Gathering At The Lord’s Table
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
The backdrop of today’s passage is the disorder of the Corinthian church. Paul is so concerned about several issues that have reached him from far away, that he sits down to address them in the epistle of 1 Corinthians.
A Church That Has Lost Its’ Way (vv. 17-22)
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.
The early church celebrated the Lord’s Supper around a meal, Jude even calls it a “love feast (Jude 12). At the meal it seems a possibility that one could over eat, or drink too much wine.
Also, the people seem to arrive in stages. Those who have the flexibility to leave their jobs early, or have jobs that don’t require them to clean up or change clothes arrive before those who cannot or need to clean up.
The meal seems to be purchased from the common funds of the church, and those that arrive early are getting the choice parts of the meal, and those arriving later get the picked over portions, or no food at all.
Around this meal, there seems to be divisions among the church. You know you have a problem as a church when things are worse when you get together instead of better; Paul says, “it is not for the better but for the worse.”
Paul also says, “in the first place. . .” He indicates that there are other issues, but disunity, cliques, and division in the church crowds out whatever else was on his mind. This issue was so consuming on Paul’s mind that he never moves on to “in the second place, third place, etc.” This topic that Paul writes the churches about was a deadly sin, and he knew it would destroy the church if not dealt with. Whenever they get together – the people are worse in spirit instead of better.
Paul even says that while they thought they were celebrating the Lord’s Supper in reality they were not, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.” Is it possible to be so carried away by sin that a church can think they are doing some religious act, but in reality, it is not recognized by God?
Buttrick said, “The greatest sins have always been the abuse of the greatest blessings.” One of the greatest gifts and blessing that the Lord has given to Christians is the local church. It is the fellowship that we share that gives the church strength. We destroy fellowship by not exercising love toward the neighbor.
But like spoiled children we (the church) just expect it to always be there, we see it as something not to be revered, but something to get something out of. If you don’t like this one, then just go down the street to another one.
The American church has wealthy churches, poor churches, cowboy churches, black churches, traditional churches, contemporary churches, not to mention denominations, Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ, Pentecostal, etc. You name it, there is a church for all of our preferences. But in the city of Corinth – there was one Christian church and that was your only church. So you had wealthy people, poor people, slaves, different races, all gathered on an equal footing to worship, and to experience life together. 
There was a foundational teaching of the church that was being lost. Instead of the Lord’s Supper reminding them of Jesus’ sacrifice and ultimate mission for the church – it had become a fellowship meal with little fellowship and for some no meal. There was little love at the love feast. There were drunk people stagger about, people gorging themselves on the food, little groups forming that caused division, and poor people being embarrassed because they were hungry and had nothing to eat.
When the Church focuses on the wrong things, it enters into areas of danger. They had forgotten what the Lord’s Supper means and had turned the gathered church into something resembling the world around them.
So Paul says, “Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” The purpose of the gathering of the church is not for them to eat and drink, they could do that at home, the purpose was to experience the Lord’s Supper together. How do you fix a church that has lost its’ way? How do you address a church that is focused only on themselves and their preferences?
A church that has disunity, a lack of concern for others (especially their own church members), and is given over to sin (gluttony, drunkenness) is open season for Satan. It is only a matter of time before its’ over. So Paul is greatly concerned, “I do not commend you.”
Paul then reminds them of what the Lord’s Supper means.
The Reminder of Why They Assemble (23-26)
“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 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.”
Paul begins his explanation with “that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread . . .” There was no further need to set the time he was talking about – it was the night when he was betrayed. He links their actions of division, greed, and uncaring for one another to Judas. “You guys remember when that guy Judas, betrayed Jesus?” Yeah, that night, Jesus took some bread . . .
25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Paul includes “after supper” – which gives us a clue that the Lord’s Supper would traditionally be celebrated after a fellowship meal, or at least came after the meal when Jesus and the disciples first had the Lord’s Supper. Jesus may also have taken the bread and passed it out and then some-time later passed the cup. So, if it were traditionally celebrated after the meal – there are some who would be drunk during the sacrament.
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood” – Jesus is saying that there was an old covenant between God and His people, but now there is a new covenant. We see this foretold in Jeremiah 31:31-34 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
“Rather than giving the people laws and ceremonies they must obey, God will work a transformation of the heart of each believer.” In John 3, Jesus has the conversation with Nicodemus and his needing to be born again.
Even though God’s people, in the marriage, broke the old covenant, “my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband” God is metaphorically taking them back to the exodus from Egypt and reestablishing a covenant, but this one will be different. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper at the Passover, which commemorated the Exodus (Exod. 12:14-27).
This new covenant, that involves a transformation of the heart, is established by a blood offering, Jesus says, “the new covenant in my blood.” This blood will cover all sin, in fact, God will remember the sin no more.
Ordinarily blood was shed to symbolize the bond between those who enter covenant. The Old Testament Passover meal had the people wiping blood over the doorposts and eating a special meal — This new covenant involves only God’s blood, that is shed.
In verses 25-26 we see that the Lord’s Supper is a remembrance and proclamation, “in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are remembering a resurrected Lord, A God who shed His blood for us, but did not stay dead, and that same resurrected Lord will return.
In the Old Testament God encourages Israel to remember the sabbath day (Exodus 20:8), or to remember to keep the commandments (Numbers 15:39), and Moses in Deuteronomy encourages Israel to remember God, his deeds, the desert journey, how they were once slaves in Egypt – these memories will instruct them on how to treat the foreigners in their own communities.
These memories should correct behavior that goes outside of what they should have learned from the experiences. When we remember Jesus, and how he laid down his life for us (specifically his body and blood), then that should have a corrective impact on our behavior toward other believers, the church, in our own sinful behavior, and the lost around us.
The proclamation of the Lord’s Supper is a way of preaching the gospel, to act it out. It is done again and again to proclaim our deliverance from sin, just like the Passover for the Jewish people was repeated to recall their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
It is the ministry of the church to proclaim the gospel to the unbelieving world. “When the world sees the church eating and drinking in order to remember the significance of Christ’s body and blood, the word of the gospel is made visible.”
Therefore, we can pull three reasons why the church should regularly celebrate the Lord’s Supper;
1) It reminds us to look back to the redemptive historic work of Jesus and the cross; the once and for all sacrifice is the ransom for all who put their faith in Him; His body was broken for us, and His blood covers all our sin.
2) It draws us to worship the ever-present Lord; “the meal declares the sacrifice by which the covenant is entered.” We are entering into a covenant with God, and we are entering this covenant together with other believers (in our church).
3) It encourages the church to look forward to the consummation of time, and the return of Jesus. When Jesus returns the Lord’s Supper reminds us to be found faithful.
The Lord’s Supper is something that we participate in, it is an action that we do as believers. However, the Lord’s Supper reminds us to monitor our relationship with the Lord and how we approach Him in worship.
A Warning of Continued Undiscerning Behavior (vv. 27-34)
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. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.8 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. 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.”
“an unworthy manner” – We know that some or many of the church at Corinth were partaking of the Lord’s Supper by being greedy, drunkenness, causing divisions among the brethren, etc. but these are not the only ways. Traditionally this has been interpreted to mean taking of the Lord’s Supper while having unconfessed sin. The period of examination is time to seek forgiveness of sin before you take of the Lord’s Supper.
But in this passage it seems to be even more specific than that. Paul seems to be indicating that when a person participates in the Lord’s Supper in such a way that failed to exhibit the unity of the church in Christ. The solution to this “unworthy” manner was to wait. Paul says, “wait for one another.” Take others into account. Consider your brothers and sisters in Christ while we gather together.
The Lord’s Supper is a time of self-reflection, Paul says to “Let a person examine himself.” During this time of examination, the person should search the Holy Spirit of personal sin, but the judgement mentioned here is the person who is not encouraging the unity of the church, and in that unity, the remembering and proclamation of Christ.
We should not focus so much on ourselves during the supper but on Christ and what He has done for all believers. The focus of this meal is not a time where we all “get right with the Lord” at the same time. But if we truly discerned what we are like, then there would be no judgement.
When the Church does not exercise the Lord’s Supper properly, they are “guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” The Lord has given the church an ordinance that specifically teaches and shares the gospel to the world and reminds the church of the things we mentioned earlier – when that is corrupted it becomes just another meal – and if that’s the case then Paul says, “eat at home.”
Just like the Jewish people not performing the Passover correctly, they would forget about their days in slavery – now the church may forget the body and blood of Jesus and why it is so important.
They would be sinning against the hope of salvation. The gathering church is a blessing given to Christians – together in unity they celebrate the Lord’s Supper as a message to the world of the gospel. When we don’t do this there is judgement. When we get this right, we accomplish Jesus’ desire for His church until He comes again.
With these things in mind – we will now celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
 George Buttrick, The Interpreters Bible, Vol. 10 (Nashville, Tennessee; Abington Press, 1953) 131.
 Ordinal numbers indicating the order in a sequence.
 Buttrick, 131.
 Buttrick, 133.
 Ibid, 138.
 Fred M. Wood, Holman Old Testament Commentary, Jeremiah & Lamentations (Nashville, Tennessee; Holman Reference, 2006) 262.
 “Not all the blood of beasts, On Jewish alters slain, Could give the guilty conscience peace, Or wash away our stain.” Isaac Watts, “Not All the Blood of Beasts.”
 J. Andrew Dearman, The NIV Application Commentary, Jeremiah & Lamentations (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan Publishing, 2002) 287.
 Clifton Allen, Gen Ed., The Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 10 (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Publishing, 1970) 358.
 George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, K-Q (Nashville, Tennessee; Abingdon Press, 1980) 345. Memorial, Memory
 Allen, 359.
 Richard Pratt, Holman New Testament Commentary, 1 & 2 Corinthians (Nashville, Tennessee; Holman Reference, 2000) 201.
 Buttrick, 139.
 Pratt, 205.
 Ibid, 202.