In 1 Corinthians, Paul has been admonishing the church at Corinth toward unity through maturity in the faith. As we have seen in this section so far, Paul has admonished the church to give up her quarrels about what goes into the mouth and head coverings for women. The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains. Don’t worry so much about what goes into the mouth but, instead, about profiting others. Everything about the way God created people, two distinct sexes included, reveals something about God at least in His economy. Whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, we do it to the glory of God alone. In the present text, Paul continues his eucharistic language and theme in order to admonish the local church toward unity.
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
17 Τοῦτο δὲ παραγγέλλων οὐκ ἐπαινῶ ὅτι οὐκ εἰς τὸ κρεῖσσον ἀλλὰ εἰς τὸ ἧσσον συνέρχεσθε. 18 πρῶτον μὲν γὰρ συνερχομένων ὑμῶν ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ ἀκούω σχίσματα ἐν ὑμῖν ὑπάρχειν, καὶ μέρος τι πιστεύω. 19 δεῖ γὰρ καὶ αἱρέσεις ἐν ὑμῖν εἶναι, ἵνα καὶ οἱ δόκιμοι φανεροὶ γένωνται ἐν ὑμῖν. 20 συνερχομένων οὖν ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ οὐκ ἔστιν κυριακὸν δεῖπνον φαγεῖν, 21 ἕκαστος γὰρ τὸ ἴδιον δεῖπνον προλαμβάνει ἐν τῷ φαγεῖν, καὶ ὃς μὲν πεινᾷ, ὃς δὲ μεθύει. 22 μὴ γὰρ οἰκίας οὐκ ἔχετε εἰς τὸ ἐσθίειν καὶ πίνειν; ἢ τῆς ἐκκλησίας τοῦ θεοῦ καταφρονεῖτε, καὶ καταισχύνετε τοὺς μὴ ἔχοντας; τί εἴπω ὑμῖν; ἐπαινέσω ὑμᾶς; ἐν τούτῳ οὐκ ἐπαινῶ.
23 Ἐγὼ γὰρ παρέλαβον ἀπὸ τοῦ κυρίου, ὃ καὶ παρέδωκα ὑμῖν, ὅτι ὁ κύριος Ἰησοῦς ἐν τῇ νυκτὶ ᾗ παρεδίδετο ἔλαβεν ἄρτον 24 καὶ εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ εἶπεν· Τοῦτό μού ἐστιν τὸ σῶμα τὸ ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν· τοῦτο ποιεῖτε εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν. 25 ὡσαύτως καὶ τὸ ποτήριον μετὰ τὸ δειπνῆσαι, λέγων· Τοῦτο τὸ ποτήριον ἡ καινὴ διαθήκη ἐστὶν ἐν τῷ ἐμῷ αἵματι· τοῦτο ποιεῖτε, ὁσάκις ἐὰν πίνητε, εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν. 26 ὁσάκις γὰρ ἐὰν ἐσθίητε τὸν ἄρτον τοῦτον καὶ τὸ ποτήριον πίνητε, τὸν θάνατον τοῦ κυρίου καταγγέλλετε, ἄχρι οὗ ἔλθῃ.
27 Ὥστε ὃς ἂν ἐσθίῃ τὸν ἄρτον ἢ πίνῃ τὸ ποτήριον τοῦ κυρίου ἀναξίως, ἔνοχος ἔσται τοῦ σώματος καὶ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ κυρίου. 28 δοκιμαζέτω δὲ ἄνθρωπος ἑαυτόν, καὶ οὕτως ἐκ τοῦ ἄρτου ἐσθιέτω καὶ ἐκ τοῦ ποτηρίου πινέτω· 29 ὁ γὰρ ἐσθίων καὶ πίνων κρίμα ἑαυτῷ ἐσθίει καὶ πίνει μὴ διακρίνων τὸ σῶμα. 30 διὰ τοῦτο ἐν ὑμῖν πολλοὶ ἀσθενεῖς καὶ ἄρρωστοι καὶ κοιμῶνται ἱκανοί. 31 εἰ δὲ ἑαυτοὺς διεκρίνομεν, οὐκ ἂν ἐκρινόμεθα· 32 κρινόμενοι δὲ ὑπὸ κυρίου παιδευόμεθα, ἵνα μὴ σὺν τῷ κόσμῳ κατακριθῶμεν.
33 Ὥστε, ἀδελφοί μου, συνερχόμενοι εἰς τὸ φαγεῖν ἀλλήλους ἐκδέχεσθε. 34 εἴ τις πεινᾷ, ἐν οἴκῳ ἐσθιέτω, ἵνα μὴ εἰς κρίμα συνέρχησθε. Τὰ δὲ λοιπὰ ὡς ἂν ἔλθω διατάξομαι.
When Christ is Absent (v. 17-19)
But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.
Recall that Paul praised the Corinthians because they held to his teaching philosophically (cf. v. 2). Paul resolved to know nothing but Christ and Christ crucified (cf. 2:2) and figuratively made application to himself so that the Corinthians would learn not to exceed what is written in Scripture (cf. 4:6). Even though the Corinthians confess sound doctrine, that doctrine is not evident in their actions—specifically in their treatment of others both within and without the proverbial walls of the local church. Paul has so far rallied his words against the tendency to judge others based on what goes into their mouths (cf. Matthew 15:11) and the attitude of contentiousness present in the congregation at Corinth. He does not praise the congregation because the congregation comes together for the worse and not the better.
They come together for the worse because there exists divisions among them. We already know some about the divisions. Some followed Paul, others Apollos, others Peter (Cephas), and others Jesus (1:12). So, we know that some of the division in the local church was caused by people who wanted to follow human teachers rather than sit at Christ’s feet and learn from Him alone—for no one was baptized into Paul or Apollos or Peter. Here, Paul identifies another source of Corinthians division, at least what he believes in part a source of Corinthian division. There are other types of factions present. Paul isn’t, here, claiming that factions must be present in order for sanctification to take place in the local church. He is chastising the local church because of the factions. As evidence of the existing factions within the local church, Paul shows that without factions the “approved” people would not become evident. This is about power politics in the local church. Instead of considering others to be more important than themselves, people played politics to get the seats of honor and the approval of others. This interpretation is affirmed in the next verse.
Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.
If Paul were claiming that factions must exist for the purpose of sanctification, those factions would not invalidate the Lord’s Supper for those who are approved. Being approved, here, is not positive but negative. Since Paul is talking about power politics and self-exaltation in the local church, “therefore,” when the congregation at Corinth comes together it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. Paul’s eucharistic language reemerges, here. The eucharist (communion or the Lord’s Supper) has been a constant theme throughout 1 Corinthians to this point. In his description of the church gathering, we see three primary elements: prayer, prophecy (preaching and teaching Scripture alone; cf. 4:6), and communion with Christ. Whenever the local church gathers, there is prayer, prophecy, and communion with Christ. Though the Corinthians are going through the motions of communion, their religious act of communion is invalidated. They say they are observing the Lord’s Supper. Paul reveals that they are not. One implication is worth mentioning. If their communion is invalidated, that means Christ is not communing with them. He has figuratively left the building. There they are doing religious stuff and calling it church, but Christ isn’t welcome at the table.
Why is Christ not welcome at the table? Why is the Corinthians’ communion invalidated? Paul answers. Some of the Corinthians are rushing to get their own food and drink first when time for communion came to the neglect of those who are “unapproved” in their sight. Some go hungry and others over-indulge, getting drunk. This is a matter of injustice, of treating people poorly, within the walls of the church. Communion is not communion with Christ if we are using it to satisfy our own hunger, thirst, religion, piety, preferences, or anything else. This inward-focussed type of religion is not of Christ.
Recall Paul’s argument in Chapter 10. All things are lawful. It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person but what comes out. We are not judged by another person’s conscience. Christians are liberated from that sort of moralistic living in which we always have our eyes affixed on some kind of legalistic boundary as if the earth and all it contains did not belong to God. When we are in Christ and given the Holy Spirit, God changes our hearts. Instead of focussing on making ourselves “good,” we now live to profit others by our actions. All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial. We are no longer a people of legalism but, instead, a people interested in acting in a way that benefits others. This is how Christ changes our moral viewpoint. This is what morally distinguishes the people of God from the people of the world. Instead of trying to exalt self using some moralistic code of conduct, we sincerely consider what benefits others both within and without the church walls (cf. Colossians 2:20-23).
Paul does not condemn people for eating and drinking. He chastises them for refusing to deny themselves for the benefit of their brethren. Paul doesn’t condemn them because of what they are putting in their mouths but what comes out of their hearts in the way they treat others. You want to eat and drink to your stomach’s content? Through the use of rhetorical question, Paul admonishes the Corinthians to do it at home, not at the gathering lest they despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing. We are to lift one another up, not shame one another. Paul does not praise the Corinthian church because their communion is invalid. Paul, once again, makes the way we treat others a salvific matter. They are not eating and drinking with Christ but only to their own pleasure. They neglect those with genuine needs in order to gorge themselves—evidence that, for some, means they have not been transformed in Christ. They have disqualified themselves from partaking in the Gospel despite what they proclaim with their lips (cf. 9:27). Our religious works always disqualify us. We can only be saved as a gift from God (cf. Romans 6:23).
When Christ is Present (v. 23-34)
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
Why should the Corinthians consider others before themselves in the worship gathering instead of self-indulging? Paul answers by explaining the meaning of communion. Jesus taught, on the night He was betrayed, that communion was to be taken in remembrance of Him. As often as His disciples drank the communion wine, they were to do so in remembrance of Christ and the New Covenant He established in His blood. When we take communion, our minds are not to be on our own pleasures, hungers, or thirsts but on Christ and the work He accomplished—the salvation of all His people through the cross. Christ is the guest of honor, the Son of the house, not us. He is the one exalted, not us. The basic meaning of communion stands against what some of the Corinthians are doing with the meal. Communion humbles us and exalts Christ alone as the substitutionary atonement on our behalf.
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 manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.
When we partake of the bread and wine, we proclaim Christ’s death until He comes. Christ’s story is the one being told through the observance of communion. Communion is no excuse for gluttony and drunkenness in the local church. Christ is exalted, not us. We tell His story, not our own.
Because of the basic meaning of communion, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Let’s reason together. What does it mean to eat and drink in an unworthy manner in the context of Paul’s admonition, here? Paul is not writing about all unrepentant sin. That would be a burden too heavy to bear. I would never observe communion because I would be so afraid that there was some sin in my life that I did not recognize. Without recognizing it, I would be guilty of the body and blood of Christ because I would not know to repent for that which I was unaware. In context, eating and drinking in an unworthy manner means to eat and drink to the glory of self rather than Christ—evidenced in the Corinthians’ mistreatment of those who are “unapproved,” some are going hungry while others are getting drunk.
If I do not deny myself and consider others to be more important than myself, especially in the gathering and during communion, I am guilty of the body and blood of Christ. Why? I have caused the body of Christ, His church, to suffer because, like the chief priests and elders who had Christ crucified, I was interested in exalting myself at the expense of others. I was interested in getting drunk while others go hungry. Instead of being justified by Christ body and blood, I am guilty of it. The way we treat others (sincerely, not for personal gain) reveals whether or not we are in Christ.
But 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 if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.
Instead of simply eating and drinking to our heart’s content, Paul instructs each one to examine himself. Interesting that Paul does not instruct us to examine everyone else. A man must examine himself. Communion is a personal intimacy with Christ, and each one should weigh his own motivation for observing such a holy meal. In examining himself, he is to eat of the bread and drink the cup. Communion is not optional. Each Christian is to eat and drink, though not without self-examination.
Each one eats and drinks judgment on himself if he does not judge his own body rightly, whether he is self-indulgent or eating and drinking to the glory of God and exaltation of Christ. Paul here reveals that many among the Corinthians are weak, sick, and some have died (“sleep is a euphemism) because they did not judge the body rightly. Paul identifies this as the judgment of God. If we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. Weakness, sickness, and death may be the natural result of gluttonous and drunken lifestyles, but Paul identifies them as God’s judgment upon His people. Paul states that, when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. God’s discipline in the lives of the Corinthians meant they were children of God despite their sinful lifestyles and the injustice present in the congregation. If we eat and drink to our own glory and are never disciplined by the Lord, we are being condemned along with the world. The Lord’s discipline in our lives is evidence we belong to Him despite our sin. Woe to those who are never disciplined by the Lord and so continue blissfully in their self-exaltation.
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 will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.
When Paul gets to the application, he does not instruct the congregation to repent of every little sin before observing communion. He does not argue in favor of closed communion because each person is responsible for himself before God in this matter. He doesn’t instruct the elders to withhold the cup form anyone. God will discipline His people personally. Paul doesn’t admonish the people to stop enjoying the food and drink God has given with thankfulness, for that would contradict his previous admonition (cf. 10:30). Instead, Paul instructs the congregation to wait for one another when they come together to eat. If the people want to indulge or are only interested in satisfying their physical hunger, they should do so at home so as to not come together for judgment. Our application is the same as Paul’s. When we come together, we come together to profit others and not exalt ourselves—in every matter, not only communion. Let each one examine him or herself.
Chloe’s people, from whom I believe the letter written to Paul was, apparently had some other concerns about the practice of communion at Corinth—not all matters because there are five more chapters in 1 Corinthians composed of matters Paul needs to address. Paul leaves those other matters about eucharistic practice out of this reply and will arrange those matters upon his arrival to Corinth.
Please help us continue providing expository content worldwide.
Make a one-time donation
Make a monthly donation
Make a yearly donation
Choose an amount
Or enter a custom amount
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly