Text: 1Corinthians 11:19-34
In the first ten chapters, Paul, who loves the church with God’s own love, has reprimanded, beseeched and instructed the troubled church in Corinth. All of what he has written, and all that they have said and done, reflects their infancy in Christ. They have not comprehended that Christianity is not about outward works, but an inward work in their hearts.
Now, he rebukes them strongly regarding their abuse of the Lord’s Supper, the resulting judgment of them by the Lord, and its consequences.
If I were to give this a title, it would be, “Dishonoring the Lord.”
I am repeating what I said last time — Paul writes that there MUST be factions (heretical teachings) within the church. Those who stir up strife and disputes by teaching or following heresy are known by their actions. And those who are approved (who are proven acceptable) by God are known by their actions.
As I did last time, Paul and I warn Christians that those who are fond of strife and disputes are NOT approved by God. May this serve as a warning to teachers of heresy, power-players, gossipers and tale-bearers in today’s church!
And now, Paul speaks of the Lord’s Supper. Their abuse of it is evidence of their lack of understanding, of their infancy, and of the strife and disputes among them.
He chides them, for when they gather, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper (that which some call “communion”), because in their eating, each one takes his own supper first, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What does he mean?
According to some commentators, some of the rich believers may be bringing their own privately prepared meals to the service of the Lord’s Supper, not sharing their meals with poor believers who cannot afford to do so. The commentators reason that when the Lord instituted the Supper, it was a meal.
But it was the Passover Seder that He shared with His disciples on the night He was to be arrested. It was just as He commanded them, and Matthew 26:18-19 records His instructions and their response. As they took of the unleavened bread and the wine that He gave them, He expanded upon the meaning of the Seder, for He is the Passover Lamb, and it is His blood on the doorposts of our hearts that causes death to pass over us. And the unleavened bread is pierced, just as He was, on the cross.
So, the Lord’s Supper is not about sharing food, but sharing in the Lord, as a memorial to Him and His work on the cross! But if the commentators are correct, the focus of the infants in Christ at Corinth is on the food they bring, not on the Lord whom they are to remember.
When I look at this passage, though, I believe Paul means that in Corinth, the Lord’s Supper is a frenzied “me first” kind of affair. Everyone comes in, and some go forward and grab the wine and bread and eat and drink it up, leaving none for those who do not beat them to it.
I know that koinonia (fellowship) times, which included meals, were part of the church, in the Book of Acts. But the Lord’s Supper (breaking bread) is a separate activity (i.e., discipleship, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer, meals) —
Acts 2:42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer . . . (the breaking of bread refers to the Lord’s Supper, and fellowship and breaking of bread are spoken of as separate events)
Acts 2:46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart . . . (if breaking bread is a meal, why would Luke speak of breaking bread as a separate activity?)
So the believers at Corinth are greedy, gobbling up and guzzling down the elements (bread and wine) and the service of the Lord’s Supper is frenzied. It is yet another indication that they are infants in Christ. In their conduct, there is no evidence that they grasp the significance of the Supper.
For the believers at Corinth, the Lord’s Supper has become just another church event at which they push and shove others away, and eat and drink, even to the point of drunkenness! Ezekiel prophesies —
Ezekiel 34:21 “Because you push with side and with shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns until you have scattered them abroad, 22 therefore, I will deliver My flock, and they will no longer be a prey; and I will judge between one sheep and another.
For their behavior, Paul resoundingly rebukes them. What???? He has never heard of such a thing! And so he asks them why they don’t eat at home, and then come to take the Lord’s Supper. By eating in front of the poor, they shame the poor who have nothing.
What shall Paul say to them? Shall he praise them? In this he will not praise them.
You may wonder what this has to do with the church today. I do not see a frenzy at the Lord’s Supper, but I see that many take the Lord’s Supper simply as a ritual and have no grasp of its spiritual significance. Some complain that they should have extra wine or grape juice because the bread is dry! And I have yet to see a tear-stained face, when (or if) the congregation is asked to evaluate themselves and repent for sins they have committed, prior to coming forward to take the elements. In this, I will not praise today’s church.
Why must sinning believers repent? We will soon see!
Paul now re-teaches the believers at Corinth regarding the Lord’s Supper. His teaching came from the Lord — Paul received it from the Lord, directly. And Paul had already faithfully delivered the Lord’s instructions to the Corinthians. They simply are not obeying what Paul has taught them.
The instructions from the Lord Jesus are —
The Lord Jesus, in the night in which 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, He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
There is no evidence, by the actions of the believers at Corinth, that they are taking the Lord’s Supper as a memorial to Him, and to His work on the cross. It is simply bread and wine which they greedily devour!
But they are greedily devouring something which represents His body and blood, disregarding the significance of it, and of Jesus’ instructions, and thus, they profane the Supper and offend the Lord.
There is no repentance, no getting right with the Lord, no asking for forgiveness for the sins they are committing, ones which Paul has already enumerated. Thus, they “abuse the Lord’s Supper.” Through their actions, they reveal the state of their hearts, and in their disregard for the true nature of the Lord’s Supper, they sin against the Lord!
Paul reminds them that as often as they eat this bread and drink the cup, they proclaim the Lord’s death until He returns. But the believers at Corinth are not proclaiming the Lord’s death and memorializing what He did to reconcile them to God and forgive their past sins!
Be sure to note that Paul speaks here of the Lord’s return. He is coming again, but not as Savior — He is coming to judge the earth! I will ask the Lord to help me teach it in 1Corinthians 15, where I will reference Revelation 19:11-16.
How does the act of taking the Lord’s Supper proclaim the Lord’s death until He returns?
We are obeying His instructions —
He has commanded us to take of His body, as a spiritual act of unity with Him and memorial of His sacrifice.
He has commanded us to drink of His blood, as a spiritual act of unity with Him and memorial of His sacrifice.
By obeying His instructions, we are proclaiming, “Yes! Jesus died on a cross and rose again, and we are the evidence that He has done it. We are the evidence that He rose from the grave, ascended, and poured out His Spirit! We have new hearts, and we do this as a memorial to His great sacrifice on our behalf!”
So, every time the church properly takes the Lord’s Supper, it is a proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! I pray you understand that this is not some empty ritual, but a command from the One who is returning as Judge (John 5:25-27).
Paul continues, saying if you take the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner (that is, disregarding both its significance and His sacrifice, thereby taking it irreverently), you shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord!
The believers at Corinth are taking the elements in a sinful way, and thus are guilty of sinning against the Lord Himself! And He has been judging them for their sin, as we will soon see!
O church, never treat the Lord’s Supper as rote, never take it lightly, never take it when your heart is not right with the Lord. Do not profane the memorial of His incomprehensible sacrifice!
Paul now teaches them that they must examine (test, discern) their hearts. They must repent for whatever the Lord shows them. Then, they may eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
They must judge the body (of Christ) rightly. In the Greek-to-English, it is “discern the body of the Lord.” If it is simply food to them, they are not discerning it rightly. If they do not want to examine their own hearts and get right with Him, they disobey the Lord and sin against Him.
So, if they do not examine their hearts and take the elements as a representation of the body and blood of Christ, a memorial to His great sacrifice on their behalf, they eat and drink judgment on themselves. The Lord will find them guilty of sinning against Him!
In what way has the Lord judged the believers at Corinth? Many among them are weak and sick, and a number sleep (have died).
Do you see that it is downright deadly to take the Lord’s Supper irreverently, with a heart that is not right toward the Lord, disregarding His sacrifice?
What happens in today’s church, during observations of the Lord’s Supper? Are you exhorted to examine your heart and repent? Or is the call to repentance deleted from the Lord’s Supper, at your church?
Beloved, you must reverently take the Supper, after repenting for the sins you have committed (as an infant in Christ), so that you may not become weak and sick, and even die. May it never be that I would hold back from rebuking today’s church in this! And by all means, pray to be filled with the Spirit so you no longer willfully disobey God!
But if believers judge themselves rightly, asking the Lord to examine their hearts and repenting for the sins they commit as infants in Christ, they would not be judged by the Lord when they take of His Supper, for they would reverently take it, honoring the Lord for His sacrifice.
The purpose of the Lord’s judgment is discipline of His church. His goal in disciplining them through judgments of them is that they repent! The Lord does not desire that they be condemned along with the world (2Peter 3:9)!
What? They are believers. Aren’t they saved? They have been saved. But if they do not repent, their names will be erased from the Book of Life. Jesus exhorts the church at Sardis —
Revelation 3:3-5 “So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. 4 ‘But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5 ‘He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”
Wake up, O church, and repent for what you are doing. Nothing is hidden from the sight of Him with whom you have to do —
Hebrews 4:13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
The Father, the Son, the Spirit, Paul and I do not want you to be condemned with the rest of the world!
Paul closes with very simple instructions to the infants in Christ at Corinth —
When you come together to eat, give everyone a chance to take of the body and blood of Christ. Do not be greedy! Do not push others away so you can eat and drink until you are full and your thirst is quenched or you become drunk!
And if you are hungry, eat at home. Gathering to take the Lord’s Supper was never meant to be about food. Your greed and lack of discerning the body and blood of Christ will surely result in judgment upon you — even sickness and death!
And Paul speaks of coming to them again. This letter is not enough. He will come in person, to see to it that the church at Corinth has taken his words to heart. A reference to that sorrowful visit is in 2Corinthians 2:1. Between the letters of 1Corinthians and 2Corinthians, he indeed pays them a painful visit.
Next time, we will begin to look at other errors committed by the infants in Christ at Corinth, in 1Corinthians 12. In it, Paul and I will address discerning false teachers, the working of the gifts of the Spirit, and their lack of understanding that these gifts are for the common good.