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.
A religious meal, then, was a part of at least some of the worship services. These meals and services were usually held in homes. There were no church buildings among the first generation of Christians. These homes would have been those of the most wealthy of the church members, so as to be large enough to hold services. So, as we read the next verses, keep in mind that the ritual of the Lord’s Supper took place within the context of
of a real dinner.
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.
We have one upset apostle. He is angry with the bad manners being displayed at this religious meal. Here is what seems to be happening. I mentioned that the meals were held at homes of the wealthy. If I were the wealthy host of a banquet, it would proceed something like this. In the “triclinium,” my best dinner room, I would seat my special guests; in the “atrium” would be seated the remainder. The rooms are in full view of each other. For the meal, I would see that my special guests receive better and larger portions. Who are these special guests? Those with higher social standing. The Corinth Church had both the well-to-do and the poor, both free citizens and slaves. These distinctions were being enforced at the meals.