It is only natural, only human, to question God when things don’t go the way we want them to, but the Scriptures make it plain that doing so is futile. Isaiah, Jeremiah and Paul emphasise this. In Romans 9: 20 Paul writes, 20But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is moulded say to the one who moulds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’

Now these are hard words, but they are words that come from a God who holds all things in his hand, who asks us to request healing and expects us to believe for healing. Ours is to believe and pray.

We ‘discern the body’ in faith. We hold to Christ the head and we give due recognition to one another – and leave the results to him.


God bless you.
[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1987) 4.

[2] Ed. Bob and Debbie Gass, The Word for Today (Auckland: Rhema Broadcasting Group Inc, 2013) 38.

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