Bible GenevaThe 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 11:27-34

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.[a] 31 But if we judged[b] ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined[c] so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

33 So then, my brothers,[d] when you come together to eat, wait for[e] one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

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Last week’s passage discussed the church love feasts that the Corinthians held. These would be comparable to today’s church potlucks. Afterwards, they would receive Holy Communion. The problem was their irreverence and mutual hostility.

Some wealthier members deprived poorer congregants of food. Other people attending got drunk. Many argued at table. They were not in a fit state to receive the Lord’s body and blood.

Paul takes them to task for their irreverent behaviour, especially in the presence of the sacrament.

In last week’s post, I’d written that the church potlucks I’d attended were happy occasions where everyone was united over plates of homemade food and good conversation.

One of my readers, Rob, wrote about the potlucks he’s been to and has given me permission to post his comments, revealing a much different perspective (emphases mine):

This is a sad topic to miss out on in the 3-year lectionary. Addressing the disorder in the Corinthian church, Paul is relevant to today’s fellowships as well. I suppose it’s not the same as back in his day, with our socially dispersed lifestyles and varied views of the Supper.

One thing I think applies: today, there are the “in crowd” and the less visible hangers-on. One group is clearly more in fellowship than the others. Being ignored or dismissed because one is not “theological enough” or isn’t involved in popular trends of his church is analogous to what Paul is fighting in this passage.

Yes, the cliques are ever-present, though largely ignored or dismissed. The latest trends are regular old liberal theology, homeschooler superiority, subordination of women and then the typical class divide. Doubt it’s any different from any decade, really. Though folks are certainly more agitated and outspoken these days (social media).

Between last week’s and this week’s verses are the following, which are in the Lectionary:

23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for[f] you. Do this in remembrance of me.”[g] 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Those are important because not only are they theologically precise but Paul wrote them before the Gospels were written.

John MacArthur explains:

this is directly taken from the statements of Jesus Christ. In fact, it’s practically certain. And I think that you’d find very few conservative scholars who would disagree with this. It is practically certain that 1 Corinthians was written before any of the four Gospels, though the four Gospels appear in your New Testament first in their order, they are not, in terms of chronological authorship, in that order. They were not written till a later period than this.

So, here is really the first statement of God in print regarding the Lord’s Table. For a full understanding of all of it, you need to read the account in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but here is the earliest account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. And Paul says, “It was directly from the words of Jesus. He Himself instituted it.

There are two ordinances of the Church: communion and baptism. Both of them were set in order by the example of Christ and ordained and initiated by Him as well. And this is no different. So, he says, “This is straight from the Lord. It is His Supper. He has instituted it.” You notice in verse 20 “the Lord’s Supper.” It is His Supper.

One wonders how many people are familiar with today’s verses wherein Paul says that receiving Holy Communion in an unworthy manner can — not will — lead to illness or death. I only discovered these 12 years ago, thanks to another blogger.

No doubt this has applications beyond the Corinthians’ situation.

Paul says that receiving the sacrament in an unworthy manner is akin to crucifying Christ all over again (verse 27).

Matthew Henry’s commentary states:

He lays before the Corinthians the danger of receiving unworthily, of prostituting this institution as they did, ad using it to the purposes of feasting and faction, with intentions opposite to its design, or a temper of mind altogether unsuitable to it; or keeping up the covenant with sin and death, while they are there professedly renewing and confirming their covenant with God. 1. It is a great guilt which such contract. They shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (v. 27), of violating this sacred institution, of despising his body and blood. They act as if they counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith they are sanctified, an unholy thing, Heb. 10:29. They profane the institution, and in a manner crucify their Saviour over again. Instead of being cleansed by his blood, they are guilty of his blood.

We say that we do not do that. Many of us receive Holy Communion in a worthy manner, however, it is easy to profane it.

MacArthur gives us examples:

I’ll tell you how you can come unworthily. The Corinthians did it. You can come – here’s the way you can treat the Table of the Lord unworthily. Number one, by ignoring it rather than obeying it. By just not doing it. You’re saying, “It’s irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. It’s unimportant.” Is that right? No, that’s wrong; that’s unworthy of you, and unworthy of Him.

Second, you can treat the Table unworthily by making it a performance rather than something meaningful, by just doing it rather than understanding it.

I’ll tell you another way you can pervert the Table and come unworthily is by making it into a saving thing rather than a communing thing. By thinking that it saves you to do it rather than understanding that it only causes you to make a fresh commitment and a fresh communion with Christ.

Another way that you can come unworthily is by treating it as a ceremony rather than as a personal experience. And another way that you can come unworthily is by treating it lightly rather than treating it seriously. If you come to this table with any bitterness toward another Christian in any way, shape, or form; with any unconfessed sin; living in any kind of sin that you will not repent of and turn from; if you come with any less than the loftiest thought about God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God; if you come with anything less than total love for the brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, you come to this Table unworthily.

And you say, “What’s the result?”

Look; you are liable for the body and blood of the Lord.

Paul advises the Corinthians — and us — to examine our consciences beforehand, then receive Communion (verse 28). If you have had an argument with someone, seek reconciliation. If you’ve done someone a wrong, right it. Then receive the sacrament.

Paul says that it is important to discern ‘the body’ — that means Christ’s body — beforehand. Contemplate our Lord’s suffering, the horrifying way He bore our sins on the Cross. 

Serendipitously, today’s Sunday Gospel reading, for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B), discusses His sufferings. Christ’s crucifixion was a suffering of both body and soul. In that reading, in which Jesus speaks of Himself as the Good Shepherd, John MacArthur points out that the Greek word psuche is used, which means soul, or inner person. Our Lord suffered our sins in an unimaginably intense way in order to reconcile us to God.

Returning to today’s passage, MacArthur discusses the Greek used in 1 Corinthians 11:29:

Look at your heart. Is there anything there that shouldn’t be there? The word here in the Greek means a rigorous self-examination: your life, your motives, your attitude toward the Lord, your attitude toward the Lord’s Supper, your attitude toward other Christians. Be certain you’re not careless, flippant, indifferent, entertaining sin, unrepentant, mocking – all of that.

And when you’ve examined yourself, then let him eat of the bread and drink the cup. Examination first. Why? “Because he that eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks” – krima in the Greek; it should be translated chastisement. It’s not damnation. That’s the worst translation I’ve ever read of that. It means chastisement. Katakrima means damnation. That’s used in verse 32. Krima is a less intense word; it means chastening. “If you eat and drink unworthily, you will eat and drink chastening to yourself because you are not discerning the Lord’s body.”

Paul goes further and says that the reason many of the Corinthians are becoming ill and some dying is because of their unworthy reception of Holy Communion (verse 30). Older translations use a form of ‘sleep’ for ‘death’.

MacArthur says:

How does God chasten us? Well, in Corinth, this is what He did, verse 30, “Because of this, many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” And “sleep” is a metaphor for death. The Lord said, “Because of the Corinthians’ abuse of the Lord’s Table, some of them had gotten weak. They were mildly sick. Some of them were very sick, and some of them God had killed.

And incidentally, the Greek says a sufficient number were dead. I don’t know how many God killed in Corinth, but a goodly number. Why did he kill them? What evil did they do? The evil of coming to the Lord’s Table in an irreverent manner. You get a little idea of the seriousness.

He refers to Ananias and Sapphira who suddenly dropped dead in Acts 5 (another passage excluded from the three-year Lectionary) after cheating the church in Jerusalem:

I personally believe that Ananias and Sapphira, who were executed by God for their sin, were probably killed and executed at a communion service. That would be very, very stark, wouldn’t it? They probably dropped dead at a communion service, because that’s what the early Church did when it came together. And I’m not sure that it isn’t true that some Christians today are weak, others are sick, and some have even died because of how they treated the Lord’s Table: with indifference, sinfulness, whatever.

Paul offers a remedy. We are to judge ourselves so that God does not judge us (verse 31). That means examining our conscience (verse 28), repairing our broken relationships, repenting of our sins, then receiving Holy Communion.

Paul also points out that when the Lord passes judgement on us it is a chastisement for this world, one from which to learn, so that we may avoid judgement with ‘the world’ — non-believers — in the life to come (verse 32).

MacArthur explains:

I love this, “But when we are judged” – he says – “we are chastened of the Lord that we should not be katakrima with the world.” We are chastened by the Lord that we might not be damned with the world. Want to hear something? You want to hear something? No Christian, no time, under no circumstance will ever be damned with the world.

People say, “Oh, does this mean I lose my salvation? Does this mean I’m lost?”

No. You will never be damned with the world because short of that, you will be – what? – chastened by the Lord. The worst thing that could ever happen to a Christian would be the ultimate chastening. And what’s that? Take you to heaven. See, that’s not too bad. The point of the verse – a tremendous verse – the point of the verse is, “Look, we are being chastened by the Lord in order that we would not be damned with the world.”

You say, “But maybe the Lord won’t chasten me.”

Whom the Lord loves He chastens, and every son He scourges. Every Christian is under the chastening hand of the Lord which prevents him from ever being condemned with the world. Is that a great truth? So, we have not that ultimate fear. I don’t know about you; I’d just as soon be healthy, happy, and alive for a little while. So, I want to check myself when I come to the Lord’s Table.

Paul closes with simple advice on church dinners, especially if followed by Holy Communion, as was the case in the early days of the Church. Those who are hungry should eat at home first (verse 34). When gathering together, wait until everyone has arrived before eating (verse 33).

Paul ends by saying that he will give the Corinthians more instructions — ‘directions’ — when he sees them again.

About that, MacArthur says simply:

I don’t know what the rest of the problems were, but you can let your imagination run wild.

Indeed we can.

The next two chapters are in the Lectionary. 1 Corinthians 12 concerns spiritual gifts and the members of the church comprising one, holistic body. 1 Corinthians 13, concerning love, is often read at weddings.

1 Corinthians 14 discusses the Holy Spirit’s gifts to those living in the Apostolic Era in order to increase the growth of the Church.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 14:1-5