(1Co 11:22 ESV) 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
One possible interpretation is that Paul considers it wrong for the church to eat a common meal together. He can’t be saying that it’s wrong to eat in the building or to have a kitchen in the building since the church met in private homes — where people ate and had kitchens.
After all, since the church was not licensed by the Roman government, it could not own property or build its own buildings. In some communities, a friendly synagogue or Grecian official might allow the church to occasionally borrow a facility to gather as a whole, but routine, weekly meetings had to be in a house.
And it’s extremely unlikely that Paul was opposed to common meals. The earliest New Testament book written is either 1 Corinthians or 1 Thessalonians, and we read of the love feast in much later books, such as Jude 12. And a common meal was a mark of hospitality, a vital mark of the church.
Therefore, Paul’s point has to be that they shouldn’t come to church so hungry that they can’t wait on others to eat.
Paul’s language, however, suggests that the physical structure of someone’s home needed to be reconceptualized as church-meeting space, “sacred space,” when it was serving as the meeting place of the local Christian community.
Christians who participate in the Lord’s Supper might eat and drink but they are not merely eating and drinking as they do so and they must not act as they might in other mundane contexts of eating and drinking. They are, as they are about to be reminded again, gathered in remembrance of their Lord and to proclaim his death until he returns.
If they want to have a drink or a meal on their own terms they must wait until they are in the privacy of their own homes or in the home of a friend. They are not free to do so when gathered as the church of God, even if that happens to take place in what serves at other times as their own home.
Of course they are to represent and incarnate the presence and attitude of Christ at home as well as in other contexts, so that the behavior Paul is criticizing would not be acceptable even at other times, but it is all the more reprehensible when done in the context of the gathered church.
Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 546-547.
In the Churches of Christ, there are churches that take the position that this passage condemns eating in the church building or having a kitchen in the building. Churches dispute over the rightness of having a fellowship hall, whether a fellowship hall may be part of a church building, and so on and on and on.
The entire dispute ignores the well-established historical fact that the early church met in houses, not in church buildings. The scriptures say not a word about what is or isn’t proper in a church building because there were no such buildings — not until Emperor Constantine in the Fourth Century — 300 years later.
Paul’s point is not that it’s wrong to eat together in a particular place, but that it’s wrong to be rude to each other — especially in worship but not only in worship.
(1Co 11:23-24 ESV) 23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 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.”
Paul now changes the subject in two ways — or so it would appear to us. He begins to speak of the Lord’s Supper, but to us, he’s been speaking of the love feast. Clearly, the church had combined the two.
Second, he goes from expressing his disappointment to teaching how the Lord’s Supper is to be conducted.
“I received from the Lord” either means that he heard it indirectly from the Lord via his apostles (since he wasn’t present at the institution of the Lord’s Supper) or that he had had a special revelation. Either is possible, and the distinction isn’t all that important.
“Delivered to you” in the Greek bespeaks great seriousness. The “received … delivered” pairing is the language of rabbis quoting authoritative teaching. He is laying down the law.
He is deliberately using somber, sober terms, referring to the betrayal of Jesus and his broken body to remind his readers of the seriousness of this matter. We are not to treat this sacrament as a trifle, much less an excuse to sin against our brothers and sisters!
(1Co 11:25 ESV) 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
This is a text filled with double meaning. The “new covenant” is a reference to the promise of Jeremiah regarding the end of the exile of the Jews:
(Jer 31:31-34 ESV) 31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
This passage permeates the New Testament. Indeed, we get “New Testament” as an archaic translation of “new covenant.” Jesus announced at the Last Supper that Jeremiah’s new covenant was coming true. The Spirit would come and write God’s laws on the hearts and minds of his people, a promise going back to Deuteronomy 30:6 and repeated by the prophets.
And the phrase “covenant in my blood” hearkens back to Exodus 24, when God entered into a blood covenant with Israel. After God gave Israel the Ten Commandments and many other commands of the Law of Moses, sacrifices were made and all of Israel promised to keep God’s law. And then —
(Exo 24:8-11 ESV) 8 And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11 And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.
The leaders of people ate a meal with God! And the Twelve Apostles, representing the Twelve Tribe, ate a meal with Jesus at which a new covenant was sealed — with the symbolic blood and flesh of Jesus, which would soon be realized in the very real blood and flesh of Jesus.
Jesus was recalling these events and sealing the new covenant in a similar way — putting himself in the place of God and also in the place of the sacrifices made to God.
Therefore, when we take the bread and the cup, we emulate these events, not only the Last Supper, but also the swearing to God that we will obey his commands, as Israel did in Exodus 24, and eating with God in affirmation of our promises. In a very real sense, taking the Lord’s Supper is a recommitment and re-affirmation of our end of the covenant — as well as a celebration of the relationship we have in God because of the covenant and the sacrifice that sealed it 2,000 years ago.
“Remembrance of me” uses an usual word found in Lev. 24:7 and Num 10:10 regarding the showbread and sacrifices as reminders of God’s covenant — a reminder of God’s faithfulness to his covenant as well as a reminder to be faithful to God.
Hence, Jesus is saying to take these elements to remember God’s faithfulness to promises make long before his crucifixion that God does not forget or fail to honor his promises — as the crucifixion proves beyond doubt — and that we must remember that we are in covenant with God, sealed by the blood of Jesus — the most serious and consequential covenant that could be imagined.
It is also crucial for our understanding of the Lord’s Supper that the remembrance is not an act of remembering a long-lost friend, present only in the memories of the community. It is understood by all that the Lord who is being remembered and whose death is being proclaimed did not remain dead but is living and present with the community as they celebrate what he accomplished when he first came, “not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45; Matt. 20:28) and as they look forward to his return to consummate his redemptive work (cf. v. 26 — “until he comes”).
Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 551.
(1Co 11:26 ESV) 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
We struggle with whether we are to focus on Jesus’ death or his resurrection, and, of course, the answer is both. We mourn the necessity for his death — due to our sinfulness — and we celebrate the promise of redemption and resurrection found in his own resurrection. And we so we recommit to be true to him, to live as co-crucified people — people who’ve died with Jesus and been resurrected with Jesus in baptism.
In fact, the Lord’s Supper should be, like our baptisms, at the core of our spiritual formation — our transformation to become more and more like Jesus. As we dwell on him, we become like him.