The Nineteenth in a Series of Sermons on 1 Corinthians
In chapters 11-14 of 1 Corinthians, Paul gives us a fascinating account of what actually transpired during the worship service of an apostolic church. From Paul’s account, it is clear that worship in the Corinthian church centered on the proclamation of Christ crucified, followed by the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The problem in Corinth is that the Corinthians were celebrating the Lord’s Supper in such a way that the Supper had become virtually indistinguishable from one of the banquets held in a pagan temple or guild hall. Paul rebukes the Corinthians for this behavior in no uncertain terms. Yet in doing so, Paul also spells out the meaning of the Lord’s Supper as well as informing us why the Supper occupies such an important role in Christian worship. All and all, this is a fascinating passage and we’ll spend the next two sermons working our way through the balance of this chapter.
In First Corinthians 11:17-34, we have the earliest account of the Lord’s Supper in the entire New Testament. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was probably written about 54 A.D., before any of the canonical gospels had been written. The Corinthian letter, therefore, gives us a very important insight into the Supper as it was celebrated from the earliest times. The Lord’s Supper is the New Covenant equivalent of the Jewish Passover, and like the Passover, was celebrated as part of a larger fellowship meal, which followed what we might call the ordinary worship service.
As we have seen in previous sermons on this letter, it is vital that we attempt to understand Paul’s discussion of the abuse of the Supper against the backdrop of Greco-Roman culture, with its emphasis upon feasting and communal meals. Such meals were commonly celebrated in one of the pagan temples or guild halls throughout the city. On the one hand, the Corinthians would have been very familiar with communal meals like that one instituted by Jesus on his last night together with his disciples. Yet, on the other hand, the Corinthians would have dined only with those of the same social standing and profession, or with members of the same religious sect. The Supper as instituted by Jesus was intended to unite God’s people around their common faith in Christ, not divide people along racial or socio-economic lines as was apparently the case in Corinth.
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