Stories, thoughts and reflections on the Bible from the WSFC Staff.
A couple of weeks ago I started bringing you a series of HELLO FRIENDS around the topics of COMMUNION and COMMUNITY. These writings are drawn from a research paper I wrote about 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, which is one of the most well-known passages of Scripture about The Lord’s Supper (communion). I trust you will find them immensely readable as well as applicable.
THE ORIGINAL HAPPY MEAL – PART 3
Throughout the first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul dealt aggressively with abuses, excess, and divisions. He was on a corrective war-path in an effort to bring the church back to the truth of the Gospel, and away from their Greco-Roman leanings. In no uncertain terms, he forbid them from partaking in their drinking parties at the pagan temples. He argued, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons” (1 Cor. 10:21). The Corinthian Christians were definitely a work in progress, and understanding this reality helps one grasp the nature of the abuses at their Love Feasts that were “do[ing] more harm than good.”
The term “Lord’s Supper” only occurs once in Scripture: 1 Corinthians 11:20. Notably, the reference is sandwiched within a strong rebuke from Paul. Thankfully, had there not been a mess to clean up in Corinth, there would be considerably less to draw from for our understanding of the Lord’s Supper. It is possible that had there been no “disorder,” then there might have never been a need for Paul’s rebuke and teaching.
The primary abuse at the Corinthian Love Feast involved neglect of the poor, the slaves, the less fortunate, and those on the fringe of the community. Simply put, the “haves” had forgotten the “have-nots.” It is in this context that one of the most widely recognized passages of Scripture is introduced. 1 Corinthians 11:23 begins with “For I received from the Lord what I also passed onto you…” Many within Christianity would have some point of recognition with this passage. The Corinthian church had been eating and drinking “without recognizing the body of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:29).
The “body” in this verse is the CHURCH.
Paul’s strong challenge to Corinth was to honor the Body – Jesus’ church. The Lord’s Supper was originally intended to be a meal that would de-stratify the hierarchy and invite equality among its participants. Remarkably, the Last Supper had a man named Judas seated at the table with Jesus (not to mention Peter who denied the Master and all the other disciples that ran after his arrest!). The Love Feast was intentioned as a gathering point for all that would… “go out into the highways and hedges…come in so that my house may be filled” such as referenced in Jesus’ parable in Luke 14:23. Over time, the Lord’s Supper had gotten to be a mess that was characterized by exclusion and a pecking order.
Could this be what Paul was imploring the Corinthians to “examine” before eating and drinking?
Had they stopped “recognizing the body of the Lord” and thereby grown weak and sick within their fellowship?
Paul wanted to bring correction to their mealtime, not eradication. He implored them to wait for others and share with others. The entire context of the familiar 1 Corinthians 11 passage is clearly about others.