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The Lord’s Supper September 10, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.

Summary: Paul begins by noting that while he has just criticized the Corinthians for allowing women to flout the prevailing customs while worshiping publicly, their worship services fail to honor the Lord in other ways. He has heard of schisms in the Corinthian church – hearing enough for them to earn his disapproval. Indeed, God has allowed these dissensions in order to test them and determine who will remain faithful to Him. Now when the Corinthians gather for their worship services – for the stated purpose of celebrating the Eucharist – they are actually failing in this regard. This stems from the fact that when they gather for worship, the rich eat the food that they have brought without sharing it with the poor, who generally arrive later; thus, the poor remain hungry while the rich are satisfied. Paul remarks that the Corinthians can satisfy their hunger in their homes – yet their actions show contempt for their disadvantaged brothers and make them conscious of their poverty; thus, he cannot praise them. His lack of praise arises from the fact that their manner of celebrating the Eucharist is inconsistent with what the Lord Jesus has directly communicated to him concerning it; while Jesus was being betrayed, He took some of the bread that was on the table at the Last Supper. After He consecrated that bread, He broke it and stated that the bread symbolized His body, and its life-giving power was applied to His disciples; they should repeat His actions at that meal to commemorate His sacrifice for their sins. Similarly, after the Last Supper He took a cup of wine, consecrated it, and stated that the cup symbolized His blood that sealed God’s new covenant of grace with His disciples; they should repeat His actions at that meal – whenever they celebrate the Eucharist – to commemorate His sacrifice for their sins. Indeed, the Eucharist inherently proclaims the reality of the Lord’s sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Thus, if anybody celebrates the Eucharist without desiring to:

  • commemorate the Lord’s sacrifice for their sins
  • bind themselves to God’s new covenant of grace

they are guilty of dishonoring Christ Himself. Before anybody celebrates the Eucharist, they should determine whether they understand its true nature and purpose and whether they genuinely desire to observe it. Anybody who celebrates the Eucharist without understanding that the bread and the cup symbolize Christ’s body and blood, respectively, will be judged by God. This warning explains why many of the Corinthians are either wasting away naturally or falling ill, while some of them have died. Now if those Corinthians had prepared themselves to properly celebrate the Eucharist, they would not have been judged by God. Indeed, God’s judgments in this regard are meant to bring them to repentance so that they will not be condemned with unbelievers. Paul concludes by reminding the Corinthians to celebrate the Lord’s Supper by waiting for their disadvantaged brothers to arrive so that they can share their food with them; they should also satisfy their hunger at home before worshiping publicly, so that God will not judge them (there are some other minor issues connected with the Corinthians’ observance of the Eucharist that Paul will address and correct during his next visit to Corinth).

Thoughts: One of the two problems with the Corinthians’ observance of the Eucharist concerned how well-to-do believers humiliated their disadvantaged brothers. Hodge offers some insights in his commentary on verse 17:

The nature of these schisms is described in what follows. They were cliques – not sects, but parties, separated from each other by alienation of feeling. It is clear that the rich formed one of these parties, as opposed to the poor. And probably there were many other grounds of division. The Jewish converts separated from the Gentiles; those having one gift exalted themselves over those having another. It is not outward separation but inward alienation that is complained of here.

For me, this motivated the following question: how would communion be celebrated in the modern church if we combined it with an ordinary potluck meal (Hodge notes that such feasts were eventually prohibited by the Council of Carthage)? It is rather difficult to picture believers hoarding food for themselves at such potluck meals and not sharing it with their less well-off brothers – especially since I haven’t attended many churches where poverty was an issue for at least some of their members. Of course, this brings up the rather thorny issue of how churches segregate – especially along economic lines – but that’s a topic for another day.

In verse 32, we see that God has judged some of the Corinthians for not properly observing the Eucharist so that they will not be condemned with unbelievers. Hodge offers his thoughts on this issue:

These judgments were chastisements designed for the benefit of those who suffered, to bring them to repentance, that they might not be finally condemned with the world – that is, with unbelievers…What Paul says of the purpose of these judgments proves that even the extreme irreverence with which he charges the Corinthians in reference to the Lord’s Supper was not an unpardonable sin.

This is an interesting take on God’s judgments in this regard – especially since it is noted in verse 30 that some of the Corinthians have died as a result of their irreverence. For those Corinthians, would repentance and pardon by God be possible? The notion of judgment for the purpose of inspiring repentance and pardon is relatively easy to understand in reference to those who “are weak and sick,” but death seems to offer no opportunities for repentance. Perhaps the Corinthians who died had hardened their hearts, and they refused to repent; unfortunately Hodge does not address that possibility.

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