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Bible croppedThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 11:17-22

The Lord’s Supper

17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part,[a] 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

——————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s reading was about women’s hair, a particular instruction to the church in Corinth and not a general one, as that was the only time Paul discoursed on head coverings.

The rest of 1 Corinthians 11 is about the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion. The Corinthians were partaking of the sacrament unworthily.

Matthew Henry’s commentary summarises the situation (emphases mine below):

In this passage the apostle sharply rebukes them for much greater disorders than the former, in their partaking of the Lord’s supper, which was commonly done in the first ages, as the ancients tell us, with a love-feast annexed, which gave occasion to the scandalous disorders which the apostle here reprehends

The problem was not with the love-feast, or agape, but the manner in which they conducted that feast then received Communion afterwards.

The early church in Jerusalem instituted the agape out of love and mutual necessity. Shortly after the first Pentecost, the numbers of Christian converts grew to more than 3,000 people. Some had travelled to Jerusalem from afar — e.g. the Hellenic Jews — to celebrate Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, and stayed in the city afterwards. They had no money or jobs. Acts describes how the Christians who did have money and property pooled together what they had so that every convert could be fed, clothed and housed.

John MacArthur gives us more history on the agape, which some small sects still practice, although it is not commanded in the New Testament. Our modern day equivalent would be coffee after a Sunday service, a time of fellowship. Another would be a church potluck, where everyone brings a plate of food to be shared by others attending.

MacArthur says:

Notice verse 41 and 42 of Acts chapter 2. Acts 2:41, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized” – and this is in response the message of Peter given on the Day of Pentecost – “the same day there were added” – and they would be added to those who had already believed in Christ – “three thousand souls.” Now, there is the birth of the Church.

And they continued steadfastly in four areas, four ways in which the early Church celebrated its life. One, the apostles’ doctrine. That’s teaching. Theology. Teaching that which the apostles received as revelation from God. Fellowship. That’s ministering. That’s carrying out the duties and responsibilities that believers have within the framework of the Christian community …

And then lastly, in prayers. Those are the four dimensions of the life of the early Church: teaching, ministering, communing with the living Lord, who had died for them, and praying.

Now, those things, again, are indicated in part in verse 46, “They continued daily with one accord in the temple” – and apparently that’s where they gathered for teaching or apostles’ doctrines, very likely – “and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their food with gladness and singleness of heart.” And the idea there again is you have breaking of bread and fellowship, and certainly prayer would be thrown in as well.

So, in the life of the Church, notice, they continued every day breaking bread. I’m convinced, along with many other Bible scholars and historians of this period, that the early Church celebrated the Lord’s Table on a continual basis. In fact, it is not unlikely that they may have had communion with every meal they ate at the close of that meal. That is not an impossibility. That is, perhaps, a likelihood …

Now, we see this as we go through the book of Acts. And eventually, that fellowship meal became known as the love feast, became known as the agapē, or some of you may have heard it pronounced agapē. It was the love feast, the common meal, the sort of early Church potluck that they ate and followed it with the communion.

Now, it seems as though, in the early days, they were doing it every day. They were fellowshipping all over everywhere all the time. Now, remember this; that at the time when Peter preached at Pentecost … in that whole long period of feasting in Israel, many pilgrims had come to the city and were living with other Jewish families. This was part of the culture. When many of those pilgrims were saved, they didn’t want to go back; so, they stayed in the community. And when they stayed in the community, then the Christians had to take care of them. That’s why it says in chapter 2, verse 44, “They had all things in common and were selling their possessions and goods and giving them to the people that had need,” because there were all these people who had come into the city, whose needs had to be met. They had no livelihood.

In addition, instantly, at the point that the Church began, slaves were saved. And there became a common brotherhood of the slave and the rich man, and the slaves’ needs were then being met by rich men who could meet needs. And there was a beautiful commonness. They ate in different houses. They began to mingle their lives, and part of this was the celebration of the breaking of bread commemorating the communion of our Lord.

Eventually:

this became a pattern in the early Church. The church came together the first day of the week. They had a fellowship meal, followed by communion, followed by a sermon. Now, that became pretty much the pattern. And as time progressed, it stayed with us. And in fact, even today, there are many churches that meet together on every Lord’s Day, have the breaking of bread, followed by a sermon.

The love feast, long ago, faded away. The love feast was not something instituted by our Lord. It was not something instituted by the apostles. It was something that was a holdover from the culture. And so, it never really stuck. The early custom to connect the Lord’s Supper to the ordinary meal of every day began to fade away a little bit. They didn’t do it with every meal. Then they did it with the common meal, once a week, and even that began to fade.

Now on to today’s verses.

Paul begins by saying that he is not about to compliment the Corinthians on the way they gather for Holy Communion, because it is for the worse, not the better (verse 17).

He says that when they gather together as an assembly — a church — they do so with divisions among them (verse 18).

Recall that in the early parts of 1 Corinthians, Paul tells them to put their divisions aside, come together and follow Christ.

MacArthur explains:

Verse 18, “For first of all, when you come together in the church” – and the word church – ekklēsia – is never used in the New Testament in reference to a building. Never. It is always used in reference to an assembly of people. Whether they’re living, dead, universal, or local, it’s always people. A church is an organism. So, “When you come together in the church, I keep on hearing” – again and again is the Greek – “that there are schismata among you, and I partly believe it.”

Now, schismata is an interesting term. It refers basically to a difference of opinion. I want you to understand the word here, because I think we’re seeing another dimension in the messed up life of the Corinthian church. It refers basically to a difference of opinion …

So, he says, “When you come together, I continually hear that there are differences of opinion among you.” When the Church comes together, instead of uniting and fellowshipping, all you do is argue. Argue.

Now, this adds another dimension to their already messed-up church. They had already split the church on at least two other accounts. The rich and the poor had drawn a big line between them, and they were totally alienating each other. So, they were split on that basis – the sociological split.

They were split theologically – “I am of Paul;” “I am of Apollos;” “I am of Cephas;” “I am of Christ.” Everybody had his little clique. We’ll read it in chapter 1 and chapter 3. They had their own little theological group, and the amazing part of it was that the different groups didn’t even disagree theologically; they just isolated around personalities.

And so, here there were personality cults, segmenting everybody. There was a split sociologically between the rich and the poor. And now here we find that in just the – every week, week in, week out, discussion and interaction of the life of the church, there was a constant wrangling about differences of opinions about everything.

Interestingly, Paul says that factions have to exist in order for the peacemakers to emerge (verse 19).

Henry interprets that verse as follows:

Note, The wisdom of God can make the wickedness and errors of others a foil to the piety and integrity of the saints.

Paul says that the Corinthians are not coming together to partake of the Lord’s Supper (verse 20). Instead, they are behaving like gluttons and drunks with others among them going hungry (verse 21).

Henry explains:

They would not stay for one another; the rich despised the poor, and ate and drank up the provisions they themselves brought, before the poor were allowed to partake; and thus some wanted, while others had more than enough. This was profaning a sacred institution, and corrupting a divine ordinance, to the last degree. What was appointed to feed the soul was employed to feed their lusts and passions. What should have been a bond of mutual amity and affection was made an instrument of discord and disunion. The poor were deprived of the food prepared for them, and the rich turned a feast of charity into a debauch. This was scandalous irregularity.

Paul asks why they have to behave in this manner (verse 22). Do they not have homes where they can privately enjoy a feast? Or are they behaving like that because they hate the Church, especially in their humiliation of sending the hungry away empty? He rebukes them for their actions and says they deserve no commendation at all for their love-feasts. In fact, he implies they deserve condemnation.

MacArthur summarises Paul’s frustration with the Corinthians:

what kind of a potluck is that, where you go and sit in a corner and eat your own food? Selfish. And one is hungry. The poor man, he can’t get anything, and another is drunk. You have extremes there. The rich are drunk, and the poor have nothing. And you call this the love feast? You call this the Lord’s Supper? You say this is communing, and then you enter into the communion in that kind of a situation, hating each other, fighting each other, antagonizing each other. How can you celebrate the common unity of the saints? How can you do what he says in 10:16, “How can this be communion with the blood, communion with the body? How can you be that one bread and one body of verse 17? How can you celebrate that you’re a one-bread family? You’ve destroyed it. There’s no room for that.”

And then Paul, in just a frustration, as if he were groping for a reason why they’re doing it says in verse 22, “What? What am I to think? What is the answer? Is it because you don’t have a house to eat and drink in? I mean do you roam the streets, and the only place you can go to eat is here, so you’ve got to come here and stuff your face? Is that it? You don’t have a home, if you’re hungry, that you could go home to and eat or drink? You got to turn the fellowship meal into a gluttony and drunkenness exercise because you don’t have a house you can eat and drink in? Is that it?

Or maybe it isn’t that you don’t have a house. Maybe it’s that you despise the church of God. Maybe your problem is you hate the church, and you’d just as soon destroy it. Maybe your desire is to take the thing which Jesus has bought with His precious blood and wreck it. Is that what you want to do?

I hope this does not happen these days. I haven’t been to a church potluck for 40 years. I remember them as being happy occasions of fellowship, with tables full of food, more than enough for everyone.

Paul isn’t finished with his criticism of the Corinthian love-feasts. In fact, he issues a severe warning about receiving Communion unworthily. More on that next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 11:27-34

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