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The Sunday Sermon – 1st Corinthians 11:17-22


The Lord’s Supper
1st Corinthians 11:17-22

Paul is dealing with disorder in the worship of the church. This is an important section of the book. There is a tendency today to think that everything and anything is acceptable in worship. You can do whatever you want; introduce whatever innovation you deem to be appropriate into worship, for the great maxim of today’s church is, “we must DO SOMETHING to get people into church!” (Anything, of course, except pray!) So we try to please people in our services of worship, when the only person we need to please in worship is the Lord Himself! 1 Cor. 14:33 John 4:23-24 Galatians 4:8-10 Acts 24:14-16
Paul has already had to deal with one irregularity in worship at Corinth, the matter of headship and the symbols of headship, the issue of head-covering and the symbols of head-covering. Now notice the logical progression of Paul’s thought. The headship of Christ in His Church is the very basis of our Christian obedience! We obey our head! If we cannot obey Him in such a simple matter as the symbols of His headship, how will we obey Him in other, more difficult matters, where obedience to the Lord is demanded? We are commanded to obey the Lord in respect of our worship, yet in Corinth, that disobedient church, that disobedience had led to chaos and disorder in the meetings of the church. So much so that Paul declares that they were coming together, not for the better, but for the worse! Their communion services, as we shall see, were a terrible parody of what true communion should be. Their ‘worship’ had descended into utter farce, as they vied with each other, over who was the most spiritually gifted. People left the meetings at Corinth, thinking that they had worshipped the Lord, when in fact their worship had been totally unacceptable to God! 1 Cor. 11:17 Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. Nowhere was this more evident than their attitude to the Lord’s Supper!
Now you will immediately realise the importance of this section of the book. The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance of the church, decreed for us by the Lord Jesus himself. It is vital that believers know what it means, how it is to be observed, who may partake of it, and what preparation we must make before we approach the Lord’s Table.

This passage of Scripture will help us to do just that. Paul will instruct us, as we read how the Corinthian believers were mistreating the Lord’s Supper, corrupting it by their greed. He will illustrate for us the true meaning of the ordinance, and the very strict penalties of wrongful participation, and finally he will give us instruction on the right approach to the Table. All of this will give us a context to examine the doctrine and practice of the Lord’s Supper in modern times. Let us then see:-

The Agape Feast!
Before we can identify the problem here, we must notice something important about the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in general. Today, our communion service consists of tiny little pieces of bread, and a little glass of wine. They are tokens or symbols of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, to help us to remember Him. In Corinth there really was a feast. It was the Lord’s SUPPER, and in Greek life a Supper was the main meal of the day. For breakfast, they would have had just a little piece of bread. For lunch, they would have had a light meal, and they would have had it wherever they were at that time. For Supper, they had a meal characterised by its length, and the relaxed attitude of those taking part. It was a time for eating and drinking and good company and conversation.
So it was in the early church. There was something called a LOVE (or agape) FEAST, where everyone brought some food. Richer people would have brought a lot of food. Slaves could have brought very little, or perhaps even nothing at all. But the food was all put together and shared out communally. At the LOVE FEAST, everyone was truly equal! In Corinth, of course, it had all gone horribly wrong!

In Corinth, Communion was corrupted by division! 11:18-19 The Amplified Bible calls these divisions ‘cliques,’ and that is a good description, for these were little groups of people in the church, who only associated with their own circle of friends and acquaintances. I would be so bold as to say that every church today has cliques! Look around your own church today! How many of the people in your fellowship do you know well enough to hold a conversation with them? What do you know about some others? What would it take for you to emerge from your own little circle of friends and go and make conversation with someone you have not spoken to before? When people do not associate freely with all of the others in the church, then cliques are the inevitable result.
Such divisions and factions are corrosive! At Corinth there were rich people and poor people, slaves and free, old and young, male and female, Jew and gentile, Greek speakers and ‘barbarians’ (people who did not speak Greek were regarded by the Greeks as being barbarians!). That is the genius of the Christian Church! The message of the Lord Jesus is for every class and division of man! Now factionalism, or division in the church is always wrong, and always an aberration of true Christianity! There is no such thing as a youth service in the Bible! There is no such thing as a meeting for pensioners, for women, for men, for businessmen and so on! These are very modern innovations indeed! In the Bible, worship, and prayer, and communion and fellowship are FOR EVERYBODY! There should be no artificial barriers at all in the Lord’s church, and when division and cliques affect the worship, or the prayer life of the church, that is a very serious matter indeed!
Please note that Paul only partly believed the accounts of division that had reached him about these divisions over worship. Is it not true that these accounts are often exaggerated in the telling? That matters often appear worse than they really are!
But this matter never took Paul by surprise, for God has already foreordained that there should be some divisions in the church, so that truth may be properly defended and explained! Paul said, 1 Cor. 11:19 For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. Such problems in the church provoke ministers and preachers to an informed apologetic for the true faith! In USA nowadays, ministry has been compartmentalised in some churches. You have youth pastors, music pastors, visiting pastors, transport pastors, even teaching pastors! Now tell me, how can a minister be a teaching pastor if he never visits the people, and never finds out what the problems in the church really are? Divisions arise in the church, problems come. The faithful pastor or deacon or preacher will respond to those problems by searching the Scriptures and giving the people the truth of God’s Word. This is in itself a great encouragement to ministers and leaders who become discouraged when they see the factions in modern churches! What a challenge!

But not only were there cliques and division at Corinth, communion was also corrupted by delusion! 11:20. Paul argues here that these people thought that what they were doing was taking communion, when in fact they were doing nothing of the kind! Their celebration of the Lord’s Supper had become nothing more than a meaningless ritual! I have seen this happening! In some churches, where communion is celebrated too frequently, it becomes nothing more than a clinical procedure, something you do at the end of a meeting. It gets tagged on automatically, without thought, and without adequate preparation! Do you know that communion is pointless, if your heart is not right before the Lord? If you come to the table with deceit or division or factionalism on your heart and mind, you might as well not bother! There is a doctrine known a ‘sacramentalism’ where the main teaching is that the ‘sacraments’ convey grace in and of themselves, and make the sinner right with God. This doctrine is, of course false. In RC and orthodox doctrine, and in some Anglican churches, there is a belief that the ‘sacraments’ operate ‘ex opere operatum.’ That means that the sacraments are effective in transferring grace to the sinner, whether the sinner is a worthy recipient or not, whether faith is present or not. There is no Biblical warrant for such a belief! The table of Communion will not make you a better person, will not ensure eternal salvation and will not get you to heaven! Such a belief would be salvation by works!
The Savoy Declaration states, “Worthy receivers outwardly partaking of the Visible Elements in this sacrament do then also inwardly by Faith… spiritually receive and feed upon Christ crucified….”

Thirdly, the Corinthian Communion was corrupted by dissipation! 11:21. There was plenty for everyone at the Love Feast! There was sufficient for all! But some of the richer people, realising that they had brought more than some of the poorer people, began to make sure that they got their portion first!

In a country home that seldom had guests, the young son was eager to help his mother after his father appeared with two dinner guests from the office. When the dinner was nearly over, the boy went to the kitchen and proudly carried in the first piece of apple pie, giving it to his father, who passed it to a guest. The boy came in with a second piece of pie and again watched his father give it to a guest. This was too much for the boy, who said, “It’s no use, Dad. The pieces are all the same size.”

They went to the feast, failed to wait for others to arrive, and began to gluttonously fill themselves with food and drink. Only when they were fully sated and drunken did they stop! Instead of sharing with the whole church, the Corinthians sat in their own little cliques and ate their own food, and the poor people were left out! Where was the love for others that should characterise Christian Communion? Where was the fellowship? What about our own attitude to fellowship and worship in the church? Is it characterised by selfishness? A man once said to me, If I don’t get doing what I want, I’m doing nothing at all!

Finally, the Corinthian communion was corrupted by discouragement! 11:22. There was an abuse of the feelings of others. The poor people came to these feasts and they had nothing, yet they witnessed the rich people eating their fill, and they felt discouraged and ashamed. Paul asks them a series of pointed questions:-

Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Do you not see that the Christian Church is not the place, and the love feast is not the time for having a social meal like the heathens would have, with eating and drinking and revelling and carousing.
Are you not doing despite to God’s church, and bring shame upon those who are poor when you indulge in selfishness in worship like this?
What shall I say to you about these things! How could Paul commend and praise a church with such abuses?

So, as you can see, the whole communion service at Corinth was an ungodly mess. It was a shame on the church instead of being a service which brought glory to God, and blessing to man.

The Approbation Forfeited!
Twice in this short passage Paul uses the same phrase. I praise you not. What an awful testimony this abuse of the Lord’s Table brings upon us! People watch us! They observe our lives and they see the Christian church divided and split. They see Christians at each other’s throats. They see churches where members fall out and part company over trivia, and they accuse the church of hypocrisy for sitting together at the Lord’s Supper, while our hearts are far from united in Christ!

A man sat down to supper with his family and said grace, thanking God for the food, for the hands which prepared it, and for the source of all life. But during the meal he complained about the freshness of the bread, the bitterness of the coffee, and the sharpness of the cheese. His young daughter questioned him, “Dad, do you think God heard the grace today?” He answered confidently, “Of course.” Then she asked, “And do you think God heard what you said about the coffee, the cheese, and the bread?” Not so confidently, he answered, “Why, yes, I believe so.” The little girl concluded, “Then which do you think God believed, Dad?” The man was suddenly aware that his mealtime prayer had become a ritual, a thoughtless habit rather than an attentive and honest conversation with God.

By not concentrating on that important conversation, he had left the door open to let hypocrisy sneak in.

The Accord Facilitated!
Finally, let us be aware that the underlying doctrine in this passage is the equality of the believer around the Lord’s Table. At the communion table, there is no one any better or any more elevated in status than any other. Whether we are rich or poor, minister or deacon or communicant, we are all at the Lord’s Table only at His gracious invitation. We are there only because Jesus has saved us, and not because of any merit on our part. We are equals, for we are all sinners who have been saved by God’s sovereign grace. We believe in the priesthood of all believers, and so at the Lord’s Table we need no priest, other than the Great High priest himself, the Lord Jesus Christ.

From → Sermon Notes

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