Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
(1 Corinthians 11:28)
A man died. He was known for his wild living. When his will was read, it was discovered that he had willed his farm to the devil. The courts, deliberating on such a ridiculous set of circumstances, decided that the best way to carry out his wishes was to let the farm grow up in weeds and briars, to allow the houses and barns to remain unpainted and to rot, and to permit the soil to erode and wash away. The court said, "The best way to let Satan have it is to do nothing with it."
Isn’t that the truth with an individual life? Isn’t it true of your life? All that is needed for a life to go downhill spiritually is for a person to neglect his or her spiritual side, the most important side. You don’t even have to make a great ringing declaration about your future intentions. All you have to do is stop taking care of your spiritual life to see how quickly your spiritual home collapses, your spiritual roots decay, and the weeds of sin prosper.
"We give our spiritual life benign neglect."
I’m convinced that nobody ever really declares that he or she is going to live the life of an atheist. Few, if any, of us really come to a conscious decision to turn our backs on Christ and God’s church. I don’t think we really look at the Bible and say that it is of no help to us, that prayer is a waste of time, and that worship is unnecessary. We just neglect them and let the devil take over our lives by default. We give our spiritual life benign neglect.
God knows this. God has been around long enough so that we can pull very few surprises. That is why God keeps giving us opportunities to reexamine our direction in life. Life is full of these kinds of opportunities that in the normal course of events introduce a sober thought to our minds, no matter how shallow we may be living.
One of these times is when we are ill. We wonder about pain and why we were born and what death is like. When we leave home, we discover another time for self-examination: Who am I without my family? Does God live everywhere? When we get married and become parents, we seem to have more inner questions: What kind of husband or wife am I going to be? What kind of mother or father will I be? Am I being all that I want to be? Should I change what I have been? If so, how? The whole maturing process is geared toward self-examination from childhood, through adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, and old age. Today, I’m personally discovering that middle age has its own times of self-examination and reflection.
When my father had a series of strokes, I had many spiritual questions. This is one of those "normal" experiences in life that call for self-examination. These are God-given opportunities, not to be feared or ignored, but to be grasped and used for our own growth. Someone has rightly said that an unexamined life is no life at all.
Our text tells us to "examine ourselves" before we "eat of the bread and drink of the cup," lest we bring judgment upon ourselves. How’s your examination coming? What kind of tests are you administering? What kind of goals are you establishing? How are you measuring your progress? What kind of life will you lead after your self-examination?
"A love feast . . . was being used as a divisive tool."
The poor Corinthian church was greatly in need of this call for self-examination by Paul, for they were in the midst of a feud. For a number of generations after Christ, the Lord’s Supper was observed not as part of a formal religious service at Sunday worship, but as the climax of a common meal together, a meal much like the covered-dish supper today. Each family brought food to be shared. Some were poor, and some were rich, but all shared equally, except in Corinth. The rich, who could arrive early, since they were their own bosses, were gathering early in cliques and eating alone and sharing their fancy contributions of food only with one another. The poor, mainly slaves, arrived with their humble contributions after they had done their day’s work, and so were forced to eat only their own food. In other words, a love feast that was meant to be shared with the whole Christian community, so that rich and poor, master and slave, would be together, was being used as a divisive tool. Christian fellowship was not being served by the meal; it was being severed. In addition, many were finishing the meal in a state of alcoholic stupor, so that they were drunk when it came time for the Lord’s Supper to be celebrated. The Corinthian church was being selfish, gluttonous, and was eating the Lord’s Supper in an irreverent manner, as if it was meant only to be another meal. Examine yourselves, they were told, in the light of what you are doing.
At the conclusion of some celebrations of the Lord’s Supper, the minister turns to the people and proclaims, "Now you are the body of Christ." That is a good thought, for when we eat this bread and drink from this cup, these elements enter our bodies and literally become a part of us. They go into our blood stream and travel to our brains, our hearts, our sinews, and our muscles. The body and blood of Christ become incorporated into our own body and blood. Thus we become in the process a part of him.
We take him, his life, his death, his resurrection into our very selves, into our own lives and deaths and even rising. Now we are the body of Christ, and now we are meant to be a Christ to our neighbors.
Someone has suggested that every college graduate should be examined every five years to see whether she or he still deserves the degree. We Christians should be examining ourselves regularly to see whether we still deserve the degree of "Christian." Are we moving in the right direction? Are we striving to be better people? Are we taking advantage of opportunities for growth?
Let’s take a look! This is one of those God-given opportunities for spiritual self-examination. Let’s examine ourselves. We don’t have to be perfect, but we should be trying, striving, moving in the direction of Christ. For now we are the body of Christ on this earth. Jesus said, "This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, shed for you, and when you eat this, I become part of you and you become part of me."
this excerpt is taken from: Be My Guest: Sermons on the Lord's Supper by C. Thomas Hilton, it is part of the Biblical Themes Sermons Series within the Ministry Matters Premium Subscription