III. The Lord’s Supper
Verse 20: When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.
When ye come together therefore –
When you are assembled as a church, compare Hebrews 10:25, and see the note on Acts 2:1. Christians were constantly in the habit of assembling for public worship. It is probable that at this early period all the Christians in Corinth were accustomed to meet in the same place. The apostle here particularly refers to their “assembling” to observe the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. At that early period it is probable that this was done on every Lord’s Day.
[Paul is clearly inferring that when the Christians gathered together in one place, it was supposed to be to eat the Lord’s supper—not to merely hear a good sermon, or to fellowship, or to sing hymns, which are all key components to corporate worship but not the focus. This is modeled in the Law. All of the corporate worship services were centered around sacrifices, which were symbolic of the Messiah’s sacrifice. The entire Law is centered around this sacrificial system, and if we would study it more we would see and appreciate the Messiah much more fully. In the old economy, it meant the priesthood making animal sacrifices with oblations and drink offerings. But this focus on sacrifice was not supposed to change in the new Christian economy. In the apostolic days, as Barnes notes, the Christians would celebrate the Lord’s supper each Sabbath they gathered together, and he was not drawing this out of thin air. This practice has been maintained up to this day in the Roman Catholic Church, although they have perverted the simple ordinance.
It is written: “And day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they were partaking of food with gladness and singleness of heart” (Acts 2:46).
They kept the sacrifice of the Messiah continually before them—not only weekly, but daily—since it was celebrated whenever they came together, and this they did day by day as they were busily engaged in missionary work, with multitudes joining their company under the early rain outpouring. The Messiah was also their central message that they preached as the gospel to the world. Have we lost this focus?
The principle of breaking bread was a Jewish practice done by the householder before meals, but it was given new meaning in the Lord’s Supper, instituted by our Lord Himself, for the bread represented His own body, which was broken through and which sacrifice was distributed to all who will partake of it, as if broken in pieces:
“And He took bread, and gave thanks, and broke it, and gave unto them, saying, This is My body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19-20).
The Apostle Paul says: “The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of the Messiah?” (1 Corinthians 10:16).
And the frequent celebration of the supper is also confirmed in the writings of Sister White:
Our Saviour instituted the Lord’s supper, to be often celebrated, to keep fresh in the memory of His followers the solemn scenes of His betrayal and crucifixion for the sins of the world. He would have His followers realize their continual dependence upon His blood for salvation. The broken bread was a symbol of Christ‘s broken body, given for the salvation of the world. The wine was a symbol of His blood, shed for the cleansing of the sins of all those who should come unto him for pardon, and receive Him as their Saviour. The salvation of men depends upon a continual application to their hearts of the cleansing blood of Christ. Therefore, the Lord’s supper was not to be observed only occasionally or yearly, but more frequently than the annual Passover.
— 3 Spiritual Gifts, pp. 227-228
Some think that the Lord’s Supper is only to be celebrated on the Passover day, which the Witnesses practice today, and this is one practice that Sister White was addressing, but she is also addressing practicing it only occasionally. I think most would agree that something that is only done each quarter is occasional. This is how often many public radio stations have fund drives to raise funds, and if they did this more than occasionally, people would grow weary of it and not tune in anymore. But this is the frequency at which Adventists today generally honor their Lord and Saviour’s sacrifice due to tradition, partly because a big to do is made of it in having a long service for it directed by an ordained minister. It is all tradition borrowed from the Roman Catholic Church. There is no biblical mandate calling for it to be conducted by an ordained minister or to have an elaborate service for it. The eating of the Lord’s supper involves only a simple breaking of bread and drinking a cup of unfermented wine (and we will see what is meant by ‘supper’ shortly).
The biblical frequency of partaking of the Lord’s supper was originally done “often” and “continual” to keep fresh before the mind the sacrifice of the Messiah, and we have seen that that is what they gathered for; and they gathered at least every Sabbath holy convocation. In eating the body of the Messiah they would become that body of the Messiah, thus making them one. This greatly fostered unity, though this whole ordination was being perverted by the Corinthians as Paul was addressing.
We must reform in this that we may keep the Lord Jehoshua ever before us so that we will talk of Him and be like Him much more than we are. Sister White also said, “Washing feet, and the Lord’s supper should be more frequently practiced” (Letter 9, 1853). It was quarterly in her day as well, but this divine counsel has yet to be widely heeded.]
This is not –
The meaning of this expression seems to be this. “Though you come together professedly to worship God, and to partake of the Lord’s Supper, yet this cannot be the real design which you have in view. It cannot be that such practices as are allowed among you can be a part of the celebration of that supper, or consistent with it. Your greediness 1 Corinthians 11:21; your intemperance 1 Corinthians 11:21; your partaking of the food separately and not in common, cannot be a celebration of the Lord‘s Supper. Whatever, therefore, you may profess to be engaged in, yet really and truly you are not celebrating the Lord’s Supper.”
The Lord’s supper –
That which the Lord Jesus instituted to commemorate his death. It is called “the Lord’s,” because it is his appointment, and is in honor of him; it is called “supper” (δεῖπνον deipnon), because the word denotes the evening repast; it was instituted in the evening; and it is evidently most proper that it should be observed in the after part of the day. With most churches the time is improperly changed to the morning—a custom which has no sanction in the New Testament; and which is a departure from the very idea of a supper.
[I would add a third element as to why it is called ‘the Lord‘s Supper’—that we are symbolically eating His body, as the Lord Himself said, “Take, eat: this is My body, which is for you” (v. 24). The main point is that the supper is about Him, and the reason for coming together in one place is to thus eat of His supper.
I believe that Barnes is correct in regard to ‘supper’ in having it in the evening, but not in the original sense of the word. By the time of the Messiah, the evening sacrifice was no longer made at dusk, but “between the evenings,” which the Rabbinical Jews interpreted to be between midday and sunset, making it at the ninth hour. Their hours starting with sunset, and being one-twelfth of the daylight (unlike our hours being 60 minutes long year-round), this placed it about 3 PM near the time of the spring equinox, which the Paschal season always was.
In light of these things, it seems most appropriate for the church to gather for Sabbath School when most churches have their main service, 11 AM, rather than having it an hour or two earlier. This also allows for unrushed time for personal and family devotions, breakfast, and a family walk together in nature. Yet it is early enough that the church gathering would make up the better part of the day, which is supposed to be a “holy proclamation,” according to Leviticus 23:3, which is a public thing. After Sabbath School, which can be an evangelistic event, with the general public invited, the main service can be held, initiated by the foot washing, since it was a biblical custom for it to take place at the beginning of gatherings; it will also set a good spiritual tone for the fellowship that follows. Afterwards, there can be hymns, Scripture reading or short sermon, and a social meeting for prayer, public confession, praise, thanksgiving, bearing testimony, and exhorting one another. Then the timing will be about right to eat the supper of our Lord, which is to “show the Lord‘s death till He come” (1 Cor. 11:26), at the time He actually died, which was “about the ninth hour” (Matthew 27:46). In relation to our time, it would be much later in the summer months than the winter months, so the time could be adjusted monthly.
The Lord‘s supper could be considered the latter part of the social meeting—the prayer of blessing over the juice and the bread being made when everyone has finished giving their testimonies, thus connecting the social meeting with the ceremonies to follow. Then a hymn or two could be sung before going on a nature walk. And if the sunset is early enough, the Sabbath could be closed as a church and the new week consecrated in prayer. These should not be considered rules for all assemblies to follow, but only suggestions.
“Supper” does not mean a bite of a cracker and a swallow of juice. That is a Catholic idea that we have borrowed. A supper is universally known, and practiced by the apostolic church, as an actual meal. This continued every Sabbath in most areas until at least the fifth century CE, except in the vicinity of Alexandria, where the practice began of not partaking of the communion (called ‘mysteries’ by that time) with a meal but separately.
For although almost all churches throughout the world celebrate the sacred mysteries on the sabbath of every week, yet the Christians of Alexandria and at Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, have ceased to do this. The Egyptians in the neighborhood of Alexandria, and the inhabitants of Thebais, hold their religious assemblies on the sabbath, but do not participate of the mysteries in the manner usual among Christians in general: for after having eaten and satisfied themselves with food of all kinds, in the evening making their offerings they partake of the mysteries.
— Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, Ch. 22
The people of Constantinople, and almost everywhere, assemble together on the Sabbath, as well as on the first day of the week, which custom is never observed at Rome or at Alexandria. There are several cities and villages in Egypt where, contrary to the usage established elsewhere, the people meet together on Sabbath evenings, and, although they have dined previously, partake of the mysteries.
— Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, Book 7, Ch.19
It is to be a communal meal, with the focus being on the bread and the juice, specially consecrated through prayer. Without it being a full meal, it is a symbol of a meal—a symbol of a symbol—a meal without substance. It is like a sprinkling for baptism, representing an immersion but not an actual immersion. The idea of having only a sampling originates from early Catholicism, when special buildings were built accommodating many people and were treated like temples for priests to offer the emblems as a eucharistic sacrifice. These principles are pagan in nature, yet Protestants to this day have not returned to the simple supper which requires no clergy to administer; it is simply eaten. However, it is not common, but sacred, as we shall see.
To avoid making this study too burdensome, we shall make the rest of it brief, and without Barnes’ notes.
Verse 21: for every man when they should eat, taketh his own supper afore, and one is hungry, and another is drunken.
What we see taking place here is that people were not really observing the supper of the Lord; they were having a supper—period. They were eating before it could ever be dedicated to the Lord, not waiting until everyone was ready to eat, so that that could eat of it as one body, as there is only one body of the Lord—representative of His physical body on earth.
The fact that some were hungry proves that it was meant to be a supper, but because the poor among them could not bring their own food, they went without, and they were not provided for because it was meant to be a communal meal where people shared food, but instead they were eating separately, likely according to their cliques based on their heresies.
No one should go away hungry from the Supper of the LORD. It is written of the first time that He broke and divided the bread, “they did all eat, and were filled” (Mark 6:42). I believe the communal supper memorializes that great miraculous event and the truths it conveys. And should we not be filled with the Bread of Life, and fully satisfied? Is it not written that “the Assembly”—”His body”—is “the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:23)?
Verse 22: What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the assembly of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.
Since they were not eating the Supper of the Lord anyway, they might as well have eaten at home instead. The assembly of God—the body, representing the physical body of the Lord—was despised, in despising those present who had not food.
Verses 23-26: For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jehoshua the same night in which He was betrayed took bread: and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, “This is My body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of Me. After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do proclaim the Lord’s death till He shall come.
The key in these verses is that the supper is all about the Lord and His body, sacrificed for us, which the unleavened bread, in the eating, represents. This proclamation is a demonstration rather than a discourse. It is no different than the ancient sacrifices in the parable of the Messiah in the Law. It is not the actual sacrifice of the Messiah as the Catholics teach, but it is indeed a reenactment of that death. We are to treat the bread as if it is His body and the wine as if it is His blood. This is what makes it so sacred. And we will later see what it is so serious that we treat it as sacred.
Verse 27: Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread and drink this cup of the Lord, in an improper manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.
“Improper manner” is an adverb, not an adjective. Some never come to the communion because they think that they are “unworthy” (KJV), but it is the improper manner in which the supper is partaken that Paul is writing against. If it is eaten for the flesh, as with a common meal, then it is being eaten in an unworthy manner.
Verse 28: But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup;
Examination is key. We need to examine ourselves if we will be able to eat the supper of the Lord in a worthy manner. The next verse will help explain what this manner is.
Verse 29: for he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.
There it is. As we are eating, we must be discerning the body of the Lord. If we have any unforsaken sins, this is impossible, for we will not have a clear view of Him. But even if we are clean, we still should examine and prepare ourselves—just as we would before a Sabbath to make sure we keep it holy—that we may not desecrate the Messiah by wandering, frivolous, anxious, angry, or otherwise sinful thoughts. These things must be put away before eating the sacred supper.
Verse 30: For this cause, many among you are weak and infirm, and a good many are fallen asleep.
This is a very solemn thought. These warnings about judgment helps to ensure that the supper will be a solemn and weighty experience, though not full of sorrow, only cheerful piety, for the sacrifice of the Messiah is for our benefit and is ours to enjoy.
Verses 31-32: For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.
Have we ever thought about how the infirmities and deaths among us could be from spiritual causes, such as desecrating that which is holy? Should we not inquire why there may be poor health among us? Should we not have prayer meetings to inquire of God to search out these and other things, perhaps even why we do not seem to be spiritually strong with the gifts of the Spirit, including healing, manifest? Instead of just going on through the motions of religion, we should consider these things.
Verse 33: Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.
Here is another clue of what the problem was in Corinth. The Supper of the Lord should start at the same time for everyone, otherwise we are not one body representing the Lord.
Verse 34: And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.
That is, if that is the reason why such a man is coming to partake of the supper.
Let us not consult our traditions as to how assembly services should be; the Bible and the Bible alone is to instruct us concerning our eating, drinking, and clothing. Let us no longer forget the ordinance of women covering their heads for our shamefastness and humility before God and angels, especially in an assembly setting, and let us not forsake the Lord’s supper, in having an actual ‘supper’ as a body, whenever the body gathers together, especially on worship days but even other days when there is a gathering if at all possible.