Summary: God does discipline His children who approach the Lord’s Table with unholy attitudes. This is does as an act of love. If we were properly evaluating ourselves, we would not be judged.
GOD’S TENDER MERCIES
“If we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. When we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”
No doubt the title of the message appears strange to some people. How can discipline be merciful? And if there appears a general contradiction between the two concepts, how much greater is the disconnect when we speak of divine discipline and divine mercy? However, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that God is revealing His great mercy when He holds His people accountable for sinful behaviour. The subject is sufficiently vital to congregational health to merit careful study. Join me, therefore, as we explore God’s tender mercies as revealed in the affirmations found in the text before us today.
OUR RESPONSIBILITY AS MEMBERS OF THE BODY — “If we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.” We are called to examine ourselves whenever we come before the Lord in worship. Some translations faithfully bring out the force of Paul’s statement. For instance, the Holman Christian Standard Bible translates VERSE 31, “If we were properly evaluating ourselves, we would not be judged.” The New Living Translation, examining the same verse, translates it, “If we would examine ourselves, we would not be judged by God in this way.”
In order to appreciate fully the importance of self-examination as presented by the Apostle, remember that he pointed out the obvious to the Corinthian Christians with the observation that many of them were weak and ill, and some had even died [VERSE 30]. This was the result of a general tendency to participate in the Meal without discerning the Body [VERSE 29]. Earlier, we observed that the Body in question referred to the congregation of the Lord. The people were treating the Meal as a time of private worship rather than an opportunity to confess mutual interdependence. Thus, they were treating the Body of Christ (the church) with disdain. Consequently, though they imagined that their actions enjoyed God’s approval, they were actually invoking divine discipline.
What is called for in our text is less a matter of critical judgement of actions at the Lord’s Table—either our own actions or those of others—than it is a call for frank and honest self-evaluation of our personal motives as we approach the Lord’s Table. In our studies during the preceding months, we have examined the attitude that is to be exhibited when we come to worship at the Master’s Table. It will undoubtedly be beneficial for us to refresh our memories before we proceed further with the message today.
It is tragically obvious that as many professing Christians, perhaps even most professing Christians, approach the Communion Meal in our day, they view participation as a right. Whenever we hold such an opinion, we are in effect saying that at the Lord’s Table, we as worshippers are of greater importance than is He who is worshipped. Whether we say the words or not, we effectively say, “If we were not here, there would be no Communion.” Our actions are presumptuous and arrogant and ultimately a disgrace to the Name who hold as dear.
The Corinthians had fallen into just such a trap when prominent members had reduced the Communion Meal to attempts to worship performed by individuals who only incidentally happened to be in the presence of other people. It appears that many of the Corinthians no longer saw the fellowship aspect of the Meal, focusing solely on their own private worship.
Review the extended passage in which Paul provides corrective instruction for the Corinthian Christians. The Apostle pointed out that they were sectarian in their worship, treating members of the Body as though some were inferior. Hence, the Body was divided [VV. 17-19]. He saw that they no longer recognised their purpose to function as a community of faith, but rather as a collection of individuals. Some provided richly for themselves and their immediate friends while neglecting others within the congregation who were impoverished [VV. 20, 21]. Consequently, their actions fairly screamed out individualism rather than expressing an understanding of corporate responsibility and strength. In short, they had reduced the worship of the Lord’s Table to a private act, which they saw as their right.
It is serious enough when a minority within the congregation leads a congregation into an aberrant practise. However, when such action is left unchallenged, the membership soon adopts the deviant view as normal. After a time, the irregular practise will be elevated to the position of regular—the abnormal will be normalised, the unorthodox will be thought orthodox. Then, when a voice calls for a return to biblical practise the people of God will be at best confused, and at worst indignant that their practise should be questioned.