Summary: A study of how the Lord's Supper is not to be conducted.
In the movie “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” the first of the brides discovers to her dismay that she must live under same roof with her husband’s six brothers. She finds them to be uncouth, not having grown up around women, and she loses her patience at the dinner table when the men greedily grab at the food prepared. She stands, proceeds to turn the table over, and then lashes into them for their vulgar behavior. Paul would have approved.
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.
Paul had said in verse two that he commended the Corinthians for their keeping the traditions he had passed on. Though he then proceeded to correct them for an abuse of a tradition, at least he kept a calm demeanor as he explained why they needed to retain the tradition of head coverings. For this next issue, however, he is clearly upset. The reason being is that, whereas the other matter was more of a theological issue that needed correcting, this matter is simply one of rudeness.
18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you.
Paul had spoken of divisions back in chapter one. Those divisions were based on followings of personalities. As Paul said: What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ” (v 12). Those divisions were bad enough, but the ones concerning him now especially bad. In the other divisions, church members were at least, even if hypocritically, claiming to be on the “right” side. In their minds, there were principles at stake (even though Paul showed them how they were violating the principle of church unity). In this case, the divisions are caused by arrogance based on social class.
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.
One could take this statement in one of two ways. The NIV’s version reads: No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. This gives the impression that Paul is being sarcastic. He is saying, “You are making distinctions among yourselves to prove who has God’s approval.” It is more probable that he is saying something like this: “This kind of behavior will occur from time to time to reveal who among you has genuine faith and who does not.”
Before we go on, to understand what is happening, we should know the practice of the early church. In churches today, we observe the Lord’s Supper as part of a worship service. In the early church, the Lord’s Supper was part of a religious meal. The Lord’s Supper originated from the religious meal of the Passover, the “last supper” that Jesus shared with his disciples before his crucifixion. The sacrifices made at the temple in Jerusalem often included a meal in which the host and his guests ate the sacrificed meat. Other religions had the same practice, and it attending these meals was the concern of Paul’s in chapters 8 and 10 when he warns them of idolatry.