Among the writings of Paul, 1 Corinthians is the letter which teaches the church what it means to be a Christian community.
The opening verses (ch1 vv1-9) have the effect of defining where the church comes from and what it’s based on, and I will want to show how the rest
of the teaching follows on from that.
I was drawing out a definition of the church in the attached thread;
Defining the church
Part of the definition was that the church is a “gathered assembly”, an EKKLESIA, called into the fellowship of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So the next concern is how this community relates to the Lord’s Supper (ch11 vv17-28)
vv17-23 Paul’s rebuke is that the people in Corinth are meeting for the Lord’s Supper, as they should, but not conducting themselves as they
He complains there is divisiveness in their meetings.
The evidence is that people are eating independently.
Instead of a communal eating of the Lord’s
Supper, each individual is eating his own
The result is that some are getting drunk and others going hungry.
What is going on here?
I’ve often seen the suggestion that the trouble comes from people arriving early and eating up the food, so that nothing is left for those who come
But that theory is unconsciously assuming that the Supper is organised as a buffet.
It implies that the leadership is organised enough to finance and purchase and lay out a communal meal, but NOT organised enough to protect the food
from early arrivals.
It seems more plausible to me that the primitive Supper was organised on the basis of “bring your own food”.
If each person brought his own food and kept it with him, then the timing of his meal would be under his own control (and the assumption of
“arriving early” would not be necessary).
He could hold back until the general meal, perhaps sharing his food with others, or he could open up his dockey bag and start eating at his own
Those who had less food of their own to bring would then be “going hungry” because the food of the more fortunate was not being shared around.
So Paul urges them (at the end of the chapter, vv33-34) to “wait for one another”, and suggests that the really impatient ones should eat
something before they arrive.
How does this fit in with “divisions amongst you”?
The “early arrivals” theory offers a division between rich and poor, on the supposition that the well-to-do members of the church were the ones
with the free time.
But we’ve already been told that there were “not many great” among the Corinthians (ch1 v20), and it seems unlikely that the “idle rich”
were present in any great force.
When Paul says that he’s heard about divisions among them, that’s an echo of his rebuke in the first chapter.
So I suggest that he may still be talking about the same divisions.
That is to say, the quarrelling between the parties of “I belong to Cephas” and “I belong to Apollos”, etc., is spilling over into and
disrupting the unity of the celebration of the Supper.
And is this the same explanation as the “separate eating”?
Well, it could be, if the separate eating were being done in cliques, so that food was shared amongst fellow-members of the same “party”, rather
than the church at large.
(I’ve known “church socials” of exactly that kind)
Perhaps those who thought of themselves as “the wise” would be more inclined to disregard the importance of the occasion?
The “idle rich” interpretation of Paul’s complaint is that the separate eating is objectionable because it leads to “the humiliation of those
who have nothing”.
But I think the connection in Paul’s eyes is more direct.
His case is that the whole point of the Lord’s Supper is the act of eating together
But if they are eating separately, they are not eating together.
So the separate eating, in itself, is the action which destroys the purpose of the Supper.
(The fact that “some are drunken while others go hungry” is a only a side-effect, which aggravates the offence)
vv23-26 In order to explain why this is wrong, Paul has to establish the seriousness of the event.
He reminds them that the Supper is based on the actions of Jesus, and the instructions he gave.
The actions were the distribution of the bread and the cup, “on the night when he was betrayed”.
They came with a teaching which pointed forwards to his death on the cross.
The distribution of the bread had been accompanied by the declaration “This is my body”, and by the assurance that his body had been given (in
death) “for your benefit”.
The distribution of the cup had been accompanied by the declaration that the cup was the new covenant “in my blood”.
That is to say, the new covenant was to be established through his death, in the same way that the old covenant had been established when Moses
sprinkled the blood of the sacrificed oxen over the people of Israel (Exodus ch24 v8).
He told them to repeat the ceremonial, and keep him in their minds.
In that way, Paul says, they are proclaiming the fact that Christ died, and they should continue to proclaim it until he returns.
It is an act which is at the heart of their existence as a church.
This needs to be supplemented by Paul’s comments in ch10 vv16-17.
He says that the central features of the Supper, the cup of the blessing and the bread, bring about a KOINONIA- a fellowship- in the body and blood of
Fortunately, there is no need for us to get into the heated controversies about how this works.
The real point of interest, for the moment, is the KOINONIA.
They are not just in fellowship with Christ, but also with each other.
The point is affirmed again in the next verse;
Eating, as they do, from the “one bread”, attached as they are to the one Lord, the church is constituted as “one body”.
In other words, whatever else it might be, the Lord’s Supper is a great sacrament of unity
vv27-28 Finally, Paul warns them against taking the Supper “in an unworthy manner”.
There are two ways of understanding this charge, and I think we need them both.
When Paul relates “eating the bread” and “drinking from the cup” to “the body and blood”, he’s clearly referring to the “elements”
of the Supper.
The disruption of the Supper shows a lack of respect for what Christ established, as he’s just explained, and a lack of respect for the spiritual
presence of Christ.
But what does he mean by “not discerning the body” (where “the blood” is not mentioned)?
It seems to me that this phrase goes back to the “we are one body” of ch10 v17.
The Lord’s Supper is the meeting of Christ with the corporate body of Christ, and it is the corporate
body of Christ which the Corinthians
are failing to recognise at the Supper, as long as they continue with their disruptive ways.
This brings the discussion back to the point where it began.
It is the divided state of the church that is the problem.
As Paul asked in the first chapter, “is Christ divided?”.
If Christ is not divided, then the body of Christ should not be meeting in disunity.
They need to be celebrating the Supper as the act that brings them all together.
edit on 18-11-2013 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)