As we saw in the first part of our study about the Lord’s Supper, we learned that it had its beginnings with the Passover Feast in Egypt. Jesus added a new dimension to the centuries-old practice of the Seder when He told His disciples that the bread was illustrative of His Body and the cup of wine of His Blood. However, other than these mentions in the Gospel accounts, the only other person to write about the Lord’s Supper was the Apostle Paul – and he wrote about it because Christians in Corinth were doing it wrong.
The Corinthians were an interesting group – Jews, Greeks and Romans who came from many parts of the world after Julius Caesar had Corinth rebuilt about a hundred years before Paul’s first visit there. Paul visited Corinth during his second missionary journey and ministered there for about 18 months (approx. A.D 50-51) before traveling to Ephesus (approx. A.D. 52). He wrote 1 Corinthians during his third missionary journey while he revisited the church in Ephesus (approx. A.D. 53-57). The reason for writing the letter was because several church leaders from Corinth visited Paul and told him about the many problems they were dealing with in the assembly.
Paul addressed the major problems head on in the first part of his Letter:
“To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints … Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” 1 Corinthians 1:2, 10
The Christians in Corinth were set apart for sacred service (sanctified), but were not behaving like saints. They were also divided on many fronts and not united in Christ. Paul addressed those two themes many times in 1 Corinthians and promised that he would deal with the problems the next time he visited them if they didn’t address them properly.
“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For wherethere are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not carnal?” 1 Corinthians 3:1-4
“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” 1 Corinthians 3:161-17
“I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me.” 1 Corinthians 4:14-16
“Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power. What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?” 1 Corinthians 4:18-21
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you … Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened.” 1 Corinthians 5:1-2, 6-7
“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? … Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren! … Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not!” 1 Corinthians 6:1-2, 7-8, 15
“But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak … But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.” 1 Corinthians 8:9, 12
“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.” 1 Corinthians 10:23-24
“Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, 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.” 1 Corinthians 11:17-19
“But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:24-26
A major problem in the Corinthian Church was their lack of love for each other. They were so carried away with their own opinions and divisions, that they forgot the number one ingredient in the Christian Faith – Love. Paul reminded them that everything they did would be judged in that marvelous Light – the Light of Agape Love.
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Paul ended his letter to the Corinthians with that reminder – “Let all that you do be done with love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14)
So there we have it – the many problems of the Corinthian Church. Paul addressed them lovingly and firmly (the two do go hand in hand).
Is this a problem in your church? It is in many churches across the country and around the world. As I’ve thought about what Paul told the Corinthians, I’m reminded of his warning to the churches in Galatia: “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” (Galatians 5:13-15) Love in a church is a beautiful thing – but without love we become like wild animals, biting and devouring one another – consuming one another. If you’ve been around churches long enough, you’ve seen it. The lack of love for one another is an ugly thing. We, the members of Christ’s Body on earth today, need to take hold of ourselves and do what our Master tells us to do.
In our next study, we will look specifically at the Lord’s Supper and see what we can learn to make it a powerful spiritual experience.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”