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1 Corinthians 11:17-34: Together at the Table with Our Lofd Print E-mail
1 Corinthians
Sunday, 22 November 2015

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Communion is meant to unify the Body of Christ, to bring brothers and sisters together to remember and proclaim His death for them. Yet, the Lordís Supper has had a divisive history. The Protestants and the Catholics did not agree on Christís presence at the table. Even the Protestants themselves were unable to agree, which played a role in dividing the German and Swiss Reformations. And still today, denominations do not all agree upon the purposes and practices of Holy Communion. Although these divisions do demonstrate the importance of communion to the Church, it is unfortunate that the issue has been, and continues to be, so divisive.

Apparently it was even divisive in the early Church, particularly in Corinth. As we have already seen, the believers in Corinth were not very good at unity. They were divided over teachers (ch. 1-4), grievances (ch. 6), and food sacrificed to idols (ch. 8-10). As we will see in the coming weeks, they were also divided over spiritual gifts (ch. 12-14). Division over these various issues was tearing the church apart. Thus, Paul keeps pointing them to the unity that they have in Christ through the good news of His death and resurrection for all who believe. He does the same with their division over communion. Letís consider his teaching about communion this morning.

The problem in Corinth (v. 17-22)

Paul begins with a rebuke. Look at verse 17. Paul tells them that when they gather together as the Church it actually does more harm than good. It is my hope and my prayer that by Godís grace such a statement would never be true of our gatherings. They have women who are struggling with submission when they gather (11:2-16) and believers who are divided during the Lordís supper and over spiritual gifts. Their gatherings actually do more harm than good for them spiritually. Instead of being edified and built up, which Paul will identify as the goal of the gifts (14:12, 26), they are actually tearing each other down. This is not good.

So what is the problem? Look at verses 18-19 with me. The Church in Corinth was divided when it gathered together. Now in one sense, Paul recognizes that this is inevitable. There will be those who gather with the Church who are not genuine followers of Christ. At times, this will produce obvious factions between the true believers and those who are not, which should serve as a warning to us all. Yet, the divisions in Corinth were over something that should not have been divisive.

What was it? Look at verses 20-22. In order to understand what was apparently happening in Corinth, we need to consider some background information. In their culture, it was common to have meals together that involved people from different parts of society. In these settings, the rich would receive more food and better food, while the poor would not. These shared meals maintained class divisions. When the early Church came together for worship, they enjoyed a shared meal together, which included, or concluded with, the Lordís supper. Yet, it seems that the rich in the Corinthian Church were maintaining divisions at the Lordís table that were common in the culture. So while the poor were still working, the rich would begin the feast. And when the poor came to eat, there would be nothing left for them to enjoy. The rich were getting drunk, while the poor were going hungry. Such action humiliated the poor and despised the Church of God, which was formed through shared belief that we are all beggars before Christ. In the Church, all are equal at the table of the Lord. As Paul has written, all come to partake of the one bread as one body (10:17). Such unity was being forfeit in Corinth.

The purpose of the Supper (v. 23-26)

In order to address this problem, Paul reminds them of the purpose of coming to the Lordís table. He does this by pointing them back to the Last Supper that Jesus shared with His disciples. Look at verse 23. The practice of coming to the table was instituted by Christ when He shared the Passover feast with His disciples on the night that He was betrayed by Judas. Our coming to the table this morning began then (and stretches back even to Israelís remembering of the Exodus through the Passover meal). So what did Jesus do at the last supper?

First, He took bread, broke it, and shared it with the disciples. Look at verses 23-24. Much of the division surrounding communion throughout Church history revolves around Jesusí words: ĎThis is my bodyÖí Our Catholic friends take this literally, believing that as the priest prays, the bread actually becomes the body of Christ (transubstantiation). Our Lutheran friends do not go that far, but still believe that Christ is somehow present with the bread (consubstantiation). Some go in the other direction and see it merly as symbolic and nothing more. Yet, in light of what Paul wrote in 10:14-22, I like the view that through the bread we are participating or fellowshipping with Christ. The issue is not what happens to the bread, but the amazing truth that Christ gave His body for us. Through His sacrifice we are now able to fellowship with Him and with the Father and with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. So we eat this bread in remembrance of that great sacrifice at the cross.

Next, He took the cup and shared it with the disciples. Look at verse 25. Just as the bread represents Jesusí body so the cup represents His blood poured out for us. He refers to the cup the new covenant in my blood, meaning that through His death God was establishing the new covenant promised by Jeremiah with His people (Jeremiah 31:31ff). Through faith in Jesus we are now participants in that covenant. Our sins have been forgiven because of Jesusí death and resurrection and we now have fellowship with the Father through Him.

Thus, Paul is reminding the Corinthians (and us) that every time they come to the table they are eating and drinking to remember and proclaim the gospel. Look at verse 26. Christ tells us to eat and drink in remembrance of Him (v. 24-25). When we come to the table we are remembering what He did for us at the cross, His sacrifice for our sins. Each time we do that we are proclaiming our faith in His death for us until He returns. We are remembering and proclaiming our hope in the gospel through coming to the Lordís table together. This is the purpose of coming to the table and it is this purpose that the Corinthians had lost.

The priority of examination (v. 27-34)

After reminding them of the purpose of communion, Paul then addresses the problem in Corinth. Look at verses 27-29. Paulís logic here is fairly simple. If a person eats and drinks in an unworthy manner then they are just as guilty as those who crucified Christ. In order to avoid that, a person should examine themselves and not eat in an unworthy manner. If they continue to eat without recognizing the distinct nature of the Church and the meal they are sharing together, then they will be eating judgment on themselves. Paul describes this judgment further in verses 30-32. Look at those with me.

The Corinthiansí failure to Ďdiscern the bodyí by waiting for one another and not humiliating the poor was resulting in temporal judgments among them. Some had gotten sick and some had even died for these errors. Such judgment should cause them to examine/judge themselves better so that they can avoid such temporal judgments and learn from Godís discipline of the Church. So Paul then tells them what they should be doing in verses 33-34. Look at those with me. Instead of not waiting for/sharing with the poor, the Corinthians should remember the importance of the Supper and the gospel that binds them together by caring for each other enough to wait and share. If the rich are hungry, then they should eat at their homes before they come. By doing this, they can avoid the temporal judgment.

All of that seems fairly straightforward. So then, how does it apply to our coming to the table? How should we examine ourselves? It is very important that you understand that such examination is not about whether or not we had a good or bad week concerning sin. Paul is not telling us to see if we have lived a good worthy life this week by not sinning too much, and if so, to go ahead and take. If that is what he is saying, then none of us would ever be Ďworthyí to come to the table. Rather, the examination that he is describing here involves seeing if we truly believe in Christ giving His body and His blood for our salvation. Do we believe the gospel? And are we living out the gospel in relation to one another? Do we understand that we are one in Christ? We are unified through faith in Him, not based on our money or race or background or social status or anything else. He has bought us with His body and blood and brought us together through shared faith in Him. The gospel must be at the center of our coming to the table.

Conclusion
In light of these truths and what Paul has said about communion in 1 Corinthians 10-11, let me close with some practical application for coming to the table.

First, when you come to the table examine yourself. Do you believe the gospel? Are you striving to live out the gospel in your daily life and your relationships with others in the church? If you do not believe, then do not take. If your belief is denied by your lifestyle (and not just certain sins over the past week), then do not take. For in taking you could be bringing judgment on yourself. I believe that 1 Corinthians 10-11 make it plain that the table is for those who have turned from their sins and trusted in Jesus as Savior. If you have not done that, then do that today and join with us as a local body of Christ.

Second, when you come to the table confess your sins. Those sins from this past week that you might feel should keep you from the table are the very sins that Jesus died for at the cross. Repent of them and believe in His sacrifice. Proclaim that belief by coming to the table.

Third, when you come to the table consider others. The problem in Corinth is that they forgot that the gospel had made them a new community in Christ. They had become inconsiderate of one another. We should avoid that when we come each week. Look around and see your brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray for them. Thank God for them. Renew your commitment to them. Discern the body when you come to the table.

Fourth and finally, when you come to the table commune with Christ. We donít believe that anything happens to the actual elements as we take, but we do believe that we are fellowshipping with Jesus in a unique and powerful way. We are remembering His death and proclaiming our faith in Him. We are longing for His return and the Wedding Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19). So sup with your Lord when you come to His table. He has given His life to meet with you there. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Saturday, 05 December 2015 )

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