1 Corinthians 11:17-34: The Lord’s Supper
April 17, 2023
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
This passage contains the very well-known description of the communion service that is often used to introduce the Lord’s Supper in churches still today all around the world. But there is plainly a wider context to this passage of which most of us are less familiar, and it has also some rather striking warnings that are connected to this context at the time. So before we can effectively apply this teaching here, it is important to have a sense of what Paul was trying to correct in Corinth.
From what we can understand, it seems as if the communion service at the time was accompanied with a meal. Communion services in churches today are still a “meal” of sorts—but obviously highly abbreviated. But it appears in those less formal times, it was common for the service to be simply a gathering of God’s people around a table, and for the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the cup to take place in that way as the Christians ate together. They could probably more easily imagine what it was like to sit with the Lord at the Lord’s Supper when he said these words of institution—this is my body which is given for you.
But such a structure of remembrance did have a disadvantage which probably partly explains why most churches have moved away from it. It led to some abuses. In particular, it seems as if in that Corinthian context—this at least one way of reading the data—the wealthier members of the congregation would arrive from work earlier than the others and bring more wine and food. The poorer, the laborers, would come later. By the time they arrived, the first wealthier group had already gone ahead and drunk quite a lot and eaten a lot too—even to excess. Meanwhile, when the poorer group arrived, there was little left to eat or drink. So much for the beautiful symbolism of the Lord’s Supper as providing unity in Christ to the whole church! The whole way it was being done violated much of the intentionality of communion to affirm our one body because we all eat from one loaf.
What to do? Paul warns them that to keep on doing what they are doing—to not “recognize the body,” that is the body of Christ they are, the unity that they have in Christ, and therefore the real meaning of communion as a communal activity of unity around the remembrance of what Christ has done—would lead to truly serious spiritual, even physical, ramifications, if they did not change their hearts and their patterns of behavior.
Now then what does this mean for us?
- Communion should be performed in such a way that it does not exclude from the table real Christians. “Fencing” the table is important; but that is different from putting up barbed wire around the table! All who love Jesus are welcome to partake in Jesus’ table.
- Personal examination, repentance, is necessary before partaking in the Lord’s Supper. It is a serious thing to eat of the Lord’s table. We should use the opportunity ofcommunion to examine our hearts, repent of our sins, and so be able to partake of the table with joyful and sincere hearts.
The simple directions that Paul has here do not exhaust all that could be said about communion. He acknowledges that himself when he says in conclusion, “And when I come, I will give further directions”—but they do provide a framework for the institution of the Lord’s Supper to effectively remember what Jesus did, and to do that as a united body of Christ. Next time you come to the Lord’s Supper, prepare your heart by examining yourself, repenting of your sins, and trusting in Jesus’ once-for-all finished sacrifice. Also, when you look around at the others also partaking, realize anew that we have a union in Christ and therefore take communion together.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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