I Corinthians 11:17–34. The Lord’s Supper.

Key Notes: Schisms and factions. Separating the Love Feast from Communion. The Words of Institution. Four spiritual exercises. Self-judgment.

If Paul found the issue of women’s head-dress to be a lesser problem, he was plainly alarmed at the way the Corinthians celebrated communion. There was nothing to be commended. For us in the evangelical church, on the other hand, the problems of communion are miniscule, largely because Paul has made the conditions so clear. The words of this section are frequently quoted in our services and we may feel that there is nothing new to be learned from the passage. Let us read the whole section first, and pray for new insights.

11:17–19. To begin with, there were divisions (Gr. "schisms") and factions (Gr.”hairesis” from which we get “heresies") among them. The words are regarded as equivalent, but they give us two different pictures.
 “Schism” is a tear or rent, causing a separation in a fabric or paper. The separation in this context is likely between the rich and the poor—those who can get drunk and those who are hungry.
“Hairesis” is an opinion, an inclination, a school of thought. It was originally an innocent word. It suggests deviation from a line. If the line is orthodox doctrine, then the deviation might be to think that the Lord’s Supper is of little or no consequence. If that inclination became fixed, it would be a “heresy” as we usually use the word.
So when they assemble as a church there are schisms, for example between the rich and poor, and factions, some saying, for example, that the Lord’s Supper is trivial.

11:20–22 When they assembled, it was not the Lord’s Supper that they were eating. It was not a love feast either!
The  “love feast” probably originated in the communal meal of the Jerusalem Church in the first days after Pentecost.“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.” (Acts 2:46–7).
The believers ate together on Sunday in Troas with Paul.` (Acts 20:7). The word “love feast” is mentioned in IIPet.2:13 and Jude 12. In both cases carousing is condemned.

We do not know how the communal meal and the Lord’s Supper were connected. They did not have  our “pot-luck dinners” in a church setting where all contribute and all share whatever is brought. The communion was not held in a sanctuary as we do today. All church meetings were being held in homes, house-churches.

The abuse probably occurred because the communal meal was offered by a host in a private home.
“In a class-conscious society such as Roman Corinth would have been, it would be…natural for the host to invite those of his / her own class to eat in the triclinium {dining room} while the others would eat in the atrium {open court}.” (The First Epistle to the Corinthians. G.D. Fee; Eerdmans,’87; p. 534)
In this setting, there might be quite a difference between food offered to the host’s privileged guests and to the commoners eating the courtyard.

Paul wanted two changes made.
*Separate the Lord’s Supper from a meal intended for nourishment. “Don’t you have houses to eat and drink in? Eat your dinner at home.” (11:33)
*Do not despise the Church of God. Do not humiliate those who are hungry (“have nothing”). Each person must receive the same amount at the Communion and they should wait for each other. 11:33

11:23–26 This passage is called the “words of institution”. It contains formal statements that are usually included in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Similar words are found in the Gospels. These words add instructions to establish and clarify the ceremony. Paul says he received these words from the Lord and delivered them to the Corinthians. They most closely match Luke’s account. Lk.22:14–23

“This is my body which is broken for you”. When Jesus said that, His body was intact. He must have intended the bread to be a symbol of His sacrifice.
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Jesus’ blood was not flowing. The wine is a symbol of blood yet to be poured out.
Twice He said “This do in remembrance of me.” The communion is also a memorial.
Then, He said we are making a proclamation of His death by this communion.
“Until He comes” adds another dimension—His future return to rule the world in righteousness.

11:27–34. To participate in communion in an unworthy manner is dangerous, bringing judgment on oneself. Paul says that was a cause of weakness, sickness and death among the Corinthians.
What is meant by eat the bread and drink the cup in “an unworthy manner”?

  1. omitting self-examination. Since His blood was poured out “for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28), we must repent of sin and ask forgiveness.“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” . (IJn.1:9)
  2. not discerning the body {of believers} (11:29), ignoring  the poor, hungry, and humiliated.
  3. not discerning the body {of Christ},  not paying due respect to the symbols before us.
  4. not remembering His death with thanksgiving or His Return with anticipation.

To say how we may participate in a worthy manner we look in four directions.

    1. look around. Is my neighbor hungry, destitute?
    2. look within. Is my heart right toward God. Forgive me, Lord.
    3. look up. Do I remember you, Lord Jesus? Will you remember me?
    4. look forward. He is coming soon. Come, Lord  Jesus. Maranatha.

We have taken Paul’s instructions to heart. We serve communion in a somber, formal setting, with provision for self-examination. We are each served a small fragment of unleavened bread and a thimble of grape juice. We eat and drink in unison. We make an offering for the needy in our congregation (the benevolence or deacons’ fund). We sing a hymn and go out in peace. We do this once a month—not too often, lest it become ordinary—not too infrequently, lest we forget.

“If we judge ourselves truly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world. “ (11:31–32)  Self-discipline must be our way of life.
The child who obeys will not get spanked. The Lord’s chastening is not a rejection or a condemnation but a confirmation of our adoption. (Heb.12:7–11)  So we believe that the Corinthians who were weak, sick or dead had not lost salvation. The self- chastening is so that we will not be sick or condemned with the world.

For questions on the interpretation of “this is my body”, and “this is my blood” please see notes on Hebrews 8–10 for a history of the Eucharist.