“For this reason many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (I Corinthians 11:30).
I have heard, I think more than one person, state that the Greek rendered “sleep” here means dead (physically dead). Is this correct? I guess I’m trying to figure out if they were physically weak and sick and some physically dead or if they were spiritually weak and sickly and some dead spiritually.
I have tended to think they were dead spiritually not physically. However, I have heard enough people make mention casually the other way that I am curious. I don’t think I have ever heard it preached in that way from the pulpit. I’m just talking backdoor side talk.
Of course, if these were dead spiritually, would the rebuke and exhortation from Paul stand to get them back on track? I.e if they repented bring them back alive spiritually?
Sleeping is a common idiom in the Bible for death (Job 14:10-15; Daniel 12:2; John 11:11-14). It is used because it emphasizes the fact that someone asleep can be awakened again. To the child of God, death is not permanent – even spiritual death. One can be brought back.
I Corinthians 11:30 starts out "For this reason ..." We have to look back to find the reason. The Corinthians were not partaking of the Lord's Supper in a manner worthy of the memory of Christ's death (I Corinthians 11:27). Thus, Paul argues that such people are bringing judgment upon themselves (I Corinthians 11:29). The goal of the judgment is to make sure Christians are not condemned along with the rest of the world through discipline (I Corinthians 11:32).
If Paul were talking about physical death when he said "sleep" then there would be no recovery from their mistreatment of the Lord's Supper because once a person is dead there is no opportunity to change (Hebrews 9:27). If such were the case, then the Lord would not have succeeded in keeping these people from being condemned along with the rest of the world.
However, Paul is talking about spiritual death. Some haven't completely died spiritually. Some are weak and some are badly ill. (Notice the progression of falling away in these three words.) These people will be disciplined by the Lord to cause them to recover their faith (Hebrews 12:3-14).
"For this reason it says, "Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Ephesians 5:14-17).