Monday, June 6, 2011

1 Corinthians 11:17-34 Abuse of the Lord's Supper

TEXT : 1 Corinthians  11: 17 -34

TITLE:  Abuse of the Lord’s Supper  

DATE :   05 /06 /2011

Chapters 11-14   deal with matters of worship.

Four   issues  challenge the life of worship in this church:  
   (i)   A lack of  understanding  of the  role/ function   of  the sexes.  
          (Ch 11:1-16) 
  (ii)  Abuse of the Lord’s supper ( Ch 11:17-34)   
  (iii) A lack of understanding  concerning the spiritual gifts  (Ch's   
         12    &14)
  (iv)  A lack  of  understanding the nature of biblical love  ( Ch 13)

Last time  we considered the  matter of failing to recognize  the God  delineated  order and authority in creation  as applied to the relationship between men and women. Present human philosophies tend towards  egalitarianism (there is no  functional difference  between men and women)  while  the Bible teaches ‘complementarianism (men and women are equal in worth but different and complementary in function). Ignoring  God’s created  order and authority structures  causes not only societal problems, but  it causes  problems in the  structures  and worship of the church.  Men are called to be the loving heads of their households, and men are called to lead in the church.  Where men fail to lead in their homes and  in the  church there  will be  problems because God will not  allow men  to  disregard His wise  design!

We are now  dealing with the  second  issue   that challenged the life of worship in the Corinthian  church: Abuse of the Lord’s supper. This also  is no small   issue , for  to  abuse the Lord’s supper is to insult the  Lord  Jesus Christ  who  has instituted  that this supper  should be kept in remembrance of Him, and  until His return!  Abusing the  Lord’s supper   kills  one of the most potent  symbols of  biblical worship in the church. 

What was it  that had led to the abuse of the Lord’s supper?  Paul speaks about  divisions  and  a ruthless individualism  that led to  the Lord’s  supper  becoming  a segregated  meal  in which some  also got drunk  whilst some  went hungry.


Before we consider the  text in more detail  we  must  understand how the early church celebrated the Lord’s supper .
We  modern   Christians observe the Lord’s Supper as part of a worship service, and  the actual  meal (bread & grape juice)  that we share is mainly symbolic.  In the early church however,  the Lord’s Supper was part of a religious meal.  The Lord’s Supper  actually originated from the Passover meal (first instituted in Exodus  12:43-51). It was during the  “last supper”  that Jesus shared with His disciples,  before  He was crucified,  that  the connection is made between the   Exodus Passover Lamb   and Himself,  the Lamb of God (the favourite name   for  Jesus  by the apostle John in the book of Revelation).  Both Lambs avert the wrath of God towards His people.
Religious meals , following  the sacrifice of an animal to God  were  commonly held at the temple in Jerusalem, and they were   attended  by  guests which the offeror had  invited  to such an occasion,  and  at  which the host and his guests ate the sacrificed meat.[1]  

The early Christian church  had  turned  this into a regular occasion. They called it the love (agape)  feast  (e.g. Jude 12) and the  Lord’s supper  became  the highlight  of it. 
These meals were usually held in homes since there  were  as yet no church buildings  in  existence  among   this first  generation  of Christians.  These meetings would have presumably taken place  in the  homes  of the wealthier  church members, who had  homes   large enough to hold  such an event. 
Now let us follow the text and try to understand what is happening here.

V. 17 & 18  : 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.
This   church was not unified in worship. It was divided. We had seen this  already in  Chapter  1.  There those divisions were based on   those  who  followed  different leader personalities of the early church  …. Paul … Apollos … Cephas … Christ (1: 12).   I can assure you that none of these  personalities  would have approved of such divisions! Paul,  (one of those)  makes it clear that  he cannot  commend   them for  their divisions .     The Communion service  was not bringing them together in Christ   as intended  – it was doing the opposite . It was  tearing them apart ! 
And so Paul responds …

v.19 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.   Paul isn't saying  that such divisions are a good thing, but he is acknowledging that this kind of behavior will occur from time to time in the church  to reveal who has genuine faith and who does not.

Vv 20-22  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.
Here we have the heart of the problem stated . People were coming with their  “potluck meals”  to the home   of   a wealthier member  of the church . The church consisted of  rich and poor – masters and slaves;  they had all become one in Christ – brothers and sisters in the Lord (Gal 3:28 ; Eph  2:11-22).  Now here is the tricky part. That which wealthier members might bring to a table and that which  poorer members might bring to the table  a problem . It may have been that  the rich  would have  had their sumptuous food and drink  in one part of the house  - the dining room  (the  triclinium”) with its limited  space,  while  the poorer  members would have been eating their very ordinary  food  in the “atrium”  or  the courtyard , segregated  from each other.  It reminds me  a little bit  of the   typical   Namibian  ‘braai   gathering’ where the men  separate themselves from the women  and  stand around the fire,   eating the  best of the  ‘boerewors’ from the grill while the women  are all   in the kitchen  starving until  the braai meat  is eventually served 2 hours later!    

Paul’s words  indicate  that  there was a  lack of sensitivity in Corinth  towards each other. This was  fuelled by an unsanctified, self centered individualism, class consciousness  and   a gluttonous appetite.   “For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk.”   They were bringing their potluck meals, but  there was no flow of food  between the triclinium (where the rich were  assembled  with their food)  and the atrium  where the poorer Christians and perhaps the slaves  gathered  with their food !   Some got drunk  and others who brought nothing to eat – well,  they  just went hungry. How I thank God  that our people at Eastside are generous in sharing their  fellowship meals with one another – and that those who bring nothing  to our love feasts  need   not  be ashamed  or embarrassed  because there is always more  than  enough!
But what is worse  is that  the highlight of this agape meal, the Lord’s supper is now eclipsed by  this utter selfishness.  Class systems and food have moved  the Lord’s supper out of the center!
So , no  wonder   that Paul  responds indignantly :
V. 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?”    They are turning this love feast into an orgy. Worse  still,Paul says,   they “despise the church of God   which is made up of all  types and economic classes.  He is saying to the wealthier  Christians,  You  are humiliating your poorer  brothers and sisters!  Shame on you!

This  ugly  happening  causes Paul  to  have to remind them  once again  concerning  the centrality and   procedure   of the Lord’s supper:  (vv 23-26
(i) It is  a God given  ordinance “ For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.
(ii) It was a perpetual reminder of the  work of Christ on the cross – the heart of the gospel,   which needed to  remain in  the heart of the church ! 23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.  You cannot with all sincerity  proclaim the Lord's death for sinners as your hope of eternal life and, at the same time, despise  your brothers.
(iii)It was a warning  against abusing the Lord’s  supper : 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 
Deliberately despising the means of grace  has spiritual consequences. Hebrews  10:29  has  a strong  message for such: 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? Self examination is necessary. Why do you come to this table?  “…anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body  (i.e.  not the church, but the body  and blood of Christ) eats and drinks judgment on himself…”. Spiritual sin  may have physical results. Paul  informs the  church that  the reason for the sicknesses and untimely  deaths in the congregation may be  due  to  this ungodly attitude towards the Lord’s  supper.  The value  of  constant self examination, particularly  in the context of the Lord’s supper cannot be  understated (vv 31,32) 

Vv. 33 -34 Conclusion  : So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

What is the bottom line  of Paul’s teaching here ? 
1. He is addressing a worship problem in the church. This is not  primarily  a doctrinal treatise on  the Lord’s supper.  They  were despising  the   Lord Jesus by making their  class, cultures and their stomachs  more important than Christ. He warned them concerning the consequences.  
2.  This problem  can be  quickly corrected  through  repentance in attitude and action. That is ultimately what Paul is asking the Corinthians  to do .  He is very proactive , and that is what I want you to see  here.   This teaching does  not stress that you have to come  to the table because you  “feel on top of  your sins“, but  because  you  “feel  the need for help with  your sins”. Self examination must not lead you away from the table, but to the Lord’s table. Self examination leads you to reconciliation with your brother,  and not away from your brother.  Self examination does not lead you ultimately to self condemnation but to joy and freedom in Christ!  So, don’t fear the table , but love the table.  Don’t  ever stay away from  it, it is a means of grace. Don’t flee from Christ. Flee to Christ. The Scriptures offer so much mercy to repentant sinners. It is the proud, and arrogant  that God will despise.
3.  Be careful that you don’t despise   Christ or your brothers and sisters in Christ either in attitude or action. The salvation  represented in that Supper was accomplished by a great sacrifice. Don’t despise the body and blood of Jesus. The life that flowed  to you from  His life  should be marked by the same self-sacrificial love for  others and  the same  humility  towards  others.   To that end keep short accounts with pride;  don’t allow  your culture  or economic status  or  physical appetites come between you.   If you love fine food, eat at home.
Love is at the heart  of this great church ordinance (or sacrament), for  it displays the greatest love ever given – the life of our Lord for our salvation. Because we are so loved, let us love one another, for  Christ’s  glory. Amen!

[1] This practice was not always distinctly Christian , for the pagan religions also had   a similar   practice. Christians attending these meals in  honour of pagan idols  became the  issue addressed by Paul   in Chapter’s  8 &10.   

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