The Lord’s Supper (part 1)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Whatever was going on in Corinth during the Lord’s supper deserved a harsh apostolic rebuke. Paul begins his analysis of this specific situation with a stern reality check:

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. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 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. (1Co 11:17-22)

Paul will not commend them. He won’t even consider commending them. For Paul, just saying you were having the Lord’s supper didn’t mean anything. What did Paul see as the problem? Just listen to his indictment:

…when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. (v. 17)

…when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. (v. 18)

…when you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. (v. 20)

There is the problem. When the church gathers together, there is supposed to be something great happening. The people of God are always better together than apart. The Christian is not a hermit. The monastic life is severely unchristian. As Paul states later, we are one body. As he tells the Romans, we belong to one another (Rom 12:5). It is through the church (not the individual) that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:10). What was occurring in Corinth happens too often in modern churches. Paul is arguing his case against the Corinthians on the basis that the Lord’s supper is not about the individual but rather the whole group. The statement in verse 18 displays the tension. That there are divisions among them means that there is something divisive, something keeping them apart. Thus, the paraphrase will show the tension:

…when you come together as a church, I hear that you don’t come together.

To highlight this heinous fact, Paul highlights that they are a church. The very fact that they are a church means that the work of Christ on the cross has brought them together. He has made those who were strangers and aliens,

fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him, [they] also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Eph 2:19-22, emphasis mine)