1 Corinthians is a very practical letter. Paul was writing to a vibrant assembly of believers who, despite their many good points, were like one big runaway train about to derail and cause some serious damage. You might say that damage had already been done at the time of Paul’s writing, but, either way, that is what he was writing to address.
In chapter 11 he is dealing with the problems they were having regarding the Lord’s Supper. As it was, things were a mess. Certain of the saints were showing up to the meeting early and enjoying their share (and then some) of the food before their other brothers and sisters even got to the house! Some were even getting drunk at the table!
First of all, if this sounds nothing like the way your church “takes communion” today, there is good reason for that. Whether you are Catholic or Protestant, chances are your particular church practice regarding the Lord’s Meal bears little resemblance to the way our spiritual ancestors practiced it in the first century. In those days the believers gathered together and shared the Lord’s Supper as one big festive meal-a whole meal, mind you, not just a little cracker with a shot of grape juice to wash it down-where all were filled and all were satisfied. Patterned after the Lord’s own “last supper” with the twelve disciples, the love feast was a beautiful depiction of life in the kingdom of God. Only, here in Corinth, things were going quite astray.
Now, at first glance you might be tempted to think that this is nothing significant. So a few people are showing up early and starting to eat without the others-so what? What’s the big deal? Nothing, I guess, if this were an ordinary meal. But this is no ordinary meeting, and this is no ordinary meal. This is the fellowship of the saints, and this is their breaking of bread to remember the Lord Jesus. Indeed, it might be noticeably unceremonial and decidedly unreligious, but that in no way means it is not special.
Obviously there is something wrong with believers getting drunk at a church meeting (or anywhere, for that matter), so we won’t even go there. But what about this issue of some saints eating before the others show up? What’s the big deal about that?
I strongly believe that it has to do with the fact that the church is the expression of Christ. “The cup which we drink and the bread which we break are the blood and body of Christ,” says Paul. Everything we do in the church is to be an expression of the living Christ. And when believers come together to share the Lord’s Supper, signifying through the breaking of bread that Christ is their life and that they can’t live without Him, and that the experience of Christ is not just a personal matter but corporate, then for me to start the meal without my brothers and sisters is simply wrong, because it is a false expression. In essence what I’m saying is this: “I can gain Christ without you all. I don’t need you. I can have Him on my own whether you show up or not. I can possess all His fullness all by myself.” And this is simply not true. It is a contradiction of practically all that is written anywhere in the New Testament, and it stands in utter defiance of the revelation of the body of Christ, where the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you.”
We need one another, plain and simple. That is what I believe Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 11 shows more than anything else. I personally spent a good deal of time trying to know the Lord in His fullness apart from the daily encouraging and building up of the saints, and I can honestly say that the difference between that and what I know now in my experience of the body of Christ is as about as wide as the Mississipi River is long. In other words, there is no comparison.
What Paul says in verses 20 and 21 are the most interesting, I think. Here he seems to say that when some show up early to the meeting and start eating before the others, the meal they are having is not even worthy to be called the Lord’s Supper! In other words, it becomes just a common meal when it is taken in this individualistic way. The Lord’s Supper is to be an expression of the new humanity in Jesus Christ, where the life we have in God is one of utter interdependence. Like Caleb and Joshua in the Old Testament, we may think we are ready to go in and possess the Land all on our own, but such is not the Lord’s design. None of us can or ever will possess the fullness of Christ all on our own, but only as we do so “together with all the saints” (Ephesians 3:18). “So wait for each other when you come together to eat,” Paul says. Anything less than this is not a true expression of the body of Christ.
Hungry? Why wait? Because we are all one body, that’s why! And the life we share in Christ is one life, not many lives that just happen to get together from time to time. So if you’re hungry and you just can’t wait, grab a Snickers. But do it at home, not at the meeting (1 Corinthians 11:34). 🙂