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First Corinthians 11--The Lord's Supper

Jun 09, 2017

Paul acknowledged that factions existed in the church and then said in 1 Corinthians 11:20,

20 Therefore, when you meet together, it is NOT to eat the Lord’s Supper…

In other words, the spirit of denominationalism was negating their Communion itself. Paul was not denying the fact that they were partaking of Communion, but that it had turned into just another meal. Its purpose was to have fellowship with Christ—the honored Guest—but instead, church leaders were the honored guests, because they were the real heads of the church.

Such is the effect of “divisions” and “factions,” which today we call “denominations.” So let us see how Paul deals with it. 1 Corinthians 11:21, 22 continues,

21 for in your eating [Communion], each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God, and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.

Communion meals in those days were fellowship meals, known as a “love feasts,” (Jude 1:12) where all brought what they could to the table. The rich brought more, and the poor might bring very little—or even nothing. But all had an equal share, because all had a right to fellowship with Jesus, the honored Guest.

It appears, however, that Chloe had reported in her letter that some were hoarding their own food, rather than sharing it as a potluck meal. The result was that the poor remained hungry, while others were “drunk,” or excessively fed with food and wine. It appears that Paul saw this physical situation as evidence of a spiritual problem. It was no longer a love feast, but just another meal, no different from eating at home.

In other words, Jesus was not being honored here, for in the last supper, Jesus showed His love by speaking of His impending death on their behalf. Jesus told them in John 15:12, 13,

12 This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

Hence, Communion without love destroys the purpose for the fellowship and does not honor Jesus. Such Communion is selfish and honors men, rather than Jesus. It shows submission to men, rather than submission to Jesus Himself.

Betrayal in Communion

Paul then says in 1 Corinthians 11:23,

23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus, in the night in which He was betrayed, took bread…

The Communion meal was a Remembrance Meal in honor of Jesus. Paul’s emphasis on Christ’s betrayal links Judas to the spirit of division in the church. Recall that those who divided the body into factions, each following and submitting to its own leader, were disqualified as overcomers. When Communion was no longer a love feast, but was based on the principle of “every man for himself,” those who manifests such behavior were also in danger of being disqualified as overcomers. Moreso, they were following the pattern of Judas, the betrayer.

Judas was disqualified. Paul uses the term “unworthy.” Judas participated in the first part of the last supper, and Jesus even washed his feet (John 13:2, 5). Only later did Judas leave to betray Him (John 13:29, 30). Though Jesus saved most of His final instructions for the eleven remaining disciples, Judas had to participate—at least partially—in the last supper. The prophecy given in Psalm 41:9 said,

9 Even my close friend, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.

Jesus quoted this loosely in relation to Judas in John 13:18, saying,

18 I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen, but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, “He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.”

So Jesus gave Judas the morsel of bread after dipping it in the wine, and this was the sign by which Judas was exposed—though only to one disciple at that time (John 13:26).

No doubt this account was well known in the early church, and it is well known even today. But few seem to understand that to partake of Communion unworthily is to be a Judas. This is a serious matter that should make every participant pause and “examine himself,” as Paul recommends in 1 Corinthians 11:28. The examination is not merely for the purpose of confessing sin in general, or even in resolving disputes between the participants before eating and drinking. It is, in a broader sense, to be sure that we are not betraying Christ by following the example of Judas.

I have written much about Judas and the Judas Factor in other studies. These are too long to include here, but one should understand that Judas fulfilled the role of Ahithophel, who betrayed David in the Absalom revolt. Ahithophel was David’s “close friend” (Psalm 41:9) who betrayed him. Ahithophel later hanged himself (2 Samuel 17:23 KJV), as did Judas (Matthew 27:5). In that betrayal, David was a type of Christ, and Absalom’s role was played by the chief priests who usurped His throne in Jerusalem.

Afterward, however, other disciples of Christ have followed the pattern of Ahithophel and Judas. They have followed other leaders, such as Absalom. In the early church, many of Jesus’ disciples have followed men, rather than Christ. This was Paul’s immediate concern, for the spirit of denominationalism, faction, and division, is inherently a Judas factor based on the original pattern of Ahithophel, who betrayed David.

We see, then, the reason why Paul made such a big deal of this in his letter to the church. He did not question their position as believers, for even Judas was a believer. He was among the disciples who performed miracles (Luke 9:1, 2, 6). In fact, enemies may kill, but only friends can betray. The danger in submitting to men may not be evident at first, but if left unchecked, it can lead to disaster when the root bears fruit at the end of the age.

The Body and Blood of Christ

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:24, 25,

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 He took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

The bread was not literally the body of Christ, nor was the wine literally His blood. Christ was speaking legally here. In the divine court, we have the right to declare that bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ, and the court treats these as legally His body and blood.

The same principle is seen in when we ourselves appear before the court and are asked to identify ourselves. If we claim to be sons of Adam, Israel, our earthly parents, or any other children of the flesh, then we are treated according to our confession. However, if we apprehend a new identity in Christ, wherein we are begotten by the Spirit through the incorruptible and immortal seed of the word/gospel, then we are legally new creatures. The court takes our word for it, because we have the right to claim either identity, depending on where our faith lies.

In the case of Communion, Jesus declared that the bread and wine was His body and blood, so the law of God recognizes it to be so and treats it as if it were literally so. Such legal declarations are known in Scripture by the principle of imputation. The Greek word is logizomai, which is rendered “impute, reckon, or count” in Romans 4 (KJV). The word is defined in Romans 4:17 KJV, where Paul gives the example of God’s promise to Abraham. God said, “I have made you a father of many nations,” even though Abraham had no children at all. Yet He “calleth those things which be not as though they were.”

Paul goes on to relate this to our own faith, by which God imputes righteousness to us (Romans 4:22, 23, 24), again calling what is not as though it were. We are not literally righteous, but because the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to us, we are recognized by the law in the divine court as being righteous.

So also by the same principle, the bread and wine are imputed to be the body and blood of Christ. Every Communion, then, where we declare before God that these elements are the body and blood of Christ, is based upon the same law of legal imputation. The physical chemistry of the bread and wine remain unchanged, but the law sees it in a different light.

Further, even as Moses sprinkled the blood of the (old) covenant upon the altar (Exodus 24:6) and upon the people in Exodus 24:8, so also by Communion is the blood of the New Covenant sprinkled the altar of our hearts. Moses was the mediator of the Old Covenant, but Jesus is the Mediator of the New Covenant. Hence, Moses sprinkled the blood of animals, but Jesus sprinkled His own blood upon us in a greater covenant.

Paul concludes in 1 Corinthians 11:26,

26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

Partaking of Communion is not an act of killing or sacrificing Him again and again. It is a proclamation to remember His death until He comes again. Hebrews 10:10 says,

10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

The next verse explains it. Under the Old Covenant, the priest had to perform offerings daily, again and again, for many centuries. But under the New Covenant, the Melchizedek priests have just one final Sacrifice, which is remembered daily.


This is part 56 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in First Corinthians


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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones