First Corinthians: The Lord’s Supper

January 26, 2008

As Paul began correcting the Corinthians about their assemblies, he first addressed divisions and the Lord’s Supper:

1Co 11:17-19 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.

It is possible that in verse 18, Paul referred to the same divisions he addressed at the beginning of the letter (1 Cor 1:10-12) But I think it is more likely that he was talking about the divisions in the partaking of the Lord’s Supper. If the former, then it seems unusual that he spent so little time on it, offering no real corrective teaching. The divisions related to the Lord’s Supper were between those who had food and those who did not.

1Co 11:20-22 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!

In ancient Corinth, there was a social custom of covered dish dinners. A group would come together, each person bringing a dish to share, and everyone would eat together. This sort of meal was also practiced by the early church, called the Agape, or Love Feast, and it was the setting in which they partook of the Lord’s Supper. However, the practice had become corrupt in the Corinthian church. Apparently the well-to-do members were eating together, and not sharing with the poor who had no food. In this way they aggravated the division between rich and poor in the congregation.

In correction of their impropriety, Paul taught them the meaning of the Lord’s Supper:

1Co 11:23-26 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

The Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of Jesus. Our Lord said “This is my body, which is for you.” The very body of Jesus was “for” us. Note that when Jesus said this, he was still in his body–and it was quite obvious that the bread and his body were two different things. He wasn’t teaching that the bread was his literal body. Instead, he was teaching us how to remember his body, which was given for us. Likewise, with the cup of wine, he gave us a way to remember the gift of the new covenant, given at the cost of his blood. In partaking of the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim that he died to redeem us from our sins. What a holy message, and what a sacred memorial!

In contrast to the holiness of the Lord’s Supper, the Corinthian church was behaving in a self centered and self indulgent manner at the so-called Love Feast.

1Co 11:27-32 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.

The Corinthians were partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. They needed to examine themselves, to recognize their sin, and to repent. Perhaps they were failing to remember the body and blood of Jesus when they partook. If they remembered, wouldn’t they be humble and extend grace to their brothers and sisters? Or, perhaps Paul meant that they were oblivious to the other members of the church, the body of Christ. They needed to recognize that they were just a part of the body, along with all the others. They needed each other, and they should be concerned about the needs of one another. Paul would talk more about that subject in chapter 12.

1Co 11:33-34 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions.

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