I Corinthians 11:17-34 – The abuse of power at the Lord’s supper

1 CORINTHIANS 11v17-34



[The “Have’s” discriminating against the “Have not’s”]




Preaching on a passage of scripture like this does have difficulties. The problem is that we read this passage so often when we come to communion – we generally read only vv23-29[or32] – it becomes so familiar, many could probably quote it by heart. Now there is nothing wrong with reading this passage at communion BUT we must always remember to understand it in the context in which it was written.


It is not just about the Lord’s supper but it is in the context of the ch.11-14 in which Paul is dealing with the public worship of the Church. In the first half of ch.11, as we saw last week, Paul deals with the distinctiveness of male and female esp. in regard to the woman’s role in public worship. In the first half of the ch. he uses quite soft language BUT when we come to this present section his language is fairly harsh.

In the following directives I have no praise for you,

for your meetings do more harm than good. [v17]


That is pretty straight talk!!

So what is Paul complaining about – Why is their meeting doing damage?




We need to understand how the Christians celebrated the Lord’s supper in the early Church. It was not the way we do it. The normal practice in the early Church was that the believers came together for a meal and then usually at the end of the meal they would take bread and wine and remember Christ’s death. Sometimes it was called a “love Feast” [Jude v12].


Problems arose because there was a significant gap between the rich and the poor. They would meet for these meals in someone’s home, presumably the home of a rich person as theirs would be the only one big enough to accommodate a large number of people. {Remember that there were no church buildings in those days}.


Instead of it being a family meal where they all ate together remembering Christ’s death and demonstrating Christian unity, it ended up being a free-for-all with gluttony and drunkenness characterising the occassion.



Paul’s main point is not the gluttony or drunkeness – NOT that he approves of either – BUT rather in their coming together it is in fact not a coming together at all – but divisions are very evident amongst them. NOT the kind of divisions that were talked about in ch.1 – those were about personalities.


Their divisions were not that they failed to gather together but that when they did gather they failed to demonstrate that they were truly the new people of God, neither Jew nor Greek, rich nor poor, slave nor free ….


What had crept into the Church at Corinth was an obnoxious kind of snobbishness. It would seem that the rich – the “have’s” – were meeting either before or separately from the poor – the “have-nots”.


In a situation where you have rich and poor – slaves – there was disparity in the kind of food and the amount of food eaten.


BACKGROUND: The houses in that time often had a “dining room” which would seat a few people and then a “courtyard” which would accommodate a larger group of people.


The rich were eating before or eating in the dining room and eating good food and lots of it and leaving the poorer ones to have the inferior food and wine. So the rich had earlier starting times and privileged portions.


These kinds of social divisions are not acceptable. Paul is not saying that everyone will be of the same social class BUT that in the Church social class in NOT a reason for division.


It is not acceptable in the Church of Jesus Christ for there to be division on the basis of social class. How do you and I treat people who are not as well off or not as well educated. BUT class consciousness is not only a problem in the upper class.


WHAT DOES HE MEAN BY “..to some extent I believe it” [v18] Well Paul is not naive – he knows that those who are whinging about their treatment are not simply disinterested observers.


ILLUST: When I first came to England I was working as a carpenter at Sotherby’s in the West End. Sotherby’s caters to the rich and famous. The workers used to take home paint and wood and all manner of things from the workshop to use at home. The reasoning was, “Well, they can afford it!”


It is all to easy for those who are poor – or less well off to have a chip on their shoulder! AND in UK there are few – if any poor – Anyone can get food and medical care! I am not justifying the class distinction in society but it is a fact of life! BUT when that same attitude is exhibited in the Church and makes some Christians superior to others – that is unacceptable!


Paul is a realist and he knows that differences within the Church are inevitable!

No doubt there have to be differences among you

to show which of you have God’s approval. [v19]


In any Church we have different people, with different personalities, from different backgrounds. Christians are not yet perfect, even if some may think so, and therefore divisions will result. BUT God uses these things to test the maturity and genuineness of his disciples. It does not mean that he approves of the divisions but he uses them.

God is at work in all things for the good of them that love

 him and are called according to his purposes [Rom.8v28]


Paul has no praise for the Corinthian Christians in this matter. They have abused the poor and have abused the Lord’s table.


He says, “You may gather together but it is not the Lord’s supper you are celebrating.”


The Lord’s supper = the meal in the Lord’s honour! Communion is supposed to symbolise the death of Christ in whom all are equal and in whom there in no distinction with regard to race, sex or social standing. What the Corinthians were doing was exactly the opposite! How can it be in the Lord’s honour if the practice destroys what he died to bring about??!


Paul raps them on the knuckles with a number of rhetorical questions.


– Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? In other words if you want to be greedy and get drunk them do it at home NOT at the Lord’s table.


– “..do you despise the church of God an humiliate those who have nothing? The poor had little or nothing to contribute to the meal and felt ashamed, wrongly but understandably. The rich man’s action should have been controlled by love and NOT greed.


– What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!! –

God has accepted us as we are – rich or poor, weak or strong Christians are to accept one another. We should have such an attitude at all times BUT esp. at the Lord’s Supper which in itself is a symbol of our unity and equality in Christ.




Paul now moves on from SNOBBERY  to  SACRILEGE. This kind of behaviour at communion is not only abusive toward the poor but also towards God.


By the rich – the “haves” – going ahead with their meal and humiliating the poor -“have-nots” they had lost touch with the real significance of the supper. Paul repeats the words of institution to remind them of why they celebrate this meal in the first place – viz. they are “remembering his death” & “Proclaiming his death until he comes”

Their actions were not in keeping with the essence of that proclamation!


NB> going to deal with this in more detail next week at Communion!!!!!


Paul has already hinted at this problem in Chapter 10.


READ 10v14-17


ONE BODY – the bread signifies the one body of Christ into which we have been brought. It signifies unity and oneness with Christ and with each other. How dishonouring is it therefore when there are division. It is abusing the Lord – slapping him in the face.


THE CUP – it is the cup of the NEW COVENANT. Drinking the wine shows the new covenant relationship we have with God – but at the same time we enter into covenant with each other.


Whether we like it or not we are related! “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family” – Well in Christ we are family and he chooses us and brings us together as his body. And we have to learn to love one another, speak to one another, put others first, forgive one another — How can we be unforgiving when we come to communion which symbolizes Christ’s forgiveness of us.


The Lord’s supper is not only a memorial of the last supper, nor just of Christ’s death – it is that. BUT it is also a repeated and constant reminder of the efficacy of that death for us. BUT more than that it is not only personal and introspective. Salvation through Christ’s death creates a new community of people who bear HIS name. We miss the point of communion if we think of it only in terms of our personal needs and not also in terms of the needs of others.


Paul now moves on to the solution with on of his famous “THEREFORE’s”



                         -[wait for one another – v33-34]


v.27 has probably been one of the most misunderstood verse in Protestant pietistic circles.

“Unworthily”{KJV} – coupled with v.28 “a man ought to examine himself” led to deep introspection as to whether or not one was worthy of the Lord’s table. If you were unworthy you would come under judgement. There was great foreboding in coming to the table and a sense of guilt in case we had partaken unworthily.


NOW of course, we need to be open with God and ourselves and confess our sin but the point of this passage is not to instill in us a self-absorbing introspection. It is precisely because we are unworthy that we need Christ and what better place to come to him in confession and repentance than at communion.


The danger is that there are those who come to the Lord’s table without exercising even the slightest self-examination.


Paul is addressing believers – the communion is for believers only – the context implies that the self-examination should be esp. directed to ascertaining whether or not I am living and acting “in love” toward my neighbour.


Paul has harsh words to say to the Corinthian Christians who were mistreating their fellow-believers.

Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord

in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against

the body and blood of the lord [v27]


Paul is saying that when you come to the Lord’s table with this kind of attitude you place yourself not in the company of those who are sharing the benefits of his passion, BUT in the company of those who are responsible for his crucifixion.


The behaviour of the Corinthian Christians belied the gospel the claimed to embrace.


ILLUST: To trample the Union Jack underfoot does not dishonour the piece of clothe but the country of Great Britain it represents. To come to the communion in an unworthy manner does not simply dishonour the ceremony but dishonours the one in whose honour it is celebrated. [MacArthur]


VV.30-32. speak about judgement. NOT eternal judgement but temporal as v32 makes clear – discipline. Paul is not speaking about losing your salvation. Paul is telling the Corinthians that God has disciplined them with sickness and even death because of their abuse of the Lord’s supper.


What he is not saying – That every time someone abuses the Lord’s table there will be sickness and death.

– NOR that those who get sick or die prematurely have abused the Lord’s table. There are some today who teach that Christians should never be sick or die before 70 and if they do it is because of sin in their lives – Rubbish. That is not what this passage is saying.

– ALSO Paul is not identifying the sick and the death as the guilty one’s – When there is sin in the camp the whole community suffers. That is why we need to live holy and godly lives NOT only for our own good but also for the good of the body.


ILLUST: Army – if one in the squad messed up we ALL ran. We ALL suffered together.


The Lord’s table is not a table of condemnation but of grace. It is a place where we affirm who we belong to – Jesus. It is the sinful, the weak, the weary who are the very ones who need the assurance that this table affords – and that is all of us. We do not have to get rid of our sin before we come to Christ and partake at his table. It is here by faith the we receive the assurance that “Christ receives sinners”


On the other hand, Christ receives REPENTANT sinners so we dare not come arrogantly or presumptuously without discerning the Body. We come by Grace, recognising the need to be gracious to others otherwise we miss the point of the table altogether!


 -[wait for one another – v33-34]


Wait for [welcome] one another.

– if you can’t wait eat at home. Lit. “If anyone wants to gorge let him do it at home” Where you will not humiliate those who are not so well off. Don’t flaunt the fact that you have more than someone else.


Rather WELCOME  one another – consider them important enough as brothers and sisters in Christ to give up your luxurious meal to demonstrate the unity and oneness of the Body of Christ.

The attitude to the fellowship around the Lord’s table is in microcosm what the body of Christ should always be. It is the attitude of considering other first – of putting the good of the community of believers first, before our own wants and desires, so that Christ, who is the Head of the Body, can be honoured.


I thank God for the spirit of love and care that there is at Binscombe – we are far from perfect but God has been good to us. This passage comes as a reminder not to take what we have for granted and as a challenge to do better.


Let’s make the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi our prayer as we sing #124

Make me a channel of your peace…


O Master grant that I may never seek

So much to be consoled as to console

To be understood as to understand

To be loved as to love with all my soul!


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