Summary: Have you ever sat in a communion service and been told to examine yourself? This is indeed God’s word to us! But what Paul meant was something considerably different from what is often said or implied today


I COR. 11:17 34

Have you ever sat in a communion service and been told to examine yourself? This is indeed God’s word to us! But what Paul meant was something considerably different from what is often said or implied today.

Read 17 34

The passage I’ve just read is especially familiar to any of us who have been in the church for any significant length of time. The problem is that we know this passage so well that we hardly think of it as needing to be interpreted.

Yet this passage, which we know so well, is part of Paul’s response to a problem that is somewhat difficult to reconstruct. But since the theme of "examination" and "judgment" is so predominant, they must certainly have been written in direct response to the error in the church at Corinth.

The church at Corinth had many problems, as many of you well know. This specific problem has to do with an abuse of the Lord’s Supper in the context of community.

Five times in these verses Paul repeats the verb "when you come together" or "assemble". This verb is a semi technical term for the church assembling together as a community to experience the presence of the Spirit and the power of the Lord.

The language is important: "When you come together as a church." So it is a community gathering.

The word translated "Lord’s Supper" is another semi technical term for the Christian meal. Literally it means "a supper in honor of the Lord." This means that the meal is one that pertains to the Lord or is held in His honor.

Verses 23 25 make it very clear that it is not simply any meal held in Christ’s honor. It is the meal, the meal by which the church uses symbolic action to rehearse the events surrounding the death of Christ that brought redemption.

When Paul says in verse 20 that it is not the Lord’s Supper they are eating, he does not mean that they are not actually partaking of the Lord’s Supper. What he means is: The things they are doing to the supper so abuse it that the Supper is no longer "in honor of the Lord"

We know that for many years the Jewish people anticipated the hope of the coming of the Messiah. Part of their anticipation was the hope of celebrating at a great banquet in the presence of God.

It was this hope that lay behind the attempt to make Jesus a King right after he fed the five thousand. They saw in that miracle the possible fulfillment of their hopes in that great messianic feast.

Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper in the context of that hope. He said, in effect, "I will not eat of this meal again until it is fulfilled in the end time. But you shall eat it until that day." It is only natural that the anticipation of that event would itself be a feast.

In the first century the church celebrated it’s life in Christ at the table together; and the Lord’s Supper was undoubtedly a regular part of that celebration.

Almost certainly this combination of the Lord’s Supper with the love feast is the necessary background in order for us to understand the Corinthian abuse.

Apparently some of the Corinthians thought of the Christian meal too much in terms of their former practices as pagans...(explain)

The result was a love feast that was altogether too much "feast" and too little "love."

On the one hand, they were clearly missing the point of the Lord’s Supper as a meal in honor of the Lord. Their gluttony and drunkenness were scarcely in keeping with "the Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed."

The first dimension of the problem, therefore, was vertical. It had something to do with their relationship to the Lord at His table.

Verses 23 32 speak directly to this.

But Paul is obviously deeply concerned about the horizontal dimension as well, which has to do with their relationships with one another. There was "too little love." Both the beginning and the ending of the passage speak directly to those abusing the church. But what exactly did the abuse consist of?

In verse 18 he says "There are divisions among you." The divisions in some way seem to be along the lines of "rich" and "poor." One remains hungry while another is full and gets drunk. Those who have nothing are being humiliated by those who have "homes to eat and drink in.

But if the poor are being humiliated by the gluttony and drunkenness of the rich, even worse is the fact that they are being excluded altogether from the Lord’s Supper.

If you would look back to chapter 1 verse 26 you’d see that the Corinthian church was made up of a large number of "nobodies."

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