In 1 Corinthians 11:2 Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he commends them because they remember Paul and what he taught them to do. However, in verse 17 Paul says that regarding this next situation he cannot commend them. When these Christians came together as an assembly of Christ, it was not for the better but for the worse. Think about this stunning declaration. When you Christians come together on Sunday, it is not for the better but for the worse. So he cannot commend their actions. What were they doing wrong?
In verse 18 Paul states what the problem is: division. This was the issue that Paul began with in the first four chapters of this letter. There are divisions among them when they come together as a church. Now Paul recognizes that there will be divisions of some kind because not all who come here are genuine. We do not pretend to think that every person who steps through these doors or even every person who identifies as a Christian is genuine. So there will be divisions. Issues and problems will arise because some are not genuine.
But Paul points out what the problem is. These Christians have turned the Lord’s Supper into a way of filling up their own bellies. They are not eating the Lord’s Supper together and they are not there for the purpose of partaking of the Lord’s Supper. They have come to eat. This is why Paul questions why they are there. They have their own homes to eat and drink in. We do not come together so that we can just eat. We come together to remember Jesus. They had taken all of the meaning out of the Lord’s Supper by making it a time to eat and doing so selfishly so that others were left hungry. You have missed the purpose of your gathering. You are coming together to eat and not coming together to partake of the Lord’s Supper to remember Jesus. This is an important principle to observe. Coming together to fulfill our fleshly desires and not for worshiping God is sin. The Corinthians were coming for the food and not for the memorial. This is one reason we do not offer coffee, donuts, or other such things: because it is not why we are here. We are here for Jesus, to hear his words, remember his death, and praise his glorious name. We do not want to take spiritual events and turn them into feeding our fleshly desires. With this in mind, Paul now instructs these Christians about what the memorial for Jesus is supposed to look like.
The Lord’s Supper — The Bread (11:23-24)
Paul restates what Jesus himself declared on the night he was betrayed (11:23).
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23–24 ESV)
We should begin by noting that the KJV and NKJV have an expansion to this verse, which read, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you” (NKJV). Both phrases “Take, eat” and “which is broken for you” are found in several manuscripts but not in the majority of old manuscripts or translations. Therefore, it is most likely that these phrases are not original but added by a scribe during transmission. We know from John 19:36 that Jesus’ body was not broken. So if we say that his body was broken we need to mean in a figurative sense that his body was beaten and crushed by scourging and crucifixion. We use that language today when our bodies are wore out. We will say, “I am whipped” or “my feet are broken” or something like that to communicate how worn out we are. So we need to recognize that his body did not experience broken bones. But if we say that Jesus’ body was broken we would mean regarding the treatment of his body (scourging and crucifixion) which led to death.
With that out of the way, let us consider what Jesus wanted us to remember. Notice that Jesus gave thanks and this is why we pray before we partake of the bread (11:24). The gospels of Matthew and Mark read that Jesus blessed the bread. Blessing the bread is the same as giving thanks. We do not need to pray in our prayer for God to bless this bread. We are blessing the bread when we pray. Blessing is the giving of thanks. We used to have this terminology even in our language. At dinner you would ask someone to say the blessing, which meant to offer the prayer of thanksgiving to God. Our prayer in the Lord’s Supper as we prepare to take the bread is to be a prayer of thanksgiving.
Take the bread and eat it in remembrance of Jesus. What are we to remember? Jesus says, “This is my body, which is for you.” We are remembering the sacrifice Jesus made for us. His body which is given for us. Isaiah’s prophecy sums up well the concepts we are remembering as we partake of the bread.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? (Isaiah 53:3–8 ESV)
The focus of our thoughts are centered on Jesus offering up himself as a sacrifice for us. His body was scourged. His body was crucified. Jesus gave his life so that we could have peace with God. As we considered in 2 Corinthians 5:21 where we see Jesus becoming the sin sacrifice for us so that we can become the righteousness of God.
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:22–25 ESV)
The Lord’s Supper — The Cup (11:25)
In verse 25 Paul says, “In the same way he took the cup.” In the gospel accounts we read Jesus giving thanks again before drinking. This is why we give thanks before partaking of the fruit of the vine. Again, blessing the cup does not mean that we need God to bless it. Rather, we are giving thanks in this memorial. This also is to be done in remembrance of Jesus (11:25). So what are we supposed to remember?
Often what we have done is remember the body again. But this is not what Jesus says to remember. Listen to what Paul quotes Jesus saying. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” It is important that we do not shorthand this so as to not understand what we are to remember. Often we will say that the cup represents the blood of Christ. Yes, that is true so long as we understand the blood of Christ in a biblical way. We are not remembering the blood that came out of his side, or the bloody back of Jesus, or something about the physical body of Jesus. The bread represents that suffering of the body of Jesus.
What does Jesus say his blood represents? The new covenant is what he says it represents. In fact, all the synoptic gospels read that this is the blood of the covenant. The new covenant is what we are to remember. What does this mean? Why would his blood represent the new covenant?
Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. (Hebrews 9:15–18 ESV)
The point is a covenant is not ratified without blood. A death must occur for a new testament to be enacted. Your last will and testament will be enacted when you die. For the new testament (the new covenant) to be enacted required the death of Jesus. In fact, the first covenant (the Law of Moses) was inaugurated with blood to show the necessity of death. So we are giving thanks and remembering the new covenant that was ratified for us because Jesus died. Listen to the rest of what the writer of Hebrews says which confirms this idea.
For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:19–22 ESV)
Notice what Moses declared when the covenant was ratified with the people at Sinai: “This is the blood of the covenant.” What was being pictured? Verse 22 says “almost everything is purified with blood.” Forgiveness of sins and purification come through the shedding of blood. We are giving thanks for the forgiveness of sins that comes through the new covenant which was enacted because Jesus died for us.
I hope we see the two facets that we are to remember when we partake of the Lord’s Supper. With the bread we are remembering the suffering and the sacrifice of Jesus. With the fruit of the vine we are remembering the new covenant that was enacted by the blood of Jesus so that we are forgiven of our sins. With these things in mind let us partake of the Lord’s Supper.
Proclaiming Jesus Properly (11:26-34)
Paul points out that what we have done in partaking of the Lord’s Supper is “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” We are telling each other in this room about the death of Jesus and will continue to do so until Christ returns. We eat and drink in hope under the new covenant that we remember his death but we know he lives and will come again. So we do this every first day of the week (Acts 20:7) so that Jesus is proclaimed each week.
Now Paul warns these Christians to not take this Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. What was the unworthy manner that these Corinthians were practicing? The turning of the Lord’s Supper into a common meal, selfishly partaken, causing divisions in the church. The point is not to be scared that if you do not say certain words or if your kids distract you that you have partaken in an unworthy manner. The unworthy manner in context is what these Corinthians were doing with the Lord’s Supper. They were coming together for selfish purposes. The Lord’s Supper is a time of communion together. Paul repeatedly declares that this is something to be done “when you come together.” We want to participate together in this act as we remember what our Lord Jesus did for us. So our goal before we partake of the Lord’s Supper is to prepare the heart of the worshiper to set one’s mind on Jesus.
Look at verse 28 and I think we see the same misunderstanding. The goal of examining ourselves is not that we would try to be worthy of this sacrifice for that is impossible. But Paul is telling us to focus on what we are doing. We need to be thoughtful about what we are doing. We are not trying to hurry the Lord’s Supper along. This is not a sacrament that we mindlessly take. We want to take the Lord’s Supper in a way that glorifies Christ. In fact, Paul warns that these Christians were bringing judgment upon themselves for turning the Lord’s Supper into a common meal (11:34). So he tells them to eat at home so that they will not be judged for their mistreatment of the Lord’s Supper.
The death of Jesus for the sins of the world is the hub of our lives. We live because Jesus died for us. We come together each Sunday to remember our Lord who died for us so that we could have life. To disregard the Lord’s Supper and turn the Lord’s Supper into something flippant shows a grave disregard for what our Lord has done for us.
When we went to the 9/11 memorial in New York City, we experienced an amazing memorial. You are reminded as you enter the grounds that this is the place where thousands died. This is the place to remember and reflect. There are two infinity fountains to mark where the two towers fell. It is a place of silence. It would be highly inappropriate for kids to be running around and people to be acting like this place is a common park. It is a place of sobriety, examination, and reflection because that is what is appropriate for a memorial. When we were at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. we again were in a place of quietness for reflection. It is the whole concept of a memorial is sobriety, examination, and reflection. The Lord’s Supper pulls our minds away from the world and brings us to the hub of our lives. Jesus is our life and every first day of the week we remember Jesus who died for us. We have proclaimed the Lord’s death as we ate and drank today. Will you give your life to Jesus today and follow him because he died for you? Will you serve and obey him because he gave his life so that you could be forgiven? We call on you to follow Jesus today.