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1 Corinthians 11:17-34

You can read the text here.

Paul, continuing to address issues of unity, now issues a stern rebuke to Corinthians practices concerning the Lord's Supper. Their meetings were doing more harm than good. Rather than bringing unity, their practices related to the Lord's Supper were dividing the church, shaming poorer members of the church and those of whom the host was not a patron by excluding them from the prime eating and fellowship area.[1] This deepened fault lines already present in the church.[2] Paul is understandably outraged.[3]

At this point Paul goes back to basics and reminds them of the tradition he handed down to them, of the meaning of the meal they were celebrating. It was a meal in which Jesus and his sacrifice for the sake of the church was to be remembered. And by remembered, he does not mean that events were to be recalled to ones mind. It meant that it required commitment to Jesus and engagement in worship, trust, and obedience.[4] It is a covenant meal where a community confirms their covenant relationship to Jesus, which puts them under his discipline. It is not a purely symbolic act.

Therefore, if Jesus died for the church, to make it collectively his body and to call people into it without regard to their worth or status, then to use the Lord's Supper as a means for making the fault lines of the church clear and demean those of lower status is to undo what Christ did and makes one answerable before God. It's breaking the covenant, because Jesus covenanted with the community, not a faction in it. Thus, the Corinthians needed to check themselves to ensure that they were keeping up their end of the bargain, to build up one another and to give up their rights in service of the other in imitation of Christ. Since some had been sinning against the covenant, God's judgment had come down on the Corinthians.[5] The Corinthians needed to examine their behavior because God takes their covenant commitment seriously. Better they correct themselves then God have to correct them, but even God's correction was for their own good.

Paul concludes on a very practical note after the stern warning, urging them to eat together, and if they're really so hungry, to eat before they gather.

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[1] See Thiselton for helpful background on the meal time dynamics.

[2] Vs. 19 is ironic according to Ciampa and Rosner.

[3] Commenting on vs. 22, Ciampa and Rosner make an interesting point here. By hosting a worship service, the host's home was transformed into a sacred space. The house they were eating in was no longer a home.

[4] Thiselton expands helpfully on these themes.

[5] Ciampa and Rosner note that the community as a whole was judged which meant some who were innocent probably experienced judgment as often happened in the Hebrew Bible when the community suffered judgment for the sin of a portion of it.

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