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Teaching series from 1 Corinthians

Authentic Christian Community (Part 2)

1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Teaching t21894


Brief reminder of the setting. Throughout this letter, Paul is seeking to effect moral and behavioral change by calling on them to turn away from a mindset of self-centered spirituality (WOW), and to embrace a mindset of other-centered, self-giving spirituality (WOG; only the biblical God both models and empowers this).

In chapters 11-14, Paul applies this theme to Christian community: what kind of personal relationships we build with one another, how we view and use our God-given gifts and talents, and how we conduct ourselves at meetings like this one and home group.

Read 11:17. Their selfish spirituality was so wide-spread and extreme that their meetings, which should improve their spiritual condition, actually worsen it!

We already saw one manifestation of this last week. Many of the women were so focused on their own personal dress preferences that they came without head-coverings. They knew that, in this culture, guests would assume that they were prostitutes and that Christianity was a sex cult—but they didn’t care as long as they were comfortable.

Now Paul exposes two more ways in which their meetings were counter-productive.

2 serious meeting problems

From what we can tell, the early church met in large meetings when possible—but their main meetings were in homes (usually larger homes of wealthy members). They would usually begin with a common meal (“love feast”), then have a time of teaching and sharing, and then praise Jesus as they took communion together.

Read 11:18,19. Their meetings were characterized by cliquishness. Most members interacted only with those in their own socio-economic class. The rich probably especially avoided and looked down on the poorer members. 11:19 may be sarcastic (see NLT): “Of course there must be factions—how else can you demonstrate that your clique is superior?”

Read 11:20-22. Their meetings were characterized by indifferent self-indulgence. Instead of sharing their food, the well-off hogged their own food and drink while the poorer members went hungry. Maybe the poorer members came hungry on purpose, hoping to sponge off the others (see 11:34). By the time they got to communion, the well-off were often drunk, while the poor were famished (or maybe even left).

No wonder Paul rebukes them! But before you throw a self-righteous snit and use their bold sin as an excuse to ignore this passage, ask yourself:

“How much do I deliberately initiate with guests and people different from me?” The question is not just: “Did I blatantly shun people outside my circle like in middle school?” It is: “Do I regularly welcome such people (Rom.15:7), or do I pretty much huddle with my friends and politely ignore everyone else?” If so, isn’t this cliquishness? If you’re thinking, “But I am a shy person, so I don’t initiate with anyone,” do you realize that your shyness is not an excuse—it’s just self-focus, just a clique of one?

“How often do I come with a goal to meet someone else’s needs?” The question is not just: “Did I get drunk and forbid anyone else to eat the food I brought?” It is: “Did I come with the settled intention to lift someone up, meet someone’s need, wash someone’s feet?” If not, isn’t this indifferent self-indulgence? If you’re thinking, “I came to learn God’s Word”—good! But doesn’t biblical knowledge without loving others puff us up (1Cor.8:1)? If you’re thinking, “I came to praise God”—good! But isn’t praising God empty unless it also involves loving the people He loves (1Jn.4:20,21)?

At any rate, their meetings were self-fests—cliquishness and indifferent self-indulgence that ended with everyone taking communion. But Paul says, “You’re not really taking communion (11:20a) because you’re violating the whole spirit of what communion is about!” That’s why he goes on to remind them of the true meaning of the Lord’s Supper...

The true meaning of the Lord’s Supper

Read 11:23-26. Paul is not telling them how to do communion in an outwardly correct way (e.g., how often vs. “as often as you do this;” which order with bread and wine vs. reverse order in Lk. 22). He is reminding them of the internal attitude of Jesus that provided our salvation and that should characterize our lives and meetings.

They were huddling in cliques. But at the Last Supper, Jesus said He was about to give His life for those who were very different from Him. So when we take communion, we are affirming that we have been welcomed into God’s family because Jesus lived out the exact opposite of cliquishness.

They were being indifferently self-indulgent. But at the Last Supper, Jesus said He was about to willingly sacrifice His own life to meet our great need. So when we take communion, we are affirming that we have had our deepest need met because Jesus lived out the exact opposite of heartless self-indulgence.

NON-CHRISTIANS: Taking communion is not just some ritual you observe to act religious or earn God’s acceptance. It is saying: “I have personally admitted my need for God’s forgiveness, and I have personally received Jesus’ death for my forgiveness.” Just as certainly as physical bread and wine go into our bodies and impart physical life, so does Jesus’ death on the cross enable Him to come into your heart and make you alive to God—when you personally receive Him. Have you done this?

CHRISTIANS: Do you know what outwardly observing a religious ritual with the wrong inward attitude is called? It is called religious formalism. It is formalism because it is focused on the outward form rather than on the inward attitude. It is hypocrisy because it is posturing (to deceive others and to deceive yourself) as someone you aren’t rather than on being honest about who you aren’t.

This is what God rebuked Israel for in Isa.29:13,14a (read). They observed all the commanded OT rituals, but their hearts were consumed with selfishness that led them to worship idols. So God said: “I will discipline you—even to the point of exiling you—to protect My own reputation, and so that you will come back to Me in your hearts.”

This is what Paul was rebuking the Corinthians for—which is why he goes on to tell them that God has been disciplining them...

God’s discipline of religious formalism

Read 11:27-32. This is not a warning that God will send you to hell if you take communion the wrong outward way (e.g., without confession; without a priest; in the wrong order; etc.). It is a warning that God will discipline His children when they go down the path of hypocritical religious formalism. He starts with lesser discipline, and if we listen, He relents because the goal of discipline is repentance—not retribution (11:32b). But if we refuse to listen, He loves us enough to increase His discipline—for our good and for the good of those who are looking to His church to find Him.

In the Corinthians’ case, we can be sure that God had already used lesser disciplinary measures (maybe rebukes by mature members, Paul or other workers). But because they blew off this lesser discipline, God has increased His discipline—even to the point of allowing some to get sick and die!

QUALIFICATION: We don’t know if this was active (i.e. God sending sickness) or if it was passive (i.e., God simply let them become alcoholics and reap the physical consequences).

QUALIFICATION: Paul is not saying that every physical sickness or premature death is a discipline by God for not listening to Him. We should be careful not to over-interpret this, yet we realize that God’s zeal for His reputation and our growth can result in strong discipline (DAVID IN PS. 32; ANANIAS & SAPPHIRA IN ACTS 5)!

What about in our case? How does God discipline us if we persist in just going through the outward forms of meeting with one another while doing it with an inward attitude of spiritual selfishness? Here’s what I’ve seen:

When individuals do this, God usually just takes away the ability to enjoy meetings. First they still come out of habit or to save face. But it eventually gets so distasteful that they either change their attitude, or they come less and less until they quit coming altogether. Sometimes it takes this total withdrawal to realize the emptiness of selfishness and the need to practice real love with other Christians.

When whole groups do this, God usually just allows the meetings to become so boring and dead that either the members wake up and start coming to serve—or God lets the group shrink and even die. Sometimes it takes this for the members to look to themselves instead of blaming others.

The lesson: Come ready to serve others!

Read 11:33,34. Paul’s specific lesson is: “Come to eat together rather than to hoard or sponge.” The heart-attitude lesson is: “Come ready to serve others!” Turn away from a self-centered mindset and to consciously embrace an other-centered, self-giving mindset as you come to meetings. I know as well as anyone here how easy it is to not do this. I have a fleshly default to this mindset, and Satan knows how to “fertilize” it. But we need to anticipate this and lean against it!

Individually, we need to judge and repent from this mindset, and consciously present ourselves to the Lord and ask Him to show us the feet He wants us to wash. Do you do this before home group and CT?

And we need to be willing to call on one another to do the same thing. Do you spouses pray together like this on your way? Do you exhort one another when you start to flag? All this is part of “judging ourselves rightly.”

REMEMBER: Some meetings are electric, while others suck. The greatest factor is not the teaching, the time of the meeting, etc.—it is how many come with this attitude!

“Paul repeats and alters the order of the words of Jesus to give emphasis to his actions. He does this in order to contrast Jesus’ selfless giving of his life on their behalf with their self-centered actions which create divisiveness in his body, the church (cf. 10:17). He focuses on their failure to share their food at the supper to show how overwhelmingly generous Jesus’ action on the cross had been toward them personally. They are behaving in this selfish way at the very remembrance feast which Jesus instituted on the night of his betrayal so that they might recall his death. Is not their behavior at this remembrance a betrayal of him whose own supper they are celebrating?” Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition (4th ed.) (1 Co 11:17–34). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.