(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)

There were many failings in the church at Corinth but you wouldn't think they could get the Lord's Supper wrong. However, they did! Paul wrote: In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. v17. What a terrible indictment - the meal to celebrate Christ's saving work did more harm than good.

(B) The Problem.

(1) The local situation.

    (a) Some more divisions. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have (God's) approval. v18and19. ('God's' is not in the original Greek.)

    It is probable that these divisions were not of the same kind that Paul dealt with earlier in the epistle. In all likelihood they had to do with education, wealth and leadership. There were some wealthy Christians in the church - Gaius and Erastus who was Corinth's director of public works. See Romans16v23and24.

    When the church met in someone like Gaius's house the well to do, the people who mattered, the leading lights, ate together in the smallish dining room. Everyone else was outside in the larger courtyard. I think Paul was being sarcastic when he wrote: No doubt distinctions must be made to show who's important and who isn't.

    (b) Unequal treatment. It seems that the Lord's Supper was part of what was called a love feast. Christians would bring food and share it at the love feast. The Lord's Supper either took place at the end of the meal or bread was broken in memory of Jesus at the commencement of the meal and wine drunk in remembrance of him at the end.

    At Corinth the well to do arrived first for the love feast and went into the dining room where they started their meal. Paul wrote: For as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anyone else. v21. I can almost hear them justifying their behaviour saying, "I'm so hungry, really famished - I'll have to start." Paul said indignantly: Don't you have homes to eat and drink in. v22. If anyone is hungry he should eat at home. v33. In other words he is telling the wealthy Corinthians to have something to eat at home before attending the Lord's Supper if they feel peckish.

    The leading lights at Corinth ate well. The select dining room group shared the best food. Some drank to such purpose that they got drunk.

    The poor labouring men and slaves who came late to the love feast had little to eat. Several of the slaves couldn't bring anything. They may have missed their evening meal to attend the fellowship. So in the courtyard there wasn't enough to go round and some went hungry. It is easy to imagine the indignation of the visitors from Chloe's household at this state of affairs - especially if they were slaves themselves. Paul seemed to think their report might be somewhat exaggerated because he includes as an aside: To some extent I believe it.

(2) Paul is appalled.

He was disgusted at:

    (a) The pride of the top brass. His sarcasm indicates his displeasure with them. Jesus, too, was scathing about those who were obsessed with status: Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the market places. Lk11v43. I am afraid that there remain church leaders who thrive on recognition and love to be made a fuss of.

    (b) The impatience and indiscipline of those who couldn't wait but gave in to their bodily appetites. No heed was taken of Jesus word's to Satan during his temptation: "Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." Mt4v4.

    Our age is one of instant gratification. People have got into the habit of having what they want, when they want, thanks to a little bit of plastic. Debt mounts up and misery ensues.

    (c) The selfishness and self-indulgence of the better off: One remains hungry, another gets drunk. There would have been plenty of food and drink for all if the well to do had not been so greedy.

    I don't expect that many of us enjoy paying high taxes but this is a way of sharing the nation's wealth more equally. I am not a socialist or even a New Labour voter but I am glad that the wealthy are taxed to provide income support for the poor.

    (d) The unkindness of the favoured few who humiliated those who had nothing. v22. It is perilous to be unkind to the poor because it is tantamount to being unkind to Jesus himself. We do well to remember his words: "I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me." When those under judgment protested Jesus said: "I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." Mt25v42to45.

    (e) The leadership's lack of concern for the well being of the church as a whole: Or do you despise the church of God? The educated, well to do leadership was not concerned for the unity of the church and did not love their poorer brothers as Jesus loved them. The rich, liberal clergy in the U.S.A. do not show a commitment to the unity of the Anglican Church by supporting gay 'marriage' - something that appals the vast majority of Anglicans.

(3) Lessons for all of us:

    (a) We must be careful not to humiliate those with nothing. Don't flaunt your possessions and distress those without many. Refrain from showing up the inadequacies of others if you are of superior intellect. Some Christians are without looks, charm and accomplishments and may be poor in relationship terms. Don't add to the misery and loneliness of the unloved.

    (b) Christians should care for the needy. Today, there are few hungry folk in British churches but there are plenty of inadequate people who need to be welcomed, accepted, embraced, encouraged and supported.

    (c) Beware of cliques. In church we shouldn't talk to, and mix with, only those we like! It is wrong to stick exclusively with 'your sort of people'. We should not be afraid to have fellowship with those we might disagree with on some issues. Above all else don't show partiality toward those who 'matter' - whose attention feeds your ego. I have occasionally been talking to an acquaintance at a Christian function and someone more important has come along and I have been dropped like a ton of hot bricks! There are people we listen to with rapt attention and there are others we can't wait to get rid of.

    (d) We should never make ourselves the main priority. Our personal happiness is not more important than the health and harmony of the church. We are told on more than one occasion in the New Testament to put the interests of others before our own. There were those in Corinth who did not do this and this is Paul's reaction: What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! v22.

(C) The significance of the Lord's Supper.

In a few short sentences Paul outlines why Christians should observe the Lord's Supper. It provides believers an opportunity to:

(1) Be obedient. For I received from the Lord what I passed on to you. v23.

Paul knew that the Lord's Supper was instituted by Jesus himself: And he(Jesus) took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, and gave it to them saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." Lk22v20.

Christians who do not observe the Lord's Supper are disobeying Jesus and are definitely missing out on a means of grace. In the words of the hymn:

          Trust and obey, for there's no other way
          To be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.

(2) Be thankful. The Lord Jesus ... took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it... . v23.

Jesus thanked God for the staff of life - bread that nourishes and sustains us. At the Lord's Supper we give thanks for the Bread of Heaven. Jesus said: I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. John7v51. We must never take for granted our living bread.

(3) Remember. "Do this .... in remembrance of me.

There are many things it is good for a Christians to remember. I was asked recently to give my testimony at a ladies meeting. This provided a good opportunity to remember God's goodness to me - his providential care and sustaining grace.

The little meal of bread and wine is a simple memorial to Christ's great and saving work. We sing:

            Thus we remember Thee
            And take this bread and wine
            As Thine own dying legacy,
            And our redemption's sign.

(4) Reaffirm that we are beneficiaries of a new Covenant. "This cup is the new covenant in my blood."

The old covenant or contract God made with the Jews was this: His blessing was conditional on their obedience to his law. There was, however, an older covenant made before the angel of death passed through the land of Egypt: The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. Ex12v13.

The new covenant is like the contract God made with the Jews at Passover. If we put our trust in Christ's shed blood, in his sacrificial death, God will pass over our sins and we will be saved. So at the Lord's Supper we rejoice in all Jesus has done for us:

            Redeemed how I love to proclaim it,
            Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb,
            Redeemed, Redeemed,
            His child and for ever I am.

(5) Enact our commitment to Christ. We eat this bread and drink this cup ... . v26.

When we eat bread we make the ultimate commitment to it; similarly with the wine. It is not enough to admire a wine's colour and bouquet, to taste it and spit it out. Commitment is demonstrated by drinking the wine. This is why Jesus made the extraordinary statement that so startled his disciples and disillusioned his supporters: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day." Jn6v54. We have to commit ourselves wholly and absolutely to Jesus. Participation in the Lord's Supper is one way of saying:

              I am trusting Thee, Lord Jesus
              Trusting only Thee!
              Trusting Thee for full salvation
              Great and free.

See Exposition on the Bread of Life

(6) Show our unity.

We call the Lord's Supper 'Communion'. This is because we partake of it collectively, as a community, one in our common dependence upon Jesus and our gratitude to him. At the Lord's Supper no one is better than any one else. We are all guilty sinners who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. We share a common status as sons of God and joint heirs with Christ.

(7) To look forward. "For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

I sometimes think as I raise the individual cup containing the wine to my lips and murmur, "Till he come", that I am drinking a toast to my absent king. Christians look forward in expectancy, anticipation and intense longing to the return of the King. He will come!

            See the feast of love is spread,
            Drink the wine and break the bread;
            Sweet memorial, till the Lord
            Call us round His heavenly board;
            Some from earth, from glory some,
            Severed only till he come!

(C) Irregularities at the Lord's Supper.

(1) Participation without worship. Therefore, whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner..... . v27.

Paul does not expect us to be without sin to take part in the Lord's Supper. Some Christians feel that they are unworthy to sit at the Lord's Table because of their sin. The meal is designed for sinners! The disciples, including Judas, who took part in the first supper were not without sin.

We should not participate:

    (a) Frivolously. We should never partake of the emblems in a light hearted, careless manner. God did not take our sins lightly; it required the sacrifice of his own dear Son to set men free from their awful consequence.

    (b) With pride in our hearts. We should never feel as we eat the bread and drink the wine that we are not as other men are - that we are fit to participate in the meal and others are not. It is very easy to adopt this attitude especially in a church that has rules about who can stay and who must leave.

    (c) Without feeling. Communicants insult Jesus whenever their participation is insincere or perfunctory. Saved sinners should have the warmest feelings of gratitude to Jesus for his mercy - immense and free! The words of the hymn say it all:

              He found me bruised and dying
              And poured in oil and wine;
              He whispered to assure me,
              I've found thee; thou art thine!
              I never heard a sweeter voice,
              It made my aching heart rejoice.

              O, the love that sought me!
              O, the blood that bought me!
              O, the grace that brought me to the fold!
              Wondrous grace that brought me to the fold.

    (d) Without regard to our fellow Christians. Eating the bread and drinking the wine is not a private act but a collective one. It reminds us of our common bond - the bond that binds us together - our reliance on God's wondrous grace. We should not attend the Lord's Supper if we harbour ill will towards a fellow Christian. We have been forgiven so much. God expects us to forgive as we have been forgiven.

(2) A serious matter.

Paul made three points to drive home the seriousness of abusing the Lord's table:

    (a) It is an insult to Christ. Christians who eat the bread and drink the wine unworthily are guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.

    If we participate in the sacred meal thanklessly, coldly and routinely we sin against all that Jesus has done for us. We are failing to recognise and respond to his saving work as we should. Christ is crucified afresh.

    (b) The need for self examination. Paul wrote: A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. v28.

    Paul does not tell us to examine others! Some are very good at that!! No we must examine ourselves. Is there sin we need to confess? Is there a wrong we have failed to put right? Are we harbouring a grudge against one of our brothers?

    (c) The inevitability of God's discipline. Paul warned: For anyone who eats and drinks without recognising the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.

    The body of the Lord could refer to the person of Jesus himself or to his church. If we become blasť about Christ's saving work or careless about our relationships with other Christians God will discipline us. Our Father may allow pain or sickness to enter our lives to remind us of our mortality and dependence upon Jesus for eternal life. Or we may experience failure or setbacks to remind us that without Jesus we are nothing. It is far better to be disciplined in this life than to end up being condemned with the world. v32

    ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net