Why are we studying a letter that was written 2000 years ago? How can it be pertinent to the modern reader?
Once we understand what took place in Corinth long ago, we can apply it to similar issues in our times.
The Corinthians church didn’t have a building. They met in members’ homes that were big enough to accommodate the crowd.
When the Lord’s Supper was observed, the wealthiest members provided their homes along with the meal for the observance.
The bread and wine for the Lord’s Supper were not confined to thimble-sized portions, as are prominent in churches today. A fellowship meal that was served to the participants included the same Lord’s Supper message that has been given for centuries.
Patrons and Meals in Corinth
Archeologists have excavated ancient homes that give us a picture of what a meal may have resembled.
The patron and his peers ate in an area that had three couches. The host’s best food was reserved for these people.
Other people were allowed to stand behind the couches to both serve and participate in the meal. Lesser amounts and qualities of food were available to these persons.
Even large homes were small compared to today’s standards. Thus, slaves and low-status persons remained outside of the house. They received what was leftover from the meal that was served inside.
Any careful reader of the Gospels knows that Jesus valued all people. His close followers were comprised of outcasts and quite ordinary people.
High-status persons were often opponents of Jesus and his agenda.
When church leaders retreated to social norms that Jesus opposed, Paul had to correct their actions.
— 1 Corinthians 11.17-22 – 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.
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.
Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine.
When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper.
For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk.
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!
With a mental picture of this meal in mind, these are Paul’s points of argument.
(1) Their observance of the Lord’s Supper could not be approved, because of the harm it caused.
(2) Just by the way people were seated at the patron’s home, the divisions of the church were obvious.
(3) A better definition for “genuine” in verse 19 is “approved.” The division of the church was between “approved” persons and those who were lesser than others.
The whole scene resembled the status conscious Corinthian society, not the body of Christ. The “approved” were honored and the rest were not.
(4) While the friends of the patron sat on couches and ate the best food, the slaves and low-status persons were in the courtyard eating scraps.
As a fellowship meal, the Lord’s Supper was an utter failure because of the way slaves and the poor were treated.
How we view status matters to the Lord. When we live a Jesus-kind-of-life, outsiders will be as accepted as insiders. People who are normally “put down,” will be raised up.
As we imitate Jesus, we will eat with people who seemingly are not part of our social group.
We will do more than eat with these people, we will listen to them and learn from them.
One of my friends was an East Coast trained engineer. He told me about working on a levee project, where an old black man was operating heavy equipment.
My friend climbed on the piece of equipment and asked the operator how they ought to approach the excavation.
His educational accomplishments were set aside in favor of the man’s experience. A very good outcome came from the experience far exceeding the way the dirt was moved.
We never lose, when we follow Jesus’ example.
When the church is divided over status, economic, racial, gender, and other issues, it grossly misses the point of Jesus’ self-sacrifice.
— 1 Corinthians 11.23-26 – For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread,
And when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
The death of Jesus reflects a heart of self-giving love.
How can a person eat a memorial meal that honors self-sacrifice while exerting their personal status at the expense of another?
The tragic answer is that the church is blind to how we have accepted the culture of our generation on one hand, while we honor Jesus on the other.
How we treat other people in the light of Jesus’ ministry is worthy of serious reflection.
Rudy Ross and I have recorded a YouTube video on this topic. The video includes Rudy’s thoughts, which are quite insightful. Please take a few minutes to listen to the video on the Bob Spradling channel.
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