Monday

20 May 2019

1 Corinthians 11:17-22

Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. (v. 17)

Psalm: Psalm 132

Background

The Christians at Corinth were riddled with strife and division, misunderstandings and misapplications of the gospel of grace. While Paul praised the work of the Spirit among them (1:4-9) and could ‘commend’ them at times (11:2), he could also warn and confront them.

In this passage, Paul is in confrontational mood, and continues to explain to them what it means to worship together as God’s people, a theme he began to explore in 11:1. When it comes to the Lord’s supper, Paul warns them that the way they are behaving is dishonouring to God and humiliating to others.

The Lord’s Supper was celebrated as the climax of a meal at Corinth, but it was a meal at which the social divisions of rich and poor were clearly evident. The wealthy members of the congregation either started the meal before the poorer members arrived or ate different food to them (vs. 21-22). Either way, the Lord’s Supper expressed social division rather than the unity found in Christ.

For Paul, such a scenario showed a complete misunderstanding of the Lord’s Supper. As an expression of unity, the table should be a place where rich and poor eat together. It is the Lord’s Supper and not a place to express social divisions between the rich and poor.

Verse 19 is somewhat confusing, and there are various explanations as to what Paul means when he writes that such divisions reveal who is ‘genuine’. Some argue that Paul cites the Corinthians’ own justification for splits at the Lord’s Supper, but others suggest that Paul is acknowledging that in the church the ‘wheat’ and the ‘weeds’ grow together (Matthew 13:36-43), and certain occasions reveal which is which!

The main point of the passage is that the Lord’s Supper is a place of unity not of division. Social class or economic status should never be reflected at the banquet of Jesus.

 

To Ponder:

  • How can we do better at making sure that the poor are welcomed within the Church?
  • In what ways might the divisions of the Church be reflected at the Lord’s Supper today?

Bible notes author

Ed Mackenzie

Dr Ed Mackenzie is the Discipleship Development Officer for the Methodist Church and an Associate Lecturer at Cliff College. He lives in Derbyshire with his wife Ali and their two sons.

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