1 Corinthians 11:17 – But 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, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not….27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself….33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
Ever been to a church service where communion was being observed? And before they administer it, they ask for a moment of silence for everyone to do some serious self-reflection to check whether or not they are worthy of taking communion. By communion they mean drinking a tiny cup of grape juice and eating a small, square wafer. If you don’t feel particularly saved that day, you pass on taking communion. For example, if you were drunk and turned all the way up at a party just the night before, you would not take communion. If you had premarital sex within the last week, you would likely not take communion. You decided that because you did a visible, more intense sin, then you are unworthy to take communion.
Is that what we read in the above verses of 1 Corinthians 11? In the verses I selected, we see that Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Corinth about a problem that he has heard about and/or observed during their communion times. But let’s get the facts. These people were not being chastised by Apostle Paul because they were arranged in lines taking turns drinking grape juice and eating small crackers. They did not have preset amounts of juice and precut unleavened bread. What we now observe as communion was at that time more known as a “love feast” which we hear briefly mentioned in Jude 1:12 – “These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves…”
How they did communion at that time is that it was more like a potluck. The believers who could would bring a dish or meal to the designated location. And they would fellowship and eat. As Jude says, it was a feast. And we know that a small vial of juice and a small wafer is far from feasting. Paul says that when they meet for communion, it’s not for better but for worse because for one, there are divisions among them which actually can be helpful in that it distinguishes the trifling people from the genuine people. Paul then goes into detail about why he is scolding them; he is scolding them in this letter because they are not eating to the glory of God in love for their fellow saints. Paul says that 1. There are divisions/factions within this church. 2. Some people begin eating before everyone arrives at the feast to eat which leaves the latecomers hungry. 4. The early eaters (and drinkers) are drunk! 5. The early comers humiliate those who are late (which might have been because they lived further away from the meeting place); and because Paul said the humiliated people are also the people who have nothing, it implies that the late comers are hungry also because they could not afford to bring food to the potluck (or else they would not have been hungry no matter how late they came).
In other words, they are not discerning the body. Body could simply mean the symbol of Jesus’ body – wine to symbolize His blood and unleavened bread to symbolize Jesus’ “leaven-less” (sinless) flesh.
1 Corinthians 10:16 – The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
Or it could mean the body of Christ which is the church as we read that Paul wrote in these three verses.
1 Corinthians 12:27 – Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
Ephesians 5:23– For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
Colossians 1:24 – Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ‘s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,
Or it could mean both.
But clearly, if we read this passage, we see that Paul is disappointed in how the early comers and those who could afford to bring food would eat without regard for whether or not the late comers or poor people would have something to eat. He says that they are not coming together for the Lord’s supper because everyone in the body isn’t even there to eat! They did not discern the body of Christ in that they showed no concern or respect for Christ body of believers. And I would add that it was disrespectful to act gluttonous and to be a drunkard with something that symbolized such a precious person as Jesus Christ. (Apparently, there was wine at these feasts.) But how dare you drink up all the wine and eat up all the food. Paul asks a rhetorical question about whether or not they had houses to eat and drink in. It wasn’t that they couldn’t fill up, it’s just that they filled up at the expense of the other Christians who were en route to the supper. If you were so hungry, you should have gotten a snack at the house! Again, we do not have these problems at most of our churches because we have a prepackaged amount that is the same for everyone whether or not you are the first or the last person to participate in communion. So we don’t have to worry about gobbling up all the crackers and guzzling down all the juice. So since these conditions aren’t possible in our church settings of today, how can we make the principles apply in our context?
I would say that we should beware of how we treat our fellow brothers and sisters before we take communion. Sure, you might not have eaten their share of the communion, but in what other ways have you not been discerning of the Lord’s body. How have you treated your brothers and sisters at your church? We tend to think of those “more intense” and visible sins such as partying and sleeping around when we “examine” ourselves. But Paul here is talking about examining ourselves in how we treat our brothers and sisters. Maybe you weren’t at a party the night before. And maybe you didn’t lie on a test. And maybe you didn’t fornicate earlier that weekend. But did you put division between you and another church member? Did you humiliate them because they came to church late? Did you make them feel ashamed because they had less to give than you? Did you see yourself as better than them because you are richer? I believe that in this passage, THOSE are the things Paul wants us to examine ourselves concerning. Of course, if you are backslidden or reprobate for whatever reason, perhaps you should make matters right before you partake of Christ’s body symbols (whether or not your sin had something to do with mistreating a brother or sister in Christ), but just make sure you read what PAUL is saying in this passage and not missing the main point.
(By the way, I asked a couple of my seminary professors about this topic, and they said that they do not see that this passage is saying that a person who sinned that week(end) couldn’t participate in the feast.) 🙂