Keys to Dynamic Christian Meetings
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
In chapters 11-14, Paul is addressing problems in Corinthians' meetings (vs 17; LAST WEEK). Because of the living presence of Christ among us when we assemble, Christian meetings are not mere social gatheringsthey are to be dynamic spiritual events. Through this extended passage, Paul gives us insight into why Christians should assemble together and what we should be doing when we get together. This passage supplies us with three keys to dynamic meetings . . .
1: Come with the proper attitude (vs 17-22)
Most meetings in the early church met in homes (14:34; other New Testament passages). The typical format was: a common meal ending with the Lord's Supper, a teaching/scripture reading (3-4 hours!!), followed by corporate prayer and fellowship. In these meetings, all social distinctions (WEALTH; STATUS; ETHNIC; GENDER) were superseded by a spiritual unity as the Christians came to learn from a common Lord and to communicate praise to him and love toward each other.
But most of the Corinthian Christians were showing up with selfish attitudes (read vs 18-22). Instead of coming to relate to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, they were withdrawing into cliques according to social rank. Instead of coming to share their food with others, they were selfishly gobbling up their food with their buddies so others (probably poor and slaves) had to go hungry. Instead of showing up ready to learn about God's Word, they were showing up drunk and trying to keep their buzz going ("When do we do communion? Where's the wine?").
Showing up with all these wrong attitudes, they then evidently went into wild ecstatic frenzies (tongues; uncontrolled prophecies). For all the world they looked like one more pagan cult, substituting contentless and self-centered exhibitions for true spirituality!! And, worst of all, they believed their meetings were praiseworthy (vs 22b)!!! But Paul rebukes them instead.
The first key to healthy meetings is for us to come with the proper attitude. There is a close connection between the quality of our meetings and the attitudes we adopt before we come. This is especially noticeable in smaller meetings, but it is true also in larger meetings like this one. Why is it that some home group meetings are like a MAUSOLEUM, while in others there is a sense of spiritual excitement and reality? The answer is not primarily the leaders or the teacher (though they play a part), but rather whether a consensus have come in the Spirit and ready to serve. If I just show up in a carnal state of mind, full of ingratitude, jealousy, resentment, expecting to be entertained, etc., I have already compromised the quality of the meeting for myself and others. Each of us needs to take the time beforehand to get with God, adopt his perspective concerning our lives, and ask him to enable us to be a blessing to others.
2: Understand the meaning & purpose of the Lord's supper (vs 23-26)
Paul not only rebukes them for their wrong attitude; he also explains the right way to meet together, and he begins this description by explaining the Lord's Supper. So much misunderstanding and superstition surrounds this ritual that it is very difficult for us to understand it (as with LORD'S PRAYER). It is actually a very beautiful way for Christians to come together, but we must first understand its meaning and purpose before we can benefit from it. Having been directly instructed by the risen Lord on this matter (vs 23a), Paul explains it to them and us (read vs 23b-26).
MEANING: The Lord's Supper is not a magical reenactment of Christ's death by which God's acceptance is doled out to us. This view of ritual is totally foreign to the Bible. The Lord's Supper is rather a symbol of Christ's gift to us.
The first Lord's Supper was a Passover meal, which was highly symbolic (Ex. 12:1-14 - GOD'S JUDGMENT FOR SIN; BLAMELESS SUBSTITUTE; EXEMPTION FROM GOD'S JUDGMENT). This ritual meal was a symbolic foreshadowing of Christ's death. When Jesus took it with his disciples, he was announcing that he was about to fulfill what the first Passover foreshadowed. This is why Jesus said Jn. 1:29 and Millennial kingdom. 10:45. This is why the DAY & PLACE OF DEATH were so important (see 1 Cor. 5:7). Because it is now fulfilled, it is no longer appropriate for us to sacrifice animals. Therefore, Jesus focuses our attention on new symbolic elements.
The bread is not magically turned into Christ's body. When Jesus said "This is my body," his disciples knew where his physical body was. They knew he was speaking figuratively as he often did (DOOR; VINE). The bread represents his body, his person which contained God's spiritual life that is now available to us (Jn. 6:35). Through union with Christ, we have access to the spiritual life of God. The hunger in our hearts for love and meaning and security and significance can be fundamentally satisfied by knowing Christ, instead of restlessly seeking to fill that emptiness with poor substitutes (Jn. 6:27).
The wine is not magically turned into Christ's blood. It signifies "the new covenant in (at the cost of) my blood." That is, the wine represents the death of Jesus which makes this new life available to us. God's life is available to us only because he forgives us of our sins, and this forgiveness is available solely through Jesus' voluntary and substitutionary death.
PURPOSE: Paul explains three purposes for taking the Lord's Supper.
It is a remembrance (vs 24,25). It is one of the ways (along with getting into the Word, fellowship and prayer) by which we remind ourselves of this precious, awesome gift from a gracious God.
What a tragic irony that a ritual which beautifully emphasizes God's gift to us has been perverted into a work that we do to earn God's favor!!
We need to be reminded because we so easily drift into a spoiled, thankless attitude toward God (KNEE-DEEP IN PRESENTS: "IS THIS ALL?!?" & PARDONED CAPITAL CRIMINAL COMPLAINING ABOUT INTERIOR DECORATING).
It is a proclamation (vs 26). That is, taking the Lord's Supper is one way (along with evangelism & fellowship) of communicating to God and others that you have personally received Christ's gift, that you have personally trusted in his death to forgive your sins and unite you with God.
GOSPEL: It is not enough to mentally assent to what God has offered you through Christ. You must personally receive his gift. This is why it is inappropriate to observe communion unless you've received Christ ("You can't proclaim it if you haven't received it!").
It is also an expression of our unity with each other (1 Cor. 10:16,17). Just as we are united to Christ, we are also united to one another. Thus, communion is a "sharing" (koinonia)a way of expressing our spiritual unity in Christ.
That's why it should be observed, not in a formal, ceremonial way (CLERGY OFFICIATING A SERVICE), but in a personal way with Christian friends who know and love one another.
3: Be responsive to God's corrective discipline (vs 27-34)
Read vs 27-30. This passage has been butchered to threaten Christians with damnation if they take communion without confession to a priest, or if they mishandle the elements, if they don't have a clergyman officiating, if they have committed sins too recently, etc. But Paul is simply saying that our heart-attitude toward God and other people is the most important issue to God. If we become hardened in selfish and unloving attitudes, religious ritual may deceive us into thinking we're spiritual, but it won't deceive God. He looks right past the outward show into our hearts, and like the loving Father he is, he will discipline us for these attitudes so we'll turn away from them.
The Corinthians were riddled with selfishness and division. They were making a mockery of the loving unity that communion was supposed to express. This is the same kind of religious hypocrisy which brought God's rebuke and discipline to Israel (read Micah 6:7,8). Paul says they are experiencing the same thing.
"Judgment" (vs 29) clearly refers contextually to God's discipline (vs 32) rather than to his condemnation. In this case, Paul says God was working through physical sickness to get their attention (vs 30). Some, who had not responded even to that, God had taken through death to be with him.
QUALIFY: Not all physical sickness is the result of God's discipline for hard-heartedness. But clearly, sometimes it is. Through suffering, God puts us in a situation where it is easier to get our attention . . .
"Judging the body rightly" means viewing other Christians the way we shouldnot as rivals, enemies, etc., but as brothers and sisters in Christ to love and serve.
Read vs 31-34. Vs 31 enunciates a spiritual principle which is key both to dynamic meetings and healthy individual spiritual lives: We should be responsive to God's corrective discipline. We need not experience God's drastic discipline if we are responsive to his lesser forms of corrective discipline.
This is one of the two tremendous lessons David learned from the Lord after his rebellion in committing adultery with Bathsheba. Because he rationalized and refused to acknowledge his sin to God, God had to discipline him by allowing him to experience heart-misery. But when David agreed with God about his sin, he learned that God was willing to forgive him and restore his heart with peace and security. But the second lesson he learned was not to be a moral mule. God said, "I don't like taking such drastic steps. I'd prefer to guide you gently with a nudge to your conscience. Be responsive to my gentle nudges, and I won't have to use a bit and bridle." (Ps. 32:8-10).
The Corinthians were a bunch of moral mules, so God had to take more drastic disciplinary measures with them. How about you? Are you a moral mule? When God puts his finger on some area of your life (SENSUALITY; BITTERNESS; MATERIALISM) and gently asks you to cooperate with him, how do you usually respond? Do you listen to him and follow his moral guidanceor do you blow him off? Have you ever considered that much of your misery and difficulties may be the discipline of a loving God to urge you to begin to willingly follow his will for your life?
You can see from this passage that one of the keys to dynamic Christian meetings is emphasizing the internal (GRATITUDE; LOVE FOR OTHERS; OBEDIENCE) over the external (PROGRAMMING; FACILITY; DRESS). NEXT WEEK we'll look at another key: emphasizing content over experience . . .