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"Scandal in the Supper"
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Wednesday AM Bible Study
October 31, 2007
Theme: Paul instructs the Corinthians in how they are to conduct themselves in a worthy manner with respect to the Lord's Supper.
Paul had already made mention of the Lord's Supper to the Corinthians in 10:16-17. In that context, he was using the Supper as an illustration of the fact that all believers who partake become "one bread and one body" in the partaking. Now, Paul gives the Corinthians instructions regarding the proper observance of that Supper in worship.
Though not directly commanded in the Scripture, the practice of the early church seems to have been to observe the Lord's Supper during what was called "the love feast" (2 Peter 2:13; Jude 12). In the case of the Corinthian believers, those who had means to do so brought large amounts of food for themselves, came early, and gorged themselves (perhaps in a similar manner to pagan feasts), while those who were poorer were left hungry. And it was in this context that they were selfishly defiling the Lord's Supper.
Paul—as he does with so many of the problems he addresses in this letter—solves it by pointing to Jesus, and the significance that the Lord's Supper bears with respect to His sacrifice on the cross. Though the circumstances may be different, this passage teaches us that, in our day, we must treat the Lord's Supper properly. If we understood what it was we were celebrating, we will celebrate it in a worthy manner.
I. THE SCANDAL (vv. 17-22).
A. Previously, Paul had commended the Corinthians (v. 2). But he begins these words of instruction by letting them know that he does not praise them on this matter (v. 1). Because of the manner in which they were coming together, their gathering was not for the better but was actually for the worse. When believers fail to imitate Christ (v. 1), their gathering is as people operating in the flesh.
B. Paul says "first of all" (probably a reference to what he says at the beginning of his letter in 1:10-11) that there were divisions among the believers. Perhaps all the rumors he heard were not readily believed by him; but some of them were believable (v. 2). The reason they must be believable is because there—by necessity—must be "factions" (literally "heresies") among them in order for those who are "approved" in their conduct before Christ to be distinguished from those who are not (v. 3; see 2 Tim. 2:19).
C. Paul goes on to describe what he has heard about their conduct during the Lord's Supper. He even goes so far as to say that when they came together—because of their manner toward one another—the Supper ceased to be the Lord's (v. 20). Each one was taking his own supper ahead of the others; and some were becoming drunk and others were left hungry (v. 21). It would have been better (v. 17b). if they had stayed home and ate in that manner; because in doing what they were doing, they were "despising" the church of God and "shaming" those who had nothing (v. 22). Paul could in no way commend this.
II. THE SIGNIFICANCE (vv. 23-26).
A. To solve this problem, Paul reminds them of the significance of the supper. He had apparently taught them on the matter before; and what he told them, he says, was what he personally received "from the Lord" (v. 23). This may have been through direct revelation; though the truth of it was confirmed by witness of the other apostles. Because of the fact that Paul's letter to the Corinthians predates the written Gospels, this would be the first record in church history of the Lord's teaching concerning His Supper.
B. According to Paul, on the Passover night that the Lord was betrayed, He took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me". Similarly, after the supper, the Lord took the cup and said, "This cup is the new covenant (see Jer. 31) in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." Thus the Lord's Supper was established by Him as a remembrance of His sacrifice for our sins—not as an opportunity to feed ourselves.
C. Paul affirms that each time this is done, the Lord's death is proclaimed "till He comes" (v. 26). This reminds us that Christ is risen; and is very much alive to participate in the fellowship of His people in holiness.
III. THE SOLUTION (vv. 27-34).
A. Because of the nature of this meal and of what it signifies—and because of the clear implication that the Lord Himself is present to be remembered—whoever eats it and drinks it in an unworthy manner is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (v. 27). It would be similar to going to a funeral while the body of the lost loved one was on display; and making jokes and laughing at what should be a solemn remembrance. To do as the Corinthians were doing would be to fail to appreciate the sacrifice the Supper symbolized.
B. Therefore, Paul urged that a self-examination be done before eating—and only then should a person eat (v. 28). Failure to do so is to eat and drink judgment to one's self (v. 29). Apparently some had not so examined themselves; and were growing weak and sick; and some had even died ("sleep") (v. 30). The Lord Jesus takes His own holy ordinance seriously! If we judged ourselves, we would not need to be judged (v. 31); and would not make it necessary for the Lord to prevent us from being judged with the world (v. 32).
C. In addition, when the believers come together, they should make sure that they treat each other with respect. They should wait until all have been served equally; and then eat together (v. 33). If anyone is hungry, they should not come to the Lord's Supper to take care of it. They should eat at home first (v. 34). Other matters needed attention; but Paul would take care of them later. Apparently, he saw fit to make this one a priority.
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