Studies in First Corinthians – XVII
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
In this later portion of the eleventh chapter, Paul is correcting the Corinthians for abusing the Lord’s table (the taking of communion). In doing so, he teaches them the purpose and proper observance of communion.
First of all, communion is a remembrance of the past.
“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me” (11:23-25).
We take communion to remember the death of Jesus Christ for our sins. The One who gave His life at Calvary is asking that we remember His death and put it at the center of our Christian experience. He who loved us unto death is calling us from busyness and barrenness to wait upon Him and worship Him. He is pointing us back to the heart of the Gospel: the cross.
Paul is sure to bring out the important fact that when Jesus took bread, the symbol of His soon-to-be broken body, and gave it to the disciples, He did not complain. He gave thanks! At the moment when all of the powers of sin and evil were against Him, just before He endured the anguish of Gethsemane alone while disciples slept through the night, just before they hung Him on a tree, He gave thanks! How? Because it was His delight to do the will of the Father.
Taking communion is not only a remembrance, it is a proclamation.
“For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (11:26).
The Greek word for “shew” means to proclaim, declare, or preach. Even if you are not a preacher, you preach a sermon when you take communion. You are preaching to the powers of darkness, proclaiming the Lord’s death which has conquered them. You are also declaring a witness to the Lord that you trust His atoning work.
As much as communion is a remembrance, it is also hope for the future.
“…ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (11:26b).
The Word of God emphasizes the hope of every child of God: any moment, and day, the clouds may part and Jesus Christ may come again! We will only partake of the Lord’s supper until that day we have been waiting for comes: the day He returns to take us home.
Finally, communion is a time of self-examination.
“Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (11:27-29).
Notice he doesn’t say “if we are unworthy.” None of us is worthy to eat or drink the Lord’s supper. He says, “whosoever shall [eat and drink] unworthily.” How do we eat and drink unworthily? If we come to His table without examining ourselves.
Paul is warning us that if we keep coming to the Lord’s table without examining ourselves and repenting of our sins, there is going to come a day when God will judge and punish us. He does not keep anyone from coming to the table, but He gives us a warning that should cause us to come in humility and repentance.