Corrections for Communion (1 Cor. 11:17-34)
1 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. 2 And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead, in order that the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst. 3 For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? 7 Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:1-8).
14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say. 16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? 19 What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we? (1 Corinthians 10:14-22).
17 But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part, I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you.
20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, 21 for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God, and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which 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 He took the cup also, 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.
27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world.
33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you may not come together for judgment. And the remaining matters I shall arrange when I come.
I was not always a model student in school. For some reason, I seemed most tempted to misbehave in my English classes. Such was the case one warm spring day in Mr. Riddell’s English class. The school sat on a hillside, and one could look outside the windows of Mr. Riddell’s classroom and see the hillside descending down onto the football field some distance below. One particular day it was warm enough to open the windows so that a small breeze could circulate in the classroom. I was sitting in the row beside the open windows after lunch, and since the lecture simply did not demand a great deal of my concentration, I started folding paper airplanes. When the teacher’s back was turned, I would fly them through the window where they would get caught in the breeze and glide gracefully down the hill.
One flight was especially magnificent. In fact, it was so good that Tommy Rowe, who sat just in front of me, became so caught up in its flight that he got up out of his seat and went to the window to get a better view of the plane’s descent. Although Mr. Riddell was speaking to the class, Tommy was not even conscious of the fact that Mr. Riddell had stopped, mid-sentence, to gape at this young man strolling from his seat to the window to watch with fascination. That is, he was not conscious of Mr. Riddell until his booming voice brought him sharply back to the real world. Hard pressed to explain what he was doing, Tommy blurted out the truth—he was watching my paper plane descend to the football field below.
Now Mr. Riddell was a very nice fellow as a rule. (Years later, I was privileged to teach with him in a high school in the nearby state prison.) But this really set Mr. Riddell off. How dare any student get up out of their seat and walk to the window in the middle of his lecture! He was right, of course, and I knew I was really finished. There was no excuse for my actions or for inadvertently getting Tommy into trouble. But Mr. Riddell chose to bear down on Tommy. “You can’t afford to be wasting your time with paper planes,” he bellowed and then gave him an extra assignment as punishment. I waited for him to pronounce sentence on me, but he simply returned to his lecture leaving me unpunished, inwardly relieved, but somewhat perplexed.
At times, disproportionate action seems meted out to some and not to others. This is true in the Bible, where seemingly trivial acts are at times dealt with in an unusually severe fashion. Adam and Eve are given the death sentence for eating a piece of forbidden fruit (Genesis 3). Nadab and Abihu are struck dead for offering “strange fire” to God (Leviticus 10:1; Numbers 3:4; 26:61). In Numbers 15:32-36, a man is stoned to death for picking up a few sticks of firewood on the Sabbath. Achan and his entire family are executed because Achan kept for himself a portion of the spoils of war (Joshua 7:1-26). Uzzah is struck dead by the Lord for reaching out and touching the ark, as he attempts to keep it from plunging to the ground from the ox cart on which it is being transported (2 Samuel 6:6-7). Because of David’s sin in numbering the Israelites, 70,000 Israelites die in a plague from the Lord (2 Samuel 24). Ananias and Sapphira are struck dead by the Lord for falsely reporting the amount of their donation to the church (Acts 5:1-11).
In light of these instances of divine discipline, it is hardly surprising to find divine discipline referred to in 1 Corinthians. We know from chapters 1-10 that there were many serious problems in the Corinthian church. And yet it is not until the final half of chapter 11 that we find a sin so serious that it results in divine discipline. God’s chastening comes in the form of weakness, sickness, and death for many of the Corinthian saints. According to Paul’s account, this discipline is extensive. We can see from our text that “many” of the Corinthians were weak and sick. According to the NASB, “a number” had died (Paul uses the term “sleep,” as it is found elsewhere—see John 11:11-14; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15). We might be inclined to think from the rendering of the NASB that a good many of the Corinthian saints were sickly, but that a considerably smaller number died. This is not really the sense of the term rendered “a number” in verse 30.
Here the translation, “a number,” in the NASB is understandable but unfortunate. Both the KJV and the NKJV render the term “many,” while the NASB translates, “a number.” Compare these translations of verse 30:
30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep (1 Corinthians 11:30, KJV).
30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep (1 Corinthians 11:30, NKJV).
30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 11:30, NIV).
30 For this reason many among you are invalid and sickly, and quite a number have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 11:30, Berkeley Version).
The translators of the NASB may have chosen the expression, “a number,” to render the particular Greek term Paul employed in the latter part of verse 30 to indicate that the Greek word rendered “many” earlier in the verse is different than the Greek word rendered “a number” in the last part of the verse. If so, the intent of the translators is noble, but the effect is to weaken the second term. The difficulty is that “a number” sounds rather like “some” or even “a few.” The Greek term is rendered “a number” only here, and elsewhere in the NASB it is translated “many” (9 times) and “considerable” (4 times), with “good many,” “great,” “large sum,” and “sizeable” all occurring once. Not only were many people weak and sick in Corinth, but a “good many” died. The discipline of the Lord was intense and extensive. There was a very serious problem at Corinth, which resulted in drastic disciplinary measures on God’s part.
What was this sin, so serious that it brought about divine judgment? Was it the shocking case of incest Paul referred to in chapter 5? Was it the lawsuits or sexual immorality of chapter 6? Was it divorce as dealt with in chapter 7? Was it involvement with idolatry as discussed in chapters 8-10? Was it the refusal of some women in Corinth to wear a head covering? No, it was none of these.
We might be somewhat relieved if we could conclude that those who were so severely judged in Corinth were those who partook of the cup as unbelievers. We often hear unbelievers being warned of the danger of partaking of the cup in their “unworthy state” as unforgiven sinners. This view has a number of difficulties, but it seems Paul cannot be speaking of unbelievers, for he calls their death “sleep,” clearly a term used for the death of a saint. Furthermore, Paul speaks of the sickness and death of many in the church as the Lord’s discipline, which takes place “in order that we may not be condemned along with the world” (verse 32). It must therefore be believers who are being disciplined by sickness and death.
Some suppose divine judgment has come upon believers who did not properly examine themselves, searching out and confessing their sins before partaking of communion. This interpretation also has a number of problems. First, there is certainly a theological problem with this interpretation. We are never “worthy” to partake of communion. Communion is the commemoration of our Lord’s sacrificial death in the sinner’s place. Because we are unworthy of eternal life and worthy of divine damnation, Christ died in our place on the cross of Calvary. He took our sins upon Himself. He alone is worthy, and communion celebrates what He has done for unworthy sinners like us. No matter how many sins we think of and confess, we will not be worthy, other than in the blood of Christ. Second, the word rendered “unworthily” (KJV) or “unworthy manner” (NASB, NIV, NKJV) is not an adjective describing the condition of the one partaking of communion, but an adverb, describing the manner in which one partakes of the Lord’s Supper. The sin of the Corinthians, for which divine discipline was imposed, was related to the manner in which the Lord’s Supper was observed.
I have thought for some time that the reason for divine discipline was the drunken and disorderly conduct at the Lord’s Supper. Certainly, Paul’s words inform us there were those who were drunk at the church meeting (verse 21), and chapter 14 seems to indicate that the sharing or speaking time of the meeting was unruly (see 14:26-40). But this is not the reason Paul gives for divine discipline. The real problem which resulted in divine discipline was that some of the Corinthian Christians refused to wait to eat the Lord’s Supper until all of the Corinthians had time to arrive. Those who arrived early seem to be the affluent members of the church, while those who came late were poor and probably were slaves. It is not too hard for a business owner to leave work early, but when you are a slave … Those who arrived early were eating their own food to excess and thus causing others to be deprived:
20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, 21 for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God, and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.
If it is not clear enough that this is the problem, we need only look at the final verses in this chapter to see what Paul says to the Corinthians regarding the solution to this serious problem:
33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you may not come together for judgment. And the remaining matters I shall arrange when I come.
Can you imagine this? A church with as many problems as this Corinthian assembly is not as severely disciplined by God for incest and immorality as for failing to wait for someone to arrive at the supper table before eating? How could this be? Why would God be so severe as to discipline many with sickness and death because of their table manners?
What Is the Problem?
Why was the Corinthians’ conduct so offensive to God that He disciplined these saints so severely? The answer lies in the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, a meaning which many of the Corinthians seem to have forsaken or forgotten, a meaning not grasped by many Christians today. Let us now think Paul’s thoughts after him to understand the seriousness of this sin of failing to wait for supper, the Lord’s Supper.
(1) The Lord’s Supper was a supper. Frequently, we speak of the Lord’s Supper as the “Lord’s Table,” although this expression occurs only once, in 1 Corinthians 10:21.159 Communion is another term frequently employed by Christians for the Lord’s Supper, and it conveys something significant about this meal. Nevertheless, it is only found once in 1 Corinthians 10:16 in the KJV and NKJV. The Lord’s Supper was a supper. When our Lord broke the bread and gave the wine to His disciples just before His death, He did so in the course of the meal (see “after supper,” 1 Corinthians 11:25). The celebration of the Lord’s Supper by the early church in Acts (2:42, 46; 20:7) and at Corinth was also observed as a part of a meal (11:20-22, 33-34). The Lord’s Supper seems to have been referred to as the “breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42, 46, 20:7).
(2) The Lord’s Supper was a meal that was celebrated by the entire church, when they gathered weekly as a congregation. The Lord’s Supper was a part of the meeting of the church. The whole church “gathered together,” a fact that Paul emphasizes five times in verses 17-34:
The verb ‘gather together,’ repeated five times in vv. 17-22 and 33-34, is one of the key words that holds the argument together. Given its similar usage in 14:23 and 26, it had probably become a semitechnical term for the ‘gathering together’ of the people of God for worship. Thus the concern is with what goes on when they ‘come together as the church’ (v. 18). The Corinthians problem was not their failure to gather, but their failure truly to be God’s new people when they gathered; here there was to be neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free (cf. 12:13).160
The term sunerchomai is employed eight times in the Gospels, two of which are found in Luke. The term is used 17 times in Acts, but not as a technical term for the church gathering. Elsewhere in the New Testament the term is employed only by Paul. In 1 Corinthians, the term is employed only in chapters 11 and 14. Paul is very clear about those times when his teaching is specifically directed to the “meeting of the church.” And when the church gathered weekly, the focus was the Lord’s Supper, although a number of other things happened also.
7 And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight (Acts 20:7, emphasis mine).
(3) In the Bible, the sharing of a meal is a most significant event. Throughout the Bible, the meal plays a very prominent symbolic role. The first sin is about the eating of an illicit or forbidden food in Genesis 2 and 3. Abraham’s hospitality in Genesis 18:1-8 and Lot’s in Genesis 19:1-3 are viewed as most significant events. The writer to the Hebrews even seems to refer to this when he writes:
1 Let love of the brethren continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:1-2).
Abraham’s servant used hospitality as one of his most important criteria for the selection of a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24:10ff.). Jacob teaches us of the important role which the meal played but in a very different way. He perverted the table, using it not as a means to serve others, but as a means to serve himself by taking advantage of his table guests. Thus, Jacob used his stew to obtain his brother’s birthright (Genesis 24:27-34), and he used a meal to deceive his father so that he received his blessing as though he were Esau (Genesis 27).
In Exodus 12, the climax of the contest between God and the gods of Egypt was the judgment of God on the first born of the Egyptians, and God’s “passing over” all those who celebrated the first “Passover.” Perhaps one of the most unusual meals in all the Old Testament is that described in Exodus 24:7-11:
7 Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” 8 So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” 9 Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, 10 and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. 11 Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they beheld God, and they ate and drank (Exodus 24:7-11).
In Exodus 32, when Aaron fashioned the golden calf, the Israelites engage in their idolatrous worship with a meal (32:1-6). The Israelites are seduced to engage in idolatrous worship with the Moabites when they accept the dinner invitation of the Moabites (Numbers 25:1-5). Judges 19 is a repetition of Sodom and Gomorrah, except the heathen are hospitable (verses 3-9) and the people of God are not, and they seek to rape the stranger in their midst (verses 10-26). David shows his love for Jonathan by making Mephibosheth (Jonathan’s surviving son) a guest at his table (2 Samuel 9). Psalm 23 describes the believer’s security and blessing in terms of a meal (Psalm 23:1-3 [a sheep’s meal], 5 [a banquet]). God’s care for the Israelites in the wilderness is poetically depicted as His preparing a table for them in the desert (Psalm 78:17-19). While Daniel is willing to live in Babylon to serve the king and even be educated in a Babylonian school, he draws the line at eating from the king’s table (Daniel 1).
In the New Testament, the Gospels continue to emphasize the significance of the dinner table. The feeding of the 5,000 is a most significant symbolic event, one our Lord employs to manifest Himself as the “bread from heaven” (John 6). The status-seeking of the scribes and Pharisees is evident by their seeking places of honor at the dinner table (Matthew 23:6; see also Luke 14:10; John 13). The Lord surely shocks His disciples when He speaks of serving them at the banquet table in the kingdom of God (Luke 12:37). He angers the Jews by informing them that while many Jews would not be sitting at His “banquet table” in the kingdom, many of the Gentiles would be seated at that table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Luke 13:22-30; see Matthew 8:11; 15:27). Jesus instructs His disciples about inviting guests to a banquet who can reciprocate, rather than those with real needs who cannot return the favor (Luke 14:12-14). Those who reject Jesus and His kingdom are likened to those who turn down an invitation to a banquet (Luke 14:15-24). The prodigal son is welcomed home with a banquet (Luke 15:11-32). Jesus promises His faithful disciples they will sit with Him at His table in the kingdom of God (Luke 22:30). When Jesus rises from the dead, He reveals Himself to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus while seated at the dinner table (Luke 24:30-31).
When God enters into a new covenant with men, this is often symbolized by a change in what His people can eat. In the Garden of Eden, it seems that men are vegetarians (Genesis 1:30). When God enters into covenant with Noah, men are given permission to eat meat (Genesis 9:1-7). When God makes a covenant with Israel through Moses, certain meats are declared “clean” and others “unclean.” To keep the Mosaic Covenant, one must watch what they eat. With the coming of Christ and the New Covenant in His blood, a new menu is prescribed. God declares all things to be clean (Mark 7:14-23). It takes a forceful vision to change Peter’s mind about eating foods previously declared unclean (Acts 10-11), but dietary matters are one of the things which separated Jews and Gentiles. At the Jerusalem Council, three of the four commands laid down for the Gentiles concerned food (see Acts 15:20, 29).
In the remainder of the New Testament, the dinner table is still a most important symbol. Paul severely rebukes Peter for separating himself from the Gentile believers and sitting at the supper table with the Jews (Galatians 2:11-21). In His letter to the Laodiceans, our Lord likens their repentance and restoration to fellowship with Him to sitting with Him at the meal table (Revelation 3:20). The final events described by John in Revelation 19 are depicted as two banquets. The first banquet in verses 1-10 is the marriage banquet, which celebrates the marriage of our Lord to His church. The second banquet I call the “banquet of the buzzards” (verses 11-18), in which the bodies of the defeated enemies of our Lord are consumed by the birds. In Revelation 22, it is almost as though we have returned to paradise regained, for there the “tree of life” is found, and by partaking of it, the nations are healed (Revelation 22:1-2).
(4) The Lord’s Supper was a meal which has its roots in the Old Testament celebration of Passover. The last supper, as described in the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and as communicated to Paul by our Lord (1 Corinthians 11:23-25), was originally a Passover celebration. Our Lord observed this Passover in an upper room, along with His 12 disciples. This “last supper” became the “first supper,” or more properly, the “Lord’s Supper.” Jesus instructs His disciples to continually observe this “supper” until His return (see verses 24 and 25).
(5) The Lord’s Supper was a supper with great symbolic meaning attached to it. The two most prominent symbols are the one loaf of bread, which is broken into pieces and shared by all, and the wine, which is apparently poured into a common cup and drunk by all. Jesus taught His disciples and Paul that the bread represents His body, and the wine, His blood. The one loaf of bread represents the physical body of our Lord, which was given for us so that we might be saved. The eternal Son of God took on human flesh in His incarnation, adding perfect, sinless humanity to His undiminished deity. He is the first and only God-man, as the result of His miraculous incarnation. He took on a sinless body so that He could endure our temptations without failure, and so that He could die in our place by taking our sins upon Himself. He could do this because he was sinless and did not need to die for His sins; He died bearing the guilt of our sins.
(6) You will notice that in 1 Corinthians, Paul places much emphasis on the bread. In chapter 5, Paul speaks of the bread in its developmental stage as one lump of dough which will be corrupted by the sinner who is not disciplined. In chapter 10, Paul speaks of the bread as “one bread” (10:16-17), so that all who partake of it are “one body.” The wine represents the “new covenant” in our Lord’s blood, but this is not so much emphasized in 1 Corinthians as elsewhere.
(7) The one loaf of bread, which was broken by our Lord and divided among His disciples, and which we share in communion as well, represents the physical “body of Christ.” The bread represents the actual body of Christ, in which our Lord came to the earth, successfully endured all the temptations we face, and then in His body, suffered and died in our place.
24 And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed (1 Peter 2:24).
By partaking of the bread in communion, we symbolize that we have, by faith, partaken of the work of Christ on our behalf at Calvary, by which we are cleansed from our sin and guilt and justified with His righteousness. This is what Jesus is teaching His disciples in John 6, but no one really grasps what He means until after His death and resurrection.
(8) The one loaf of bread, from which we partake at communion, also represents Christ’s spiritual body, the church. Communion is not a private celebration, but one which is observed by the entire church when it gathers to observe the Lord’s Supper (verses 17, 18, etc.). By partaking of a piece of the one loaf, we proclaim the unity of the church, the body of Christ, and our communion or fellowship with the rest of the saints, who have also partaken of the work of Christ.
17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread (1 Corinthians 10:17).
Thus, when we partake of a piece of the bread from one loaf, as a gathered church, we not only symbolize our union with Christ in His atoning work, but our union with His “body,” the church. We symbolize that we all, together, constitute the body of Christ, and that we are all equal sharers in the saving work of Christ. We profess not only our unity but our equality. We are all one body, and we all have equal standing in that body. It is by virtue of His work at Calvary that we are saved. No one is more saved or less saved than anyone else in the body of Christ.
11 Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands—12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:11-22).
(9) The problem with the Corinthians’ celebration of the Lord’s Supper was that of divisions. In verse 20, Paul begins to expose the problem that was occurring in the context of the Lord’s Supper. But in verses 17-19, Paul introduces this new section by focusing on the problem of divisions:
17 But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part, I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you (1 Corinthians 11:17-19).
Notice how Paul sets verses 17-34 apart from verses 1-16. Verses 1-16 are introduced with words of praise; verses 17-34 are set apart by Paul’s expressed refusal to praise them regarding their conduct at the Lord’s Supper. Verses 1-16 address the matter of head coverings, in a broad enough context to include the Lord’s Supper, but not so narrow as to restrict his instructions to the Lord’s Supper and the church meeting alone. And to emphasize that he has embarked on a new subject, restricted to the meeting of the church, Paul indicates that his first matter of rebuke concerns the divisions which are evident among them when they gather together as a church (verse 18). There is a very clear line of distinction drawn between verses 1-16 and 17-34 in my opinion, even though these two sections are related.
Here is why Paul finds it so important that the Corinthians wait for one another: it is so that they can all eat the Lord’s Supper together and so that each one who eats can receive an equal share. Here is why failing to wait for one another is such a serious sin. The symbolism of the Lord’s Supper is not limited just to the bread and the wine, but it extends to the entire meal as well. Some more affluent Corinthians were arriving earlier than others, and when they arrived, they refused to wait for their poorer brethren. They hastily ate the food which they had prepared and brought with them so that they could enjoy it all without sharing with the poorer members of the church. The “haves” received more than they needed, and the “have nots” did not get enough. There was blatant inequality at the Lord’s Supper. And yet Christ’s work on Calvary, commemorated in the Lord’s Supper, made all saints equal in Him. How could one commemorate Christ’s equalizing work of atonement by eating the meal in a way that exhibited inequality? How could the saints worship Him who said, “Blessed are you who are poor” (Luke 6:20) by shaming the poor? How could those who proclaimed their unity with their fellow believers ignore the physical needs of those who came with little or no food? How could a church which was one body begin to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with only a partial “body” present? What the Corinthians were doing at the Lord’s Supper denied the things the Supper was intended to symbolize. No wonder Paul said that when they gathered as a church, they were not celebrating the “Lord’s Supper.” They most certainly were not.
But wait. It gets worse. In the most general sense, the Lord’s Supper was a celebration of our Lord’s sacrifice on Calvary for our unmerited benefit and blessing. The Lord Jesus set aside His own personal interests and sacrificed His body so that by His sufferings in His body, we might be saved. And yet at the Lord’s Supper in Corinth, there is no self-sacrifice but only self-indulgence. The saints are all more concerned with satisfying their own bodily appetites than those of their fellow-believers. The most self-indulgent are those who least need food or drink. Those most in need are denied sustenance.
Let us seek to sum up the evils evident in the way the Corinthians observed the Lord’s Supper.
- The Corinthian Christians were not waiting for the poor to participate in the Lord’s Supper but were going ahead without them.
- The affluent Corinthians were satiating themselves with their own food and wine before the poor arrived, so that the “haves” had more than they needed, while the “have nots” were deprived of what they needed.
- The poor were therefore excluded from participation in worship and from the benefit of the food brought to the Lord’s Supper.
- In the way the Corinthians were conducting the Lord’s Supper, the poor were being publicly shamed and humiliated by exposing their deficiencies, rather than concealing them and providing for them.
- The poor were being treated as “second-class citizens” by their fellow-believers.
- The treatment of the poor was a denial and distortion of the gospel, which they symbolized and proclaimed by the Lord’s Supper.
- The Lord’s Supper, which commemorated the sacrificial gift of our Lord’s body and blood, had been perverted to an occasion for self-indulgence by giving way to selfish bodily lusts.
What Were the Corinthians
to Do to Rectify the Situation?
Paul exposes a serious problem in the Corinthians’ observance of the Lord’s Supper and links this problem to the sickness and deaths of many of the Corinthian saints, which are manifestations of divine discipline. Paul does not leave the Corinthians without a solution. In addition to exposing their sin for what it was, Paul tells them how to correct the problem and avoid further discipline from the Lord. The solution to the Corinthian crisis, according to Paul, is as follows:
(1) Recognize that their celebration of the Lord’s Supper was not really the Lord’s Supper at all. These Corinthians are “going through the motions” of observing the Lord’s Supper, but when you compare their practice with the reality of this Supper, it is apparent that what they were doing was nothing like what the Lord’s Supper was all about. Their celebration of the Lord’s Supper is something like a peace activist beating an innocent bystander with a sign with a dove on it. It is like a prison warden handing out handgun permits to the most violent inmates. It is like a man pawning his wedding ring to pay for a night with a prostitute.
How ironic that Paul assesses the situation in Corinth by saying their celebration of the Lord’s Supper is not a celebration of the (true) Lord’s Supper at all. I am reminded of the words of the prophet Amos as cited by Stephen in his final message to his Jewish brethren:
42 “But God turned away and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, ‘It was not to Me that you offered victims and sacrifices FORTY YEARS IN THE WILDERNESS, WAS IT, O house of Israel? 43 You also took along the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of the god Rompha, the images which you made to worship them. I also will remove you beyond Babylon’” (Acts 7:42-43).
I cannot imagine that Paul did not mentally recall where he first heard that religious rituals are a sham without religious reality, without practicing what we proclaim. Even from the grave, Stephen was still preaching through one of his assassins—Saul—now the Apostle Paul.
(2) Recapture the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, as it was first instituted by our Lord. Paul takes these Corinthians back to the original Lord’s Supper, as he received this tradition from the Lord. If the Corinthians are to practice the Lord’s Supper as our Lord meant it to be, they must be reminded of that first Lord’s Supper which our Lord celebrated with His disciples shortly before His death.
(3) Return to the simple message and meaning of the gospel. We know from the earlier chapters of this epistle that some of the Corinthians are being lured from the simple gospel by the false wisdom of some of their (would-be) leaders. Paul is thought of as simplistic and second class because of his refusal to embrace anything but the gospel message of Christ crucified. The Lord’s Supper is the commemoration of our Lord’s sacrificial life and death for the salvation and sanctification of lost sinners, in whose place He was condemned, and in Whom the saints have been forgiven, justified, and glorified. The Lord’s Supper means nothing apart from the gospel, and so it is by revisiting the gospel message through the symbols of the Lord’s Supper that we come to appreciate the significance of the Lord’s Supper.
(4) Understand that the symbols God has appointed reflect substance. Symbols mean little without the substance. This is truly difficult for the self-centered for whom the measure of the meeting is “What did I get out of it?” Over and over again, the Old Testament prophets rebuke the Israelites for their elaborate display of feigned spirituality through external rituals and symbols, but doing so without the substance of what these symbols represent:
1 “Cry loudly, do not hold back; Raise your voice like a trumpet, And declare to My people their transgression, And to the house of Jacob their sins. 2 Yet they seek Me day by day, and delight to know My ways, As a nation that has done righteousness, And has not forsaken the ordinance of their God. They ask Me for just decisions, They delight in the nearness of God. 3 ‘Why have we fasted and Thou dost not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and Thou dost not notice?’ Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, And drive hard all your workers. 4 Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high. 5 Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed, And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord? 6 Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free, And break every yoke? 7 Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you remove the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, 10 And if you give yourself to the hungry, And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness, And your gloom will become like midday. 11 And the Lord will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. 12 And those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell. 13 If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot From doing your own pleasure on My holy day, And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, And shall honor it, desisting from your own ways, From seeking your own pleasure, And speaking your own word, 14 Then you will take delight in the Lord, And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, For the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 58:1-14; see also Amos 5:21-24).
(5) Recognize the broader, corporate dimensions of the Lord’s Supper. The Corinthians tended to approach the Lord’s Supper in the same way most of us do, viewing the celebration individually and personally. Now do not misunderstand me here. If the Lord’s Supper does not apply to us personally and individually, it can have no meaning at all. But the Lord’s Supper goes beyond us as individuals and includes the church of our Lord corporately. When we partake of communion, we are not only reminded that we have partaken of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary for the forgiveness of our sins, we symbolically demonstrate that we have become a member of His body, the church. Communion symbolizes our identification with Christ and with His church. This is the message Paul seeks to convey in the second chapter of his Epistle to the Ephesians. In the first 10 verses, Paul reminds the Ephesians how they have been personally and individually saved from their sins to an eternal union with Christ.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) (Ephesians. 2:4-5).
In verses 11-22, Paul reminds his readers that they have been saved from their alienation and separation from the people of God to a new status where they are one people as believers in Christ.
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).
To fail to wait for other believers in the church and not to share the Lord’s Supper with them is a blatant disregard for this corporate dimension of Christ’s atoning work on Calvary, which is to be symbolized in the Lord’s Supper.
(6) The affluent Corinthians are to stop despising and shaming those in the body whose socio-economic status is lower than theirs, by waiting for them before celebrating the Lord’s Supper, and by sharing their supper with them. The Corinthians are guilty of the same offense as those whom James rebuked in his epistle:
1 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? (James 2:1-7)
The Corinthians are also guilty of the sin of Peter which Paul rebuked in Galatians 2:
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? (Galatians 2:11-14)
The solution was for the Corinthians to see how their actions contradicted the gospel and then how they turned their celebration of the Lord’s Supper into a hypocritical sham. They were to see to it that the way they celebrated communion was consistent in substance (practice) with the symbolism of the meal.
What Should We Do to
Avoid or Correct This Problem?
As we come to the 11th chapter of 1 Corinthians, we see that Paul was hardly speaking hypothetically in 9:24–10:13. Those who would win the race must exercise self-control “in all things” (9:25). Who would have ever thought that self-control was necessary in the church meeting? But it is vitally important there. The Corinthians should have had the self-control to wait for those who must come late and the self-control to share their food with others. Later we will see that they need self-control in speaking and sharing in the church meeting, for only one can speak at a time, and only that which edifies is to be spoken.
The problem Paul exposes in the Corinthians’ celebration of the Lord’s Supper should be instructive to us. I doubt very much that the Corinthians grasped the seriousness of the sin they committed by failing to wait for the rest of the church before beginning the Lord’s Supper. I imagine they were shocked to learn that this was the reason for sickness and death in their assembly. Some of our most serious sins are subtle sins, sins that our culture may not even regard as bad taste. The Corinthians’ practice at the Lord’s Table was sin because it distorted one of the great symbols of our age, the celebration of our Lord’s suffering and death on our behalf. The Lord’s Supper commemorates what the Christian has experienced in Christ, and it proclaims to unbelievers what every person must do to enter into intimate fellowship with Him. To disregard or distort the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper is to distort and misrepresent the gospel. No wonder the Corinthians are sick and dying!
But this text was not written to the Corinthians alone; it was written to “those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). As we conclude, let us consider some of the ways this passage may affect us.
(1) We need to be reminded of the subtlety of sin. Sins should not be determined on a cultural basis but rather on a biblical basis. The Corinthians were guilty of a deadly sin, and they hardly seemed to know it. As we observe the exposure of this sin in Corinth by Paul, let us open our own hearts and minds to the Word of God and the Spirit of God, asking as the psalmist did to have our sins exposed and cleansed:
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; 24 And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way (Psalm 139:23-24).
(2) We must be alert to the dangers of repeating a ritual without reexperiencing its reality. God gave the Israelites many symbolic celebrations to observe. Their purpose was to commemorate God’s great acts in the past and to remember His covenant(s) with them. The prophets frequently rebuked the Israelites for repeating the rituals, while forsaking or forgetting the realities behind them. The solution to religious ritualism is not to forsake the ritual, or to do it less frequently, but to seek always to perform the rituals in a way consistent with the reality they symbolize.
Some people wrongly suppose the Lord’s Supper will be more significant to them if they observe it less frequently. I simply remind you that Jesus commanded His disciples (and therefore His church) to be doing this until He comes. The practice of the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament churches was first daily (Acts 2:42, 46), and then weekly (20:7). Those who think that monthly, quarterly, or annual celebrations of the Lord’s Supper are sufficient seem to think too lightly of that which it symbolizes and of the value of the symbolic observance of communion to remind them of the realities of the gospel and its message of reconciliation with God and men. Paul did not tell the Corinthians to stop eating a meal or to meet less frequently, but to continue meeting as they have with a renewed appreciation for what it means, and a renewed commitment to celebrate the Supper in a way that is befitting to its message.
(3) We need to recognize the limitations imposed upon us by not having a communal meal and correct these as best as we can. In many ways, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the ancient churches is more foreign to us than the matter of head coverings. We do not observe the Lord’s Supper as a supper, but simply by partaking of the symbolic bread and cup. In the way our auditorium is arranged, we partake of communion while looking at the back of other people’s heads. In Corinth, the celebration took place as a part of an intimate meal and with believers looking at one another face to face. We use matza for the bread. Several pieces of matza are placed in a cloth and crushed and then passed out to all. The matza is good in that it is unleavened bread, but it is not so good in that it is not “one loaf.” Matza does not visually symbolize the unity of the body of Christ as it could. Perhaps we should consider changing to one real (unleavened) loaf, which is broken before all. The cup as we distribute it is not a common cup from which all drink, but trays of individual cups. Once again, the element of common participation from one “cup” is symbolically lost. Having traveled in India and partaken from a common cup in a congregation where there was the danger of spreading sickness, I realize that a common cup may not be wise (humanly speaking). Perhaps we should pour the wine from one container into several of the cups, so that the element of unity is visibly expressed. In this day when “worship centers” are “in,” I wonder if we should consider building such a worship center in the light of this text in Corinthians, rather than according to other considerations.
(4) We need to recognize the importance of all believers in a church being present at the Lord’s Supper. The importance of this can hardly be overstated. Paul taught that the one loaf symbolized the whole body of Christ, at least the whole body of believers that met as a local church. For one segment of the Corinthian church to go on with the Lord’s Supper without the rest was a most serious violation of the symbolism of that supper. Our problem as a church is not that some believers go ahead with the Lord’s Supper before others can get there. Over the years there have always been a few who never seem to get to the meeting of the church on time. Paul only chastised the Corinthians who did not wait because the others could not arrive any sooner. In our church, he would probably chastise those who could get there on time but often do not. If not waiting is a serious offense, maybe being late is serious too. What then can we say for those who make no effort to attend the Lord’s Supper at all? Those who have not taken this part of the Sunday meeting of the church have something very serious to consider.
If it is vitally important for every member of the local church to be present at the Lord’s Supper, I wonder if this does not raise some troubling questions about the size of the local church. The megachurch is the new fad. The larger the church, the more programs and perks it can offer its members, everything from skating rinks and swimming pools to programs tailored to special needs. But what if all those who identify themselves as members of a particular church cannot share the “one loaf” together? I know of no church in the New Testament where the whole congregation could not meet together at one time. It seems sad, at the very least, for church members to identify themselves in terms of what hour they attend or by what door they enter and exit. I wonder if a church is too large when every member cannot meet in one place to remember the Lord’s Supper.
(5) As a local church, we need to recognize, symbolize, and practice our fundamental unity with all those who trust in Christ and avoid unbiblical distinctions which improperly divide us as believers. One of the foundational principles of the “church growth movement” is the principle of homogeneous grouping. In clich terminology: “birds of a feather flock together.” Church growth experts have determined statistically that the churches which grow biggest and fastest are those which appeal to one segment of society. In other words, to be a rapidly growing church, we would have to appeal to one race and even to one segment of our society. You would not want to try to reach intellectuals and white collar workers along with illiterates, street people, and factory workers. People do not feel comfortable with people who are not like them. This is the kind of thinking which seems to justify churches appealing to only one group. And by the way, guess which groups are sought and which are not?
The church cannot be true to its nature and calling and follow this principle of homogeneous grouping. Jews were not comfortable with Gentiles nor were Gentiles comfortable with Jews. So what? Paul would not allow Peter to identify himself with the Jews and at the same time separate himself from the Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-22). He saw this as a frontal attack on the gospel, and he would have no part of it. James would not tolerate a church which gave preferential treatment to the rich and which treated the poor as second-class citizens (James 2). The church which best represents Christ as a local manifestation of the body of Christ is that church which is made up of various races (ideally, all the races represented in that region), various socio-economic groups, the whole spectrum of society. Does this fly in the face of man’s human nature? Good! The church does not operate according to human principles, nor does it exist on the basis of human power. The church is supernatural, and unity expressed in diversity proves it. Let us not seek to operate as the world does, but as God does, by breaking the rules of “church growth” and following the rules of Scripture.161
Let me mention some of the divisions and distinctions which may violate the spirit and teaching of Paul’s teaching in our text. Denominationalism is certainly one form of division which needs to be scrutinized. I am not saying that a local church cannot or should not have its own distinctive doctrinal statement or practices, but I am saying there should be times when saints can affirm their oneness in the body of Christ in some tangible way. Churches should not be distinguished on the basis of race. Racism is a fact of life in many, if not most, churches. And then there are the laity-clergy distinctions which exist in so many churches. In those few times when communion is observed, who passes out the bread and the wine? Does this divide the body in a way that the Bible does not allow? And what of closed communion? Should those who profess faith in Christ be barred from communion because they do not possess a letter of commendation, or because they have not been baptized by a certain church or denomination? Are we guilty of shaming and despising certain segments of the church? What shall we do about it?
(6) We should beware of evaluating our worship in terms of what it does for us. I suspect you have frequently heard the question asked after church, “How did the church meeting go?” The basis on which we answer that question tells us a great deal. Unfortunately, we tend to measure the meeting by what it did for us. Did we feel elevated in our spirit? Did we come away feeling good? Did others say or do what we hoped for? Did we have the opportunity to do or to say what we wanted? We indulge ourselves in other ways than in food. Self-indulgence is all too often a motive or a goal in our worship. We worship because of what we hope we will gain. I must warn you that this is a most dangerous goal. The element of sacrifice is primary in everything we do as Christians, including celebrating the Lord’s Supper. If sacrifice is a significant element in worship, the question we should be asking to evaluate the quality of our worship is, “What did I give (up), and what did God gain?” All too often we worship expecting God to give and ourselves to gain. As we see in this text and in the chapters to follow, we are also to sacrifice so that our fellow-believers might gain, so that they might be edified. The element of sacrifice was missing in Corinth, as it is frequently missing in our worship today.
(7) We should be sobered by the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and how seriously God takes misconduct at the Supper. Some Christians wrongly measure worship on an emotional scale. If they come away “high,” they have worshiped, they think, and if they have been sobered or saddened, they have not worshiped. Because I have observed worship in a variety of cultures, I have learned not to be too hasty in what is true worship and what is not. I have been in a number of prison chapel services, and there is often a great deal of emotion and enthusiasm. But the moment some of these inmates get outside the chapel doors (or outside the prison gates), everything changes. True worship is not just getting exhilarated. True worship must begin with an appreciation of the fact that we are in the presence of a holy God, a God who hates hypocrisy and sin. I think the Corinthians were having a good time in their worship, not unlike the good times the pagans were having at their idol worship celebrations. But let us keep in mind the sobering fact that many of these Corinthian saints were sick or dead. Worship in the presence of God should be a sobering experience.
Now having said this, I do not mean that a “sober” or “somber” service is necessarily true worship any more than an exuberant service is. I mean to say that true worship cannot exist where the holiness of God is not grasped and where the seriousness of impure worship is comprehended. When we truly fathom the holiness of God and its implications for our worship, we can worship joyfully, within the boundaries of God’s Word. I see this illustrated in the life of David as recorded in 2 Samuel 6. There was great joy among the Israelites as the ark of the covenant was being transported to its proper place, but Uzzah reached out and touched the ark and was struck dead. Uzzah had the most noble intentions, it seems, but he did not appreciate sufficiently the holiness of God (and, by association with God, the ark) and the laws of God which governed the way the ark of God was to be transported. When the anger of the Lord burned against Uzzah, David himself became angry—with God. God had rained on his parade. It was not until after God’s blessings were observed on the household of Obed-edom (where the ark was temporarily kept), and until after David remembered that God had specifically instructed His people as to how the ark was to be carried, that he was able to worship the Lord joyfully in the presence of the ark.
The worship of our Lord at the Lord’s Supper does not need to be a funeral service. But the Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of His sacrificial death for our sins. The Lord’s Supper is a most serious occasion, and those who conduct themselves inappropriately are living dangerously. Joyful worship must never be separated from a healthy fear of the Lord, and attention to the principles and precepts He has set down as to how our worship is to be conducted.
(8) We need to be very sensitive about the unconscious or conscious disdaining and/or shaming of the poor, by structurally making them stand out as poor. I do not know whether the shaming of the poor in Corinth was purposeful or not, but I am confident that the affluent saints did not seem to care if their actions resulted in shame for the poor. There seems to have been a calloused disregard for the poor then, as there may very well be today. As a church, we are striving to avoid situations which might shame those with lesser means. For example, when we have a church camp, we do not wish to exclude children because they do not have the means to pay. Beyond this, we endeavor to provide the means for those without funds for camp in such a way that they are not singled out and thereby shamed. We try to be careful not to plan trips and social outings which will exclude those without the means to go. Our Benevolence Committee seeks to minister to the financial and material needs of those inside and outside our body, and they do so quietly and confidentially so that those who are helped are not shamed in the process.
I am convinced that sharing with those in need is one of the first fruits of genuine conversion. It certainly was quickly evident in the newly-born church in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37). Sharing should begin with those within the local church, but it should surely not stop there. The new church at Antioch enthusiastically shared its means with the saints in Judea when they knew that a famine would cause many hardships (Acts 11:27-30). The Macedonians eagerly shared with the needy as well (2 Corinthians 8 and 9). We should do likewise. We should not be calloused to the needs of our fellow saints in South Dallas or in South America. We cannot meet all the needs of our brethren around the world, but we certainly should strive to do more in this area.
(9) In a welfare-oriented society like our own, there is a danger of the opposite error, those with lesser means expecting the more affluent to carry the whole load. The affluent Corinthians were guilty of not sharing their food with the poorer saints and thereby shaming them. There is today a danger Paul did not mention and which did not seem to be as great a problem in those times—“mooching.” There are those today who have less means than some others, and they seem to expect the affluent to carry the entire burden. They are more than content to let others supply all their needs while contributing nothing themselves. I am reminded of our Lord’s commendation of the widow who gave her last two mites—all that she had. She did not hoard her two mites, consoling herself with the thought that there were plenty of rich folks around who could cover what she failed to give. She gave what she had, and our Lord commended her for doing so, in faith and obedience.
The man with but one talent in Matthew 25 was irresponsible and consoled himself that he had little entrusted to him while others had greater means. His master (who symbolized God) had harsh words for him (Matthew 25:14-30). The Macedonians were a poor people, but they gladly gave sacrificially above and beyond what would have been expected of them (2 Corinthians 8:1-6). In this church, as in virtually every other church, there are those who expect to be ministered to and provided for by others but who give nothing themselves. I am speaking of money, but I am also speaking of ministry. If it was wrong for the affluent Corinthians not to share out of their means, it is also wrong for anyone to refuse to share out of the means they have. Let us not look to others to provide for us what God has enabled us to provide for ourselves, and to provide for others:
14 “Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me. 15 You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed (Exodus 23:14-15, emphasis mine).
28 Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need (Ephesians 4:28).
(10) The good news is that even when sins as serious as those in Corinth are taking place in the church, God will use them for His glory and for our good. Paul does not wring his hands over the situation in Corinth, even though he might like to wring their necks. But even when the church is behaving as badly as many were in Corinth, God’s purposes are not frustrated. I think this is why Paul could be direct and confrontive, and yet still admonish these saints as his dear children in the faith. God is glorified when He disciplines the saints before the world and before the celestial beings. God’s holiness is surely evident when He disciplines His children, and so is His faithfulness and love. Remember that even in the discipline of death, God’s actions are for our best interest:
32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world (1 Corinthians 11:32).
When there are many in the church who are not conducting themselves as they should, this provides the occasion for those who are approved of God to become evident (11:19). And how are the approved evident? First, by their own conduct. They will not allow themselves to be squeezed into the mold of the world or even of their erring brethren. They will stand out by doing what is right. Second, they will become apparent by taking the appropriate actions to correct the evils they see, just as we find Paul rebuking Peter for his hypocrisy in Galatians 2. Third, they will think and act in accordance with the gospel, rather than in accordance with the thinking of others. Here, and in Acts 15 and Galatians 2 (as elsewhere), Paul sees the seriousness of the error because he always views things from the vantage point of the cross of Christ. Fourth, those who are approved will be evident in the attitude and manner by which they seek to correct those in error:
24 And the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
We live in a world which knows not the unity and fellowship which Christians possess, and which we should practice at all times, especially in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. If you are reading these words, my friend, and you have never experienced the forgiveness of your sins and the intimate fellowship with God and with other Christians of which Paul has been writing, I urge you to “come to the table”; that is, that you come to Him Who is the “Bread of life,” and Whose blood was shed for you. Come to Jesus Christ as the sinner you are, and partake of His sacrificial death on your behalf. To do so is to not only entitle you to sit at His table every week at the Lord’s Supper, but to sit at His table throughout all eternity in the kingdom of God.
160 Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary, F. F. Bruce, General Editor (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987 [reprint, 1993]), p. 536.
161 I would not wish to be understood to say that all the principles of the church growth movement are unbiblical, but some are, and every principle ought to be scrutinized in the light of the Scriptures.
Related Topics: Communion