1 Corinthians 11:17-22
Now in this that I declare to you I praise you not, that you come together not for the better, but for the worse.…
In this paragraph (vers. 17-34) Paul speaks of an abuse which can scarcely be credited in our times. A respectable citizen would hardly have permitted at his own table the licence visible at the table of the Lord.
I. HOW DID SUCH DISORDERS ARISE?
1. It was common in Greece for clubs to meet periodically and to share a common meal. This custom, not unknown in Palestine, had been adopted by the primitive Church of Jerusalem. The Christians then felt themselves to be more closely related than the members of any trade guild or political club. Speedily love feasts (agapoe) became prevalent institutions. On a fixed day, generally the first day of the week, the Christians assembled, each bringing what he could as a contribution to the feast. In some places the proceedings began by partaking of the consecrated bread and wine; but in other places physical appetite was first appeased.
2. This mode of celebrating the Lord's Supper was recommended by its close resemblance to its original celebration. It was at the close of the paschal supper that our Lord took bread and brake it. But when the first solemnity passed away the love-feast was liable to many corruptions. Those who had no need to use the common stock, but had houses of their own to eat and to drink in, yet, for the sake of appearances, brought their contribution to the meal, but consumed it themselves. The consequence was that from being truly love-feasts, these meetings became scenes of greedy selfishness, and profane conduct, and besotted excess.
II. TO THE REFORM OF THIS ABUSE PAUL NOW ADDRESSES HIMSELF.
(1) He does not propose to disjoin absolutely the religious rite from the ordinary meal. In the case of the richer members of the Church this disjunction is enjoined (ver. 22). But with those who had no well-provided homes another rule must be adopted. It would shame the Christian community, and undo its reputation for brotherly love were its members observed begging their bread on the streets.
(2) Although the wine of the holy communion had been so sadly abused, Paul does not prohibit its use. On infinitely less occasion alterations have been introduced with a view to preventing its abuse by reclaimed drunkards, and on still slighter pretext in the Church of Rome the lay communicant is only allowed to partake of the bread. Mohler says that this arose from a nice sense of delicacy, a pious dread of desecrating, by spilling and the like, even in the most conscientious ministration. In contrast to all such contrivances we recognise the sagacity which directed that the ordinance should not be tampered with to suit the avoidable weaknesses of men, but that men should learn to live up to the requirements of the ordinance.
(3) Paul does not insist that because frequent communion had been abused, this must give place to monthly or yearly communion. For some centuries it was expected that all members of the Church should partake weekly. That familiarity breeds contempt, or heedlessness, is a rule that ordinarily holds good. And by the same law it is feared, and not without reason, that if we observed frequent communion we should cease to feel the sacredness of the ordinance. But our method of procedure is first to find out what it is right to do, and then, though it cost us an effort, to do it. If our reverence for the ordinance in question depends on its rare celebration, may it not be a merely superstitious or sentimental reverence? Paul seeks to restore reverence in the Corinthians, not by prohibiting frequent communion, but by setting more clearly before them the solemn facts which underlie the rite. But does not our shrinking from communion often mean that we shrink from being more distinctly confronted with the love and holiness of Christ and with His purpose in dying for us — that we are not quite reconciled to be always living as the children of God, whose citizenship is in heaven ?
2. The positive counsel Paul gives regarding suitable preparation for participation in this sacrament is very simple. He offers no elaborate scheme of self-examination which might fill the mind with scruples and induce introspective habits and spiritual hypochondria.
(1) He would have every man answer the plain question, Do you discern the Lord's body in the sacrament? The Corinthians were chastened by sickness, and apparently by death that they might see and repent of the enormity of using these symbols as common food; and in order that they might escape this chastening, they had but to recall the institution of the sacrament by our Lord Himself.
(2) The brief narrative gives prominence to the truth that the sacrament was intended primarily as a memorial or remembrance of the Saviour. As the dying gift of a friend becomes sacred to us as his own person, and we cannot bear to see it handed about by unsympathetic hands, and as when we gaze at his portrait, or use the pencil worn smooth by his fingers, we recall the many happy times we spent together, so does this sacrament seem sacred to us as Christ's own person, and by means of it grateful memories of all He was and did throng into the mind.
(3) The form of this memorial is fitted to recall the actual life and death of the Lord. By the symbols we are brought into the presence of an actual living Person. Our religion is not a theory; we are saved by being brought into right personal relations by remembering Christ and by assimilating the spirit of His life and death.
(4) But especially by giving His flesh and blood He means that He gives us His all, Himself wholly; and by inviting us to partake of His flesh and blood He means that we must receive Him into the most real connection possible, must admit His self-sacrificing love into our heart as our most cherished possession.
(M. Dods, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse.