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,
you come together not for the better but for the worse.
For, first, I’m hearing that divisions exist among you when you come together
as a church,
I believe a certain amount [of it].
For there must also be factions among you,
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,
for in your eating each one takes his own supper first;
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,
the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was being betrayed took bread;
and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said,
is My body, which is for you; do this for the purpose of the remembrance of
In the same way He took the cup also after the supper, saying,
cup is the new covenant in My blood;
this, as often as you drink it, for the purpose of the remembrance of
(26) For as
often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death
until He comes.
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy
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.
For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself
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].
But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord
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.
If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you might not come together
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:
first is that we are united to all other believers in the church, which is
called the body of Christ.
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
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
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:
- Mat 18:7 “Woe unto the world because of occasions of
stumbling! for it must needs be that the occasions come; but woe to
that man through whom the occasion comes!”
- 1 John 2:19 “They [the anti-christs] came out of us, but
they were not out of us; for if they were out of us, they would have
remained with us; but [they didn't] in order that they might be exposed,
because they are not all out of us.”
- Deut. 13:3 “Don’t listen to the words of that [false] prophet,
or unto that dreamer of dreams: for Jehovah your God is proving you, to
know whether you love Jehovah your God with all your heart and with all
actually provide a foil for good theology. Contrasts and “conflicts
provide opportunities to recognize and deal with problems.” (Ratliff)
- Example of the Swan &
Pigeon dance pedagogical method to help dance students distinguish between
good and bad posture when dancing.
- “It is a great consolation to
know that dissentions… are not fortuitous but are ordered by the
providence of God… designed as storms for the purpose of purifying God’s
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.
- This is consistent with what we read of the early church
at the end of Acts 2 where there was daily Christian worship at the temple
and “breaking of bread in homes, where they took their food with gladness
and singleness of heart”
- and Acts 6 where poor widows were served at tables daily.
- Apparently over time these fellowship meals (called agape
or love-feasts) slowed down to once a week and we read in Acts 20:7 “upon
the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread...”
- We even read of this in extra-Biblical literature in Pliny’s
97th letter to Trajan, where he writes that after having taken
their sacrament “it was customary for them [Christians in Bithynia
where he was governor] to depart, and come together again for the purpose
of taking an innocent repast in common.”
- But why would some go hungry
while others got drunk? Perhaps James and Jude shed some light:
- James 2:1 “My brothers, do not hold the faith of our Lord
Jesus Christ… with respect of persons. 2) For if there come into your assembly
a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, and there come in also a poor
man in vile clothing; 3) and you pay attention to him who is wearing the
fine clothing, and say, ‘Sit thou here in a good place;’ and ye say to the
poor man, ‘Stand there, or sit below my footstool;’ 4) Haven’t you made
distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? … you
have dishonored the poor man…”
- Jude 1:12 “…They are hidden reefs in your love-feasts when
they feast with you, shepherds that without fear feed themselves…”
- The scenario may well have been that noblemen showed up
early because they did not have to work for a living, so they could
socialize. And, of course, these noblemen could afford bring a lot of
food. The snacking would start early in the evening while they waited for
others to gather. Blue-collar workers, trickled in later after the workday
was over, and last of all the slaves who had the longest work hours and
had to serve a meal in their master’s house before they could get off work
and take part in the love feast. As anyone who has come late to a potluck
has experienced, the food had gone cold, and all that was left was the
crumbs. This did not communicate love to the poor.
- Contempt for fellow Christians unmakes worship. Paul
declares that no matter how much they go through the outward ritual of the
Lord’s Supper, it cannot be called the Lord’s supper if the “haves” in the
church are despise and humiliate and shame the “have-nots.”
- Are there ways that you
show contempt for other Christians at church? Perhaps you turn the fellowship
meal into a cooking contest and take pride that your cooking is better
than someone else’s. Perhaps you are disgusted with the way someone else
dresses or how poorly-behaved their children are and you allow contempt to
fester in you toward that person. Perhaps someone has done something to
offend you, or perhaps you just look down on them because they are not as
mature as you. This kind of discrimination unmakes your worship. No praise
can be found in this.
- The Lord’s Supper is intended by God to display the unity
of God’s people in the church, and yet diabolical schemes have turned this
symbol of unity into a source of division:
- Churches split over
which version of the Bible to use: The King James Bible, following the
majority of Greek manuscripts says “Take, eat, this is my body
that was broken for you,” but the NAS,NIV, and ESV follow the
simpler wording of all the oldest Greek manuscripts, “This is my body
which is for you.”
- Denominations split over what happens after the blessing
of the elements. Do they turn into the body and blood of Christ or not?
How is the presence of Christ in the supper: is it His real body and
blood? Is He just in, under, and around the bread because He is omnipresent,
or is He only spiritually present?
- We worry about who can officiate and who can take. Just
priests and clergy? Just church members in good standing? What about
children, how young can they take?
- Some go forward to
take the sacrament standing or kneeling, others take it sitting and wait
for the elements to be brought to them.
- Some distribute both
elements together, some one at a time.
- Some share a common
loaf and cup, others do it by families, still others distribute prepared sample-size
servings, some in shrink-wrapped plastic.
- Some serve leavened
bread, some unleavened. Some serve grape juice, some serve wine.
- Some observe weekly,
others monthly, others quarterly, still others annually.
- And we have a
different division of Christianity for each practice!
- I’m not saying we
can’t think through these things and take positions on them. I hope to
explain my position on each of these issues next Lord’s Day, but we must
not use them as pry-bars to destroy the unity of believers.
- Jesus said in Mat 5:22 “…every one who is angry with his
brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his
brother, ‘Know-nothing,’ shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever
shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be in danger of hell fire. 23) If therefore you
are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother
has something against you, 24) leave your gift there before the altar, and…
first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
- Although the Bible commands us in v. 28 to regularly take
the Lord’s Supper, just pass it by this week if something is festering in
a relationship that still needs to be made right. In fact, if you have
something between you and another Christian, go ahead and leave in the
middle of this worship service right now and make it right. Why wait? God
doesn’t care about our pious rituals if we are not in unity with His
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
- The Last Supper was actually an observation of the
Passover feast according to the Mosaic law. It was in the context of this
feast that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was placed.
- Explain the Jewish tradition of the Afikomen (Unleavened
bread=sinless; 3 wafers bundled together and covered, 2nd one
removed, broken, buried out of sight, redeemed, then shared.) I believe
Jesus said, “This is my body” because He was the fulfillment of all that
the Afikomen prophecied.
- Jesus begins by centering the sacrament on Himself: “This
is my body which is for you/on your behalf.” Substitutionary atonement.
- This is part of the reason why I don’t open participation
in communion up to just anybody. People who are not coming in faith to
Jesus to save them from their sin have no relationship with the Lord and
thus have no business taking the Lord’s Supper.
- By the way, it doesn’t matter whether or not Paul records
Jesus as saying “Take, eat” or “broken.” The words are in the parallel
accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, so Jesus said them. No one witness
recorded every piece of the information, but the full picture can be
pieced together as we look at all four testimonies from scripture.
- Then He says, “Keep doing this for the purpose of the
memory of me/in remembrance of me.” Same with the cup of wine, “Do this in
remembrance of me.” The reason we should observe the Lord’s Supper is to
remind ourselves of Jesus. The sacrament is given to us to help us
remember Him. A relationship with Christ is central to Communion.
- The cup in v.25 is the “new covenant.” A covenant is a
defined relationship. Greek Lexicographers Robertson and Plummer comment
here that the word for “covenant” here in the Greek text has a different
prefix (dia-theke) than the one commonly used for a contract (syn-theke),
implying that the parties in God’s covenant are not on equal terms, for
“when [God] enters into a contract, he disposes everything, as a man
disposes of his property by will.” It’s not a chummy sort of relationship,
but more like that of a good father who gave you life and set the stage
for your life and enjoys your love and respect in return.
- This new covenant was promised hundreds of years before by
the prophet Jeremiah (31:31-34) “Behold, the days come,” says Jehovah, “that
I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the
house of Judah: 32 not according to the covenant that I made with their
fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the
land of Egypt; which covenant of mine they broke, although I was a husband
unto them, “says Jehovah. 33 “But this is the covenant that I will make
with the house of Israel after those days,” says Jehovah: “I will put my
law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will
be their God, and they shall be my people: 34 and they shall no more teach
every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know Jehovah;’
for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of
them,” says Jehovah: “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin
will I remember no more.” The New Covenant (a.k.a. New Testament) is about
Knowing God and Him forgiving our sin!
- v.26 “for as often as you happen to eat this break and
drink the cup, you are proclaiming the Lord’s death until whenever He
comes.” Anyone who takes bread and wine and is not using them to
remember and proclaim the death of Jesus on their behalf to save them is not
observing the Lord’s Supper.
- This word “proclaim” may well be a
quote from Exodus 13:6 where the Passover meal is described: “Eat
unleavened bread for seven days, and in the seventh day shall be a feast
to Jehovah… 8 And you shall proclaim to your son in that day, ‘It
is because of that which Jehovah did for me when I came forth out of
Egypt.’ 9 And it shall be for a sign… and for a memorial…” (The
Hebrew word for “proclaim” here is “Haggadah,” the word which Jews use
today for their Passover liturgy booklets.)
- “During the time of the communion we [might] be thinking
about everything but Christ. We [might] be occupied with the business of
the week, recalling the latest joke, thinking about the Sunday afternoon
meal, anxious to get home to the football game, or looking to see what the
lady in the pew in front of us is wearing. We partake unworthily if we are
not thinking of the Savior and His work but are simply going through a
ritualistic service with no reality… The Lord's Table is a serious thing,
and our thoughts and attention should be riveted on the person of Jesus
Christ.” (Jack Arnold)
So these two things are the heart of the Lord’s Supper:
we are united to all other believers in the church, which is called the body of
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:
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.
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
This corresponds to the two greatest commandments:
- Love the Lord your God
- 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)