Pastor Scott Andrews | July 4, 2021
I Corinthians 11:17-34
When God created the world, He did it with distinction – different-ness. You can see these differences in the very days of creation. On the first day, He created light and darkness and separated the two – light was not darkness, darkness was not light. On the second day, He separated the waters above from the waters below. On the third day, He separated the water from the land – the land was not water, the water was not land. On that same day, He made the land produce plants – and they were different from each other. The apple seed produced apple trees, the orange seed, orange trees, and so on. He did the same on the fifth and sixth days with animals, birds and fish – each was to produce after its own kind; they were to remain distinct. The theory of evolution notwithstanding, chickens have chickens, goldfish have goldfish, and dogs have dogs. When He created man, one of Adam’s first jobs was to name the animals – you see, Adam knew that a cow was not a horse, and a horse was not a cow. He knew there was something about a cow that made it a cow – a certain “cowness,” that enabled him to distinguish it from the other animals.
And certainly, when God created Eve, there could be no confusing Adam with Eve – again, current culture notwithstanding. While they were both people created in the image of God, they were distinct such that Adam was not Eve, and Eve was not Adam. Even when they had children, while their children came from them, they were not them. There may have been some family resemblance – “oh look, Adam, he has your nose” – but, the infant was not Adam. And they named their children – Cain, Abel and Seth – not son, son, and son – there was distinction.
Because of distinction, God could tell Adam and Eve which fruit to eat – of any tree in the garden; and which fruit not to eat – of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If there was no distinction, how would they know if they ate the fruit of that tree, whether it was the wrong tree.
Now, I have no doubt that, even before the fall, favorites arose from among the animals, fruits and vegetables. Did God expect Adam and Eve to like everything exactly the same? Certainly not – after Adam named all those animals, there was not one found to meet his needs, and Eve was created. I feel fairly confident saying Adam liked Eve more than he liked Rover.
My point is this. The very nature of distinctions allows for favorites. Why do we have the Blue Deer with all those different flavors of ice cream and cookies? So you can pick your favorite – otherwise you’d just go and say, give me an ice cream, and you’d get vanilla – but then, they’d say, one scoop or two? Soft serve or hard pack? In a cup or in a cone? Sprinkle cone, chocolate cone, peanut cone? Here or to go? With our without toppings? You see, distinctions are part of life. You like one basketball team better than another, one kind of car over another, you decorate in your favorite colors, and pick your favorite restaurant for special occasions, those occasions you favor more than others.
There is nothing wrong with favorites. It is built into the distinctions God created. But….with the introduction of sin came the wrong use of favoritism. Favorites turned into something ugly called prejudice. People began favoring certain kinds of people because of economic status (one has more money), because of social status (the kind of work they do), because of race (their skin color), because of nationality (where they were born). And, favoritism has become, in many of its relational expressions, sin. (black licorice)
Of course, you would think within the church of Jesus Christ, because of the mercy shown us, this kind of prejudice would not be a problem. Having all been equally created in the image of God, it would not be a problem. But then we read I Corinthians 11, and in the very event designed to be an expression of unity, there was an ugly display of this ugly sin called prejudice. And then, we listen to some around us and realize, prejudice, the wrong kind of favoritism, is alive and well in our culture, and in the church today. So, as we prepare for communion together, read this text with me – I Corinthians 11:17-34.
The church at Corinth had lots of problems. They divided for lots of reasons – incredibly, to include the Lord’s Supper. I would suggest this message is extremely relevant to the 21st Century church. For example, it has been said the eleven o’clock hour on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week in the U.S. – and I believe that can be a blight on the church of Jesus Christ. Let me give you the outline as we jump into the text:
- The Perversion of the Lord’s Supper (17-22)
- The Purpose of the Lord’s Supper (23-26)
- The Preparation for the Lord’s Supper (27-34)
We typically look at this passage with one of two thoughts in mind – not necessarily wrong thoughts – but thoughts which perhaps don’t take the full context in mind. We normally look at those middle verses during our times of communion, as a kind of formula – just the right words and procedure to follow. And it is that – Paul is reminding them of this tradition he had passed on to them – but…one that he couldn’t praise them for, because they were abusing it – this event designed, in part, to be an expression of their unity had become an expression of their disunity. So, he takes time to remind them what communion is about.
And then those last verses form our third point. Often, a pastor will encourage people to examine themselves to see if there is any sin in their lives that needs to be corrected as we prepare for communion. Again, not necessarily wrong thinking, but perhaps way too individualized. The context forces us to realize that divisions as a result of factions – even prejudice – that’s the sin to be dealt with – that’s the real issue. Corporate unity. Let’s look at it, starting with that first point, The Perversion of the Lord’s Supper.
He had said in verse two of this chapter, “I praise you because you remember me in everything…” But now he gets to verse 17 and says, but I can’t praise you for everything – there are some problems when you come together as a church body. Namely, verse 18, when you come together as a church – as the body of Christ, brothers and sisters in the Lord – I hear divisions exist among you. The word is schisma, from which we get our word, schism. Of course, in chapter 1, we find they were divided around certain leaders – I follow Paul, I follow Apollos, I follow Peter, I follow Christ. But now, we see there was a division around socio-economic status – in other words, a prejudicial division based on one’s station in life – what I do, and how much I make.
And in case we don’t think that’s really a big deal, Paul throws in verse 19 – “For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.” What does that mean? Very simply, when these divisions exist, I want you to understand – they show that those who cause the division are not approved by God. The very nature of the division sets those approved apart from those unapproved.
And there are some unapproved – look at the actual divisions in verses 20-22. When you meet together for the Lord’s Supper, it is not the Lord’s Supper you are eating. The Lord’s Supper, you see, should be done together, as an expression of your unity in Christ as you remember together the body and blood of Christ. That is not what you’re doing, therefore, it is not the Lord’s Supper. Verse 21 – you are merely, selfishly eating your own suppers.
This is apparently what was happening. In the early days of the church, Acts 2 tells us they couldn’t get enough of each other and the Lord’s Supper. So, they would eat together regularly, enjoying one another with glad and sincere hearts, praising God for His goodness to them. It was apparently a common meal, when everyone would bring what they had to share with everyone else. That’s a biblical basis for the church potluck. At some point during the meal, which came to be known as love feasts – think of those words – love feasts. Because of love of the food? No – love for one another. And so, at one point, they would stop this communal meal and participate in the Lord’s Supper together – a reminder of what made them a community. It kept the gospel central, and reminded them this greatest of all commitments is what bound them together in a body.
It was a wonderful expression of their unity in Christ – you see, the rich would bring the much they had, and the poor would bring the little they had, and together, as brothers and sisters, as family, they would eat together. But in Corinth, the rich were either eating their special meals with lots of food, not sharing, on the inside, while the poor were eating what little they had on the outside in the courtyard. Or, the rich were getting there early with their food, eating all they wanted, drinking all they wanted, even getting drunk, before the poor had an opportunity to get off work and even get there. There was this division along socio-economic lines, and Paul said, that is not the Lord’s Table you are eating. In this I will not praise you.
James, the brother of Jesus, addresses this same kind of socio-economic problem in James 2 – look at it:
1 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.
2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes,
3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,”
4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?…
8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well.
9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
“My brethren, [he says] do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism,” meaning, believers in Jesus should not act this way. Why? It is inconsistent with His character. There are a number of verses we could look at that make clear God is not a respecter of persons – He does not show partiality. Did Jesus show favoritism? Did He only go to those accepted in higher social circles, the rich, the religious, the noble, the wise? No – He went to all kinds of people – whoever would hear. What does a list of His converts look like?
Nicodemus – a ruler of the Jews
Joseph of Arimathea – a rich man, a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish body of the day
Peter, James and John – Galilean fishermen
Matthew and Zacchaeus – despised tax collectors
Jairus – a synagogue ruler
James, His own brother – no doubt, a carpenter
Mary Magdalene – from whom seven demons were driven
The woman at the well – a Samaritan adulteress
One crucified at His side – a thief
The Syrophoenician Woman – a Gentile
The Maniac of Gadera – a demon-possessed man
Bartimaeus – a blind man
Young, old, male, female, rich, poor, rulers, followers, laborers, leaders, the sick, the well – Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. It didn’t matter to Jesus what they were, but who they were. Lost people who needed to be found. Earlier in this letter, Paul said in chapter 1, “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble…” Why would you then discriminate? Unfortunately, our world today, and many believers do. We can become so enamored with the externals, being more concerned about what a person does or has or is externally, rather than who that person is internally, created in the image of God. What are some of those externals we can be distracted by?
The type of discrimination going on with James and in Corinth was related to the economic status of people who were attending the meetings of the church. Notice, James said these people were coming “into your assembly” – they were coming to church. And, there were two kinds of people coming. The first were the rich. Oh, they looked good – obviously well-to-do. In our context, they might be the ones driving up in nice cars, wearing expensive clothing and fine jewelry. Big bank accounts. After a little conversation, we find out they have the kind of jobs that bring home comfortable salaries.
Now, in the story as James tells it, the discrimination is overt. His readers show the rich special attention and give them a good seat, perhaps a place of honor. Today, we might not be as overt – it might look more like this – we’re careful to spend a little extra time with them, ask them to sit with us, perhaps even invite them over for dinner, invite them to our next golf foursome.
But, the second kind of person to come in is the poor man. He’s shabbily dressed, and so rather than special treatment due a brother, he’s invited to sit on the floor or stand in the back, out of the way. For our purposes, maybe he’s in jeans and a tee shirt instead of a wool suit with a silk tie. It’s obvious from the smoking clunker he drove into the parking lot he is not a man of great material means. In fact, after we carry on a brief, disinterested conversation, we find his occupation beneath us – maybe he’s even unemployed. And in an air of dismissal, we make our way to a seat, leaving him to find his own.
In the church of Corinth, the discrimination was much deeper than just where a person sat. It was seen in the very meal – the love feast followed by the Lord’s Supper that was supposed to be an expression of Christ-exalting, gospel-centered unity. Of course, we don’t so much do that anymore – we don’t have love feasts. And, you could hardly gorge yourself on the little morsel of bread; nor could you get drunk from the little swig of Welch’s grape juice. And, we don’t necessarily have the problem of the rich showing up, eating handfuls of the bread and drinking right from the bottle or emptying a bunch of those little cups before the poor can get here.
But is it possible in our attitudes, we display superiority and prejudice, which belie our oneness in Christ? Is it the Lord’s Supper we are eating? What are some other examples of prejudice that exist today in the 21st Century church? Let me give a few that came to mind this week. . Now, as we get halfway through these, they may sound like a list you’d expect to see on an employment or loan application – “We do not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, age, religious affiliation, etc.,” but, unfortunately, sometimes, believers do. Listen, none of these has anything to do with sinful choices – sexual orientation of the like – simply distinctions that exist among people. Even believers.
- Think about this: a favoritism of spiritual gifts. What do I mean? Paul is actually going to warn against this in the next chapter – I Corinthians 12, and yet, sometimes we have a tendency to think those who teach or lead in some visible ministry as more important than those who serve in less conspicuous ways. And so the people we want to get to know are the ones up front, not the ones behind the scenes, the ones no one knows.
- What about favoring someone because of the way they look? Our American society is consciously, purposely built on this favoritism. When someone walks into church, are you more likely to talk them, welcome them, accept them, even like them, if they’re better looking, better dressed, more well-known, more important in the community?
- What about prejudice based on gender? Perhaps you’ve listened to the boastful lies of male chauvinism or feminism and think you’re superior to members of the opposite sex.
- What about age discrimination? And it goes in both directions. The old write off the young because they think they have nothing to offer – certainly their newfangled ideas can’t be pleasing to God. And then, the young, failing to understand the principles of biblical wisdom, think the old outdated with nothing of value to offer. This one is particularly concerning to me – if you are a younger person and you don’t have someone older, and I mean much older, to whom you can go for wisdom, then you’re missing out on one of the greatest blessings in life. If you think you have it all together and don’t need any input from someone who’s been there, you’re mistaken. And if you’re older, and you’re not pouring your life into someone younger – shame on you. You have too much wisdom to keep it to yourself. And, if you think you’ve reached a point where you can’t learn something from someone younger, then I challenge you to sit down in front of a computer or a smart phone with an 8 year old.
- Of course, the socioeconomic prejudice that Paul addresses is alive and well today. Either in the actual work people do or the amount of money they make. How about with you? Think about the people with whom you associate. Are they people just like you, or are they more like the ones to whom Jesus ministered, that is, spanning the spectrum of the social strata. I want you to think about that – as we observe communion together this morning, there will be people in this room, brothers and sisters, who might feel uncomfortable being here with us this morning – feel out of place. Is a brother or sister out of place here?
- Well, finally – how about discrimination against someone because of his or her race, the color of their skin, their ethnicity? As much as we might like to think that racial prejudice does not exist in the church today, it is very much alive. It is probably the most prevalent of the prejudicial favoritism in our country, our community, and in our churches – and we must call it what it is, sin.
Again, that list may sound like a list of federal prohibitions, but more importantly, they are divinely prohibited by James when he says, don’t show favoritism – by Paul when he says, when you eat together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat. I’m not talking about accepting or affirming sin. I’m talking about not showing favoritism. One said it this way, “The poor person is as worthy of our discipling and pastoral care and love as the person who has the means to rescue our church from its budget crisis.”
- That brings us to our second point, and really, at this point, we’re going to prepare for Communion. We see The Purpose of the Lord’s Supper, verses we’re quite familiar with, verses 23-26.
Paul is addressing this disunity, factions in the church. So he takes time to remind us of the instruction passed on from the Lord, probably through the other Apostles, to Paul, to Corinth, to us – to remind us what the Lord’s Supper is all about – it’s about Christ, and what He has done for us – to save us, yes, and to make us members together of one body. Remember, we partake of one loaf – as an expression of our unity.
Jesus gave us this memorial by which we remember Him – if we’re going to eat the Lord’s Supper, it’s about Him, ultimately, not us. The bread, He said, is my body – do this in remembrance of Me. The blood is symbolic of the New Covenant He came to bring. (This cup is the New Covenant in My blood.) A covenant different from the Old Covenant – weak as it was through human flesh. Because, you see, we couldn’t keep the Old Covenant – the Mosaic Law. So Jesus brought a New Covenant, in which He would take out our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. He would write His law, the law of Christ, on our hearts. And He would give us His Holy Spirit by Whom we can now keep His law.
And so, we eat together, proclaiming that we are one. We drink, together, in remembrance of Him. And as we do, we proclaim the Lord’s death, together, until He comes for us, His body. Until He comes reminds us that while He died for us, He did not remain dead – He was resurrected the third day.
- Therefore, verses 27-34 and point three, prepare properly for the Lord’s Supper.
Now, usually we read these verses and are encouraged to look at our individual lives to make sure that there is no sin present – that we are not guilty of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus by eating in an unworthy manner. Paul says, examine yourselves, and pastors will encourage you to quietly examine your life to see if there is some unconfessed sin. Because, you see, if there is some sin in your life, and you say, I will not confess it – more than that, I will not turn from it, and you participate in the Lord’s Supper, then you are putting yourself at risk. Some who do so are weak, others are sick, some have even died. So don’t eat or drink in an unworthy manner, or you may eat and drink judgment on yourself.
That’s probably all true enough, but let’s not ignore the context. The sin Paul specifically has in mind is this sin of factions and divisions based on unwarranted prejudices in our lives. Eating or drinking as you look down on others, without regard for others, not recognizing the unity we share – that as one body we eat of one loaf. Look at some important phrases in those verses:
Verse 29 – “For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment on himself if [what?] he does not judge the body rightly.” That is, if you have biases and prejudices, judging the body based on the external standards of the world, thinking yourself better than someone else, and therefore showing favoritism.
Verse 31 – “If we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.”
Verse 33 – “So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.” That is, eat together, share together, as an expression of your unity. Do you see the intent of the passage? It is to make sure we do not despise the unity we share in Christ.
My brothers and sisters, our study of I and II John were constant reminders to love one another. And this ordinance called the Lord’s Supper is to be an expression of that mutual love. Which brings us to our time to share together in communion. If you are a guest with us this morning, we invite you to participate with us if you know the Lord as your personal Savior. Expressions of unity and celebrating the Lord’s Table together extend well beyond some local church. There are lots of things that could divide us – things we’ve talked about this morning. And there is One who ultimately unites us – regardless of perceived differences – who unites us now, and forever.