Summary: God holds Christians responsible to ensure that they are prepared to worship before they approach His Table. We prepare through sharing our lives with our fellow believers.
WHATEVER WERE YOU THINKING?
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.”
“Whatever was he thinking?” That is the question on the minds of many people who read of the fall of Eliot Spitzer the disgraced former governor of New York. After deliberately destroying so many icons of Wall Street and so vigorously attacking prostitution in New York, to have himself spent over $80,000 on prostitutes in a ten month period leaves anyone perusing the news breathless.
Hard on the heels of the Spitzer revelation was the account detailing the downfall of Kwame Kilpatrick, the Mayor of Detroit, Michigan. He is now charged with perjury—lying under oath—concerning a romantic relationship carried on with a former Chief of Staff. Residents of this great city may well wonder, “What was he thinking?”
Now, in this previous week comes a report that the husband of United States Senator Debbie Stabenow was caught in a police raid cracking down on prostitution in the Detroit area. He has been a prominent liberal radio broadcaster. When I read this report, I could only ask, “What was he thinking?”
While news accounts of prominent individuals who act stupidly seize our attention, even more egregious actions are perpetuated among the professed people of God. They treat the Body of Christ with contempt, all the while imagining that they are doing nothing wrong. However, God is holy, and He takes seriously disrespect shown toward His Son’s Bride. As an example of such disrespect, consider what was happening in the Church of God at Corinth when the Apostle Paul wrote his first letter to that congregation.
CONTEMPT FOR THE SAVIOUR — This verse has occasioned a surprising number of refusals to participate in the Meal as people have confused the adverb used in this verse for an adjective. Thus, I have often heard people refuse to partake of the Meal because they are “not worthy.” While there are good reason why a person should not partake of the Meal, feelings is not one of them. “Unworthy,” in our text, is an adverb? Had Paul used an adjective, he would have spoken of the suitability of the individual who is approaching the Lord’s Table. However, in using the adverb, attention is focused on the attitude of the individual as he or she approaches the Table.
The context substantiates this point. The Corinthian Christians were being exposed as professing one thing with their mouths and revealing quite a different belief through their actions. They would likely have given hearty assent to the concept of the church being the Body of Christ, but their actions denied this essential truth. Before reviewing the precise actions that elicited this strong apostolic censure, let’s explore how God views a congregation.
In this letter, Paul develops a vigorous ecclesiology. Early in the letter, he speaks of the church as a field. In 1 CORINTHIANS 3:6-9, he writes, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labour. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.”
The verbal picture of the church as a field addresses that fact that all the plants that are planted in the field draw nutrients from a common source. They receive the same sunlight, similar amounts of moisture. And though it is possible, perhaps even likely, that an enemy will sow weeds among the good plants [see MATTHEW 13:25], the farmer will discourage His helpers from uprooting the weeds until the harvest is complete [see MATTHEW 13:28-30]. Paul’s emphasis was on the shared requirements for health and for growth.
He then changes the picture to that of a building. “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” [1 CORINTHIANS 3:10-15].
Comparing a congregation to a building leads us to understand that no single portion of the building is more important than another, save for the foundation. Walls are important to permit shelter, and doors and windows permit entrance and egress and light. The roof protects from the elements, but neither the walls nor the roof will be supported if there is a flawed foundation. Paul clearly states that the only acceptable foundation is Jesus Christ. Denominational affiliation, worship structure, missionary endeavour—all alike is doomed to failure if the foundation is wrong. So, when the Apostle speaks of a congregation as a building, we understand that he is directing us to review the foundation. Nevertheless, his word picture reminds us of the integrated nature of each member within the building.