1 Corinthians 11:17 - 26 – When You Come Together

Translation and Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS 14 June 2009


Translation (modified NASB)

1Co 11:17  But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you,

            because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 

            (18)  For, first, I’m hearing that divisions exist among you when you come together as a church,

                        and I believe a certain amount [of it]. 

                        (19)  For there must also be factions among you,

                                    so that those who are approved may become evident among you. 

            (20) Therefore when you gathered together in the same [place], it was not to eat the Lord's Supper, 

                        (21)  for in your eating each one takes his own supper first;

                        and one is hungry and another is drunk. 

(22)  What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink?

Or do you despise the church of God and shame the have-nots?

What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you. 


(23)  For I myself received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you,

            that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was being betrayed took bread; 

            (24)  and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said,

                        "This is My body, which is for you; do this for the purpose of the remembrance of Me." 

            (25)  In the same way He took the cup also after the supper, saying,

                        "This cup is the new covenant in My blood;

                        do this, as often as you drink it, for the purpose of the remembrance of Me." 

(26)  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. 

            (27)  Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner,

                        shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 

            (28) Now a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 

                        (29) For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself

                                    by not distinguishing the body rightly. 

                        (30) For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a few too many sleep [in death].

            (31) But if we had been distinguishing ourselves rightly, we would not have been judged out [of line].

            (32)  But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord

                        so that we will not be condemned along with the world. 

(33)  So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 

            (34)  If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you might not come together for judgment.

The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.



Back in verse 2, Paul said that he praised the Corinthians because they were preserving the worship traditions he had passed down to them. I believe that this chapter contains two traditions that Paul had delivered to the Christians in Corinth, the first having to do with the veiling and unveiling of women’s and men’s heads in worship, and the second, which we will begin to address in v.17, having to do with the Lord’s Supper and fellowship meals. In both cases, the Corinthians had apparently carried on at least some of the outward practices of these two things, although there were problems and distortions in both cases. In both cases, the Corinthians failed to preserve the meaning behind the symbol.


In the case of the Lord’s Supper, there are two great truths symbolized in this sacrament:

1.      the first is that we are united to all other believers in the church, which is called the body of Christ.

2.      and the second is that we are united to the literal body of Christ,

The Corinthian’s failure to preserve these two aspects of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper left Paul unable to praise them for even trying to put on these suppers because they had so perverted the Lord’s Supper as to proclaim the opposite of these two principles, making matters worse by their trying to observe it.


1. Unity of the Church, the body of Christ

In 10:17, we already saw one aspect of the Lord’s Supper, and that is the unity of the body of Christ. There is one loaf and there is one container from which all partake, signifying our unity.


The description of the Christian’s assembly also speaks powerfully of unity, for the Greek word “come together” was first used of a husband and wife’s physical union in Matthew 1:8 and I Cor. 7:5. It is used five times in the latter half of chapter 11 to describe the coming together in unity of the Christian church in a spiritual way.


However, Paul has been hearing reports of division. We read that in the opening chapter (1) “10 Now I am calling you over, brothers, on account of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, in order that you might keep speaking the same thing and that there might not continue to be divisions among you, but that you might be mended through [having] the same mind and through [having] the same opinion. 11. for it has been shown to me concerning you, my brothers, by the men from Chloe, that quarrels continue to exist among you. 12. Now [what] I’m saying is this: that each of you are saying, ‘As for me, I am of Paul,’ and, ‘As for me, I am of Apollos,’ and, ‘As for me, I am of Cephas,’ and, ‘As for me I am of Christ!’ 13. Christ has been divided!” There must have been some hope on the apostle’s part that no everyone had become cliquish, for he believes the report only in part.


The Greek word translated “divisions” in v.18 is “schism-” and the Greek word translated “factions/ differences” in v.19 is “heresies.” Greek scholars explain that the word “heresy” had not developed to the concept of a formal doctrinal aberration like we think of it now (Acts 5:17 & 15:5). John Calvin comments on these terms:

“Schisms, then, are either secret grudges — when we do not see that agreement which ought to subsist among the pious — when inclinations at variance with each other are at work — when every one is mightily pleased with his own way, and finds fault with everything that is done by others. Heresies are when the evil proceeds to such a pitch that open hostility is discovered, and persons deliberately divide themselves into opposite parties.”


I had always assumed that the next verse (v.19) was sarcasm where Paul was saying the opposite of what he really meant for effect, perhaps even quoting the words of a snobbish group among the Corinthian church. My impression may have been in large part due to the words “No doubt” that the NIV inserts gratuitously at the beginning of the verse. However, it fits with the logical flow of the passage, for Paul goes on in v.20 to say that approaching the table divisively in this way was not taking the Lord’s supper at all, but was rather turning upside down the meaning of Communion by destroying the unity of the body that the sacrament was intended to proclaim!


However, I was surprised to see that every commentary I read took the statement literally, at face value. Taken this way, it would be a parenthetical phrase perhaps connected with the “in part/to some extent” at the end of v.18. The sense being that while there is a problem with divisiveness in the church, it’s not all bad. There is a Biblical basis for this concept:


As we get into v.22, it becomes apparent that what the Corinthian church was doing was somewhat different than what we usually do. Apparently, they were observing some kind of full-course meal in conjunction with the Lord’s supper in which there was enough food to eat to excess and enough wine to get drunk.


2. Our Union with Christ

In verse 23, Paul provides what may have been the first written account of the Last Supper. Paul says he received this account from the Lord Himself. A.T. Robertson suggests that Luke copied this section from Paul when he wrote the gospel of Luke. Matthew and Mark wrote a separate (but not conflicting) account a few years later. In Paul’s account, the centrality of Christ is unavoidable. At the center of the Lord’s Supper is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the second great truth displayed in Holy Communion.



So these two things are the heart of the Lord’s Supper:

1.      first: we are united to all other believers in the church, which is called the body of Christ.

2.      and second is that we are united to the literal person of Christ

These are the two aspects of the concluding application at the end of the chapter:

1.      v.33: Therefore, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. – here is the relationship of unity with fellow believers underscored. We certainly can apply this in the obvious way of making sure everyone is served the communion elements together and that we eat them together, but it also applies to our attitude of loving and including the whole body of believers.

2.      v.34 I think the second and final application has to do with staying focused on Christ. “If anyone is hungry, he should be eating in his house in order that y’all might not come together for the purpose of judgment.” Although they may not look the same in English, the phrase “for judgment/resulting in judgment” in v.34 is parallel in Greek to the phrase “in remembrance of me” in vs. 24 & 25. In other words, “Take the edge off your hunger at home so that when you consider the bread and the cup, you can think of Jesus instead of thinking about how hungry you are!” If it’s about Christ rather than about eating, you will be taking the supper rightly in remembrance of Jesus rather than in judgment.


This corresponds to the two greatest commandments:

  1. Love the Lord your God
  2. Love your neighbor.


“It is during the Lord’s Supper that we should thank God for allowing his Son to die on the cross for us. And we ought to meditate upon the cross. But also during the Lord's Supper, we ought to be aware of the people sitting in front of us, around us, and behind us. We ought to thank God that we are united to them in Christ. During the Lord’s Supper, we should bring to God names of people who have special needs and wants and are hurting. During the Lord’s Supper, we need to cleanse our minds of any divisions, alienation, or lack of forgiveness that separates us from any of God’s children” (Staton, First Corinthians).


John Calvin frames these two categories under the terms faith and repentance, which characterize our relationship with Christ, and love, which characterizes our relationship with the people of God:

“You see here a method that is most easily apprehended. If you would wish to use aright the benefit afforded by Christ, bring faith and repentance... Under repentance I include love; for the man who has learned to renounce himself, that he may give himself up wholly to Christ and his service, will also, without doubt, carefully maintain that unity which Christ has enjoined. At the same time, it is not a perfect faith or repentance that is required, as some, by urging beyond due bounds, a perfection that can nowhere be found, would shut out for ever from the Supper every individual of mankind. If, however, thou aspirest after the righteousness of God with the earnest desire of thy mind, and, trembled under a view of thy misery, dost wholly lean upon Christ’s grace, and rest upon it, know that thou art a worthy guest to approach the table — worthy I mean in this respect, that the Lord does not exclude thee, though in another point of view there is something in thee that is not as it ought to be. For faith, when it is but begun, makes those worthy who were unworthy.” (Calvin)