The Twentieth in a Series of Sermons on 1 Corinthians
Our text contains a warning which should give us all a moment’s pause. Paul warns that unless we examine ourselves before we come to table of the Lord, we risk coming under God’s judgment, and as a result, getting sick or even dying. Now that I have your attention, we are a church which celebrates weekly communion, therefore this is a passage with which we need to wrestle and consider with great care. But great care is not fear. Since Jesus has died for our sins (taking the covenant curse which we deserve upon himself), we need not fear coming to the table of the Lord because we are sinners and are struggling with our sins. But we do need to examine ourselves in the matter prescribed by Paul, and that is the theme of this sermon–how do we properly examine ourselves before we come to the table of the Lord?
We are making our way through 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, where Paul rebukes the Corinthian church for the way in which they were observing the Lord’s Supper. As we saw when we tackled verses 17-26 of this same chapter, this is an important passage, because in it we find the oldest account of the Lord’s Supper anywhere in the New Testament, written by Paul about A.D. 54, a decade or so before any of the canonical gospels had been written. Give this early date, this passage provides an invaluable window into how the apostolic church worshiped just twenty years after the life and ministry of Jesus. Throughout this section of First Corinthians (chapters 11-14), it is clear that the early church focused upon the preaching of Christ crucified, followed by the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. No doubt, this was the ordinary Lord’s Day practice of the apostolic churches.
As we read through this chapter, it is readily apparent that Paul is fit to be tied with the Corinthians. Just as with Jewish Passover, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper took place within the context of a fellowship meal after the worship service had been conducted. But in Corinth, the church’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper had sadly degenerated into something like what went on in one of the city’s pagan temples or guild halls. Some people were not waiting for others to be served and ate all the food which had been prepared, leaving the poor without anything to eat. Others were drinking all the wine, getting drunk, and behaving in an unruly manner. Paul is disgusted by this behavior and rebukes the congregation accordingly. He has nothing good to say about this (“I do not commend you”) and is even worried that the Supper is actually doing more harm than good. Things have gotten so bad, Paul can even say, “when you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat” (or at least as it was instituted by Christ and taught to the Corinthians by Paul).
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