1 Corinthians 11:17-34. But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses 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 commend you in this? No, I will not.
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 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.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
Wow. This may be the grossest example from this letter of the sinful selfishness of the Corinthian church. Paul continues to attack their selfishness by reminding them of their union with Christ and their union to each other. We were not made to live for ourselves. We were made to live for the glory of God by living for the good of others. The place where this truth should be most visible, most remembered, and most practiced is at the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper was celebrated by the early church as they would come together in homes, where the church met in the first century. In Roman society, the rich and poor did not eat together. They ate in different parts of the house. The Corinthian church was practicing this same division during the Lord’s Supper. This is why Paul says, When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. Yes, they may be calling it the Lord’s Supper, but it’s not connected to our Lord when it creates division rather than unity.
The Lord’s Supper is meant to be a re-enactment and proclamation of the gospel. It re-enacts our rescue from slavery. Just like the Passover meal before it, the Lord’s Supper is meant to illustrates our slavery, our need for redemption, and our freedom. But the Corinthians made it another meal to demonstrate their social status. The gospel, however, unites us and levels us. We are all equally needy. We are all equally desperate. We are all equally free and slaves. The Lord’s Supper should shape our identity as self-sacrificing Christ followers. It should not be a place to get drunk, take advantage, over eat, and humiliate your fellow Christians. It should never be a place to distinguish between the “superior and inferior” Christians in the church.
The Lord’s Supper should be a celebration of the life of Jesus. Not the celebration of a dead man, but a celebration of a living God-man who will return for us – For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. The symbol of the bread and cup therefore, serve to strengthen our faith as we wait. As we proclaim Christ and his death for us, our confession of faith strengthens our faith.
But the Lord’s Supper is also an appropriation of the death of Christ. This is “to live is Christ,” that we live with Christ and die with Christ. Die to the selfishness that would cause division in our church. Die to the seeking of status. Die to our own rights and agenda. Remember in 1 Corinthians 10:16, Paul called the Lord’s Supper a participation or koinonia with the blood and body, that is, the death, of Christ. This is why Paul tells us that we must discern the body.
1 Corinthians 11:29. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
The body here likely means both the literal body of Christ (his death) and the Body of Christ, the church. We must discern that we are one with both the literal death of Christ and the Body of Christ which is the church. We are united to Christ and to each other. Judgment comes when we fail to realize this union and then live in selfish, self-promoting ways. Especially at the Table of Christ.
I know if you go to a church like mine, that the application of this passage can seem hard. It’s hard to act selfishly at my church’s communion. It is a short part of the service with juice and crackers in the pews of the church sanctuary. Not a full meal in someone’s home. So for us today the application may be in those other parts of church life where we are more prone to act in self-promoting ways and hurt others with our cliquish behavior. Maybe it’s the pot luck meal or church picnic. Maybe it’s just in the weekly worship service where you complain and seek your own preferences. Maybe it’s in where you sit or who you sit or don’t sit with. In general, is your behavior divisive or is it unifying?
Paul tells us, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. We are meant to take the Lord’s Supper together. Why? Because “To live is Christ” means that we share a common spiritual experience with our brothers and sisters in Christ. So wait for one another. Share those experiences of Christ with others. Let them deepen your unity. Don’t live your spiritual life on an island or in a clique. Bring others along with you in your journey. Grab some spiritual friends and journey together. Even if it means waiting for them. In this way you will truly discern the body of Christ.
Do you tend to do your spiritual life alone? Do you tend to separate Christians according to their spirituality? How can the Lord’s Supper be a time for you to discern the body of Christ as your union with his death, and the Body of Christ as the church?