The Lord’s Supper

Paul Davidson

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The Lord’s Supper

Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.”

1 Corinthians 11:17-33

There is something touching in Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians in this verse. It is the fourth time in this passage he has mentioned their coming together, and he addresses them as “brethren.” They were all part of God’s family, and he appeals to them to demonstrate their family ties by waiting for one another in eating the family meal.

To Paul, the church was God’s family and each member was a brother. He uses the intimate expression, “brother,” “brethren,” 37 times in this letter, and opens it (1:1), “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother.”

It is interesting that Paul would link the name of Sosthenes with his and call him “brother”. If you read the account of the founding of the church at Corinth in Acts 18, you will find Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, led a mob against Paul at the judgment seat of Gallio. Sosthenes, once a persecutor of the church and of Paul, now a brother. What a testimony of the power of the gospel.

It reminded Paul of his days as a persecutor of the church. Breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples, he meets Christ on the Damascus road. Three days later he finds forgiveness and acceptance as a son in God’s family as Ananias, entering the house of Judas greets him, “Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, who appeared unto thee in the way, has send me that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.”

It must have come as a surprise to Paul that God had chosen him to bear His name to the Gentiles. They were not part of his family as he was not part of their’s. He was of the stock of Abraham, of the family of Israel. He was a Jew by nature, not a Gentile sinner. But the circumstances of his conversion revealed to him, “God is no respecter of persons. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” In I Timothy 1:13, he speaks of his past, “who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy.” His conversion taught him the truth, “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.”

And it was with joy later that he writes to the Gentile Galatian Christians (Gal. 3:26-28), “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus..”

Paul came to the city of Corinth alone. Silas and Timothy had remained behind in Macedonia. Corinth was a large commercial city like the rest of the Roman Empire; a deeply fragmented society. There were the very wealthy and the very poor, the educated Greek who looked down on the uneducated barbarian. There were the free and the great mass of slaves, and there were deep religious barriers between Jew and Gentile.

Corinth was known as the sin city of the Roman Empire; its name synonymous with immorality. Its beautiful temple on the acropolis had a thousand beautiful women devoted to sensual worship.

Paul began his ministry in the Jewish Synagogue, but when Silas and Timothy rejoined him, he boldly proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah and was driven from the synagogue. He moved next door to the house of Justus Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, who believed with all his house, and God began to draw men from all walks of life, (Acts 18:8) “and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.”

Paul knew there was only one message that could change men from their sinful past and break down all barriers that divide men, so as to create a new humanity in the church. And that message was the cross! He knew if men would receive that message the Holy Spirit would come, and come He did as Paul wrote in I Cor. 12:13, “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

They came from all walks of life–Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue; Gaius, a man evidently of some means; Erastus, the treasurer of the city; but by and large, the majority came from the poor, downtrodden masses of slaves and those in the depths of sin. He reminds them in I Cor. 1:26-29, “Ye see your calling brethren, how that not many wise men . . . not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish . . . the weak . . . And base things of the world, and things which are despised,” when He called them. From I Cor. 6:9, 10, we can see something of the sinful past of many, “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God,” and in verse 11 he adds, “such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”

Born again they became new creatures in Christ Jesus. All things became new. All differences of rank, of wealth, of education, of free, of slave, of Jew or Greek disappeared, and in the baptism of love a new union was formed closer than natural family ties. Paul describes this oneness in four figures of speech (Eph. 2:13-21): in verse 16, one body; verse 18, one family; verse 19, one country; and verse 21, one building. They were one in Christ.

As on the day of Pentecost, the early church had all things in common, sharing in common meals, and closing the common meal by celebrating the Lord’s Supper, so it was in Corinth. The common meal became a demonstration of the fact that they were family–the more fortunate sharing their substance with the less fortunate at the table. They came together. They sat down together. They ate together and closed the meal celebrating the Lord’s Supper–a testimony of their oneness in Christ.

It is difficult in our age to understand what this must have meant to those coming from such pitiful backgrounds of poverty or that of a slave, a nobody who could be bought or sold at will; or coming from the depth of sin, to be accepted on equal terms as members of the same family. It gave them a sense of belonging, of self-worth. It was this sense of community, of belonging that so moved the early church that it became a living force in the midst of a wicked heathen world. In less than 300 years, 10% of the Roman Empire was Christian, and the Empire at least Christian in name.

A strong church was built in Corinth in the two to three years Paul and his companions ministered there. They met in house churches in the city and surrounding area.

Paul left Corinth to begin a lengthy, fruitful ministry in Ephesus and the province of Asia. House churches sprang up everywhere: (Acts 19:10), “all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.”

Back in Corinth, the church was growing. Outstanding ministers, as Apollos, were visiting the church. But something else was happening as well. Some from the house of Chloe, visiting Paul at Ephesus, shared with him the problems of their church in Corinth. There was division among them, some saying, “I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.” One of the brothers in the church was living incestuously with his father’s wife, and the church in its pride was not dealing with it. Saints were suing saints in heathen law courts. Some were even returning to idol temples to share in heathen feasts; to eat meat, part of which was offered to idols. And as our text and passage suggest, there were disorders and disunity at the Lord’s table.

One can only wonder how a church that had so marvelous a beginning and had such outstanding ministers could have so many problems in its midst. Why did it happen; what were the answers to the problems? Are there any lessons in it for us today?

Strangely enough, the problem of divisions over men–one saying, “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos,” etc.–was a problem of pride. In I Cor. 4:6 he writes, “these things, brethren I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.” And he warns them in 3:21, “Let no man glory in men..”

What was the problem in chapter 5–the incestuous man? Pride had blinded their minds from the awful sin in their midst. (5:1), “It is commonly reported there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up.” What was the problem in chapter 6–of saints suing saints in heathen law courts? Certainly it was greed. (6:8), “Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud . . . your brethren.” What was the problem in chapters 8-10–eating meats, part of which was sacrificed to idols in a heathen temple? Lust. In 10:6 Paul warns them we should not lust after evil things. What was the problem in chapter 11:17-34–of some not willing to wait or share at the common meal? Selfishness, pride.

The church at Corinth was once a wonderful testimony of God’s love and concern for all in a deeply fragmented society, as the wealthy and very poor, Greek and barbarian, bond and free, Jew and Gentile sat at the same table and ate together, closing the common meal by celebrating the Lord’s supper as a testimony of their oneness.

What happened to their love for one another, and to their unity?

They had all received the message of the Cross–Christ died for their sins. They believed and were forgiven. They had accepted the message of the Cross. “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Gal. 5:24), and they had testified to this fact in water baptism. And by one Spirit they had all been baptized into one body as each was filled with the Holy Ghost. (I Cor. 12:13)

What went wrong? Paul puts his finger on the problem in I Cor. 3:3, “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” Four times in 3:1-4, Paul speaks of their being carnal–carnal, sarx–the earthly nature of man apart from divine influence, and therefore prone to sin. Opposed to God.

As they moved away from the Cross pride and materialism began once again to fill their hearts. (4:6), “That no one of you be puffed up for one against another.” (4:8) “Now ye are full, now ye are rich.”

When they moved away from the Cross, they lost the sense of the sinfulness of sin. A man called a brother was living in incest with his father’s wife (5:2), “And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned.”

When they moved away from the Cross their hearts became hard and calloused toward their brethren, even to seeking to defraud them in heathen law courts.

When they moved away from the Cross fleshly lusts once again became the controlling passion, leading them back to the heathen temple to share in meals offered to idols, and food sacrificed to devils.

When they moved away from the Cross, they lost the sense that all distinctions were obliterated in the Cross. It was there they were united, and forgetting this, selfishness and pride took over, resulting in divisions and disorders at the Lord’s table.

When men forget the message of the Cross, fail to take it up daily, they become carnal and walk as men. Their viewpoint becomes that of the flesh. (Romans 8:5), “They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh.” And when the mind is set on the flesh, envying and strife and divisions result. And James adds in 3:14-16, “If ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” Note the order–earthly, sensual, devilish.

Paul uses the same terminology, though not in the same order, in Eph. 2:2,3 (R.S.V.), “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air . . . following the desires of body and mind.” And John adds (I Jn. 2:16), “All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” What a statement, “All that is in the world!” You can sum it up in two words–“lust” and “pride.” It was the controlling passion in Noah’s day. (Gen. 6:12), “All flesh had corrupted his way,” in Paul’s day, as in our own day!

Note the expression in James, “earthly,” or in John, “worldly”–how does it affect us, control us, corrupt us? Peter in his second epistle writes (1:4), “the corruption that is in the world through lust.” Then the term “sensual” which Webster defines as “preoccupied with bodily or sexual pleasures, lustful, licentious, lewd.” That pretty well describes the world in Noah’s day, in Paul’s day, and in our day.

Paul deals with the problem as he opens the letter. (I Cor. 1:2), “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.”

Take the word “church,” (Greek, ecclessia)–“called out”; the word “sanctify” (Greek, hagiadzo) — “separated from all that is profane, to consecrate to God”; the word “saints” (Greek, hagios) — “separate ones.” Though they lived in Corinth, they were the “called out” ones. The Cross and the Spirit “separated” them from all that was “profane” so as “to consecrate to God.” They were saints by call to live separate!

Nine times in the first nine verses Paul mentions the name, Lord Jesus Christ, and in verse 10 pleads for unity on the basis of that name, “I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

There are three things Paul pleads for in this verse: (1) “That ye all speak the same thing.” They weren’t. (1:12), “Every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.” (2) “That there be no divisions among you.” There were divisions. (3:3), “There is among you envying, and strife, and divisions.” (3) “That ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

Look closely at that last statement, for unity of action depends on unity of thought. Note the expression, “perfectly joined together.” The Greek word katartidzo is used for mending torn nets, setting broken bones. Thayer’s Lexicon defines it as “restoring to harmony.” Note the word “judgment.” The Greek word gnome means “opinion, judgment, view.” Godet comments on this word as “the manner in which we form an opinion.”

Paul reminds them in 2:16, “We have the mind of Christ,” and if this were true of them, why were they so divided in their opinions and judgments when they should have been united? They could have, and should have. What went wrong?

In chapter 3:1-3, Paul places his finger on the problem, “I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal;” (verse 3) “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?”

No longer were they forming their opinions, making their judgments from the spiritual point of view, but were now forming them from the carnal, the fleshly point of view. And when they did, it was from the worldly point of view, inspired by Satan himself.

James puts it so clearly in 3:14-16, “earthly, sensual, devilish.” What was the result of using the world’s wisdom in deciding questions? James adds, “for where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” When the Corinthian church forgot the message of the Cross and turned away from the spiritual point of view to the carnal, envying, strife and divisions resulted, and with it “confusion and every evil work.”

There are so many similarities between the Corinthian church and ours today. Confusion marked theirs, confusion marks ours.

It was in the year 1934 I entered Central Bible Institute, in Springfield, Missouri. C.B.I. was at that time our headquarter’s school. Students came from all over the U.S.A. My church background was an independent Pentecostal church. But the thing that impressed me then, and now, was the sense of unity on what we believed and the way we should live. They came from large churches, small churches, and independent churches. There was a deep sense of agreement on avoiding things of the world. It affected our life- style, even the way we dressed.

There was a deep commitment to Christ, a deep sense of separation from the world. Smile if you will, but that was the way it was–no movies, or worldly amusements. The rules were strict. We had little trouble obeying them.

One could not help but being impressed with the simple lifestyle of our leaders. You would have smiled if you could have seen the home our General Superintendent E. S. Williams lived in–hardly in the middle class income, a small simple home in a very ordinary neighborhood. The clothes our leaders wore, the cars they drove, reflected a very simple life style.

Prosperity was affecting the Corinthian church. Paul chides them in I Cor 4:8, “Now ye are full, now ye are rich,” and then states his own condition in 4:11, “Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst . . . and have no certain dwelling place; and labor, working with our own hands.” Remember, Paul was writing from Ephesus in the midst of one of the great spiritual awakenings. All Asia heard the Word. Among his friends were Asiaarchs, some of Asia’s most influential and wealthy men.

Why the contrast between the materially minded Corinthians and Paul? It all depends on your point of view; from what you make your opinions, and from what you form your judgments. Material prosperity has come to the Pentecostal denominations. Numbers of our ministers have salaries in the many thousands of dollars and have a rich lifestyle. Others barely make a living. We have seen the extravagance of Jim and Tammy Bakker. More recently, reported the newspaper in Fullerton, California, popular radio minister Charles Swindoll is building a two million dollar home. This causes confusion when we watch the deep differences in life styles.

Once we all spoke the same thing – one message: Christ Crucified, Savior, Baptizer, Healer, Soon Coming King. Now we have Prosperity Teaching, Hyper Faith, Manifest Sons of God, Kingdom Now, Dominion Teaching, and Post Tribulation. The result is confusion!

Once united around the person of Jesus Christ, there was a deep disparagement of looking to men as authorities. (O.E. Nash, one of early Pentecost’s greats, shared with me in deep passion, “Paul, Jesus said in Matthew 23:8, 9, ‘Ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.’ Paul, when men began to look to Donald Gee as an authority on spiritual gifts, God put him on the shelf. When men began to look to Smith Wigglesworth as an authority on faith, he became seriously ill, not even able to pray the prayer of faith for himself. Christ, the Holy Ghost, are our only authority.”)

Today so many names crowd the scene–Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, and Bob Tilton. And God has recently allowed the tragic failures of Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and the large mistakes of Oral Roberts to let us know we are not to glory in men, but only in Christ. Isaiah cries in his day (2:22), “Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?”

Why this division over standards, over lifestyles, and over human personalities in today’s church? Is it because, like the Corinthian church, we have moved away from the message of the Cross and become carnal?

The Cross was the message of early Pentecost. They preached it, sang it, lived it, and gloried in it. It was the new viewpoint from which they formed their opinions, and made their judgments. That message brought about a strong sense of family, of sharing, and of caring. The monthly fellowship meetings among our churches were eagerly looked forward to because, as we accepted the message of the Cross, we were baptized into one body, and felt a powerful bond in the Spirit.

Some of you may raise your eyebrows when I mention the monthly fellowship meetings. We no longer have them. As a pioneer preacher, I would take the last money I had, put it into buying gas for an old Model A, load the car, and drive halfway across the state so the folks from our little Assembly could share in fellowship. We had wonderful times together.

It is no longer with us. As the carnal spirit takes over, the sense of family dies, whether in a single family or the church. And with the carnal spirit comes envying, strife, and division. As a church, we have more than the usual church problems. My nephew by marriage, Bob Crabtree, our District Superintendent of Ohio, recently said to me, “Uncle Paul, my phone is ringing off the hook. Pastors will wait on the long distance lines for ten to fifteen minutes just to get a chance to talk with me.”

And James warns (3:16), “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” In Josh McDowell’s recent survey of evangelical churched youth, 36% were not able to state that sexual intercourse before marriage was unacceptable, and 43% by the age of 18 had already engaged in sexual intercourse; 69% had watched “R” rated movies during the last six months. The carnal spirit that has invaded the church has brought confusion to our precious youth, and with it “every evil work.”

What was Paul’s hope of establishing a church in sinful Corinth? One message–the message of the Cross. What was his only hope to save that church, torn as it was with division, sin and disorder? It was the message of the Cross. He reminds them in I Cor. 1:18, “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” And in 2:2, “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” It was the only message that could save them from the depths of their sin. It was the only message that could restore and keep them from sin. And he will share that message with them.

In 10:16, 17, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion (participation) of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion (participation) of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.”

And then in chapter 11 he brings them face to face with the message of the Cross in the most positive and practical manner in the Lord’s Supper, the family meal. (v. 26), “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death”–not by a ritual, but by your life as you share His death.

Later Paul shares his master passion. (2 Corinthians 5:14-17), For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that . . . they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. Note the word henceforth repeated three times. It is the new viewpoint. The Cross that makes everything new!

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