The Agora
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"Let a man examine himself"

In his letter to the Corinthian ecclesia, the apostle Paul attempts to set right several difficult local problems -- one of which was the attitude and manner in which the brethren were celebrating the Lord's Supper. In stating the divine principles concerning the memorial, he exhorts us as well.

"Take, eat; this is my body" (1Co 11:24). The words originally spoken by Christ had a two-fold meaning; Paul perceives this and endeavors to pass it along. The bread represented the literal body of Christ, and it represented the spiritual "body" also -- those who in sincerity and truth believe and obey Christ's teachings, which are the "bread of life". It is certainly no coincidence that the chapter concerning the memorial feast is followed by observations and instructions regarding the many-membered Body consisting of Jews and Gentiles, bond and free, all given one life through Christ their head (1Co 12).

Brethren in this age, just as their forerunners in the first century, when assembled for the solemn meal, should listen for the words of consecration spoken over them, and not just over the literal body, by the One who walks in the midst of the lampstands: "This is my body."

It follows that the ecclesia cannot properly be the Body of Christ when it is beset by separations, schisms, ill will, and turmoil (1Co 11:18,19). How best can such wrongs be avoided? By bearing in mind, as Paul continues, that the bread and wine are taken in remembrance of Christ (vv 24,25). If everything is centered upon him, then troubles of all sorts will diminish.

And not just in token of Christ's life, but especially because of Christ's death, as the passover lamb without blemish (Joh 1:29), is this meal instituted. "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come" (1Co 11:26). The "shewing" is a "setting forth", after the order of the Jewish Passover, a solemn proclamation to all who are in the house, as well as to "the stranger who sojourns with thee" (Exo 12:48). It is an intensely personal rite -- though it may be observed as part of a large group: "This is done because of that which the Lord did unto ME..." (Exo 13:8).

The personal aspect of the memorial is intertwined with the corporate, just as in the other rite enjoined upon all believers -- baptism. True, each has its pluralistic qualities. By the one, a believer enters the Body of Christ; by the other, he regularly reaffirms his standing there. But each rite is essentially an individual one, as was the offering of sacrifice at tabernacle or temple -- the closest approach by the single soul to communion and oneness with God, to fellowship of the sufferings of His Son.

Paul stresses that, if each individual believer will fully enter into this spirit of the Lord's Supper, then the schisms and doubts and disruptions of the Body as a whole will be minimized, perhaps even eliminated. Those who seek to please themselves, whether by self-indulgence (as in Corinth) or self-exaltation (remember the Pharisee who prayed in the temple!), are not truly "looking unto Christ". What they do, then, they do unworthily, and "are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord" (1Co 11:27). In effect, they have said with the rabble before Pilate's judgment seat, "We have no king but Caesar, the 'god of this world'. This man's blood be upon us!" In short, any partaking of the emblems is an unworthy, or vain, pretense if he who eats and drinks does not always see "Christ crucified" (1Co 1:23); that is, if he does not see the reason for his Lord's crucifixion, which is... his own sins. All this is so "that no flesh should glory in his presence" (1Co 1:29). The memorial meeting is not the time nor the place (is there ever one?) for one sinner to attempt to criticize the lives of his brethren.

A contemplation of one's own sinfulness and consequent need for redemption is surely sufficient to occupy fully the mind of the saint at the Lord's Supper. "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup" (1Co 11:28). Certainly Paul is here alluding to that first supper:

"And as they did eat, he said, 'Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.' And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, 'Lord, is it I?' " (Mat 26:21,22).

It is possible still for the disciple to betray his Master. He who falls away from the Truth, who allows the soil of his heart to bear again its natural thorns and briers, is crucifying to himself the Son of God afresh, putting him to an open shame (Heb 6:6,8). He is treading under foot the holy blood of the covenant (Heb 10:29), even as swine heedlessly trample pearls in the mud (Mat 7:6). It is indeed better for such a one never to have known the way of life than, having known it, to insult and outrage the precious Spirit of grace mediated by Christ. 'I would never do such a thing,' is the instinctive reaction. But that is just the point! None of us is immune from just such a falling away; the wolves of the world follow hard behind the flock of Christ, and the stragglers are swiftly torn apart. Christ must speak to each of us, in the bread and wine; his eyes must gaze into ours and turn our vision inward. 'One of you will betray me.' 'Are you speaking of me? Lord, is it I? Give me strength that it be not so. Lord, I am so weak. Let me cling close to you. Purge from me all that offends you, so that I betray you not in thought or deed.' Surely here is the only correct attitude for each of us who assemble to the memorial meal: all of us together constituting "One Body" but each steadfastly examining himself alone in the light of the Perfect Example. Not "Who is he that would betray Christ?" but instead, "Is it I?"

"The most pressing and urgent lifelong consideration of any who aspire to the kingdom of God must be their own complete personal transformation of character. The realization of this urgent necessity is far too dim among us. This is our foremost ecclesial concern, and the root of most ecclesial problems.

"Any attempt to judge, criticize or regulate the lives and conduct of others -- until we have brought ourselves into line with the commandments of God in this respect -- is hypocrisy.

"We tend to feel, or at least to act as though we feel, that if we can legislate righteousness upon others, and surround ourselves with the external appearance of a sound ecclesial framework, then our own personal shortcomings will somehow be absorbed, and overlooked, and compensated for, in the general ecclesial strength. We tend very much to get our priorities in this respect completely reversed. Jesus said: 'Thou hypocrite; first cast out the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother's eye' (Mat 7:5).

"We shall find that the more attention and concern we give to our own very numerous shortcomings, the less will be the vehemence of our zeal to condemn our brethren, and the more cautiously, and gently, and Christ-likely shall we approach that task.

"Let us, then, frankly examine our own conduct and characters in the light of the plain, simple commands of Scripture, and see if we are in any position to presume to operate on the eyes of others.

"Let us judge, and suspect, and expose ourselves at least as critically as we so eagerly judge and suspect and expose others. Rather, indeed, let us judge ourselves far more searchingly than we judge others, for this is the prescribed course of Scripture, of wisdom, and of love. The divine command is:

'Let a man examine... HIMSELF' " (GVG, Ber 60:338).
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