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Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Lord's Supper is Spoiled by Christians Who Forgot to Treat Each Other as Equals

The Lord’s Supper is Spoiled by Christians Who Forget to Treat Each Other as Equals

Christians around the world hear these words as they prepare to take communion in their churches: “The Lord Jesus, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread…”  (1 Cor. 11:23b)   At the Last Supper, the words Jesus said for all of His followers to hear are read again: “When He had given thanks He broke the bread and said ‘Take eat: this is My body which is broken for you, do this in remembrance of Me’ ” (1 Cor. 11; 24) and “…He also took the cup after supper and said: ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ ” (1 Cor. 11:25)

Jesus asks us (and all Christians down through the ages)  to set aside times to come together in His Name and share bread and wine to remember His death  – to remember that His body was broken for us and His blood was shed for us.    

Some Christian churches call communion by other names: the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Table, the Eucharist, or the (Catholic) Mass.  But whatever name we give it; when we come together before God to take the bread and the wine, Scripture says we are taking Jesus’ body and blood.  There is a deep mystery to the Lord’s Supper – a spiritual and sacred side in taking His body and blood that we can never completely understand.  It is a holy meal – We do our part in taking the bread and wine and God does His part in giving us eternal life in His Son. So we should always come before God at the communion table or altar rail with a spirit of awe, worship and humility.

The very scriptures here in the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians where Paul is giving instructions concerning communion (verses 23-26) are set in a longer section (1 Cor. 11:17-34) where Paul is attacking the Corinthian church for some of the  members not sharing food with others while taking Holy Communion! Let’s listen to what Paul is saying to his flock - the Corinthian church.

“Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse.  For when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it.  For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.  Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.  For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others, and one is hungry and another is drunk.  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.”  (1 Corinthians 11: 17-22) 

Historians tell us that in the first century many of the Roman citizens were poor and some didn’t have enough to eat.  Gradations of hierarchy existed in the Roman society– from the emperor to senators to knights to the lesser aristocracy to ordinary citizens to freeborn noncitizens to slaves.   Each Roman citizen knew his or her place on the social ladder and each knew who their “betters” were. There was little upward social mobility in first century Rome – no such thing as democracy or equality. 

It is into this social environment that Paul is asking the Corinthian church to reject the standards of the Roman society they have grown up in.  Christ was calling them to a new freedom.   Paul urged them to come to the Lord’s Table as equals (slaves and aristocracy all together!!!) even though they lived in a society that was steeped in inequality!  Even though in their society it would be unthinkable for the aristocracy to eat with the slaves! 

It would seem that when the Corinthian Christians came to the communion table, the more privileged Christians who did not have to work for a living would arrive early and eat and drink as they reclined around the table on couches.  But the church members who were slaves and laborers had to work until sunset and arrived to join in the Lord’s Supper later. By that time, the food would be gone and the early diners would be drunk.  (1 Cor.11:20-21)   The wealthier elite church members ate all the bread and drank the wine ahead of the others, shaming those who arrived late and had nothing to eat.  This is eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, says Paul.  (1 Cor. 11:29) 

The wealthier members of the house church must remember the “death of the Lord” Paul insists (vs.26) by waiting to eat a late supper with the working Christians that they had deemed inferior. These elite Christians must give up the recognition they expected because of their higher social status and wealth. Becoming a Christian should change all of that. Self emptying of privilege is at the core of Jesus’ gospel.  Paul is angry and insists that if the church group is not all eating together as equals and not sharing equally, then it is not the Lord’s Supper!  “You humiliate those who have nothing.”  He argues. (Verses 20-22)  

 Paul goes on: The wealthy elite members of the house church must remember the “death of the Lord” (verse 26) and in remembering the Lord they must all be as one (equal) in Christ.  The Christians who had a higher status must give up the special recognition they demand and treat the common workers and slaves in their church group as equals. Because Christ in great humility by His death emptied Himself of everything for us, we Christians are asked to empty ourselves of all our pride and privilege for Him.    

Paul goes on to warn the Corinthian church about the dangers of taking Holy Communion unworthily.  And this can be a warning for us too.  Let’s read the solemn warnings that Paul writes:  “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.  But let a person examine himself and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.  For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many have died.”  (1 Corinthians 11: 27-30) 

When I was nine years old and accepted Christ as my Savior, my girlfriend and I whispered and giggled together during our first Holy Communion.  The pastor stopped the service and read those verses in 1 Cor. 11:27-30 warning that we could be judged for coming to the table of the Lord unworthily. I will never forget that.
 Christians should examine themselves before they take communion and confess the sins in their lives that they are aware of.

 But also these scriptures warning us of God’s judgment if we come to the Lord’s Table unworthily also may be warning us against preferential treatment of wealthy Christians over poorer Christians in church and at the Lord’s Table.  I am not sure but that was the problem Paul was dealing with when he warned the Corinthian church about God’s judgment if they took communion unworthily.  In Christ we are all one – there is no male or female, no superior person or inferior person, no Jew or Greek. (Galatians 3:28)

Paul himself had given up the privilege of taking pay for his missionary labors of planting churches and spreading the gospel to the Gentiles.  He had refused all financial support, not wanting to be a burden to the people he served. (1 Cor.9:1-7, 12, 15).  Paul in his missionary work could have received financial support from some of the wealthy church patrons along the way if he had wished.  Instead Paul got his hands dirty and became a lower-class tent maker in order to be able to pay for his own food and lodging as he traveled around bringing people to Christ.  (Acts. 18:1-3) (taken from Rita Halteman Finger’s article in Sojourners’ Magazine, June 2012; page 29)  

Paul refused to play the status games the world plays. Along with refusing to be paid for his work, he refused to show off his intelligence or impress the churches he visited with his wisdom or status. (2 Corinthians 2:1)   Paul proclaimed to the Corinthians: “I am determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2) 

 And Paul tried to teach his new Christians converts that following Christ would mean a new lifestyle of humility for them too.  Christ was persecuted for being a humble servant and those who followed Him would be persecuted too.  There would be a price to pay. And most of the new Christians in Paul’s churches paid that price.  They followed Christ and learned humility. Are you willing to follow Christ in His humility?   Are you willing to pay the price?      


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