This Sunday as CPC in The Hill gathers for worship, instruction, and fellowship, we begin following along the theme “When Church Gathers at the Table.” We start with 1 Corinthians 10-11, a message entitle, “When you come together as a church . . .” (based on the thread of Paul’s words and phrasing in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). Obviously, then, we will be focusing in the meaning and purpose of our gathering, and in particular, the Lord’s Supper, communion, the Table.
One thing that I have found that has been overlooked in applying the significance of Paul’s instructions concerning the Table is the fuller context of 1 Corinthians, especially chapters 10-13 (yes, the follow up message is on 1 Corinthians 13 the next Sunday). Paul’s concern for how those at the table were treating others that were apart of the Table fellowship is the major issue surrounding the passage on the Lord’s Supper. As we should take the whole context as a guide for understanding what’s happened at the table in Corinth, we see clues in 1 Corinthians 10:17 and vv. 23-24:
“Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (10:17).
Giving the wider context, “his neighbor” are those around the table. And based on 10:17, they are all are to be considered one body around that table. While I’ll discuss the actual experience—i.e., what was happening around that table—the situation was serious enough for Paul to pull in judgement language to raise the level of seriousness of the issue: Some at the table were not seeking the good and well-being of others at the table. That’s the context.
“For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (11:29-32).
While we often read this as if Paul is speaking of some personal sin the individual is committing, the context is clear that we should infer he is referring to how some members were treating other members at that Table. This is what puts the gospel in jeopardy. This is what makes the gospel unbelieved by those watching the church. For by sharing in the Lord’s Supper, we are (supposed to be) proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes (11:26).
I leave you with a quote from Rae Murray . . . and you’ll just have to join us on Sunday to get the fuller picture of what God wants us to learn around the Table . . .
“It is in the local congregation that the credibility of the gospel becomes apparent, for that is the place where a real community of men and women, of young and old, of stranger and friend, are gathered into the reconciled fellowship of the body of Christ, hear the declaration that their sins are forgiven, and feast together at the table of the Lord” (Rae Murray).
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.