Summary: In today's lesson we learn that proper Christian worship calls us to honor Christ and one another at the Lord's Supper.
We continue our study in The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians in a series I am calling Challenges Christians Face.
One of the challenges that Christians face is the issue of proper Christian worship. Let’s learn about that in a message I am calling, “Abuses at the Lord’s Supper.”
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 11:17-22:
17 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. (1 Corinthians 11:17-22)
A few months after getting married I applied for permanent residence status in the United States. On the appointed day Eileen and I made our way to the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) offices in downtown Chicago. We made our way up to the appropriate office. The office we entered had a gathering area leading up to a large counter. On the side of the counter was a gate that opened into a very large waiting area. As Eileen and I entered the room we noticed that there must have been about 30 or 40 foreigners in the waiting area pushing up against the counter. These foreigners looked like they were mostly Hispanics and non-Anglos. In fact, Eileen and I were the only Anglos in the waiting area, and we expected to wait a long time before we could get to the counter. Suddenly, within a minute of our arrival, the lady at the counter looked up and over the heads of all the others in front of us, and then motioned for Eileen and me to come to the counter. When we got to the counter she proceeded to check us in and, in no time at all, we found ourselves seated in the very large waiting area. I realized then that all the other foreigners in front of us had been pushed aside and we had been invited to go ahead of them—simply because we were Anglos. We were given preferential treatment simply because of the color of our skin.
The issue of preferential treatment also plagued the church at Corinth. The church at Corinth had different groups of people and preferential treatment was given to the rich at the expense of the poor with regard to the Lord’s Supper.
The Corinthian Christians tended to see themselves in individual relationships with Christ. They did not understand that they were also part of a corporate body in relationship with one another as well. When they came together to participate in the Lord’s Supper, they demonstrated this incorrect understanding by neglecting the poor Christians in the church. Even though there were strict social distinctions in Corinth, they did not yet understand that it contradicted the essence of unity in the body of Christ.
Many modern Christians misunderstand the corporate nature of our relationship with Christ and with one another. We sometimes do what is socially acceptable, but it is in fact a misunderstanding of our unity in Christ. By mistreating other Christians, we tempt God’s temporal judgment just as the church at Corinth did.
So, in our lesson today, we learn that proper Christian worship calls us to honor Christ and one another in the Lord’s Supper. Let’s learn about this as follows:
1. Words of Rebuke (11:17)
2. Divisions at the Table (11:18-22)
I. Words of Rebuke (11:17)
First, notice Paul’s words of rebuke.
You may recall that chapters 11-14 deal with the issue of proper Christian worship. Paul began the section in chapter 11 verse 2 by saying, “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” He began with words of praise because the Corinthian Christians were putting some of Paul’s teaching into practice.
But Paul could no longer commend the Christians in Corinth. So he said in verse 17a: “But in the following instructions I do not commend you.” Why could he no longer commend them?
“Because,” he said, “when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse” (11:17b). When they gathered together for worship, their gathering actually did more harm than good.