1 Corinthians 11:17–22 (NKJV)
17 Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. 20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? 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 do not praise you.
As we read the New Testament, it is evident that Paul was deeply disappointed by the errors that emerged in the Corinthian church. Yet, in God’s Providence, Paul’s correction of these errors has served to lead, guide, and protect all churches since. The instructions that Paul gave them enable us to evaluate our churches in light of apostolic teaching. So, from our vantage point, we give thanks to God for the challenges in the Corinthian congregation.
As we see in our text, one of these challenges centered around the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. For several weeks, we have been explaining some of the traditions that we include in our corporate worship. Today we consider our practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly in our service of worship. While the Lord’s Supper historically has been a regular part of Christian worship, many Protestant churches now share communion monthly or quarterly or even annually. So why have we chosen to observe it weekly?
As we see in our text, Paul insists that the point of the Supper is to highlight our unity as the people of God. By sharing in the body and blood of Christ, we declare that what unites us together is not our race, nor our sex, nor our economic status, nor our age, nor our intellectual capacity, but the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are one in Christ.
So in our text Paul is highlighting the way in which the Corinthians’ worship practices undermined this unity. When they came together as the Church, when they (literally) “synagogued” together – notice the focus on public worship – when they came together as the Church and then partook of the Lord’s Supper in such a way that highlighted their divisions with one another rather than their unity, were they celebrating the Supper? No! Paul writes in v. 20, “when you come together in one place (i.e., when you synagogue), it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.” The whole point of the Supper is that we are one body. The Corinthians were eating bread and drinking wine, alright, but what they weren’t doing is celebrating the Supper – even though they called it that.
But note that Paul’s very rebuke of their malpractice highlights the reason they were gathering together. When they came together as the Church, it was not to eat the Lord’s Supper, but it should have been! Celebrating the Supper, in other words, was to be one of the purposes of their gathering. When we come together as the Church, we do so to worship the Lord, to hear from His Word, and to act out our unity in Christ. And how do we symbolize, how do we ritualize, how do we illustrate that unity? By sharing communion together. As Paul writes in 1 Cor 10:17, “For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” Even as there is one loaf, so there is one Christ and one body, of which we all are partakers.
So why do we celebrate the Lord’s Supper weekly? Because it is through this Supper that God reminds us that we are not a social club; we are not a men’s gathering nor a women’s gathering; we are not an age segregated community; we are not a white collar nor blue collar association; we are not an Arminian nor Calvinist theological society. We are the Church of God, united together in Christ, through His death and resurrection, as one people.
So reminded that the Supper emphasizes our unity with Christ and one another weekly, let us confess that we are often divided from one another. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.