1 Corinthians 11:17–34 (NKJV)
17 Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. 20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? 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 do not praise you.1 Corinthians 11:17-22
The first thing Paul addresses in this passage concerning the Lord’s Supper is etiquette and consideration. Some gather in groups and monopolize the food. Others, who may be in another group or no group at all, are left out, and do not partake of the Lord’s Supper. Some speculate as to whether this is concerning the love feasts or actually the partaking of communion. Either way, some groups feel as though they have priority or privilege, and it smacks of arrogance and prejudice. Paul basically tells them to eat at home before they come to sate their appetite, and then share equally with others when they are together. Don’t be greedy or gluttonous. Instead, consider others before yourself. The former is sinful, The latter is praiseworthy.
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”1 Corinthians 11:23-26
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.
Paul then moves into a rehearsal of the story of the Last Supper during the week of Christ’s passion. He describes the process that unfolded that night: taking bread, giving thanks, breaking bread, telling His disciples to eat, and explaining the rationale of remembrance. Jesus then took the cup, described its rationale, and then instructing to drink. Jesus finally instructed that taking the bread and the cup was proclaiming the Lord’s death leading up to His coming again.
27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.1 Corinthians 11:27-34
33 Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.
The final passage of this pericope explains the consequences and the solution for unworthy taking of the Lord’s Supper. Paul explains that many have taken the Supper unworthily, in greed or selfishness. This requires that one examine himself or herself in order to partake in a worthy manner. This will help one have the proper motivation and etiquette for partaking of communion. The consequences are that many are judged when they partake in an unworthy manner, and are weak and sick due to their lack of respect for the Lord and for others.
While this could be interpreted as God’s unlikely judging through a plague or as Paul using scare tactics, it was an actual reality in the days of Paul. He even says that death has come to some. However, rather than interpreting this as a direct punishment of God, I lean toward an interpretation that sin in general precludes the blessings and protections of God, thus making man or woman more vulnerable to the weaknesses that come from living in a fallen world. Walking with God in obedience always leads to a happier, whole life. Therefore, this–or any other type of sinful behavior–can bring one under judgment, which leads to weakness, sickness, and death. Therefore, take care for one another, selflessly, and wait for one another, for this is the will of God. Living in the will of God brings blessings, health, and wholeness. The principle is broad, but the application is specific here as God is describing the Lord’s Supper. Treat this act with dignity and respect for God and others. It is, after all, the Lord’s Supper.
Artwork from https://www.faithgateway.com/tag/1-corinthians-1126/