1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Week 12 – The Lord’s Supper

1 Corinthians 11:17-34

By Harvey Edwards IV

Introduction

            Shared meals have a way of joining people together. So much of what we do revolves around eating together. We have people over for dinner. We go out to eat with friends and family. Dates are often dinner and a movie. We have traditional Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas meals. We tailgate before football games. The list goes on and on. There is something unifying about eating together.

            We see this in the Bible as well. God often calls his people to celebrate the things he has done for them through sharing meals together. In the Old Testament, the primary meal to be shared together was the Passover. God instigated the Passover to remind Israel of what he had done for them in the Exodus as he brought them up out of slavery to Egypt. Just as he promised Abraham in Genesis 15:1-16, God brought his people out of Egypt as a demonstration of his power and love for his people. Israel was to eat this meal every year to remind themselves of the kind of God they have—one who is faithful to keep his promises, one who rescues them, one who is able to save them from oppression. This act was the primary demonstration of God’s love for his people and was meant to be continually in their minds.

            As foundational as this act was, God told his people he would do a new thing for them that would be like what he had done for them in the Exodus, only greater. This would be how they would know his love for them. He was bringing about a new exodus. This new exodus has been fulfilled in Jesus. God sent his son as a sacrifice for our sins, so that all who believe in him and in his life, death, and resurrection, would be saved from the oppression of sin and death and established as his people. This act is how we know the Lord, and the Passover meal is replaced by the Lord’s Supper as the way we know what kind of God we have.

The Lord’s Supper is meant to be a reminder of what Jesus has done for us, and as we take it, we proclaim the gospel to one another and to a watching world. Unfortunately, in the church at Corinth, what is to be a reminder and proclamation of the gospel has been corrupted. Rather than promoting unity in the body, the Corinthians are using the Lord’s Supper as a way of promoting themselves at the expense of their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Read 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 together

Study Questions

  1. What does this passage say about God, who He is, and what He does? (Father, Son, and Spirit)
  2. What does this passage teach me about me?
  3. What comfort/promise/challenge can I take away from this passage?
  4. How will I respond or live differently because of what I’ve read?

Passage Specific Questions

  1. Why do you think Jesus calls us to participate in the Lord’s Supper?
  2. Paul’s discussion of the Lord’s Supper demonstrates its importance. What does the way you approach the Lord’s Supper say about what you think of Jesus’ sacrifice?
  3. Why is it important that the Lord’s Supper is taken in community with other believers?

Commentary

11:17-22 – Paul continues to correct the Corinthian church for the ways they have failed to apply the gospel implications to love and serve one another. He has said believers are to do everything to the glory of God, not seeking their own advantage, but living in a way that points others to Jesus. They are to imitate him as he imitates Christ in this (10:31–11:2). The Corinthians have failed to apply this in many ways, including their observance of the Lord’s Supper. What is to be a time of remembrance meant to build up the body in Christ is having the opposite effect. Their observance of the Lord’s Supper in a divided manner denies the unity that exists for believers in Jesus. Instead of being a people marked by love and care for one another, they are marked by selfish ambition.

            Paul says that they are not observing the Lord’s Supper when they eat in this divided way. Each one eats whenever they are ready. Some go hungry while others over-indulge.

Paul asks why they don’t eat in their own houses if they are going to behave this way. He implies that it is a demonstration of contempt for the church of God meant to humiliate the less fortunate. Paul will not commend this kind of behavior.

11:23-34 – The Corinthians know what the Lord’s Supper is supposed to accomplish. Paul has instructed them in this. On the night of Jesus’ betrayal, he gathered with his disciples to eat. As he broke the bread, he told his disciples of his coming sacrifice. The bread represented his body that would be broken for them, and they were to eat it in remembrance of him. Then he took the cup and said that it represented the new covenant made in his blood, meant to be taken in remembrance of him. This meal is a reminder that Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sin so that we could be made right with the Father. It is a way of proclaiming the gospel to one another and to the world as we expectantly await the return of Christ. How believers take it is of vast importance. It says something about what we believe Jesus has accomplished.

            This is why Paul says that those who partake of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner are guilty concerning the body and blood of Jesus. To take of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner is to confuse its message. Before believers take the bread and the cup, we should examine ourselves. Are we partaking in a way that is consistent with the gospel message we are proclaiming? Otherwise, we partake in a way that casts judgment on ourselves. In fact, God’s judgment had already fallen on some of the Corinthians. The judgment here is not final judgment, but rather the Lord’s discipline is meant to lead to repentance. Some of the members of the Corinthian church were weak and ill, and some had even died because they had not taken the Lord’s Supper seriously. This demonstrated they were not taking the gospel seriously. The Lord judges his people in this manner to discipline them so they are not condemned along with the world. Belief in what Jesus has accomplished is of eternal importance. It is not something to be taken lightly. The Lord disciplines his people because he loves them and wants to rescue them from the condemnation resulting from rejecting Jesus.

            The Lord’s Supper is an opportunity for believers to preach the gospel to one another and therefore be reminded of what Jesus has accomplished on our behalf. Our actions say something about what we believe about Jesus. To partake in a manner that denies what Jesus has accomplished in uniting a people to himself and to one another is to pronounce judgment on one’s self. As we come together to eat, we should eat and drink in a manner that rightly celebrates and proclaims the salvation we have in Jesus. We should be a people whose actions demonstrate the love of Christ.

The Main Point

The Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the gospel meant to remind us of what Jesus has accomplished on our behalf. To take the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner is to present a false picture of what it means that Jesus gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins.

A Few Relevant Scriptures

  • Exodus 13:3-16 – God instructs Israel to keep the Passover as a remembrance of what he has done for them. This is how Israel knew the character of God and would help people recognize the new exodus that Jesus would bring about.
  • Matthew 26:26-29 – Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper.
  • John 6:22-71 – Jesus teaches that he is the source of life, and that it is through feeding on him that believers live forever.
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