1 Corinthians 11:17-22

LORD'S SUPPER SERIES: The Lord's Supper With Attitude

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Please Read 1 Corinthians 11

As is our custom on the first day of the month we celebrate together the Lord’s Supper - and so our focus this morning turns once again to the Lord’s Supper, and to 1 Corinthians 11.

As you would expect over the course of the last 2000 years there have been many changes to church practices, and the Lord’s Supper is one of the areas that has had its share of changes from the practices of the early church.

Though Scripture does not abound with a large number of references to the Lord’s Supper and to its practice in the early church, it does give us enough information to get an idea of how the church observed this celebration. A quick reading of the relevant passages quickly gives one the impression that the Supper was celebrated in association with a common meal.

‘Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover? And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples. And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover. Now when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve. And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I? And he answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me. The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born. Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said. And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body (Mt 26:17-26).’

Jesus clearly instituted the Lord’s Supper in association with the Passover observance, but note the use of the words ‘breaking of bread’ in the following passages.

‘And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers... And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart (Acts 2:42,46). ‘And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight (Acts 20:7).’

With our passage here in 1 Corinthians 11, it is abundantly clear that the Lord’s Supper was celebrated within the context of a normal, common meal of the local church. The rich brought plenty along to the meal, while the poorer people brought what they could - yet all was shared, and held in common together, in an atmosphere of love and unity.

And this we also seek to practice in our own church, though we freely acknowledge that there is no express command to do so, but simply to ‘do this in remembrance of me (1 Cor 11:24,25).’

But there are dangers even with what seems to have been an early church practice, and here in our passage this morning we find ourselves face to face with some of them - so let us take heed lest we also fall into these same errors. Let us see what Scripture has to teach us.

News had reached Paul from the church in Corinth - not good news, but shameful news regarding the church, ‘Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it (1 Cor 11:17,18).’

This news Paul appears to have received from reliable witnesses, for he is prepared to accept what he has heard regarding the church, and therefore he sets out to correct the trouble that has arisen.

Not even the observation of the Lord’s Supper can be regarded as a good thing if it is practiced in the manner of the Corinthian church as mere ritual emptied of its real significance. Going through the motions is not enough; the heart and soul of the celebration must be there if the celebration is to be acceptable to God.

In fact Paul says, ‘When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper (11:20).’ Such was the wickedness occurring in the Corinthian church that when they said they were getting together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, in reality it was not regarded by Paul and God as a true celebration of the Supper at all.

So what was the problem in Corinth? Well what does the passage tell us?

‘For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it (11:18).’

When the people who made up the church in Corinth got together it was not a good thing, for there were various divisions or schisms (Gk) among them. These meetings were probably being held in private homes, or in the open. Though they met under the name of the Church in Corinth in the assigned place, there were these cliques which prevented a true display of unity in the church, so there was no real togetherness at all.

There were groups that were alienated from one another, some followed Paul, some Cephas, and others Apollos (1:10-12); then there were the typical Jewish and Gentile factions; and then the rich and poor cliques - things were in a bad way in Corinth. There may even have been the Rich Paul Group, the Poor Paul Group, the Rich Apollos Group, and so on.

What a rabble it must have been, especially when they were together under the one roof? Can you imagine the display that would have occurred as one group separated themselves from another and so on.

There was no true display of unity in the Lord Jesus Christ at all, but instead there were these fragmented, bickering cliques intent on maintaining their divisions along party lines. In short, there was no true unity. What a laughing stock this must have been to the outside world. And all this when they were supposed to be celebrating the means by which they were formed into one united church, even the Lord’s Supper - what a sham.

In Australia churches can be divided along political lines, liberal/labour, republican/monarchist; as well as the typical cultural breakdowns of young/old, rich/poor, European/non-European, etc.

But what is achieved in such meetings where such cliques are present? Is there really anything achieved at all? Is not serious harm done to the church through dishonouring God, through an improper witness, and through causing serious harm to fellow believers?

Is there anything to be praised in such behaviour? Absolutely not. There is nothing to be proud about with such divisions - but how often are people proud about their little cliques, and the part that they play in them. These things do no good at all.

Brethren we must take serious heed to the message of the apostle Paul in this passage, so that our observation of the Supper is not similarly degraded. We need to guard ourselves against bad attitudes that would cause us to separate from one another into little cliques and divisions, for these are not a true expression of the unity that exists in the body of Christ.

What a tragic thing it is when the professing body of Christ comes together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, when it is yet being torn apart by internal bickering and strife. Such behaviour seems to have more in common with the world than with the true church. Yet this is exactly what it is like when those in the church are self-centred, showing no concern for others, and thereby staining the true witness of the Church and its God.

Yet Paul recognizes that there must be divisions in the church, ‘For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you (11:19).’

Here the word used for divisions is different to the previous one. Before it was schisms, here it is a word translated as heresies. It is a word that means separations of choice. Paul is saying that these separations of choice must occur in order to prove the genuineness of the professing body of Christ, and to show those who are not truly of the true church.

The real Christians are to separate themselves by an act of choice away from the ungodly, and not to participate in ungodliness at all. ‘Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you (2 Cor 6:14-17).’

The true Christian will stand the test of time and not give in to ungodly behaviour, and will thereby be recognized as a genuine believer.

Well how is this so? Professing Christians need to think about their attitudes and behaviour. The way professing Christians respond to each other, and how they deal with the various disputes that arise will help to prove who is the real Christian and who is not the real Christian.

What Paul is doing here is issuing a real challenge to the professing church at Corinth - here is the time to stand up and be counted! Are you the true church, or are you impostors? If true, then correct the sinful behaviour, and be proven to be true.

‘When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken (11:20,21).’

The sort of behaviour that Paul describes here is obviously inappropriate for the Lord’s Supper. Though the stated purpose of their gathering together was to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, these people did not gather together in order to remember what the Lord had accomplished in His life and death at all, but to push their own agendas. Here was an opportunity to further emphasis the parties that existed, and to push their own self-centred attitudes.

How was this done - it was accomplished by the snobbiness of the rich, and through the humiliation of the poor at the meal table. When it came time to celebrate the Supper and to share the meal together the rich separated themselves from the poor, and gluttonised themselves on what they had brought for the meal.

And so there were the poor, left with next to nothing to eat, made to look as unimportant nobodies, being humiliated by the rich. If they were lucky they could have the leftovers from the rich. There was nothing praiseworthy in this display, nothing at all.

What a wasted opportunity, for here was a time when the rich could demonstrate the love of Christ for one another in both word and deed. Yet it had degenerated into a time to further selfish self-interest.

‘What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not (11:22).’

The answer to the meal problem was simple, let everyone eat at home so that all get enough to eat if this is the way you want to carry on - yet this really was just a symptom of a greater problem, that of despising the body of Christ.

By their actions the Corinthian church was in fact tearing down not only the profession of their lips, but the very thing which they allegedly came to celebrate - the unity of the church through the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.

They were meant to be the Body of Christ in Corinth, united together by one faith in the one Lord and one sacrifice for sin, and this Supper was to be an expression of that fact and unity. They were supposed to share the same salvation, the same Christ, yet what did this behaviour declare to the watching world?

If they were the true body of Christ then these cliques must be corrected, for they belonged one to the other.

What can be done in order to prevent these cliques from forming within our own church - even the simplest of things. We must not allow ourselves to hear the gossip of others, or to allow the root of bitterness and resentment to take a hold within us. Brethren refuse to allow those things that would divide us to do so, to even get a foot hold among us. Those things that breed division you must keep away from.

We can make a conscious effort to reach out to those who appear on the fringes of the church, who perhaps don’t seem to fit, who perhaps we don’t feel comfortable with, and let them know by both word and deed that they are indeed a vital part of the Church of Christ here - that they are equal with us before the Lord, and that is how we will regard them in both word and in deed.

We must not allow ourselves to think more highly of the better off, or of the more presentable peoples, but rather to regard each member as one in Christ with us. There are no class distinctions, no racial distinctions, etc.

And if there is the beginnings of any such cliques and wrong attitudes towards others in the church, then we must repent from them, and develop by God’s grace a right attitude toward all.

There are many practical things that we can do, but the chief thing is to grasp the reality of the truth that we are members of the one body, that Christ has formed us into one body, that we belong to each other, and that we need each other. True practice flows from true understanding and true doctrine.

‘For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ... But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular (12:12,20-27).’

It is only as we carry this truth into our own lives that we can rightly celebrate the Lord’s Supper as an expression of our unity together in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in His sacrifice for us. It is only by the recognition and a practical commitment to this truth that we can rightly come together as a church and actually observe the Lord’s Supper.

If not, whatever it is that we do, it is not an acceptable observance of the Lord’s Supper.

So let me plead with you this day, and as we come now to the observance of the Supper itself, be careful to not despise the body of Christ - but give careful heed to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the context of a truly united local church in the Lord Jesus Christ, remembering Him and that which He has done for us. Come to the Lord’s Supper with attitude, the right attitude of love and unity together in Christ.

 

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UPDATED: 19 April 2014

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