I was recently reading and reflecting on 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.
As followers of Jesus, it is easy to slip into doing certain things simply because they are associated with being Christian, ie obedience to Christian culture rather than obedience to Jesus.
Communion/the Lord’s Supper is one of these practices. Leaving aside the question of whether Jesus actually commanded it in the form that it is frequently practised, I found it very rich to try forget what I “know” about Communion and try to soak in this passage from 1 Corinthians with fresh eyes.
If this passage was all that I had, I would see “the Lord’s Supper” as an event where these disciples of Jesus were coming together to eat and drink normal food, with Jesus as both the centre and the catalyst of their community.
It’s clear that this gathering has people from different social and economic groups who likely wouldn’t share a meal together at any other time, and that some (wealthier?) members of this group clearly weren’t understanding what Jesus had done in making a single new community. They were still stuck in patterns and habits of society at large, bringing their own food AND not sharing AND disregarding those who had nothing. By doing this they were actively despising His family – not just the individuals involved
The effect of this was bad for God’s people – particularly those who were marginalised by worldly standards, and a massive misrepresentation of what it meant to be God’s people to those outside the community.
V23-26 is a classic passage for celebrating Communion in contemporary services. However, that’s not what Paul wrote it for. He writes it to argue that eating food together is an enactment of what Jesus did with the disciples in the upper room. His point is that if they do the ritual (eating together) in a way that denies the reality of what Jesus has done (making one equal and intimate community under Him), they are actually disrespecting Jesus’ own body and blood, and what He did on the cross.
Furthermore, Paul makes it clear that dishonouring Jesus’ people is the same as dishonouring Jesus, and that this has consequences, inviting God’s discipline and judgment.
This passage portrays the Lord’s Supper as super important, but differently to how I initially have assumed.
Two side thoughts:
As a side note, this took place (along with all the other issues in the Corinthian community) AFTER Paul had lived with them for 18 months (Acts 18:1, 11). Verse 23 makes it clear that this is not the first time Paul has been over this with them. Hopefully encouraging to us as we seek to keep growing in our own journeys, and when we look at those we disciple and wonder why certain issues keep coming up.
Leadership & Correction
It’s great to see how Paul expresses himself in this, too. Despite the fact that he has gone over it with them before, and despite the fact that their practice was a complete denial of everything Jesus had done and Paul had discipled them in, he expresses himself in a very controlled way.
Despite being very clear and strong, including some sarcasm (v18-19), Paul is constructive and does not tear anyone down. His criticism is focussed on the issue rather than the people, and his concern is clearly for their health as a community (v17), those who are being marginalised (v22), and those who are at risk of incurring judgment (v33-34).
Of course, when Paul’s letter arrived in Corinth and was read out to the community, they may easily have decided to ignore it or may have been split on how to respond to what he said. He knows this, puts his views out there, and leaves it with them.
My main take-aways from this passage:
1) “The Lord’s Supper” in this passage is describing a shared meal by people who wouldn’t normally associate by sitting and eating together. Our willingness to do this (or not) reflects directly on our attitude to and relationship to Jesus. What are the implications for community life?
2) Discipleship is a process. Nothing new here, but it encourages me to have grace for myself and others in the discipleship journey.
3) The example of direct and edifying leadership. I like the way Paul handles this, particularly in contrast with all the different ways he could have been tempted handle the situation. He is clear and focussed on the good of the people involved.
What about you?
Enough about me – what do you see in this passage? How can you use it in your life?