1 Corinthians 11:27-34 (“If Anyone Is Hungry”)

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(1Co 11:27-28 ESV) 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

(lyrics below)

This is one of the several most horribly misused verses in all of scripture. Which says a lot. Context! Context! Context!

When I was a kid and for long afterwards, some very foolish preachers taught that this means you damn yourself if you take the Lord’s supper when someone is holding a grudge against you. Meaning, of course, that Jesus damned himself when he took the Last Supper because nearly the entire Sanhedrin wanted him dead!

I know people who skipped Holy Communion for decades because they were unable to obtain the forgiveness of some mean-spirited relative or former friend. What a foolish, cruel, ignorant teaching! Do not repeat this lie. Do not let this lie be spoken in your presence without correction. Do not participate in the works of Satan!

(Clear?)

No one is worthy to take communion, save Jesus Christ himself. But by grace we are invited to his table, and by grace we may receive what he offers.

“Unworthy manner” refers to being unloving toward your fellow church members in the way you take communion.

The reference to participating in the Lord’s supper in an unworthy manner must be understood in light of the context, where the Corinthians were practicing the supper in a way that humiliated other members of Christ’s body. To eat and drink in an unworthy manner is to eat and drink in a way that demeans, humiliates or disrespects other members of Christ’s community.  To worship Christ in a way that shows disrespect towards those who are have been “united with the Lord,” have become “one with him in spirit” (6:17), and who share or participate in his body and blood (10:16) is to sin not just against them but also against the covenant reaffirmed in the meal, against the Lord of the meal and of those brothers and sisters in Christ.

Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 554-555.

(1Co 11:29 ESV)  29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

“Body” here surely has a double meaning, both the literal body of Christ sacrificed for us and the body represented by God’s people present at the table of the Lord.

If we humiliate and insult our brothers and sisters at communion, we obviously didn’t learn the lesson of self-giving and sacrifice that we should have learned from Jesus’ example. The body of Christ is not merely for our atonement. It was also given to form us into the body of Christ — a body of people who, like his literal body, has been crucified in sacrifice for others.

The behavior of the Corinthians was a particularly black sin because they violated the message of the cross in a particularly direct and severe way.

(1Co 11:30 ESV)  30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

This is a tough one because it runs so contrary to our modern conception of health and medicine.

Spiritual ills may have physical results. The ill health and even the deaths of some of the Corinthians had spiritual causes. Some see the results of excessive drinking (v. 21), but Paul seems not to be referring to the ‘natural’ results of excesses, but to the chastening hand of the Lord (v. 32). He does not say that all illness comes about in this way; there are other causes. But this is a real one, and it took place even though some of the Corinthians had ‘gifts of healing’ (12:9, 28).

Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale NTC 7; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 160.

There is no reason to imagine that God has given up this method of discipline. And I’ve heard stories from close friends who believe they’ve seen God take lives and health to deal with sin in a given a church — and I see no reason to doubt what they’ve seen. (This one should drive us all to our knees.)

(1Co 11:31-32 ESV) 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.  32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. 

So we have a choice. Judge ourselves and so avoid God’s judgment; or do as we please and let God mete out the punishment.

Those who object to church discipline, even when done under wise and loving leaders, should consider the alternative carefully.

(1Co 11:33-34 ESV)  33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another — 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home — so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come. 

Again — quite plainly — Paul does not condemn eating a meal together, in a house, in a building, or anywhere else. He condemns refusing to wait for each other. He condemns being jerks. He condemns failure to eat a common meal in common.

“If anyone is hungry” does not mean “eat all meals at your own home.” It means, “If you’re too hungry to wait, eat enough at home so that you can wait on your brothers and sisters and eat together.”

By having something to eat before the meeting they will not be tempted to go ahead and start the meeting early (before all have arrived) in order to assuage their hunger. The idea is not that they would not eat anything at the church meeting, but that their participation in the meal which included the Lord’s Supper would be focused on the significance of the meal itself and the fellowship with other members of the community and not on satisfying one’s own natural hunger.

Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 559.
___________________________

Matt Redman, Communion Song

[Verse 1]
Oh, how could it be
That my god would welcome me
into this mystery?
Say ‘eat this bread, take this wine’
Now the simple made divine
for any to receive

[Verse 2]
See his body, his blood-
Know that he has overcome
Every tril we will face
None to lost to be saved
None too broken or ashamed
All are welcome in this place.

[Bridge]
By your mercy, we come to your table,
By Your grace you are making us faithful

[Chorus]
Lord, we remem-ber You,
And remembrance leads us to worship
And as we wor-ship You,
Our worship leads to communion
We respond to your invitation;
We remem-ber you

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in 1 Corinthians, 1 Corinthians, Communion Meditations, Lord's Supper, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to 1 Corinthians 11:27-34 (“If Anyone Is Hungry”)

  1. George Guild says:

    Amen Jay. Wait for one another, then eat. Meat was not eaten in the ancient world the way it is consumed today in American. I personally have a preference for meat at most meals.

    These Love feast may possibly have been the most nutritious meals the lower class Christians ate all week. This may have been a time when meat was provided by a wealth host. So to eat up all the food, especially all the meat, left little or nothing for the poor Christian. This would not show Love at all.

    This Love feast would be like being invited to a birthday party every week. But when you show up all the cake, ice cream and punch have been devoured. Week after week this happens, but this was not always so. You begin to wonder if your presence is really welcome. These times of gatherings are now something for the elites.

  2. Ray Downen says:

    It’s good that we recognize the early church never had a ceremony such as we do today and call “the Lord’s SUPPER.” They had a meal together, which was in truth a supper. Since the time they could assemble was NOT in the morning or afternoon, but was in the evening, it was a supper. And we would call it a “pot luck” shared supper, with those who could do so bringing food for all. It seems odd that we would call the ritual we now have a supper! Why do we never (or rarely) have a real Lord’s Supper? Why do we suppose Jesus is pleased by our taking a bit of bread and a sip of grape juice and call it a meal to honor Him? When we do share a meal as a church family, do we honor Jesus DURING the meal by the bread and wine served?

  3. John says:

    Being that sitting in a pew is as far as people can get from fellowship at a table, churches will have to find other ways to “wait for one another”. I believe the best way, one in which the Church of Christ is already practicing well, is encouraging ALL who are willing to participate in the communion devotional; seeing more women involved would be a great step forward.

    But the one thing churches could do better is be less judgmental of a person’s dress when participating. They will have to get used to tatooed arms, even necks and faces, blue or orange hair, second hand store “Delta Dawn” outfits, even clothes that smell. And don’t be too quick to go out and buy someone a new suite of clothes. While it makes the giver feel good, it sometimes backfires.

    Believe me, I am one who sometimes wishes that this casual dress thing would see its final day. But I have to remind myself that God did not choose me to outfit the saints, and that the person close to me who seems to need a bath and a change of clothes just may be the person Christ is using to change the world today.

  4. “When I was a kid and for long afterwards, some very foolish preachers taught that this means you damn yourself if you take the Lord’s supper when someone is holding a grudge against you.”

    I have never heard that in 56 years and I have head some very foolish preachers.

  5. R.J. says:

    Could 1 Corinthians 11:32 imply that those smitten by God(in bible times) might not suffer the second death(be condemned with the world)? Or is Paul merely talking about the surviving Corinthians?

  6. Jay Guin says:

    RJ asked,

    Could 1 Corinthians 11:32 imply that those smitten by God(in bible times) might not suffer the second death(be condemned with the world)? Or is Paul merely talking about the surviving Corinthians?

    (1Co 11:32 ESV) 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

    Hard to say. God could certainly take a life without damning.

    But I wouldn’t try to read the language as necessarily directed at that question. That is, his point is that discipline is painful but ultimately for our own good. I don’t think he’s intending to answer regarding the eternal fate of those who die or become ill.

  7. If I could paint a smaller picture of the Lord’s Supper, I would compare it to a large family’s dinner table. We come together when dinner is ready, and we share it together. Once the initial rustling of serving is past, the talk begins. Everyone is allowed to speak up, from the eldest to the youngest. We are not as careful about listening as we might be with Roberts Rules of Order, but we love one another to listen pretty well, whether little Betsy is telling us about the neighbor’s new puppy or Granddad is sharing his concerns about the nation. If it gets too boisterous, some adult will offer a “shush” sufficient to keep the lid on the conversational volume, so we can all listen to each other. The meal calls us together, and our fellowship and interaction spring from that. We can leave when we like. The kids may ask to be excused first, others a few minutes later, while a couple of other conversations may last through the coffee getting cold. No one has to be appointed to talk, nor is anyone excluded from the discourse.

    In today’s church service, the day and time call us together, because we are supposed to go to church on Sunday morning. Once we enter the auditorium (literally “a place for hearing”), hardly interact beyond friendly greetings. A few minutes are spent singing, because tradition calls for it, and very few moments are spent in prayer, again, mainly because this is supposed to be a part of our meeting. Then, the bulk of the meeting is spent listening to one person lecture about the Bible. At some point, we participate silently in a vestigial form of a meal to remember the sacrifice of Jesus. We try to ignore one another during this eight-minute observance so as to “discern the body”. The whole meeting seldom lasts over an hour, and we all bolt as soon as we are excused.

    What if these large declamatory gatherings became the less-frequent occurrences and the family table became the more-frequent occurrences in the local church? The large meeting could be better focused on some celebratory purpose or some word from God, instead of the focus being regularity in schedule. The smaller gatherings could be as diverse in style and content as the believers who are involved. Perhaps these gatherings could be by invitation (like a party is) rather than by a required date on the calendar. Regular schedules mainly serve the purpose of commanding the participation of people who don’t really want to be somewhere, and might eschew the meeting if it were not a cultural expectation.

  8. Dwight says:

    Unfortunatyely if you get rid of one thing it often means getting rid of the other as they are seen as package deals by most. To have a table that everyone gathers around would lend more towards the home, which would mean not needing the building for that. And many, especially in the conservative groups, would balk at a eating table in the building, as they don’t even like kitchens or fellowship halls, even though that is what the foyer or lobby really is. To change one thing and then another would be to change more than what many people would be comfortable with. Most of those who believe they are the exact replica of the early church will not admit that they can do anything different, even when they are clearly not the same as the early church in many ways.

  9. I’ve never understood why modern versions don’t make it clear that the main verb in verse 29 and the main verb in verse 31 are identical. Really makes the meaning of that paragraph pretty plain. If we “discern” the body we will not be judged. If we do not “discern” ourselves, we will be judged.

    To me, it really helps to see that “body” and “ourselves” are parallel. If we don’t discern/recognize the body, we will be judged. That seems to exclude what is so often practiced: closing eyes and ignoring everyone else around you.

  10. Dwight says:

    Yes, it is clear that it is not about us, but about the body which includes us and others on equal terms of fellowship in Christ and with Christ. For some reason we shelve the Lord’s Supper in the sphere of worship and although it does have a worship element in the giving of thanks, it is largely about sharing and partaking with the one who died for us with those who are saints.

  11. Jay Guin says:

    Tim,

    Thanks. That’s an excellent point. The NIV is a translation that gets it right:

    (1Co 11:29-31 NIV) 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment.

    “Discerning” is a better translation than “judging.” We aren’t the judge the body or ourselves so much as to determine or distinguish whether we are engaging in the LS for its intended purposes.

  12. I’ve got the older NIV which doesn’t have that translation in 31. Glad to see they’ve improved it.

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