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First Corinthians

The Bridge

1 Corinthians 11:17-34

To this day there are those who think that matters of divine ritual are of trivial importance. It is sad enough to see this at a wedding; how much more so at the Lord’s Supper.

(1 Cor 11:17-34 NIV) In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. {18} In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. {19} No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval. {20} When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, {21} for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. {22} Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! {23} For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, {24} and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." {25} In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." {26} For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. {27} Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. {28} A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. {29} For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. {30} That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. {31} But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. {32} When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. {33} So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. {34} If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions.

The Original Problem

We are some distance from the original customs of the church. Therefore, we must review what was going on in their culture so that we may translate the message into our own.

This is a corruption of a good thing

You will remember that the early church, in its days in Jerusalem, took its meals in common. Indeed, they shared all things in common. This – especially as it relates to the Lord’s Supper – has some enormous advantages. In so doing, the rich could feed the poor without embarrassment. It was, if you will, the early version of the church pot luck supper.

Some might think this a strange way to take Communion. But consider: the Passover was a full meal – not just a ceremonial one. You ate a complete lamb, with bread, herbs, and other prescribed items. We have since made it into a completely ceremonial meal – largely to correct the abuses seen here, as well as to make it easier to complete in a time when a one hour church service seems a long thing. But (just to use a local example) we still have communion at our “prayer and share” suppers. It is not required; but it is not forbidden either.


Paul is careful not to condemn differences in the members of the church:

· There will always be the difference between the mature and the immature in the faith, for example.

· Indeed, he will shortly begin to talk about the difference in spiritual gifts.

His point is, however, that some differences – rich and poor, for example – should be of no consequence, lest factions develop. This is particularly true at the Lord’s Supper, which is a source of unity in the church.

“To some extent I believe it.”

Paul wants to correct a most serious difficulty. He also wants to make it clear that not everyone is part of the problem – but that everyone must be part of the solution. Some of these Corinthians were trying to do it right. Others were sinners as they participated:

· Some were sinners in the sense of greed and drunkenness.

· Others made things worse: by their actions, they humiliated the poor.

· Worst of all, some disgraced the very body and blood of Christ.

It is this last which brings Paul’s most serious rebuke.

An Utterly Serious Rebuke

The serious nature of the offense can be seen in the rebuke. Paul does not give this rebuke on his authority as an Apostle – as great as that is. Indeed, he takes the matter back to first principles; the rebuke is made by referring to the specific instruction of Christ himself. The teaching given concerns the ritual which is at the center of the faith. If we are to understand the gravity of the offense, we must understand the grandeur of the offended.

For that purpose, I offer to you a picture, an analogy. It is often said that Jesus is the bridge between God and man. Picture, then, a bridge – a suspension bridge over a “great gulf fixed.” It has two towers, and a span between.

The near tower: “my body”

“This is for you” – it represents the body of Christ. The body, his human nature, is sacrificed for us. The church has always insisted on the full humanity of Christ, for without a physical, bodily sacrifice the atonement is of no effect. In Communion, we can see the body (represented by the bread) in two ways:

· We still use the phrase “break bread together” to mean a common meal. What more plain, more common symbol could be used for the unity of the church?

· Moreover, his body is that which we have in common; he is like us. That’s why it’s the “near tower” – we can understand that.

The far tower: “my blood”

Christ tells us that this is the “new covenant” which is “in his blood.” What does that mean?

· A covenant is an agreement offered by God – and unchangeable by man. It is the relationship between man and God – starting with God’s side of the bridge.

· The Old Testament tells us that “the life is in the blood” – which was why the Israelites were required to drain the blood from their sacrifices before presenting them. But who gives life?

So here we have the picture of God’s side of the bridge – the side with an unchangeable, eternal covenant – the one which gives eternal life.

The path between: Jesus

“I am the way, the truth, the life – no one comes to the Father except by me.” If you wish to pass over the gulf from this side to God’s side, you must cross the bridge; no other way exists. That way is Jesus Christ.

It is not just a matter of being exclusive. It is a matter of holiness. Only the holy can approach the holy God; he will tolerate none other. But how can we be completely holy? Only in Christ.


Now you see it: in Communion, you proclaim the path between man and God – you proclaim the atonement of Christ. Without his atonement, there is no path.

Note also that you proclaim it “until he comes.” Communion looks back to the atonement; it looks forward to his return, too.

The Approach Reveals the Man

We so often think that we need not prepare in the small things because “I’ll rise to the occasion when the occasion arises.” I used to caution my Little Leaguers against such thinking: “you play like you practice.” So let’s see how we practice.

If unworthy –

If you are one who takes the Lord’s Supper lightly, in an unworthy manner, you are indeed a sinner:

· You sin against the body of Christ. That means you offend against the unity of the church, for the church is the body of Christ. That’s what happened here as the rich humiliated the poor. But at the same time you dishonor the suffering in the body which your Lord endured – you treat it as if it were nothing.

· You sin against the blood of Christ. You sin against the very life of the church, for the life is in the blood. You sin against the atonement of Christ, for the new covenant is in his blood. This is indeed very grave.

But – you might ask – how can a man prevent such a thing from happening? Surely there are some precautions which might be taken?


Indeed there are such precautions. The first is to examine yourself.

· Know what sins you have committed – and ask for forgiveness. Remember, if you would cross that bridge, only the holy make it to the other side.

· Know what sins you must forgive – so that you may be at peace when you approach the throne of grace. Only those who forgive are forgiven.

The matter is one of judgment. One way or another, we are all going to be judged. But as Christians, we get to select the method:

· The easiest method is to judge ourselves. If we will examine ourselves; discern our sins, confess them and repent of them, then our Lord has no need to judge further.

· If we will not, our Lord will judge us – in love, disciplining us for our transgressions. Isn’t this what a loving father does for his children?

· But if we will not heed his discipline, if we reject it, then – as Paul clearly tells us – we will be condemned with the rest of the world.

Paul asks the Corinthians here to take such simple precautions. They were to wait for each other in Communion; they were to prevent problems of greed and gluttony by eating at home, first. This does not seem so difficult, does it?

My doctor is of the same opinion. He tells me to take my blood pressure at regular intervals and examine myself. A little correction now is worth much surgery later. If this is true with the body – how much more so with the Body?

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