Text: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Last week we began a new series from the book of Corinthians called "Love from Chaos" Here we study chapters 11-14, in which Paul writes some instructions to an unruly church about what it means to love each other when they come together for worship. In last week's message, a fun one for sure, Paul's instructions were pretty simple if you look at it. Basically he said that if you're married outside of the church, you're still married here. The church is a family of families, so you don't leave behind your roles as wife, husband, mother or father when you come in through these doors. Wives you still are to respect your husband and submit to him as head in your family, and husbands, you are to love you wives and give yourselves up for her - sacrifice everything for her good and protection. We looked at how these roles actually make sense within Christian worship because we serve a God who exists in three fundamentally equal persons whom serve each other in distinguishable roles. The applicational principle to the Corinthians was to dress in a way that reflected the distinctions between the genders and maintained modesty.
In the second part of chapter 11, Paul continues to instruct the church about how to meet together. I am going to start by asking you guys a question. Why do you come to church? Why do you come? Because it’s a habit? Because you are afraid of what people might think or say if you don’t come? Because you like to see friends? Because your parents drag you here? Because you need to get your God-fix on for the week? Another question I could ask is, why do you come to this church? Because of the people? Because of the music? Because of the Chinese food every month? Some of you guys are new here, or are visiting to see if this is where you want to set your flag down. What are you looking for as you go from church to church?
These are important questions to ask because how you answer these questions will reveal a lot about your attitudes toward the church and toward the body of Christ. You can come to church for many reasons, many motives, some proper, some improper, and to a degree we are all in process – I know there are some mornings I don’t want to be here! But if we get everyone coming for wrong reasons, then we have a huge problem.
This is what the church at Corinth had; a huge problem. Read with me 11:17:
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.
Paul basically says, I'm going to slam you a little here because you've got this so messed up, your actually moving backwards, away from Christ. It would be better if you shut the church doors and went your separate ways, because you are actually harming Christ’s cause rather than helping it.
Here’s why: 1 Cor 11:18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. Now we already knew, from the first four chapters of the letter, that the Corinthians were a fractured body. Remember way back in the beginning of the year we looked at how some of them liked Paul’s do-it-yourself, hard working manly style. Others like the smooth-talking, well educated Apollos. Others were downloading podcasts from Peter’s church. And others said we don’t need any leaders at all, it’s me and JC. So yeah, there were factions, divisions in the church over the church leaders the people preferred. However, I think that the divisions he’s referring to here reflect something even more sinister and dangerous going on in the church.
Here’s what was going on. 1 cor 11:20-22:
When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 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.
Remember, the local church primarily met in people’s homes. The only people who owned homes large enough for gatherings of this type were the relatively well off in the church. They graciously opened their homes for the churches use, to meet together and then hold a meal together and take the Lord’s supper together. You also have to realize that many of the people who made up the Corinthian church were not rich or socially prestigious. Paul describes the church in this way in 1 Cor 1:26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. So you had a rich person opening up his house to people from all classes of Greek life – something that did not generally happen in other areas of society. Think about your own life – how often do you hang out with people who are in extremely different social classes than yourself? So here’s what was going on. The wealthy homeowners, who had more leisure time and gave themselves to social engagements, would arrive at the home first, to socialize and eat and drink, maybe work out some business deals. Of course, all of this could be done in the name of fellowship. Only later, after the party was going could the blue-collar workers, the slaves, those who had to work for a living arrive. They walk in, see the platters of food and the drinks and their mouth starts watering and just when they are about to grab something to eat, the host or the person running the meeting says, “Good, now that everyone is here, we can begin our worship service!” So you’ve got this church service in which the better off people have gorged themselves and are actually drunk, while the people that have to pinch pennies day-to-day didn’t get a bite to eat and are humiliated even more. And they are looking for commendation from Paul! Can you imagine them writing to him and proudly mentioning to him about their fellowship suppers they are having? Paul’s like – no way! You want a pat on the back? You’re not acting like a family! You’re acting like a bunch of spoiled children who are only interested in what you can get out of this meeting. Paul says you instead of loving the church, instead of being the church, instead of building up the church – you despise the church of God (verse 22). Your tearing it down by your selfishness and greed.
The next three verses are very, very, very, famous. They may be on of the most quoted verses in the Bible, because in nearly every church they are read at least once a month, sometimes every week, and sometimes more than that. I’ve read them at least twice a month since I became pastor here. It’s what I read when I lead communion, 1 Cor 11:23-28:
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, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 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." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
When I read it this week I stumbled over a word that I had not noticed very much before, and even wondered why it was there. But now it brings the entire thing in focus. It’s the word “for”. Paul is saying I cannot commend you in how you’re coming together as a church, because you are doing the exact opposite of Jesus, in whose name you meet. You guys are taking, and not really giving. Jesus, on the other hand, is a giver, not a taker. I see four ways that this is highlighted in these verses:
1) He gave himself up. He was betrayed. By who? - by a guy in his own church! Judas was a taker, not a giver. Jesus is a giver, not a taker.
2) He gave thanks. You can't be selfish and give thanks, because in giving thanks you recognize that you have graciously received something from another. And when you receive something, you have tow choices. You can neglect to appreciate the one who gave it and become a taker. Or you can give them appreciation back. Jesus was a giver, not a taker.
3) He gave his life - for the church. This is my body, this is my blood. These were not just words. Jesus new that in less than 14 or so hours he would die an excruciating dearth on the cross. You often hear people say, I’d die for you, but how many of them really mean it. Jesus was a giver, not a taker.
4) He gave us a new community: This is the new covenant - covenant is not made between you and God it is made between god and his people. He gave us a new family in which we are to bless and be blessed by each other as we live under God’s blessing. Jesus was a giver, not a taker.
This is why it is so important to examine ourselves before we participate in the Lord’s supper. 1 Cor 11:27-29 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. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
We are now able to better understand what Paul means in this passage. What does it mean to eat the Lord’s supper in an unworthy manner? Are you a giver or a taker? Do you have the life of Christ running through you so that it impacts how you treat others around in the body? If you take the Lord’s supper and you have not had your heart changed by Jesus so that you are still dead in your sins and living for your self, your greedy desires, your ego, your rules, then you are a taker and not a giver and it was the takers who took Jesus’ life. The takers killed Jesus.
That’s why when you come to church and take of the Lord’s supper it is necessary that you discern the body. Many commentators have different views on this phrase, but I think it’s clear from the context: Do I consider myself over others in the church? Am I you here for them as well as yourself? Am I taking and not giving to this church. Am I looking at what I can get out of these people rather than what I can contribute to serve them?
You have to understand God’s serious about this:
1 Cor 11:30-32 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
He says that this is the reason that there is sickness and even death in your midst, because you come to church so wrapped up in yourselves, in your needs, in your preferences, in your social position. You take and take and take from each other and God says, stop it! Thankfully, God has grace in his judgment. It’s important to point out the difference here between consequences, discipline and condemnation.
- Consequences are the natural result of our sin running its course. Some of this might be what’s causing the sickness – believers at enmity with one another, causes such stress that soon you start feeling physiological effects.
- Discipline is for the believer, and it is God stepping in to use situations and circumstance to prune off our rough edges and bring us back to our loving God. Interestingly, in this passage, it can extend to the point of death.
- Condemnation is a judgment made by God about us whereby we will pay the full penalty of our sin with no hope of redemption. The world stands condemned without Christ. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, those who trust in him are no longer under an condemnation.
Paul says, if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. He tells them what to do: 1 Cor 11:33-34 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another-- 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. Paul says look. Eat at home. Respect one another. Be a giver, not a taker.
I asked that question at the beginning for a reason. Why do I come to church? What do I look for in a church? Important questions to think through as you are choosing a church or choosing to remain in a church. Our culture is not too unlike the Corinthians. We are so used to shopping for everything, that we begin shopping for churches. This puts pressure on churches to do and offer everything, but in the end, every ends up getting hurt. Let's say we had a church that met everyone's individual preferences. We'd have tons of programs. We'd look like a really moving church, everyone would want to be here because we'd have something for everyone - but would we be mature? A mature church is not one that has a program to meet every desire, but one that has a people that make sacrifices for each other.
Three things to look for in a church:
1) One that preaches the Gospel and teaches the Bible.
2) One that seeks to engage the culture without losing truth.
3) One in which people share life together in the Spirit.
Guess what, other things are extra. What about a kids program? What about youth? What about home fellowship groups or potluck night? Look, if you find a church that does the three things above, and you want there to be a youth program, guess what you can do? Round people up and start one. Do it together.
Have you ever been in a project like a church before? One that every single person from the youngest to the oldest has an opportunity – a responsibility to play their part in building it up? Hey – we’re getting ahead of ourselves, talking about using our spiritual gifts – that’s what we are going to be looking at over the next five weeks. It’s exciting. And we need to free each other to do there part in making this place better; in giving and not taking. Like Jesus.