UNITY AT THE LORDíS TABLE

1 CORINTHIANS 11:17-34

It was the night of the Passover. In a thousand homes throughout the moonswept city of Jerusalem, Jewish families gathered around a table to remember the time when God had stretched out His mighty hand to deliver His people.

In an upper room on the edge of the city sat twelve men. Jesus and eleven disciples reclined around the table. Judas had already left the room, bent on his dark deed. As they ate together, Jesus did something new.

And while they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it; and gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is My body." 23 And when He had taken a cup, and given thanks, He gave it to them; and they all drank from it. 24 And He said to them, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many." (Mark 14:22-24).

It was no mistake that the Lordís Supper was instituted on the eve of the Passover. The Passover was a memorial of the mighty work of God in delivering His people from their slavery in Egypt. The Lordís Supper is a memorial of the mighty work of Jesus Christ in delivering His people from their slavery to sin.

Passover

Lordís Supper

Commemorates deliverance from Egypt

Commemorates deliverance from sin

A lamb was slain for each family

The Lamb of God was slain for the world

Blood applied to the doorposts and lintel

Blood applied to us when we believe

A meal was to be eaten in memory of the salvation from Egypt

A meal is taken in memory of our salvation in Christ

Observed once a year

Observed regularly

Just as the Passover was observed year after year, so also the Lordís Supper is to be regularly observed by His people.

Within the church at Corinth, this was evidently a weekly observance. The people would gather together for a time of prayer and teaching and fellowship. During this time they would eat a meal together. The central part of this meeting would be the Lordís Supper.

In the midst of this meal, some problems had arisen. At the root of it was the problem of divisions.

 

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).

In the beginning of this chapter, Paul praised the Corinthians for following the traditions that he had given. But now, he does not praise them. They were still holding to the traditions, but they were doing it in the wrong way.

Paul had established the tradition of the Lordís Supper as a part of the meeting of the church. The Corinthians had been following this tradition ever since. But they had neglected the meaning behind the tradition. They held to the tradition, but they ignored the truth that was taught by the tradition.

This is always a danger for Christians. We have traditions in our church. We have certain things that we do that we have always done. There is nothing wrong with traditions unless they become meaningless rote. When our traditions lose their meaning, there is a danger that we might continue in the ritual without the reality and think that we are still pleasing God. The result is that, instead of moving closer to God, we move further away from Him. This is what happened to the Corinthians.

  1. Worship Woes: I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse (11:17).

When the Corinthians came together to worship, they did not come closer to God. They drew further away from Him. Their worship was having exactly the opposite effect that was intended. The meeting of the church was designed to accomplish three specific purposes:

The Corinthian believers were coming away with less than they came with. They were coming together for the worse instead of for the better.

Is church boring to you? That isnít its purpose. God didnít say, "I think that My people ought to be bored once a week." Yet the church service in Corinth had turned into a time that people began to dread.

  1. The Meeting of the Church: In the first place, when you come together as a church (11:18).
  2. I have said it before, but I will say it again, the church is not a building. It is not a denomination. It is not an institution. The church is the body of gathered believers. When you come together, you become the church.

  3. The Problem of Divisions: I hear that divisions exist among you (11:18).
  4. Paul has already spoken extensively about the problem of divisions within the church. The meeting of the church in Corinth was marked with dissention and petty jealousy. At the very time when the church should have been recognizing its unity in Christ, the people were divided.

  5. The Necessity of Divisions: For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you (11:19).

Paul recognizes that there are times when division cannot be avoided. When there is sin in the church, those who are righteous need to separate from those who refused to repent. This separation will result in division. If there is sin in the church and there is no division, then it means that sin is being accepted and condoned within the church.

 

THE PERVERSION OF THE LORDíS SUPPER

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. (1 Corinthians 11:20-22).

Paul proceeds to describe the Corinthian worship service. The service was much different than what we have come to expect in church. The church would come together to pray, to sing praises, to hear exhortations and teachings, and to eat a meal together. This meal had come to be known as the "love feast" (Jude 1:14).

Breakfast and lunch were usually very brief affairs in the ancient world, if they existed at all. By contrast, the supper was usually a formal affair. The family would sit together without the "benefit" of television or radio and they would talk.

As the church observed such a corporate supper, it was a time of close fellowship. The central part of this feast was when bread would be broken and a cup passed around in observance of the Lordís Supper. This should have been a time of great unity and holiness. Quite a different picture is painted for us.

In your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk (11:21).

Instead of coming together in an orderly manner to worship and to fellowship together, the Corinthians had turned the meeting of the church into a fast food lunch break. One member would walk it with his Big Mac and fries and begin to eat. Another wealthier member would have his servants lay out for him a full course. A poorer member would come with nothing and would sit in the corner watching everyone else eat while he went hungry. Down at the end of the table, one fellow was tying one on, getting drunk on the communion wine.

The time that should have been a manifestation of the unity of the church was instead a time of division.

What is the solution? Paul does not say that believers ought to stay home. He does not tell them to kick out the pastor or to find a different church. Instead he offers a solution. The solution involves remembering the purpose of the Lordís Supper.

 

THE PURPOSE OF THE LORDíS SUPPER

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. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

Paul now turns to the true meaning behind the Lordís Supper. This is the truth behind the tradition. Traditions are good as long as we remember the truth behind the traditions. It is when we ignore the truth and continue holding only to an empty tradition that the tradition becomes a bad thing.

For example, Christmas is good. I think it is good to stop once a year and to remember the birth of Christ and the great gift that God has given to man. But if you leave Christ out of Christmas, if you continue in the rituals of caroling and Christmas trees and giving presents and enjoying togetherness without remembering Christ, then Christmas becomes a bad thing.

Rituals are good, but rituals without reality are bad. It is for this reason the Paul brings us back to the reality.

  1. The Bread: 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" (11:23-24).
  2. The bread that once was eaten as a reminder of the Passover and the Exodus from Egypt now represents the body of Jesus. We have all partaken of His body. This is why we call ourselves the body of Christ.

    Instead of a Passover lamb, the body of Jesus body was given as a sacrifice for us. He died in our place as a payment for sins. He is our substitute. By our identification with His body, God sees our sins as having been judged at the cross.

    Jesus pointed out that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it cannot grow into a plant that bears fruit (John 12:24). In the same way, the product of that wheat is now taken as a symbol of His sacrifice.

  3. The Cup: 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." (11:25).
  4. There were several different cups of wine that were served at the Jewish Passover table. They were thought to represent the blessings of God for His people. They were said to represent the provisions and the promises of God.

    Jesus gave to the cup a new meaning. Now the cup represents the blood of Christ that was shed on our behalf. This is appropriate because, even in the Old Testament, wine was known as "the blood of grapes" (Genesis 49:11; Deuteronomy 32:14).

    In the Old Testament sacrifices, the shedding of blood always pointed to the death of the animal being sacrificed. When the priest took blood and sprinkled it upon the altar, that blood represented the death of an animal substitute. Shed blood represented death because the life of the flesh was in the blood (Leviticus 17:11).

    This was seen in the daily sacrifices and it was seen in the annual sacrifices at the Day of Atonement. But the problem with these sacrifices is that they were never completed. Each year there was another slaughter. Each day another lamb had to die. Year after year and day after day with dreary monotony.

    Then came Jesus. He is the final sacrifice. His blood was shed as the seal of Godís New Covenant with His people. It is not like the old covenant that was made at Sinai. It does not involve the yearly sacrifice of bulls and goats at Yom Kippur. It does not involve the daily sacrifice of a lamb. It involves a once and for all sacrifice. It involves the ultimate sacrifice. It is perfect and never need be repeated. It needs only to be remembered.

  5. The Remembrance: "Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me" (11:25).

The Lordís Supper is not a repeated sacrifice. That is one of the errors of the Roman Catholic Church. Paul does not say that you are to do this as an ongoing and unbloody sacrifice. Rather, it is a remembrance. It is a time when Godís redeemed people come together and pause and remember what God has done.

The problem with Christians is not that we donít know enough doctrine. Our problem isnít that we havenít been to enough Bible studies or listened to enough sermons. The problem with Christians is that we forget. Because we forget, sometimes we need to be still and be reminded that God is good and that He has done mighty things for us.

Our reminders are in the bread and the wine. These are the same elements with which Melchizedek met Abraham in Genesis 14. They serve as the reminder of what our Priest-King has done for us.

Bread

Wine

Grain falls to the ground and "dies" in order to be made into bread

Grapes must be crushed in order to make wine

Jesus had to die and be buried to nourish us spiritually

Jesus was crushed for our iniquities

Bread represents the body that was broken

Wine represents the blood that was shed

 

THE PRICE OF DISOBEDIENCE

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. (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).

Having described what the Corinthians should have been doing, Paul now proceeds to show the consequences they will incur if they donít start doing it.

11:20-22

11:23-26

11:27-32

This is what you have been doing

This is what you should have been doing

This is what will happen if you donít start doing it

Perversion of the Lordís Supper

Purpose of the Lordís Supper

Price of Disobedience

We could call this section, "The Importance of Taking God Seriously." We need to be reminded that the God whom we worship is the God of universe. He is not Santa Claus. He is not a sweet old man with whiskers. Neither is He an impersonal force. He is not a gene in a bottle. He is not a short order cook to whom you can say, "Iíll have a couple of answered prayers and a big blessing to go."

He is the God who struck down His people for complaining. He is the God who killed Ananias and Saphira for lying about their offering. He is the God who inflicted Miriam with leprosy for bad-mouthing her brother. He is the God who sent two bears to gobble up a band of kids for mocking His holy prophet. He is the God of judgment and He is not to be trifled with.

  1. The Description of Disobedience: Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner... (11:27).
  2. Paul has just described what is an "unworthy manner." It is eating the Lordís Supper in a way that denies the unity of the body. It is eating the Lordís Supper in a way that ignores the meaning behind the ritual. It is eating the Lordís Supper while not recognizing that Christ is present.

    If we partake of the Lordís Supper in a mere rote manner, counting it as merely another religious activity, we bring judgment upon ourselves. We side with the unbelievers when they say that the death of Christ had no effect.

  3. The Guilt of Disobedience: 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 (11:27).
  4. We have all seen photos and pictures of men of other nationalities burning the American flag and stepping on it and in other ways dishonoring it. They are not dishonoring a piece of cloth. They are dishonoring the country for which it stands.

    By the same token, the dishonoring of the Lordís Supper is not merely the dishonoring of a potluck supper. It is the dishonoring of the Lord Himself. It is saying that Jesus died for no reason. It is making a mockery of the cross. That is dangerous. It is dangerous because God will hold such a man guilty of the crucifixion of Jesus.

    I donít say this to keep you from partaking in the Lordís Supper. It is not as though only perfect people can safely partake. If that were the case, then no one would ever partake. Rather, I say this to bring you back into a right attitude. This calls for an attitude of self-examination.

  5. The Escape from Disobedience: But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup (11:28).
  6. Paul calls for self-examination. Sometimes it is good to stop for a minute and to take a cold, hard look inside. Pull out your motives and give them a thorough going-over. What are your attitudes toward the Lord and toward His table and toward the other believers who are seated around it?

    It is by means of such self-examination that you can come to the table in faith and repentance. This will result in the Lordís Table being a time of purification for the church.

  7. The Punishment for Disobedience: For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep (11:30).
  8. This isnít speaking of Christians who were snoring through the sermon. This reference to sleeping is a description of those who have died. There were people who were going through hard times and some who were sick and some who had even died because of their blatant disrespect for the Lordís Supper.

    Have you been going through hard times lately? Have you been fighting illness? It isnít necessarily because of some persistent sin in your life, but it could be. Perhaps you need to examine yourself. Perhaps you need to judge yourself.

  9. The Alternative to Punishment: But if we judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged (11:31).
  10. God wants you to confront your sin and to deal with it. If you will do this on your own, then He will not have to do it for you. If you will correct yourself in repentance, then He will not have to correct you.

    The Lordís Supper can be a means of grace or it can be a means of judgment. Why is this? Because it is the gospel in physical form. It is the gospel being acted out in a visible manner. You can either partake of the Lordís Supper in faith, or else you can experience the judgment of God.

  11. The Grace of Disciple: But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world. (11:32).

Notice that there is a measure of grace amidst the threat of judgment. Paul says that the very fact that you might undergo discipline today is so that you will not undergo condemnation tomorrow. Discipline is Godís means of moving you to the cross. God spanks in order to save. His discipline is to drive you to repentance so that you might be saved from His ultimate wrath.

 

A PLEA FOR ORDER

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. (1 Corinthians 11:33-34).

There were other things that were also wrong with the meeting of the church in Corinth, but Paul is not going to deal with them here. This tells me something about Paul. He had a sense of priorities. He knew not to make mountains out of molehills when there were still mountains to be conquered. He deals with the major problems now and he leaves the minor problems for later. He does not say that the minor problems will be ignored. He will eventually deal with them. But now is not the time.

This is a lesson that we need to learn. We who are older in the Lord often come across an immature believer who has quite a bit that is wrong with him. Instead of recognizing the principle of priorities, we want to straighten everything that is wrong with him right now. Instead of helping him, we overwhelm him and leave him lying dazed in the dust as we go off to "help" some other poor unsuspecting believer.

We can learn a lesson from Paulís example. He dealt with the major issues and left the minor issues for later. Make certain that you make the main thing the main thing.

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