A True Story
There was a home-based church in Europe that was made up of upper and lower classes of society, and they had issues of strife. Actually the issue was larger than mere strife: The higher income people didn’t want to mix with the lower paid workers in the home.
But this house church normally had a meal during or following each meeting, and they would celebrate the Lord’s Supper at that time as part of the meal, just as the Lord did at the original “Last Supper.”
The trouble was the rich people refused to eat with the others though they’d come for the meeting part, so they ate in their homes before the meeting, and being European, wine was the norm and a few even got drunk before coming to the gathering of the church.
So how did I handle it?
What issues can you identify? There was arrogance on the part of the upper class people. There were hard feelings on the part of those being snubbed; they had to deal with forgiveness and receiving for the meeting the ones who already ate as if nothing was wrong. Strife, pride, divisions, and loyalties were all issues.
Good for me and us, because this real life situation happened in Corinth about the year 59, and Paul dealt with it in I Corinthians 11:17-31. We know from Acts 18:7-8 they first met in the house of the Roman Titus (Gaius) Justus, and co-hosted by Crispus the leader of the synagogue next door, and attended by many Corinthians (Greeks) as well. As they grew they multiplied to other homes throughout this city and suburbs.
Paul reveals the real issue in verse 22: “What? Do you have no houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and mean to show contempt for it, while you humiliate those who are poor (and have brought no food)? What shall I say to this? Shall I commend you? I most certainly do not!”
The rich may not have wanted to eat with the poorer disciples because they didn’t belong to the same clubs, run in the same social circles, didn’t drive the same model chariot, didn’t have employees, and so forth. But the real issue in their heart was that of despising the church, the body of Christ, and their actions showed contempt for it.
They may have denied that charge, but that arrogance that led to the despising the body was the real issue. They had nothing in themselves that said “Jesus died for us all, so we are all equal, so I will honor the body and honor the gathering together of ourselves.”
Fast forward to modern day: Colorado, 1990
I was the pastor of a traditional church in Colorado, and received a call from a pastor asking me to sell a multi-level marketing (MLM) product made of a certain tree oil from Australia, that was very popular. He told me how he had gotten nearly everyone in the church selling it under his organization, and the resulting income was going to pay off the church mortgage by the end of the year and elevate everyone financially.
I turned him down flat, and told him he was not respecting the body of Christ, but rather manipulating the body our Lord died for to his own uses and benefits and I didn’t want anything to do with it. He had no respect for the body of Jesus Christ, though he would deny it. He said he was doing the body good, but in truth he was showing contempt – from the Lord’s perspective- which is the proper perspective.
Mega-church land: 1990-2000′s
Many pastors and congregation members became involved in MLM’s during this time as well – skin care products, phone services, make-up, health food drinks - all fine products I’m sure.
But it got to the point if you went to church you were made a prey, because someone was going to give a testimony about their MLM product – either the pastor or sign up sheets in the lobby or church talk that traveled between congregation members during each week – it all contributed to a change in church culture. People didn’t go to church purely focused on worship of the Lord, but on who they could contact and how many new people in their structure they might get that week.
A church culture developed that said ‘why aren’t you involved?’ And there was the ever present danger of letting it slip you had a skin problem, internal health condition, financial difficulty, or couldn’t get your clothes as clean and bright as they wanted! The MLM disciples would pounce on you with testimonies about how their product helped someone who had leprosy and needed inner healing get healed by taking just 2 spoonfuls at each meal for a month, AND they lost 20 pounds!
Back to I Corinthians 11: Paul’s solution
Paul made the Corinthians face their sin: Did they despise the body of Christ? Did they mean to show contempt for the body?
Right after this question in v22, Paul says: “For I have received of the Lord that which I also gave to you,; That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is my body which is broken for you: Do this in remembrance of Me.‘”
“In the same way He took the cup after He had eaten, saying, ‘This cup is the New Testament in my blood: Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”
“Therefore, whoever shall eat this bread and drink this cup unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let each person examine himself, and then let him eat and drink that bread and cup.”
In context then…
The eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper, no matter how it is practiced, requires a self-examination, but in context that self-examination doesn’t have to do with some secret sin, nor unforgiveness, nor even making sure the spiritual slate is wiped clean before you eat.
It has to do with respect for the body of Christ. The honoring of the body, the sacrifice, and therefore honoring the gathering of the people of God. The examining of oneself Paul taught here had to do with the people who refused to eat with the lower class or poor people. Paul expected disciples of the Lord to honor the gathering together of the saints, to desire to protect them and that gathering, to keep it holy and sanctified. They did not have this understanding nor heart for the people.
“For he that eats unworthily eats and drinks condemnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sickly among you, and many have even died early. For if we judge ourselves, we won’t be judged.”
While this has been taught, and I have taught it too, that if we discern the sacrifice of the Lord’s body for our healing, we can be healed during the Lord’s Supper (and that’s true), but the context is much larger.
Respecting rather than despising the gather of the body of Christ, is what it is about. The body is the people of God…Paul asks each person to examine themselves for their love of the body of Christ, if their hearts are free from arrogance and divisions that separate. And honor that gathering – protect it, keep it holy, do all you can to keep unity and peace. They did not.
In our day, do they respect the body enough that they won’t try to sell their product or business or service to those who gather to focus on worship of Christ? Or will they commit abomination by stepping between those good people and their Lord, to distract them and pull them away after themselves?
And this is where we’ll pick it up next week.
Until then, blessings,