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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 11:30 Some few have fallen asleep

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, May 1, 2023

30 That is why many of you are weak and sick, and some few have fallen asleep.

We return here to Paul describing those who have sinned against the body and blood of Christ by consuming the sacrament without recognizing that this is truly the body and blood of Jesus. If it were not really his body, how would eating it without recognizing this (verse 29) be a sin?

In addition to this, the Holy Spirit calls us to examine ourselves, asking ourselves if we are truly sorry for the sins we have committed. Some of these will be known to others. Some will only be known to us. And some will be sins we have not even noticed, but we are called to confess all of our sins before the Lord, not only the ones we know about. This is why in the Catechism Luther says: “What sins should we confess? Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer. But before the pastor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts.”

Paul says that failure to do this, and other sins against the Lord’s Supper, are “why many of you are weak and sick.” These things are chastisements of God upon believers who are sinning. He permits and even sends troubles such as sicknesses upon the unrepentant so that they will turn away from their sins and ask forgiveness. Since there is no verb at all in the first half of the verse we must naturally supply the simplest of verbs, “are.” This is a present tense verb that indicates duration or a continuing condition. Their weakness and sickness will continue without help of recovery. And this in spite of the Corinthian boast (coming in just a few verses in chapter 12) that they had the spiritual gift of healing among them. What were their healers doing about this? But this wasn’t a judgment on the faith of the healers. Some of the Corinthians had even “fallen asleep” in death. This is common expression for death in both the Old Testament (Job 14:12; 2 Samuel 14:12; Daniel 12:2) and the New (Matthew 27:52; John 11:11; Acts 7:60, 13:36). So the chastisement of the Lord for a sin can result in death. This is true of any sin, but Paul is saying that it is most certainly true in this case. This doesn’t mean that all sicknesses among all believers today are about an unworthy reception of the sacrament. Not at all. Paul speaks here with the prophetic insight of an apostle about Corinth. With regard to modern sicknesses, I might point out as a Christian with the sanctified judgment of a lifelong faith that sometimes Christians suffer because there is sin in the world. There are sinners and unbelievers who do wicked things, unthinking things, and unspeakably evil things. When I was a pastor in training (a vicar) I was in a certain neighborhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where many young men had known a famous serial killer. Some of them had been in his apartment with him, and somehow they had escaped. But many did not. They were murdered because of his sin, not theirs. We say the same about Abel (Genesis 4:8), and the list that follows his name is long.

Therefore the main thing to remember in this verse is that the taking of the sacrament is a serious matter, the holiest of human activities, because it involves direct communion with the body and blood of Christ. The ordinary believer should come forward and take the elements without fear and only with faith and joy: this is for their forgiveness; for blessings and not anything else. The unbeliever should beware, and those who are outside the fellowship and who will be asked to commune at their home church should be flattered that concern for their souls has been shown and displayed, because too many churches make a show of love but without any true love at all.

About Soul Sleep

Luther has been accused of espousing the belief of “soul sleep,” that a soul falls asleep in death and remains sleeping until it is reunited with its body in the resurrection. However, the very lines of Luther that are cited would defend him rather than stand in evidence against him. For example, in his lectures on Genesis 25, he says: “There is a difference between the sleep or rest of this life and that of the future life. For toward night a person who has become exhausted by his daily labor in this life enters into his chamber in peace, as it were, to sleep there; and during this night he enjoys rest and has no knowledge whatever of any evil caused either by fire or by murder. But the soul does not sleep in the same manner. It is awake. It experiences visions and the discourses of the angels and of God….” (LW 4:313).

Remember: The sacrament is for your good. In it, your Lord and God offers you himself for the best of reasons. Take it, eat, drink, and swallow, and know that you have taken into yourself his sacrifice for the good of your soul.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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