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060  Discerning the Body

The Apostle Paul had to solve some practical problems with the church he planted in Corinth. Apparently he had set up regular "love feasts" where the church would eat together as a group to celebrate their union with the Messiah. Only, they had not gotten the right message, so some were getting there before others and eating all the food, leaving nothing for the ones who arrived later, and some were drinking all the wine and getting drunk, with all the unpleasantness that goes along with that.

Paul's reaction was stern: " you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?" (I Corinthians 11:22) Then, after he'd recounted how Jesus had used the Passover seder to create the sacrament we call "communion," he gave them this warning:

"For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself." (I Corinthians 11:29)

Paul had introduced the entire subject by chastising them over "divisions" (v. 18) and "factions" (v. 19), so we know that somehow this is really about things that divide the Church. He even attributed their physical weakness-diseases, mostly--and the fact that they were being judged by God (for the purpose of correction) to the fact that they were divided and not "discerning the body."

So if we want to display the power of God as a church, testify accurately to His character, and keep the times of chastisement from God brief, we need to understand what he meant by "discerning the body."

It turns out that this was a big thing in Paul's life.

Many of us remember the things that God said to us when we first entered the Kingdom of God. In fact, the first thing God says to each of us usually points to a core issue that we need to address (because that's the thing preventing us from seeing Him), and therefore also a theme that will travel with us through our entire lives.

The first thing that God said to Paul was about the Body of Christ. We find it in Acts chapter 9, where we see Saul "breathing out threats" against the young church while on his way to Damascus to arrest some Christians. God knocked him off his horse and said, "Saul? Why are you persecuting me?" Paul asked, "Who are you?" And God replied, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." (See Acts 9:1-9)

In the very first conversation Paul had with the Lord Jesus, Jesus made it clear to him: "When you persecute one of my people, you're persecuting ME." So we can imagine that whenever Paul looked at a congregation of believers worshiping Jesus in any city, he saw a whole bunch of people who were each connected to Jesus, and therefore connected to each other through Him. I think that stuck with him.

And in his view, if they treated each other with disdain or disrespect, it was Jesus they were disrespecting. They needed, instead, to "discern the body" of Christ--to see each other as members of the Messiah so that they were all part of one unit.

We can envision it ourselves by doing an exercise in our own churches: we look at each of the people attending, one after the other, and say to ourselves, "There's Brenda-Jesus. There's Bernie-Jesus. There's Dave-Jesus. There's Kate-Jesus. There's Caryn-Jesus. There's Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus..."

This is particularly useful when we've taken offense at something somebody has done to us. 

People sinning against us in church should hardly be a surprise. A church is basically just a big Sinaholics Anonymous meeting in which every member is a recovering sinner. Each of us falls off the wagon from time to time, so we wind up offending each other. It's hard to avoid.

I've heard people get huffy about it, to the tune of "He calls himself 'Christian!' A Christian should NEVER do things like that!" That's...well, it's kinda dumb. We all do things like that sometimes, and then we forgive ourselves because we're only human. But it's harder to forgive others when they do it, because we're the ones who feel the pain. Plus, unforgiveness is part of the "Sinaholic" thing, isn't it? So until we're perfect, some of us will struggle with forgiving.

So here's what I recommend when you're looking at that person who did to you what you imagine no Christian should ever do:

Remind yourself, "Jesus embraced him (or her) and accepted him. He's forgiven his sins, even the sin he just committed against me. So I have to receive him as a Christian, too. Judging him is Jesus' job, not mine." You don't have to like them; not at first, anyhow. But you do have to recognize that Jesus receives them, the same way that He receives you. And that makes them members with you in the Body of Christ, whether you like them or not. Who's in the Body is not your choice, any more than your thumb gets to complain about what your ring finger looks like.

Believe it or not, just saying that to yourself will help you feel better about sharing a church with them.

Now, I'm not saying that you should not also try to do some of the things that you read about in the gospels or the epistles--go to them, talk things out, etc. Only, if your experience is like mine, those sorts of talks don't always accomplish all that much, and we walk away from them knowing that that person is going to continue to be who they are, warts and all (what a surprise!). And often the offense is too insignificant to warrant taking the matter any further.  

So really, if we're going to "discern the Body" like Paul said and not live in a constant state of agitation against other Christians who are, y'know, less perfect than we are (that's a joke), we have to get good at letting offenses pass by, and not obsessing about them. And we do that by doing what I'm talking about, and what Paul was talking about: recognizing Christ in them despite their current, obtuse repetition of whatever pattern of sin just stung us.

And if what they did is REALLY bad and hurtful, maybe we ought to pray for them some as well. Just a thought.

"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,  bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive." Colossians 3:12-13

"Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense."
Proverbs 19:11

If we do that instead of dividing, hating, leaving the church to find another church, and so forth, I suspect that we'll see less sickness among us and more of the power of God. It's worth a shot, in any case.

Treat your church-mates kindly, especially those who have done you wrong, and I'll be back with you in a couple of weeks with more encouragement how to serve Christ effectively.


Phil Weingart

PS: It turns out that Jesus' Judaism explains a lot of what's confusing to us in the Sermon on the Mount. If you would like to learn all about it, you can now order my new book, "The Rabbi on the Mount: How Jesus' Judaism Clarifies the Sermon on the Mount" from Amazon dot com, in trade paperback or Kindle format. Click on the image to go to Amazon and get your copy now.


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