Reading Time: 7 Minutes
Before we consider Paul’s words about the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11, let’s remind ourselves of the situation in A.D. 50 Corinth.
— Population: 70-80 thousand persons, approximately 100 Christians.
— Aspirations of Corinthians: The primary aspiration of any person of Corinth who was able to change his or her status in life was to have prominence in the city.
There was a very high value placed on “wisdom,” but not on wise living. In Corinth a person’s appearance was more important than the actual substance of their life.
— Temple Events: Persons of status attended festive meals at pagan temples.
After they ate in the temples, they returned to individual homes to drink and be entertained by “wisdom” teachers.
— Typical Dinner Parties: Even the wealthiest homes only held 10 persons inside the house. The most favored guests ate with the host inside the house. These guests also received the largest and best portions of the meal.
Other guests were seated outside in the courtyard of the house. They were served the leftovers and scraps from what the favored persons did not eat.
At dinner parties, persons could not change the seating that their station in life required. When the “wisdom” speakers talked after the meal, they were not permitted to engage in the discussion.
Imitation of Corinthian Life
The problem that Paul confronted in the church was that some leaders, presumably more influential than others, looked more like the culture of Corinth and of Jesus Christ.
The early church met in homes of the more wealthy members. The church didn’t have their own temple or church building.
Imagine the scene of 100 persons trying to meet in a single person’s home. No personal residence was large enough accommodate that kind of crowd.
Imagine also a meal, like that of their Corinthian counterparts, that preceded serving the Lord’s Supper.
No doubt, the friends of the host would have inside seating and their choice of the food. The rest of the crowd sat outside of the house in the courtyard. The outside-crowd received what remained after the inside-crowd had their fill.
The above situation or something similar is what Paul sought to correct. Let’s examine the passage in a verse-by-verse format with a few comments along the way.
— 1 Cor. 11.17-19 – Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.
18 For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it.
19 Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine.
The issue in the church was between those who were “puffed up” with pride verses Paul’s deep desire that they “build up” each other in self-giving love.
The situation where insiders and preferred members were inside and the rest outside was evidence of the division of the church. The “genuine” or “approved” people (verse 19) were given the preferred placed at the dinner.
— 1 Cor. 11.20-22 – When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s Supper.
21 For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk.
22 What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!
It is quite possible that the wealthy host of the congregation and his friends followed the customs of associations and guilds in Corinth. They ate first, followed by drinking wine, which would be followed by the entertaining teaching by a “wisdom” speaker.
The people on the outside got the scraps that were left over from the inside crowd. Not only did they go hungry, but their very place outside emphasized their lack of status and the “puffed up” nature of those who were inside.
Clearly, this kind of behavior needed serious correction.
Paul’s message is still appropriate for today. God’s doesn’t play favorites and he doesn’t expect his followers to do it either.
There is much to learn and appreciate from people who are different from us. Let’s consider breaking down social and cultural barriers for the sake of Christ and our own lives, too.
Do It Right!
Paul ends chapter 11 with clear correction for those who are so “puffed up” with their own self-importance that they separate themselves from the those who are merely tolerated on the outside.
— 1 Cor. 11.27 – Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.
What is an unworthy manner in which to partake in the Lord’s Supper?
Clearly, if we are so “puffed up” with pride that we separate ourselves from other followers of Jesus, we are guilty of what was happening in Corinth.
— 1 Cor. 11.28-29 – Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
29 For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.
To “discern” the body is to realize that every follower of Jesus is valuable. People who rightly discern the body treat every believer as a friend of Jesus and fellow member of Jesus’ body.
We should examine ourselves before we participate in the Lord’s Supper to make sure that we love his body – everyone who belong to him.
Application to 2021
As I apply this message to my life, I have to think differently about a few issues that Paul has called to my attention.
(1) To what extent am I “puffed up” with pride, and how does that fact make it more difficult for me to “build up” the whole body of Christ?
(2) In what way have I taken on the values of American culture, and how does that lead me away from living a Jesus-kind-of-life?
(3) What can I practically do to let people on the fringes of the church know that they are important to God and to me?
May We Pray For You?
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