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1 Corinthians 11:17-34 Study Guide: The Lord's Supper

Community Group Study Guide — The Lord’s Supper
1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Main idea:
The Corinthian church was fractured and divided and that expressed itself in the abuse of the Lord’s Table. It appears that a group of well off Corinthians would gather early and feast on the communion bread and wine to the point where they were full and drunk. Paul reminds them that the Lord’s Table is about the family of God fellowship with Jesus and that this act is one that builds love for God and humility in community. At the Lord’s Table we express that we have been redeemed by Jesus and belong to Christ as a family of faith. 

Study Information:
This section of 1 Corinthians details problems in the church in relation to disordered worship (1 Corinthians 11-14). Paul will address issues like the abuse of spiritual gifts, chaos in the worship gathering and in this text disunity in the Lord’s Table. To address their disunity and pride, Paul reminds them what the Lord’s Supper represents and points them to a better way to worship together in communion. 

What does the Lord’s Supper Represent?
This is one of the only places in the Bible where we read that God’s people gathering together was “not for the better but for the worse” (1 Corinthians 11:17). That should give us a clue that something seriously dysfunctional and wrong was taking place in the church as they assembled. Paul hints at two sides to the same problem and each is called out by the words “when you come together.” The first aspect and the bigger issue is general disunity and factions and the second aspect is the practical concern with how they were administering communion. It appears that the division expressed in communion was also related to those who were well off and those who were poor because the poor were being “humiliated” (1 Corinthians 11:22). The particularly issue around the Lord’s Supper is that a group who would gather ahead of time and take their fill of the bread and the wine and leave out others in the church. Instead of building up one another the church was fractured and selfish. 

Few things in our world point to friendship and fellowship more than sharing a meal with someone else. We have people over for dinner to get to know them or to express friendship. In the ancient world this was magnified; sharing a meal was a sign of deep relationship and it was a tool that built fellowship. Jesus would have meals with people the society looked down on as sinners and therefore he was called a drunk and a glutton himself. To share a meal was to associate with someone else, and Jesus was not afraid of guilt by association. The Lords Supper is designed for the church to express and sustain community with one another. In contemporary evangelical churches we can often view the Lord’s Supper through an individual lens of our own personal time with Jesus where we reflect upon our sin and meditate on Christ, which is good; but what this passage communicates something more corporate in nature. This text of scripture shows how the Lord’s Supper points to the church being shaped by the gospel. 

The Lord’s Supper points towards spiritual communion of the body of Christ. When Paul touched on the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 10 he highlighted that it is a fellowship with Jesus (participation). This fellowshipping with Jesus is not only an individual thing but an expression of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). In the act of the Lord’s Supper the church body points to how the gospel has united them. This is what we see in 1 Corinthians 11:23-27 where Paul gives us the words of institution. On the night Jesus was betrayed he took bread and broke it telling his followers that this is his body given for them. Likewise, the cup points to his shed blood in the new covenant for the forgiveness of sins. As the church gathers to partake in the Lord’s Supper they proclaim the gospel until Jesus comes again. It is inherently an act of unity and fellowship. The problem is that the Corinthians partook the Lord’s Table in an unworthy manner.

What was happening in Corinth?
The context would tell us that this unworthy manner looked like people being selfish. Communion in the ancient church was likely a larger meal together and it appears that some of the more well to do Christians would gather early and eat their fill and get drunk on the communion wine. This is one of the reasons we know that it was a larger meal because it would take around 200+ packets of our communion supplies to fill you up! Paul tells them that if their goal is to be filled up they should eat at home first. This meal represents Jesus’ selfless love to reconcile his people to the Father and here they are selfishly stuffing food in their mouths and creating division. 

The call to examine oneself is not to find evidence of whether or not they are worthy or unworthy, but to find evidence of a repentant heart (1 Corinthians 11:28). Jesus welcomes the repentant heart to the Lord’s Table because everyone who gathers there needs his grace and forgiveness. A repentant heart would not want to compete with others in the body of Christ, but would willingly sacrifice and serve one another. To take communion when you are not a follower of Jesus or to participate in a selfish and disunifying way is to incur judgement from God (1 Corinthians 11:29-32). It sounds shocking but Paul calls out specifically that some in their midst have gotten sick or died because of their actions around the Lord’s Supper. We’ve seen God throughout the Old Testament and in places like Acts 5 with Ananias and Sapphira move to protect his people from oppression and injustice. God’s motive here is to either discipline them in love to call them back towards faithfulness to him (Hebrews 12:10) or to protect his people from abuse. His actions may to make sense to us or fit our 21st century idea of how God ought to act, but his motives are grounded in mercy and love. 

How Should We Participate in the Lord’s Table?
Paul’s commanded the Corinthians is to eat at home if you’re hungry so you don’t incur judgment. None of us would assume that we’re gathering for the Lord’s table to fill up our stomachs because of how we take communion today. However, he command relevant for our day and age is “when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (1 Corinthians 11:33). Likewise we should think through how our actions in worship and in fellowship either build up or divide the body of Christ and we should work to eliminate things that promote selfishness over fellowship. When it comes to communion, we take communion in the context of the church service as followers of Jesus so that we can together express the gospel and fellowship in Christ. It is a reminder that we are united in Christ and are a new family in faith because of the work of Jesus. In communion the young and the old, rich and poor, and people from all kinds of walks of life point to the reason they’re together which is Jesus’ substitutionary death. When we eat the bread and drink the cup we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes again and we express our fellowship with him. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:

Read 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Is the Lord’s Table an individual thing we do in worship to God or a corporate thing? How do we know this from the text?

Describe what was happening in the Corinthian church and how it was an expression of the larger issue we’ve explored in this series with pride and disunity.

Imagine you’re talking to someone who is not familiar with church but interested and they ask about what communion is all about. How would you describe it to them and what it points to?

What are some good practices we can implement to make sure we’re going to the Lord’s Table in a worthy manner?

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