Summary: Divisions are never good in the body of Christ. But when the divisions take place over a celebration of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, things get serious real fast. In this lesson, we learn about avoiding the things that separate us, and clinging to that
Among the many problems of the Corinthian church was division. Earlier in the letter he talked about division around choosing one leader over another. In the second half of chapter 11 he focuses on another type of division that was splitting the Corinthian church: the division of rich and poor and it pertained to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The flow here is that Paul has been talking about making sure that you don’t shine brighter or call attention to yourself—more than the gospel. Beginning in Chapter 11 he focuses on how this works in the body of Christ. Last time it was about making sure you are aware of cultural norms so as not to draw attention away from Jesus. Now he’s talking about forgetting the reason we come together and letting the values of the world infect how we treat each other during a very important time in body life: Communion.
Communion is an important thing which we’ll talk more about when we get into the section. It was celebrated early on in the church. In fact, we find a reference to it in Acts 2:42-43 where it is referred to as “breaking of bread.” The early church would often have a potluck before taking communion, and this would sometimes take place in one of the larger homes of the congregation, thus in one of the more well off member’s houses.
It is both the way this “love feast” as it was called, was done, as well as their attitudes about communion itself.
At the beginning of the chapter Paul praised the Corinthians for listening to what he said regarding the traditions, but here he pointedly does not praise them. In the earlier matter of head coverings, the Corinthians still had good hearts towards worship; they just needed some help in understanding how to put the gospel before newly found freedoms. But here they were actually causing serious harm to the body of Christ.
18 – 19
This section drips with sarcasm. He’s saying that the higher class members of the body needed to be recognized as such. He calls them “approved” which is a good translation which comes from a word that means “acceptable after currant assayal”. They were better than the others and wanted everyone to know it. Interestingly, the word “faction” is the Greek word heresy which means “sect”.
20 – 22
They were not coming to celebrate communion but celebrate their superiority and demonstrate it by how they treated the less fortunate among them. Apparently what was happening was that the rich would sit by themselves with their buddies eating the food they brought while the poor had to sit in the atrium or courtyard with the meager rations they could acquire. Even worse, the “approved” members of the congregation were turning the love feast into an excuse to gorge themselves on food and drink too much.
Paul tells them in verse 22 that if they want to do that sort of thing do it at home away from a church function. It is embarrassing to those without resources and is an insult to the church itself because we are all poor and needy when it comes to righteousness. And through the grace and cross of Jesus Christ we all come equally to Him and are equal in His sight. The consequences for this were pretty serious, which we’ll get to in verse 30, but first Paul has to lay the ground work for why communion is so important and why the needed an attitude adjustment when it came to celebrating it!
23 – 26
This, of course, is the Last Supper. We find it in Luke 22:14 – 20, Mark 14:22 – 26, and Matthew 26:26 – 29. It was part of the Passover feast where Jesus took the third piece of bread, broke it and had His disciples eat, then took the third cup and had them drink of it. What was symbolic of what Yahweh had done for the children of Israel in bringing them out of Egypt now became hugely significant of what Jesus was about to do to rescue everyone from the bondage to sin who would call on His name.
Paul here emphasizes two aspects of communion: that Jesus told us to do it “in remembrance” of Him. It literally means “to bring to recollection”. The second thing is that in doing this we “proclaim” the Lord’s death until He returns. In treating the love feast and communion with such disdain they were casting a huge negative attitude toward the sacrifice of Jesus.
Communion is nothing to be taken lightly. We need to recollect the painful death and horror of Jesus being separated from the Father so that we would never have to be. What were they teaching to others with their division and debauchery? Certainly nothing that reflected positively on the Lord and His sacrifice. In light of that Paul has the most serious consequences yet.