The Body of Christ - 1 Cor. 11
H. Beattie, Bury St. Edmunds
In order to facilitate the study of the next section of the Epistle, it will be advantageous to keep in mind the thought of the Headship of Christ and the building up of the Body of Christ. A brief analysis will help:
- 11. 1-16, The Headship of Christ.
- 11. 17-34, Discerning the Body of Christ.
- 12. 1-31, The spiritual gifts of the members.
- 13. 1-13, The all-pervading Spirit of Love.
- 14. 1-40, The building up of the Body of Christ.
As ever in this letter, Paul is dealing with deficiencies in local Corinthian practice. Just as in preceding chapters he battled against proud, carnal headship imposed by arrogant brethren, reducing it to nothingness by the Word of the Cross, 1. 18, R.V., so here he points out that failure to recognise the implications of membership of the Body of Christ will lead to chastening.
In chapter 12 already the desire had appeared to monopolise the expression of gift which later revealed itself in the division of believers into clergy and laity. The existence of multiple gifts among the members of the Body of Christ is stressed, 12. 11. The apostle continues to fight for the liberty of their exercise, and encourages the Christians eagerly to desire the greater gifts that will really build up the Church.
Even then, Corinthians who understood the teaching about the Headship and the Body of Christ, and who were exercising a God-given gift, were in danger of serving out of a wrong motive. The all-pervading Spirit of Love, Rom. 15. 30, must be allowed to inspire the functioning of the members of the Body. To serve on a lower level, energised by baser motives, would be catastrophic, only leading to loss of eternal reward.
Chapter 14 contrasts the gift of speaking in tongues with that of prophecy. The special witness to Israel, called “this people” in verse 21, was expressed in miraculous ways. In the house of Cornelius, the Jews were astonished as they heard and understood the Gentiles speaking in tongues and magnifying God, Acts 10. 46. But in Corinth this gift was being used almost like a toy by many believers, and Paul pleads for restraint so that true edifying through prophecy (forth-telling of vital messages from God’s presence) could be engaged in, 1 Cor. 14. 31. It is useful to remember that these four chapters continue in the same vein as those preceding, and that the apostle continues to deal with dangerous and unsettling disorders among the people of God in Corinth.
Adjusting External Matters
There is a word of praise, however, in 11. 2. The Corinthians were treasuring the basic items of apostolic teaching, perhaps those outlined in Acts 15 which were to have such a marked effect on the development of the Body of Christ across the centuries in every clime. They were no doubt enjoying a liberty in these matters that the Galatians forfeited. This word of commendation deals with the obedience of heart and mind. But certain external matters were in need of adjustment. Even today, some believers have the idea that external things do not really matter, and that inner communion with the Lord is all-important. Yet true fellowship with Christ must always lead to conformity to Himself and to His will, even in outward matters - not conformity merely to the practice of the last century, but to the revelation of the power of the age to come in one’s everyday living.
The existence of the Body of Christ on the earth has a profound effect on the spiritual world. Such Scriptures as Luke 15. 10, Acts 10. 22, 1 Cor. 4. 9; 11. 10, Eph. 3. 10, 1 Tim. 5. 21 and Heb. 12. 22 deal with the links between the angels and the activities of believers.
When these celestial beings witnessed events in the garden of Eden, the scene was definitely disastrous. The headship of the serpent (also called the prince of this world and the prince of the power of the air) was evident; Eve had been seduced, Adam subjugated, and the Word of God trampled underfoot. In endeavouring to become God, man had lost his authority, and become a dusty, earthy creature, dominated by Satan, sin and death. But the divine proclamation to the serpent foresaw another state of affairs, and promised that the Seed of the woman would destroy the headship of the serpent. Old Testament references to the word used are Genesis 3. 15, bruise; Job 9. 17, break; Psalm 139. 11, cover or overwhelm.
The New Testament story begins with another woman, Mary, the mother of our Lord. Her humility and submission were a foretaste of the new state of affairs, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word”, Luke 1. 38. This is in marked contrast to the independent attitude of Eve, with its inherent desire for apparent emancipation from divine direction. Eve’s pride is entirely absent from Mary’s hymn of praise, Luke 1. 46-55. And this New Testament attitude is continued in the visible activity of the members of the Body of Christ in relation to His Headship. As the angelic world learns through the Church the manifold wisdom of God, the resurrection triumph of the Christ in whom all things are headed up, Eph. 1. 10, is expressed in the uncovered head of the man. The failure of Adamic domination and its disappearing is evident in the head of the woman being covered by her hair and the veil. And under the heel of the seed of the woman, the woman who accepted willingly the edict of God, the diabolical intelligence of the serpent’s head has been crushed into nothingness. What a privilege, as brethren and sisters labour in their respective spheres, to testify, through the observing of this simple apostolic teaching, that our blessed Lord is the risen and glorified Head of His Church.
The triumphant climax to the witness of the Church is promised in Romans 16. 20, “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly”.
Discerning the Lord’s Body
Following certain recommendations about their eating in common, perhaps in agapes (the love feasts mentioned in Jude 12), Paul goes on to the extremely important matter of the discerning of the Body of the Lord, a responsibility when partaking of the Lord’s supper. While the elementary application of the passage to the Corinthians hinges on their confusing the Lord’s supper with an ordinary meal and not appreciating the deep, spiritual meaning of this declaration of the Lord’s death, there is a definite warning in the verses for believers today. Never must we forget that the collective taking of the symbols should be preceded by a time of individual spiritual stock-taking. This is not an examination of ecclesiastical position leading to self-righteous, Pharisaical arrogance, but a humble looking into one’s life in its various sectors, leading to confession, and thanksgiving for the inestimable privilege of identification with the Body of Christ. “Happy is he that judgeth not himself in that which he approveth”, Rom. 14. 22, R.V.
Perhaps the weakness of Christian testimony in these days is due to an unholy familiarity with most holy things. The Romish set-up wrongly venerates matter, idolising the wafer and the wine. Let us be careful not to rush so much to the other extreme that we can glibly partake of the bread and the cup, without either discerning the solemn implications of the death of Christ or yielding total submission to His Headship. In this Epistle, the reminder has already been given, “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ?”, 1 Cor. 6. 15. Discerning the Lord’s body on the part of twentieth century believers demands great sacrifices, as great as those that may have been made by the determined few in the horribly corrupt, extremely commercialised Corinthian metropolis of the first century of the Christian era.
Let us, as we partake of the Lord’s supper, in humility and the fear of the Lord, look forward to the moment of His return, 11. 26. Blessed consummation!
Mid the splendours of the glory which we hope ere long to share;
Christ, our Head, and we, His members shall appear divinely fair.
Oh, how glorious when we meet Him in the air!