A Wonderful Warning
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
As we approach the Table this morning, a bit of history might be helpful regarding Paul’s warning in vs. 27
In doing that, we need to note that Paul’s warning is against eating “In an unworthy manner”,(27) – it has nothing to do with personal worthiness to come to the table.
It speaks to actions and attitudes that change the Lord’s Supper into something else – by drawing unwarranted distinctions between Christians that ought not to be there.
So Paul begins in vs 20 – “But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.”
Why not? What specifically ruined the gathering so that it was no longer “the Lord’s Supper?
Verse 21 spells it out: “For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk.”
It was common in the early Church – drawing on the fact that Jesus instituted the Lords’ Supper immediately after the Passover meal – to have a group meal called a love feast or agape feast – and then have communion.
What had begun to happen, is that some of the wealthier ones, would bring a sumptuous meal, only for themselves, leaving the poor to only a sandwich or perhaps even nothing at all – and THEN coming to the table which is supposed to signify our unity in Christ.
And in that “love feast” some would in fact even overindulge to the point of being tipsy or drunk, while others with little or nothing were shamed by their lack.
Again – there was some display of personal rights or privileges above some other persons or groups – at the very place where our universal unworthiness before the Throne of God is obscured.
The unworthy manner here is located in 1 chief thing:
Divisiveness based upon some imagined personal, social or spiritual superiority, that then needlessly shames those who do not share that imagined superiority.
This traces Paul’s thought back to the beginning of the letter where some declared they were followers of Peter vs Paul vs Apollos vs Jesus.
The implication behind such elitism and cliquishness is that Christ didn’t need to die as much for me, as He did for this one or that one.
To think that in any way – Christ didn’t need to die for you as much as any other sinner, is to deny your absolute need of the full and free grace put forward in His atonement, and in some sense to justify yourself.
And when we justify ourselves in any way – we become “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord”, fail to “discern” the nature of His sacrifice rightly, and eat and drink damnation to ourselves.
This played out in 3 subtle but very real ways, that might even secretly infect some here today.
- PERSONAL WORTHINESS, versus acceptance ONLY in the Beloved – the Lamb without spot or blemish. I am worthy to be saved, but simply unable to save myself. I belong to the right group.
Remember the Pharisee and The Tax Collector as addressed by Jesus in Luke 18:9–14? “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: [[A]] ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. [[B]] 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. [[C]] For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The Pharisee didn’t say he wasn’t a sinner – just that he wasn’t a sinner like other men. I don’t do THEIR sins.
And we can have the same mindset. When we do, we completely forget that our salvation is 100% wrapped up in our being IN Christ, by faith, and nothing in ourselves.
Ephesians 1:3–14 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Some form of personal worthiness, however slight, versus acceptance ONLY in the Beloved – the Lamb without spot or blemish.
- PERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: “I tithe, I fast”, versus looking only to Christ having fulfilled the Law on our behalf. I can do enough to deserve to be saved even if I can’t save myself. I have done the right stuff.
Again forgetting places like Romans 3:20 “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
3. PERSONAL AMMENDS OR ATONEMENT, versus Christ having atoned for human sin alone at Calvary.
The only acceptable atonement.
A heart that says: I’ve not done anything so bad, that it cannot be overlooked, or counterbalanced by my good works or religion. I have responded the right way.
No one is more worthy because they have been in Christ longer than the newest Believer.
No one is more worthy because they have walked more uprightly than the most struggling saint.
No one is more worthy because they know more truth than the most elementary of Believers.
No one is more worthy because they’ve been permitted earthly privileges, than those who’ve lived in the deepest poverty and adverse circumstances.
No one is more worthy because they’ve been spared from participation in certain sins than those who were plunged into the deepest sins before their redemption.
At this table, above all other places, we come face to face with the absolute bedrock of our salvation: Christ died for sinners.
Not the righteous.
Not rich sinners vs. poor sinners; vs. American sinners vs. Foreign sinners; vs. Republican or Conservative sinners vs. Democrat or Liberal sinners – etc.
We cannot, MUST not make such distinctions at this table – since there is no form of human worthiness that has any truck with God whatsoever.
And so, as Paul warns, let us examine our hearts before we come today.
And if there is the slightest air of superiority or personal worthiness, or even “at least I’m not as a bad as” – that underlies our coming – let us confess it, and condemn it, and seek forgiveness for it before we come.
And come, trusting in but one thing – the substitutionary and atoning death of Jesus Christ at Calvary for our sin.
And celebrate HIS great worthiness on behalf of the most unworthy of all mankind – we sinners.
1 Corinthians 1:26–31 “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Let us come to this table, boasting in Christ alone. And leaving everything else behind.