11:17 Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. 20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.
So far Paul has covered a few areas where the church is divided. They are divided over favourite pastor/teacher. They are divided over the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols. They are divided over how to deal with sexual sins in the church. They are divided over the cultural practice of women covering their heads in worship. I find it curious and telling that an issue like head coverings which is mentioned only the once in the entire Bible is practiced still today by billions of people (if we include both Muslim and Christian sects) yet the seventh-day Sabbath which was introduced at creation and continues to be mentioned throughout Scripture is only today observed by a few million people. That should tell us something about ourselves...
Today Paul has moved on to a new issue and I want you to note that he frames it in more cutting and negative language than anything he has addressed so far. However after a lifetime of being a part of the Christian Church and reading and studying I can say with a fair amount of confidence that of all the issues discussed in this letter to the Corinthians this is the one that gets discussed the least. Paul frames it as the most serious but we turn from it. Why?
I fear the reason is because the others are surface issues but this issue deals with both the heart and the core of the Gospel. Am I saying sexual immorality is a surface issue? Definitely not. However the broader issue of church discipline and taking sides over someone else's sexual misconduct is far more of a surface issue than what we are dealing with now.
Pride, position, power, and prestige - much harder to talk about than who is sleeping with who or who is eating what or whether or not Betty covered her head when she was praying.
When they came together to celebrate the Lord's supper it was a full banquet. We often forget in our modern formal practice as it occurs in most Christian churches that the Last Supper was a full meal. Jesus simply took two elements that were present at the meal and gave them deep meaning as symbols. The bread was His body and the wine was His blood.
In Corinth they were all about banquets. Worshipping the idols in Corinth was much like what the Israelites did when they worshipped the golden calf in the wilderness. That being the case when they became Christians those habits and tendencies came with them. We need to be careful to notice Paul's focus though. It is the neglect of the "lower class" and the honouring of the "upper class". The rich and important did their eating and drinking first and the poor were left to have whatever (if anything) was left. That's why Paul made the bold declaration that they weren't meeting at the Lord's table at all. Why? Because in Christ there are no classes. In Christ the least is the greatest. In Christ there is no pride. The cross leaves us nothing to boast about. What position do we have at the cross beyond abject humility? What prestige can we muster when our sin sick souls are laid bare before the universe?
Twice as bookends Paul flat out says "I can't praise you in this." There is not one positive thing he can find to say about it. They gather under the pretext of the ultimate sacrifice Christ made to reveal His love for us all and they turned into a party where the poor could come only to watch and leave hungry and excluded.
So what about us? I was so moved by my church yesterday. We spent more time in the service discussing how to meet the needs of others in a practical way than we spent doing anything else. If the Body of Christ does not exist to lift up the fallen while laying the glory of man in the dust it is not His body.