Sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 – “The Lord’s Supper”

December 8th, 2019 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Sermon Text:

[1Co 11:17-34 ESV] 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, 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. 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 you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 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. 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. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. 33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for 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.

OUTLINE

I. THE PROBLEMS AT CORINTH

A. FIRST PROBLEM – DIVISION

B. SECOND PROBLEM – SELFISHNESS

C. THIRD PROBLEM – NOT DISCERNING THE BODY

II. THE WORDS OF INSTITUTION and THE GOSPEL

III. SELF-EXAMINATION

 

INTRODUCTION

Things didn’t always go smoothly at the church in Corinth. The apostle Paul wrote two (or possibly three) letters to the church in that Greek city-state appealing to them to not have divisions among themselves and defending his apostleship against those who might argue to the contrary.

When now in 1st Corinthians chapter 11 Paul addresses the topic of the Lord’s Supper, he does for the purpose of correcting bad practices that are occurring at that church.

While the main error that Paul addresses is not likely to occur exactly in the same fashion in today’s churches, the principles he teaches are timeless and universal.

I. THE PROBLEMS AT CORINTH (v. 17-22)

The central point of this section of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is that they must properly distinguish the Lord’s Supper from a common meal.

This is unlikely to be a problem today. But in some places in the early church there was before the Lord’s Supper a common supper known as an Agape feast. This was a common meal; a meal for the whole church to have together before the Lord’s Supper. At some point in church history this Agape feast fell out of use, but has been revived in some measure by groups like the Methodists and the Moravians. In North Carolina, near my parents house, is a Moravian church — that branch of the Reformation that came out of Southern Germany or Moravia — and they often advertise on their bulletin board their next Agape Feast, also known as a Love Feast.

Well, at Corinth there were a number of problems. Paul identifies three in particular when it comes to the Lord’s Supper. There are problems of divisions in the church, selfishness of the people, and failure of “discerning the body.” Now that is a phrase we’ll look at in more detail when we get there.

A. FIRST PROBLEM – DIVISION

In general there was the issue of divisions in the church. Some said “I follow Paul” and others “I follow Peter” or Apollos when they should have been following Christ alone. And those divisions in the church effected also the Agape Feast and Lord’s Supper. Paul says “When you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you.”

Divisions are a tragic thing. Especially when the Church is meeting together, and even more so when they are participating in the Lord’s Supper, what we also call Holy Communion. In chapter 10, just one chapter before our text this morning we find Paul saying

[1Co 10:16 KJV] 16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

How can there be communion — a coming together — when there is division!?

What you might find surprising is that Paul says there MUST be divisions! He says “there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.”

This is an example of God using the evil in the world to yet effect His purposes. Division in the church is used by God to prove those who are genuine. And, by the converse, it shows who are in error. By this process of division and recognition of truth the church was directed through the centuries. We now can see the blessings of the Lord on the genuine teachings of Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin and many others, while the errors of the heretics are made known.

So that is the first problem at Corinth. They are coming together for communion, but there is division!

B. SECOND PROBLEM – SELFISHNESS

Then, the second problem is selfishness. “In eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal.”

The Agape Feast is apparently supposed to be a communal meal!

But, Paul says, “ones goes hungry, another gets drunk.”

Drunkenness of course is a sin. But here drunkenness is mentioned alongside the sin of allowing another person to go hungry. The common theme is selfishness.

It is all a desecration of the Lord’s Supper. In fact, Paul says of the Corinthians “When you come together, it is NOT the Lord’s supper that you eat.” And he says “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.”

These practices do not get Paul’s approval.

C. THIRD PROBLEM – NOT DISCERNING THE BODY

The third problem is one which is overarching all of the others.

It is said that the Corinthians are not “discerning the body.” They are eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner. In not “discerning the body” or not “distinguishing the body” Paul is saying that they fall to distinguish between the Lord’s Supper and an ordinary common meal. [REPEAT: The Corinthians are failing to distinguish between the Lord’s Supper and an ordinary common meal.] They are not giving the Lord’s Supper the sanctity that it should have.

It is no wonder that the practice of the Agape Feast fell out of favor. For if there is no communal meal before the Lord’s Supper then those problems Paul has identified cannot occur.

In “discerning the body” also the Corinthians should understand that the bread symbolizes the body of Christ, and the cup symbolizes the blood of Christ. This bread and this cup is distinguished from ordinary food and drink because it is a sacramental symbol of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

This is why it is not just an ordinary meal. It is a sacrament instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

Paul explains that the explanation of the Lord’s Supper that he is delivering to them is that which he received “from the Lord.” Paul is an Apostle of Jesus Christ. Though he may not have ever seen Jesus in those years he walked the Earth, Paul saw the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus AND he received the Gospel through the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s explanation then of the Lord’s Supper is not dependent upon any other man. He received it directly from Christ. It’s authority comes from the Lord alone.

But, Paul’s explanation is an agreement with the other apostles. It is here in the 1 Corinthians 11 as well as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark [Peter], and Luke that we have these “words of institution.”

II. THE WORDS OF INSTITUTION and THE GOSPEL (v. 23-26)

The words of institution are here in verses 23 through 26.

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 you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 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.

It is clear from these words that the Corinthians already well knew the life of Jesus. Paul says simply of the Lord that he did and said these things on the “night when he was betrayed.” Paul did not need to provide the narrative, the biography of Jesus.

Saying these words of institution each time we participate in the Lord’s Supper we are reminded of the Gospel message. We are reminded of the death of Christ, which is “for you.” Christ was killed, his blood shed, for you!

Teachers, you know that some learn better through hearing; others learn better through sight. The Lord’s Supper is the visible Gospel. While we hear of good news in the Word of God, we see it and recall it all the more fully through the sight of the Lord’s Supper. The bread we see reminds us of Christ. It symbolizes his body, given for us. And we see the wine (or grape juice) and it reminds us of the blood of Jesus, shed for our sins; He being the lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world.

We should focus our minds then on Christ, being thankful for his sacrifice for us when we participate in the Lord’s Supper. We should find unity in all trusting in Him; we should participate without selfish ambition, and we give proper reverence to the Lord’s Supper, distinguishing it in our minds from that which is common.

Today we no longer have Agape Feasts. This keeps us from making that error of merging the ordinary meal with the Lord’s Supper.

But there are temptations to err nonetheless. So I want to ask you, especially as we are heading towards having communion today, “Do you set aside this time to focus on the Lord?” Do you distinguish this day as Holy? Do you distinguish this sacrament as sacred? Do you pray for unity in this communion with the body of believers?

III. SELF-EXAMINATION (v. 28)

Paul admonishes the Corinthians (and we as well) to not eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner.

This is of the utmost seriousness.

The Lord’s Supper is for Christians. All who believe in Jesus Christ. If you do not believe in Christ you should not participate in the Lord’s Supper. The Lord says “Do not give that which is holy to the dogs.” To participate in the Lord’s Supper not honoring Christ is to drink judgment upon yourself.

It is so serious in nature that Paul explains many who have are eating and drinking in an unworthy manner have become weak and ill, and some have died.

Thus Paul commands that a person is to examine himself before eating of the bread and drinking of the cup.

A minister emphasizing this message of Paul’s before communion is said to be “Fencing the Table.” This isn’t a fence so high that none can participate, but a fence designed to keep out only those whom it should keep out.

The Westminster Larger Catechism explains well who should and who should not participate in the Lord’s Supper.

First, on those who should not participate.

The question is:

Q. 173. May any who profess the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s supper, be kept from it?

And the answer given:

A. Such as are found to be ignorant or scandalous, notwithstanding their profession of the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s supper, may and ought to be kept from that sacrament, by the power which Christ hath left in his church, until they receive instruction, and manifest their reformation.

Then, for those who are to participate:

Q. 174. What is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper in the time of the administration of it?

A. It is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, that, during the time of the administration of it, with all holy reverence and attention they wait upon God in that ordinance, diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord’s body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings, and thereby stir up themselves to a vigorous exercise of their graces; in judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fullness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints.

CONCLUSION

Now, to bring back the message of the gospel into the discussion as I conclude this sermon, I want you to look closely at verse 27 of this passage. 1st Corinthians 11:27. Paul there speaks against partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner.”

Now, this is where the Gospel comes in. While an “unworthy manner” restricts one from the blessings of the Lord’s table — and in fact brings judgment — we Christians (UNWORTHY SINNERS) are welcomed to the table of the Lord. [REPEAT: While an “unworthy manner” restricts one from the blessings of the Lord’s table, we Christians (UNWORTHY SINNERS) are welcomed to the table of the Lord.]

This is Gospel grace. We are all unworthy people. But Christ died for us.

The sacrifice of Jesus Christ was made for sinners. And the Lord’s Supper is also for sinners. All who sorrow for sin and thirst after Christ are beckoned to come.

If anyone thirsts, let him come and drink.

Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.

Jesus truly says in John chapter 6:

[Jhn 6:53-58 ESV] 53 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

2 thoughts on “Sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 – “The Lord’s Supper””

  1. Hi Doug. I hope this message finds you well. Thank you for posting your sermons. This most recent one is of particular initerest to me as our church is currently reconsidering their stance on the communion table.

    There seems to be a wide spectrum on how the church practices the Eucharist. Some churches open the Table freely to anyone and some churches withhold the elements to a very special few: fueling resentment, suspicion, and often dividing Christians. In my experience, this seems to grieve a growing number of people in the church.

    The church where my family and I are members has long practiced a ‘closed’ communion table; ‘closed’ meaning it is intended for baptized members of a Christian church. You are unwelcome if you are not baptized and/or not an active member of a Christian church. Perhaps this is our own way of ‘separating the sheep from the goats’ – true believers from frauds or imposters. As a pastor, would you advocate for this?

    There are a growing number of members who struggle with this. Many want to see the table opened to anyone willing to partake in it. They might appeal to the generous nature of God who causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Some have also considered the implications of Jesus sharing his Last Supper with every disciple, including the ones who very soon after denied and betrayed him. How might you answer them?

    Forgive me but in your sermon, it seems like you are trying to have it both ways: saying that the Table is not for those who partake in an unworthy manner yet at the same time, saying that the Table is for sinners. What kinds of sins are permissible and what kinds of sins are unacceptable (or especially grievous to God – testing the limits of his grace)? And who gets to decide!?

    May we then assume that those who are sick or dying in our communities are simply experiencing the consequences of eating the elements in an unworthy manner?

    I would welcome your thoughts on this important subject. Best wishes to you and your family. And may you all enjoy a restful and meaningful Christmas.

    1. I almost didn’t look at your name. It is THE Joe Puplis. I was thinking about you only a few days ago.

      The best “line in the sand” one can draw, perhaps, is that found in the Directory For Worship in many Presbyterian churches.

      While the original 1645 Directory for Publick Worship of God restricts those “who are ignorant, scandalous, profane, or that live in any sin or offence against their knowledge or conscience,” the modern version of the PCA denomination includes that the persons be “in good standing in any evangelical church” and that of the OPC denomination includes that one be “a baptized and professing communicant members in good standing in a church that professes the gospel of God’s free grace in Jesus Christ.”

      (My current denomination – the Bible Presbyterian Church – doesn’t have an official Directory for Worship, and I’ve yet to figure out why not!)

      I suspect the issue of membership (and baptism) was implied (but unstated) in the 17th century. Today’s world is more complicated with the many denominations, some of which don’t even have membership. Thus, I think, the elders (and pastor) of a church must use wisdom in each situation to determine whether to allow or restrict a person to the table. This is difficult no doubt. I’m learning very must that there is the ideal situation, and then there are the real places in which the Lord has placed us with real people.

      While this topic is something I’ve read about in years past, it takes on a whole new reality now in pastoring a church. I’m hoping to study the issue further and ask other ministers about their practices.

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