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. 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, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 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.

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, 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 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.” or as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

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. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—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.

Observation

  • Paul did not commend the Corinthians because of their behavior at the Lord’s Supper.
  • The Corinthians did not come together of the better.
  • The Corinthians came together to the wrong purpose.
  • There were divisions among the Corinthians as a church when they came together.
  • There had to be factions in the Corinthian Church otherwise there could not have been true Christians in the Church.
  • The Corinthians did not eat the Lord’s Supper because each one ate their own meal.
  • When they were supposed to be celebrating the Lord’s Supper some went hungry and some got drunk.
  • They should eat and drink their meals in their own houses.
  • Those who had nothing to eat were humiliated.
  • Their actions humiliated the church.
  • Paul received from Christ what he taught the Corinthians about the Lord’s Supper
  • Paul taught:
    • The Lord’s Supper was instituted on the night Christ was betrayed.
    • The Lord gave thanks for the bread.
    • After giving thanks Jesus Christ broke the bread.
    • After Jesus Christ broke the bread, he said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
    • The cup of wine was dedicated after the supper.
    • Jesus Christ took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
    • The cup of wine represented the new covenant.
    • The new covenant is in Jesus Christ’s blood.
    • We are to remember Christ very time we drink the cup of wine.
    • Whenever we eat the bread and drink the cup we testify that the Jesus died.
    • We are to proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
  • Anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in a perverse way brings condemnation on himself.
  • Anyone who perverting the Lords Supper is guilty of the death of the Lord.
  • We are to examine ourselves before we eat and drink the Lord’s Supper.
  • Many of the Corinthians were weak and ill. And some had died because of the way they perverted the Lord’s Supper.
  • If we are honest with ourselves we would not be judged.
  • We are judged by the Lord.
  • The Lord disciplines so that we will not be condemned with the rest of the world.
  • Your physical hunger is to be fulfilled at home not at the Lord’s Supper.
  • The Corinthians had other questions for Paul and he would talk about them in person.

Interpretation

Paul softens the blow he is about to delivery by first mentioning something he could commend the Corinthians about in the preceding verses. The Corinthians did a good job keeping the traditions. So Paul commended them for that. But now he says they are abusing the Lord’s Supper and not in ignorance. Paul condemns them strongly for this behavior.

Paul condemns them on two fronts. First, they do not come together for the good. Second, when they come together, they actually come together to make things worse. This is much more serious. Whenever the church comes together there should always to be fruit. When the Word is preached we should; have more confidence in God, progress in living a holy life, increase in our fear of God, and advance in a new life. (Roman 6:4)

In Corinth that was not the case. Not only were they not of one accord, everyone was consumed in their own interests. When we have only our own interest at heart we barely tolerate our brothers and sisters in Christ. As a result, we profane the gifts of God. The table of the Lord is to be celebrated in community. We do not partake of it by ourselves, individually. That is one of the reasons Paul condemns the Corinthians so strongly. (v 21-22) Paul said what they were doing was not the Lord’s Supper. They are just eating a meal. Their behavior left some in need while others over indulged.

It appears from Tertullian, one of the early Church Fathers, that this was an ancient custom in Corinth.*  It probably originated in both Pagan and Jewish cultures. Both cultures sacrificial rites were accompanied with a feast or meal. The Christians in Corinth added this practice as an appendage to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

But this practice did not bring glory to God. In fact, Paul says it shows contempt for the church of God in addition to humiliating those who had nothing. They polluted the sacrament by observing it incorrectly. Those with a low view of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper should take note. Not observing the Lord’s Supper correctly profanes the Lord’s Supper. We should pay close attention as we try to understand how the Lord’s Supper is to be celebrated.

First, Christ gave thanks (John 6:23). Christ gave thanks to the Father for His mercy and the unimaginable benefits of redemption. Christ also lifts up our minds and acknowledges the boundless love of God towards us and ignites our minds with gratitude.

Is the Lord’s Supper simply an empty ceremony? No, Christ attaches a promise to the meal. At the same time as He says He will give His body, He also commands us to take and eat the bread. Therefore, unless we obey this commandment there is no reason we can glory in His promise. In other words, the promise is attached to the commandment in a conditional way. The Lord’s Supper accomplishes something only if the condition is met. It is our part to obey the command and call on God that He may fulfill His promises. Otherwise we shut ourselves out from the promise of God.

Christ said, “This is my body….” He also said “Take and eat….” (Matt 26:26) What Christ is communicating is; by participating in the breaking of bread, in the manner I have prescribed, you will be participants also in my body.

“This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” This is a phrase that has been hotly debated ever since the reformation. While Luther rejected Rome’s concept of transubstantiation, he held a very high view of the Lord’s Supper. Luther contended that Christ was physically present in some way. Zwingli, another reformer, took a low view of the Lord’s Supper and claimed the Lord’s Supper was only a memorial.

The church lost a great opportunity for unity when the two men could not agree on this point and as a result Protestants remain fractured even to this day. The story goes Luther took off his shoe and beat it on the table yelling, “This is my body. This is my body.” Zwingli took out his knife and carved into the table. “Do this in remembrance of me.” The two were not able to resolve their differences. Calvin took what some claim is a middle ground. As one writer put it, as so often happens when someone tries to reconcile two differing positions they end up being condemned by both sides. Calvin’s view, which I believe is the better and more theologically consistent view, is that Christ is present, but present in spirit. Physically Christ remains in heaven being an advocate for us before the Father.

Calvin’s comment on the omnipresence of the body of Christ is, “Some imagine that Christ’s body is infinite, and is not confined to any one space, but fills heaven and earth, like his Divine essence. This fancy is too absurd to require refutation…. But that participation in the body of Christ, which, I affirm, is presented to us in the Supper, does not require a local presence, nor the descent of Christ, nor infinite extension, nor anything of that nature, for the Supper being a heavenly action, there is no absurdity in saying, that Christ, while remaining in heaven, is received by us.” *

If Christ were physically present that would require a physical omnipresence of Christ. That denies the physical humanity of Christ. Omnipresence is an attribute not associated with humanness.

Rome’s view of transubstantiation is that in the miracle of the mass, the bread and wine become the blood and body of Christ in their essence. The mass is another sacrifice of Christ, a non-bloody sacrifice, but nonetheless a sacrifice.

Another sacrifice is completely without command from Christ. While Christ appointed the celebration of the Supper for the purpose of participating in his body and in remembrance of his death, Rome perverts it to a totally different purpose. The idea that it is another sacrifice is not extra biblical it is contra-biblical. Christ sacrifice was only once. (Hebrews 10:10-13)

So that we may understand the meaning, the expression, this is my body, is figurative. What comes immediately after is “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” The argument that Christ could have used other words if he did not mean the bread was actually his body is absurd. Christ made constant use of metaphors throughout his ministry. “I am the door.” Christ was not claiming to have hinges. “I am good shepherd,” Christ never herded sheep. Metaphors were a common teaching tool of Christ and used throughout scripture.

Zwingli was partially correct. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial. I am sure Luther would agree. Where Zwingli goes off the rails is the Supper is much more. The bread is Christ’s body because it testifies that the body, which it represents, is held for us. The Lord holds out to us a symbol. At the same time it gives us Christ’s own body. Christ does not deceive or mock us with empty representations. The reality is joined together with the sign or symbol.

We need to look beyond the bread. Leave to Christ the manner in which he is present. To do otherwise will drive us to a heresy at either end of the spectrum. We will end up denying His humanity or confusing and mixing His two natures, that is, both His divine and human natures. The other end of the spectrum will cause us to commit idolatry by worshiping a piece of bread. Simply understand that Christ remains in His heavenly glory and He is present in some manner in the Supper.

The Lord’s Supper then is a mirror which represents Christ crucified to us.

Those with a low view of the Lord’s Supper claim Christ is not present because it is only a remembrance. They point out that a remembrance applies only when something is absent. The answer to that objection is easy. Christ is absent in the sense that Christ is not visibly present. The Lord’s Supper is to remind us of Him by representing Him. In short, so that Christ may be present with us, He does not change His place, but communicates to us from heaven the virtue of his flesh, as if it were present.

The cup is the New Covenant. We are recipient of God’s grace of reconciliation. Therefore, in the Lord’s Supper we have both a covenant and a pledge of the covenant. The covenant of the Lord is actually included in the sacraments. The sacraments are not simply external signs of profession; they are also inwards aids to our faith.

What does Paul mean when he says, “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.” (v27) To eat unworthily is to pervert it by our abuse of it. I believe from the context Paul is talking about is more than unconfessed sin, though in the next verse this is clearly in play. Because Paul is has just spoken about how the Lord’s Supper is to be observed, it is clear he also includes an incorrect observation of the Lord’s Supper as taking it unworthily. Those with a very low very of the Lord’s Supper should take heed. According to Paul they are guilty of the blood and body of Christ.

An Application

Many in the Protestant church today have a very low view of the sacraments. I once sat in a service where the pastor actually said, from the pulpit, that the bread and wine had no actually meaning. “We could use milk and cookies if we wanted to do so.” I have heard of youth pastors using coke and pizza.

Paul condemned the Corinthians for observing the Lord’s Supper incorrectly. We need to be careful to not profane the Lord’s Supper as well by making it a meaningless ceremony or ritual we do every once in a while.

Paul said that those who eat and drank the Supper in an unworthy manner were guilty of the blood and body of Christ. What we do is important. How we do it is also important.

 

*The Complete Biblical Commentary Collection of John Calvin

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