The previous article included (i) an introduction to 1 Corinthians 11. 17-34, (ii) an outline of the passage and (ii) expository comments on verses 17-21. The present article provides expository comments on verses 22-34.
For ease of reference, the outline of 1 Corinthians 11. 17-34 is reproduced below.
1. The abuse, vv. 17-22 (which section both opens and closes with Paul’s censure, ‘I do not praise’)
2. The uniqueness, significance and real meaning of the Lord’s Supper, vv. 23-26
3. The serious consequences and correction of the abuse, vv. 27-34
Verse 22. ‘Do you not have houses to eat and to drink in?’, Paul asks. He is shortly to set out the main reason they should be coming together as a church. But first he underlines the reason they certainly shouldn’t be coming together. Their motive in coming should not be to eat and drink … should not be to satisfy their appetite! This was ‘the church of God’ – not a restaurant.
‘Do you despise the church of God, and shame (humiliate) those who have nothing?’ I suspect that the ‘church of God at Corinth’1 was largely made up of the poor rather than the rich. Back in chapter 1, Paul had invited the believers to consider their calling, pointing out to them that ‘God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame (same word as ‘shame’ here) the things which are mighty’, and so on, ‘that no flesh should glory in his presence’.2 And I imagine that, had he wished, Paul could have added with James, ‘my beloved brethren: has not God chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?’3
We read earlier in the chapter of some who ‘dishonoured’ themselves (who ‘shamed’ themselves, literally) by what they were wearing (or were not wearing).4 Now we read of some who ‘shamed’ others (the same word) by what they were eating and drinking.
Verse 23. To focus their minds clearly on the main point and purpose of their coming together, Paul reminds the Corinthians of that which he had previously taught them about the original institution of the Lord’s Supper – about its uniqueness, significance and real meaning.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul says of the gospel which he preached, ‘I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ’, Gal. 1. 12. Again, concerning that gospel, he says in chapter 15 of this letter, ‘I delivered to you first of all that which I also received’, 1 Cor. 15. 3. But the same was equally true, Paul insists, of the details of the Lord’s Supper. He had received these also by direct revelation.
That is, the Risen Lord regarded His people’s remembrance of Himself as so important that He deigned for Paul’s benefit (and the benefit of the Gentile churches he was to establish) to visit again the events of that dark night when He took the bread and took the cup! What, I wonder, did these memories mean to Him?5
Verse 24. ‘When he had given thanks,6 he broke it and said … this is my body’. I understand that the Jews spoke of the Passover lamb, which Jesus had just eaten with His disciples, as ‘the body of the Passover’.7 But now the Lord Jesus speaks of another ‘body’ – His own.
Given that the Lord was personally and bodily present with the disciples at the time, they would, of course, have understood Him to refer to the bread as a symbol and representation of His real body – much as when He spoke of Himself as ‘the door’ or ‘the true vine’. The disciples would not have dreamt for a moment that Jesus meant that the bread in any sense was (or, in some way, had become) His body. In a similar way, if I held up a photo of myself and said ‘This is me’, those watching would know that I didn’t mean that the photo was really me – partly because it would be obvious to them that Malcolm isn’t a piece of photographic card, and partly because I would be there holding the photo.
Verse 25. ‘After supper’. That is, what follows took place after the Passover supper. Paul’s point is that the institution of the remembrance was subsequent to, and distinct from, the Passover feast. We may perhaps detect a hint that the Corinthians should be making a clearer distinction than they had been doing between the ‘love-feast’ and the remembrance of the Lord which followed it.
‘This cup’ – the cup standing (by a well-known figure of speech8) for the contents of the cup; namely, the wine – ‘is the new covenant in my blood’. The Lord Jesus clearly had in mind, by way of background, the ratification of the old covenant; ‘Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold, the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you’, Exod. 24. 8. And the ‘new’ covenant also – though differing from the old, not only in age but in nature (this being the significance of the Greek word for ‘new’ which Jesus used) – needed to be ratified by blood. But this covenant, which the writer to the Hebrews termed the ‘better’ covenant, required, as the same writer also said, ‘better’ sacrifice!9 And so the confirmation of the new covenant required the shedding of His blood – required, that is, His violent, sacrificial death.10
This is, Jesus said, ‘My blood of the covenant being poured out for many for forgiveness of sins’, Matt 26. 28 lit. Indeed, the New Testament (the New ‘Covenant’) traces the whole range of our blessings to His blood. We are not only forgiven. We are also purchased, redeemed, cleansed, justified, sanctified and loosed from our sins – on top of which we have peace and have access into God’s immediate presence. And all through the blood of our Lord Jesus!11
Twice in verses 24-25 Jesus said, ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ – ‘Do this to bring me to mind’. I note that, outside of the records of the institution of the Supper, this word ‘remembrance’ is found only once again in the New Testament. This is at the beginning of Hebrews 10: ‘In those sacrifices there is a reminder (‘a remembrance’) of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats could take away sins’, Heb. 10. 3-4. That is, the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament served to bring sins to remembrance. But the bread and wine of the Supper serve to bring to remembrance, not sins, but Him who, by His once-forall sacrifice, has put sins away for ever – so that they are remembered no more!
The Passover meal was itself a commemoration – a remembrance of the time when Israel came out of Egypt. At the time of its original institution, Moses told the people, ‘Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out of this place’, Exod. 13. 3. But we don’t meet to remember either a ‘day’ or an event (as did, and do, the Jews); we remember a Person. We don’t meet to remember something; we meet to remember Someone.12 The Lord’s Supper is very much His great ‘forget-me-not’ meeting.13
And Paul is determined that the Corinthians should realize that it was the Lord Jesus Himself who claimed their ‘remembrance’. Let us never forget that it is our Lord’s own lips which claim ours – that, because of our Lord’s limitless love for us, it is a matter of enormous importance to Him that we do remember Him!14
But His very request points, of course, to the possibility of our forgetting Him. And, alas, we know that we each have a tendency to do just that. How sad that we, who owe Him everything, should ever need to be told to remember Him … let alone need a visual aid to help us. But we do need this. And the Lord Jesus knew it. And He didn’t want to have to say of us, as once He did of Israel, ‘My people have forgotten me days without number’.15
Verse 26. ‘As often as you eat this bread’. Although we have no direct command to that effect, there is some evidence in the New Testament that the early church set us the example and pattern of meeting on the first day of each week for this purpose.16
‘You show the Lord’s death’ KJV. One of the great Jewish writers of long ago wrote, ‘the Passover showed that the Lord passed over the houses of our fathers in Egypt; the bitter herbs showed that the Egyptians made the lives of our fathers bitter in Egypt; and the unleavened bread showed that they were redeemed. And all these things are called “the showing” – the proclamation’.17 And in their treatise called, ‘The Showing Forth of the Passover’, the Jews were careful to note the words of Moses, ‘You will shew thy son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the Lord did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt’, Exod. 13. 8 KJV.18
But ‘you show the Lord’s death’, Paul says. More literally, with the NKJV, ‘you proclaim the Lord’s death’; the word being used throughout the book of Acts,nam and elsewhere in the New Testament,20 including earlier in this very letter,21 of preaching.
And when we break the bread and drink the cup, in a delightful paradox, we silently ‘proclaim’ the Lord’s death. Rightly we sing, in the words of Mrs. Elizabeth Rundle Charles, ‘No gospel like this feast, spread for us, Lord, by Thee. No prophet nor evangelist, preach the glad news more free’.
What a wealth of meaning lies in the words ‘the Lord’s death’. I cannot imagine words more difficult to associate and link together than ‘death’ and ‘the Lord’. Surely, Paul’s expression here must rank alongside his statement in chapter 2; ‘they crucified the Lord of glory’.22
And, by means of the bread and cup, the apostle says, we proclaim the Lord’s death ‘till He comes’, when we will have no further need of symbols. For the Supper forges the connecting link between His two comings for us. It is the monument and memorial of the one; it is the pledge and promise of the other. It points back to the greatest accomplished event of the past and points forward to that which is for us the greatest awaited event of the future. The Supper is, in effect, therefore, a visible sermon which proclaims both the reality of the Lord’s death and the certainty of the Lord’s return.
As Mrs. Charles’ hymn ‘No gospel like this feast’ so beautifully continues, ‘Here we would rest midway, as on a sacred height – that darkest and that brightest day, meeting before our sight’.
Verse 27. With its ‘Therefore’ (‘So that’), this verse brings us down with a bump to the practical application of all that Paul has been saying. It is, Paul says, an extremely serious matter if we eat the bread and drink the cup (which are, he has just insisted, the appointed means of proclaiming the death of the Lord) ‘unworthily’.23
As we noted in the introduction to this section,24 the Corinthians were eating and drinking in an ‘unworthy manner’ in that they failed to ‘discern the body’ in two distinct senses. On the one hand, they regarded the Lord’s Supper itself as part and parcel of a common meal, and the bread and cup, not as symbols of the Lord’s body and blood, but merely as items of food and drink. On the other hand, they considered the church as no different to the religious clubs and associations around, and, by their attitude to other saints, in practice denied the unity of the church which the remembrance of the Lord was meant to symbolise.
They were ‘guilty’ of disparaging the bread and wine – and therefore the body and blood of Jesus, of which these were only the symbols. The Lord’s Supper should have been the remembrance of a supremely selfless act, the Lord’s death on behalf of others. But the Corinthians had debased this memorial of selflessness into an exhibition of selfishness.
Verses 28-32. Paul prescribes a strong dose of selfexamination. Let each ‘examine’ (‘prove’, ‘test’) himself as to his attitude both towards the bread and cup and towards his brethren. In the latter case, he was, in our Lord’s words, to leave his gift before the altar and first be reconciled to the poor brethren he had so grievously wronged (and who therefore had something against him) and then to come and offer his gift.25 Then, but only then, let him partake – then ‘let him eat … and drink’. It is just possible that, in the expression ‘so let him eat’, Paul is alluding to the words used by the head of the family at the Passover meal, ‘Everyone that is hungry, let him come and eat’.26
In this section, Paul refers to the Lord’s judgement and chastisement on the Corinthians. And, in one way, I find it rather surprising that God should have felt so strongly about this particular example of their misconduct.
If asked which one sin in the church at Corinth was so serious that it brought divine judgment upon the offender(s), we would likely have thought of:
(i) The party spirit and rivalry of chapters 1-3;
(ii) The scandalous case of incest referred to in chapter 5;
(iii) The disgraceful lawsuits or the sexual immorality mentioned in chapter 6;
(iv) The fellowship with idols and demons discussed in chapters 8-10; or
(v) The refusal of some women in Corinth to wear a head covering when they ought, dealt with in the earlier part of this chapter.
But it was none of these. The Lord’s disciplinary judgement was exercised in the case of saints who, on the one hand, partook of the bread and cup without recognising these as symbols of the Lord’s own body and blood (failing to ‘discern’ the ‘body’ in that sense), and who, on the other hand, partook of the one bread without recognising this as a symbol of the unity of the church, leading to their lack of consideration for others (failing to ‘discern’ the ‘body’ in that sense).
As a result of their selfish and unthinking behaviour, ‘many’ were ‘weak and sick’, and ‘many’ (‘a significant number’, as the word is) had died; ‘sleep’ being a delightful Christian euphemism for death.27 God obviously considered a considerable number of the saints to be fit for the courts in heaven but not fit for the church in Corinth!
But ‘when we are judged’, Paul assures them in verse 32, ‘we are chastened by the Lord’. This is not, then, a judge’s condemnation of a criminal but a father’s discipline of his wayward children.28
Verses 33-34. These verses set out Paul’s overall conclusion and correction for the abuse. ’Therefore’, when the believers come together (for the combined ‘love feast’ and ‘Supper’) they are to wait for one another – in obvious contrast to the description given in verse 21, ‘each one takes his own supper ahead of others’.
‘But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home’. That is, Paul is saying, ‘Don’t mistake the love feast (still less, the Lord’s Supper) for a common meal’. His question back in verse 22 (‘Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?’) had prepared the way for this command. The satisfying of their appetite should never have been their motive for coming even to the love feast (the purpose of which was rather to promote a spirit of love, sharing and fellowship among the saints) … let alone to the Lord’s Supper (the purpose of which was to proclaim the Lord’s death and, at the same time, to demonstrate that ‘we, being many are one body’29).
But, in conclusion, I want us to return the Lord’s words in verses 24-25, ‘Do this in remembrance of me’. It goes without saying, of course, that none of us has ever met, seen or heard the Lord Jesus in the flesh. We have no mental picture of His face, form or features by which to remember Him. And yet we can see Him – we can know Him and can remember Him – through His word (principally, of course, the four Gospels). And so, with the help of the Holy Spirit:
We can remember Him in the manger. We can think of the rich One who became poor … the One who relinquished the glory which He had with Father before the world was … who exchanged the throne of heaven for an animals’ feeding trough and the gorgeous robe of the Lord of hosts for swaddling clothes … the One who, entering the world, said, ‘A body you have prepared for me. I have come do your will, O God’.
We can remember Him in the temple at the age of 12. We can think of Him explaining to His mother Mary that He ‘must’ be about His Father’s business – and He wasn’t referring to Joseph!
We can remember Him in the river Jordan. We can think of Him being baptized by John, leaving the water, the heaven opened, the Spirit of God descending like a dove, the voice out of heaven, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’.
We can remember Him in the wilderness. We can think of the One who vanquished Satan on the occasion when the lion who is our great spiritual adversary and the mighty Lion of Judah’s tribe met and fought together.30 Never had been such a battle as this, when the great overlord of evil concentrated all his power in an attempt to topple and overthrow the seed of the woman. But Jesus proved more than a match for him and the evil one’s fiery darts found no combustible material in the Lord Jesus.
We can remember His miracles. We can think of the many displays of His power, glory and compassion. We can think of the crowd saying, ‘We have seen strange things (‘unusual things’) today’.31 We can think of Him saying to a healed demoniac, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things32 the Lord has done for you’.33 We can think of the time when ‘the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful (‘the marvellous’) things that He did’.34 We can think of an occasion when ‘the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him’.35 Yes, we can remember His unusual, His great, His marvellous and His glorious miracles.
We can remember His teachings. We can think of when He held crowds spellbound as they pressed on Him to hear the word of God.36 We can think of how the crowds were astonished because He taught them with authority and not as the scribes.37 We can think of how congregations in the synagogues were astonished at His wisdom and marvelled at His words of grace.38
We can remember His majesty as revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration. We can think of the brilliance of His garments and the radiance of His face … the glory cloud of God’s presence … the voice which sounded from that magnificent glory to distinguish Him from the finest and best of men … and the three disciples who, suddenly looking around, saw no-one but Jesus only.
We can remember the years of toil, trouble and opposition. We can think of His brothers who did not believe in Him. We can think of the reproach and continual insults which He bore, when He was accused of being in league with the devil, of having a demon, of being mad, of being a glutton and a drunkard, and so on.
We can remember the shaded garden of the olive-press – Gethsemane! We can think of His exceeding sorrow and distress when the storm-clouds of anticipation broke over His soul. We can think of how He recoiled from the coming day. We can think of how He fell on the ground and pleaded with loud cries and tears that the Father would take away the cup of suffering from Him. ‘Gethsemane can I forget, or there Thy conflict see, Thy agony and blood-like sweat, and not remember Thee?’39
We can remember His trials. We can think of His appearances before Annas, Caiaphas, the Jewish Council, Herod and Pilate. We can think of the cruelty, the mockery, the spitting, the clenched fists smashed into His face, the crown of thorns, the lacerated back. But chiefly, of course, we come to the Lord’s Supper to ‘proclaim the Lord’s death’ – and so …
We can remember His cross. We can think of His pierced hands and feet. We can think of the burning sun, followed by the thick and eerie darkness. We can think of His dreadful thirst. We can think of the sword of divine justice … of His cry of desolation … of His bleeding side. ‘When to the cross I turn my eyes, and rest on Calvary, O Lamb of God, my sacrifice, I must remember Thee’.
Could love ever stoop lower? Could love ever give more? But it is all too possible for us to gather together on the Lord’s day to ‘break bread’ and yet for us to fail, with adoring hearts, to remember Him. May His matchless love deliver us from mere habit and formality.
1 Cor. 1. 2.
1 Cor. 1. 27-29.
James 2. 5-6.
1 Cor. 11. 4-6.
The very expression, ‘the night in which He was being betrayed’ literally, only serves to underline the sadness and pathos of that moment in the upper room. It is not without interest that, in setting out these details, Paul has provided us with what is probably the first written record of the institution of the Supper which we possess. But Paul’s immediate concern lay, of course, not with us, but with the Corinthians – and he is determined to bring home to them the gravity of that which they have been doing.
And, as Matthew and Mark inform us, He had ‘blessed’ God for the bread, Matt. 26. 26, 27; Mark 14. 22, 23.
GILL from Misn. Pesachim, c. 10. sect. 3. 8 Metonymy – the substitution of one word for another word closely associated with it. 9 Heb. 8. 6; 9. 23.
Moses said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant’, Exod. 24. 8; we say, Behold ‘the blood of the eternal covenant’, Heb. 13. 20. 11 Rev. 5. 9; Eph. 1. 7; 1 John 1. 7; Rom. 5. 9; Heb. 13. 12; Rev. 1. 5; Col. 1. 20; Heb. 10. 19.
We know the Lord Jesus today as He is – and one wonderful day we will see Him as He is – but we don’t remember Him as He is. Through the writings of the New Testament we are privileged to remember Him as He was.
Each believer gives thanks and breaks the bread – it is ‘the bread which we break’, 1 Cor. 10. 16.
If the Lord Jesus wasn’t concerned about us, He wouldn’t care whether we remembered Him or not. But He does care. ‘Oh, then what love is here displayed, that Jesus did this feast provide, the very night He was betrayed, the very night before He died’, JAMES G. DECK.
Jer. 2. 32.
See Acts 20. 6-7; 1 Cor. 16. 2; Rev. 1. 10. And the Didaché (the so-called ‘Teaching of the Twelve Apostles’), written perhaps no more than 25 years after the book of the Revelation, instructs believers, ‘on the Lord’s day gather yourselves together and break bread’, 14. 1.
GILL from Moses Kotsensis Mitzvot Tora prec. aff. 41.
GILL from P. 5, 6. Ed. Rittangel. & Seder. Tephillot. Ed. Basil. fol. 243. 1.
E.g. Acts 4. 2; 13. 5, 38; 15. 36; 17. 3, 13.
E.g. Phil. 1. 18; Col. 1. 28.
1 Cor. 2. 1 (‘declaring’); 9. 14 (‘preach’). 22 1 Cor. 2. 8.
The word translated ‘unworthily’ occurs nowhere else in the New Testament – and only once in the Greek Old Testament (in Jer. 15. 19, where God says to the prophet, ‘If you take out the precious from the vile (that is, from the ‘worthless’), you shall be as my mouth’.
See Precious Seed, Volume 62, Number 3, August 2007.
See Matt. 5. 23-24. 26 GILL from Haggadah Shel Pesach, p. 4.
Verse 30 doesn’t actually say that it was the offenders themselves who had been suffering or had been removed (only that some of the company had been), but this surely is the implication of verse 31.
And, as always, at the root of God’s interventions in judgement lay both His love and His holiness. For His love is His motive – ‘whom the Lord loves he chastens (disciplines), and scourges every son whom he receives’, Heb. 12. 6 – and His holiness is His goal – ‘that we may be partakers of his holiness’, v. 10.
See the comments on 1 Corinthians 10. 16-17 in Precious Seed, Volume 61, Number 4, November 2006.
1 Pet. 5. 8; Rev. 5. 5.
Luke 5. 26.
‘How much’ lit.
Mark 5. 19.
Matt. 21. 14-17.
Luke 13. 17.
Luke 5. 1.
Matt 7. 28-29.
Mark 6. 2; Luke 4. 22.
Verse 3 of JAMES MONTGOMERY’s hymn, ‘According to Thy gracious word’.