Observing the Lord’s Supper
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Andrew Ogea  

Sermon Summary:

Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper during a passover meal with his disciples on the night of his betrayal and arrest, and his followers have continued the tradition for over 2,000 years. However, just 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Apostle Paul had to address certain abuses within the church at Corinth that threatened the integrity of the ordinance and the unity of their fellowship. His response to the ancient church provides the modern church with three relevant instructions to properly observe the Lord’s Supper.

Community Group Discussion Guide:

1. Think about your experience with the Lord's Supper in the past. What has been your understanding of its meaning and practice?

2. We learned that the Lord's Supper is an opportunity to remember, proclaim the Gospel, and unify the fellowship of the church (v. 23-27). Which one of these elements is most challenging for you? Why? 

     Commentator Michael Green provides a great summary of the meaning and method of the Lord's
     Supper: We look back (to Christ’s death); We look in (in self-examination); We look up (to
     fellowship with God); 
We look around (to fellowship with each other); We look forward (to
     Christ’s Return); 
We look outward (to proclaim God’s word)

3. We learned from our text the Corinthians' motivations in observing the Lord's Supper were causing more harm than good in the church by the way the rich were treating the poor (v. 17-22). Why do you think Jesus used the Lord's Supper as a way to encourage unity among his followers?

4. The Lord's Supper is a time for followers to examine, or determine the genuineness of relationships with others (v. 28-29 - specifically if there are any discriminations toward another believer). As you examine your relationships with others, what concerns do you have that the Lord needs to help you overcome?

Sermon Notes:

Good morning! I am encouraged by seeing everyone today. Pastor Larry is on vacation with his family, and I am thankful that he has once again given me the privilege of sharing God’s Word with you. Over the past two weeks he has preached two messages on the ordinance of Baptism. Baptism is an outward symbol of an inward experience. Jesus calls his followers to be obedient in baptism to testify of the inward transformation because of his Gospel. Last Sunday, we had the opportunity to witness five folks in our congregation follow through in believer’s baptism. Today, we look at the Lord’s Supper—the second ordinance, or directive of Jesus Christ to his followers. If you would, please turn to 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.  

When I was a child, we used to observe the Lord’s Supper mainly on Sunday evenings. I remember the big silver trays, one with tiny cups of juice, and the other with little crackers. The deacons would pass around the elements and each person would take a cracker and a cup of juice. I recall sitting on the pew focusing on the cup in my hand and trying not to spill the juice. In my other hand, I held the cracker, wondering how much longer it would be until I could eat it. I knew some of the significance of why I was participating in the observance, but I couldn’t help but focus on the grape juice and crackers.

I am unaware of your experience with the Lord’s Supper. Many of us come from different backgrounds where the sacred observance is called communion. Others call it the Eucharist. In others and in most Baptist churches, it is called the Lord’s Supper. I am also unaware of your understanding of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. How did we get here? Why did Jesus choose bread and the fruit of the vine to memorialize his sacrifice for us? Where did that come from? Why is it still significant for us today? How should we approach it?

Today, we will see that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper during a passover meal with his disciples on the night of his betrayal and arrest, and his followers have continued the tradition for over 2,000 years. However, just 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Apostle Paul had to address certain abuses within the church at Corinth that threatened the integrity of the ordinance and the unity of their fellowship. His response to the ancient church provides the modern church with three relevant instructions to properly observe the Lord’s Supper. Let’s begin by reading 1 Corinthians 11:17-22. 

In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!

The first instruction that we learn from the scripture in observing the Lord’s Supper is that it must be done with the proper motives. 

I. The Proper Motives (1 Cor. 11:17-22)

If you didn’t know, the Apostle Paul founded the church in Corinth. The city was ethnically, culturally and spiritually diverse because it was located on a very small land bridge that connected two worlds. The population and diversity would be very comparable to New Orleans. Paul had no easy task when preaching the Gospel in this pagan world. However, he slowly began to win people to Jesus Christ and established a critical church for that area. Think about it, thousands of people came from all over the middle east, Europe, Asia, and end up in Corinth. The church was strategically placed to make a worldwide impact. 

After Paul left the church, they began experiencing problems. Numerous problems. In fact, the entire book of 1 Corinthians was written to address problems that had been reported to Paul. One of those problems was an abuse of the Lord’s Supper due to their improper motives. In verse 17 we find that their motivations for the Lord’s Supper were causing more harm than good. 

I. The Proper Motives (1 Cor. 11:17-22)
     A. The Corinthians’ motives caused harm (17-21)

That is why in verse 18, he says, “I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you.” What was causing the division? In verse 20-21, we see that when they were coming together some were going ahead with their own private suppers. As a result, one person remained hungry while others had their fill.

In the early church, it was common for them to partake in fellowship meals together. They were called “Agape” Feasts, or “Love” Feasts in other Scriptures (Jude 12). The Love Feast was a common meal eaten by early Christians in connection with their worship, for the purpose of fostering and expressing mutual affection and concern—a fellowship meal. The Lord’s Supper would have been observed during this meal or at the conclusion of the meal.

This is not something foreign for churches. How many of you have been to a church that had a fellowship hall? How many of you have ever been to a potluck dinner?
I love potlucks. They provide a chance for everyone to bring their best, and for me to eat as much as possible of the things I like the most. In my childhood church, we would have our potlucks in the fellowship hall to grow in fellowship as brothers and sisters in Christ.

The problem in the Corinthian church was the division caused by the way the rich treated the poor. The rich believers had the means to provide quality and quantity of both food and drink. Many of them hosted the church in their homes because they were big enough to house larger groups of believers. Those believers with the means to prepare the food would also congregate in their homes early while those who were poor and working would arrive on time and realize that the feast had already begun inside. The poor were excluded from the meal (which was possibly their only one of the day), and remain outside while those inside had already eaten all of the food and had actually become drunk on wine.

In verse 22, Paul rebukes them and tells them that they should eat and drink at home to be full, but they are actually despising the church of God because they are humiliating believers who do not have the means to share in a fellowship meal together. They were motivated by selfishness, greed, and superiority and it caused incredible harm to the church.  

I. The Proper Motives (1 Cor. 11:17-22)
     A. The Corinthians’ motives caused harm (17-21)
     B. The church’s motives should cause good (22)

In verse 22, the church was asked questions which challenged their motivations and the answers to these questions teach us that the church’s motives for partaking in the Lord’s Supper should cause good not harm. 

“Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!"

The church’s motivation in sharing the Lord’s Supper should never cause division, elevate one person or group over another, or cause others to be humiliated. 
Instead, the church should be focused on being unified as equals under the Lordship of Christ. The church should be focused on helping those in need and not shutting them out. The church should be focused on service, not status. The church should be focused on working toward unity in fellowship. 

Jesus did not create the Lord’s Supper for us to harm others, but to unify his church for the good. We will talk about that more later on. But first we need to discuss where the Lord’s Supper come from. How did that all get started? The origin of the Lord’s Supper comes from God’s Old Testament ordinance and the Jewish tradition of the Passover (Ex. 12). The Passover meal is an annual Jewish celebration commemorating the “passing over” of the angel of death prior to the Lord’s deliverance of Israel out of the hands of the Egyptians (McKim, 203). God told the Israelites, “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance (Ex. 12:14).” So every year since, Jews have celebrated Passover.

The Passover celebration was a meal designed around four cups along with specific foods representing various components of the Passover.  The four cups get their meaning from Exodus 6:6-7. Let’s read that together:

“I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. 

The First Cup
The Cup of Sanctification
“I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians." (Ex. 6:6a)

The first cup is the Cup of Sanctification. The host of the meal (usually the head of the household) would begin the meal with blessings followed by the drinking of the first cup - the cup of sanctification. Sanctification means set apart. God promised to bring them out from under the yoke, or the burdens of the Egyptians so that they would be set apart to serve him and worship him alone. The Lord instructed Moses to give Pharaoh a very simple command:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh as he goes to the river and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.

Did you know that every time Moses issued this command from God to Pharaoh that it was always followed up with “so that they may worship me.” God wanted to free his people from slavery so that they would be set apart, or sanctified to worship and serve him alone as his people. The first cup represents God’s promise to sanctify his people.

The Second Cup
The Cup of Deliverance
"I will free you from being slaves to them" (Ex. 6:6b)

After each person drank from the first cup, the household sang a hymn together. Then, the host held up the second cup—the cup of deliverance. God said I will free you from being slaves. Another translation is “I will deliver you from bondage. He not only brought them out from the burdens of the Egyptians, he delivered them. Who is delivering them? The Lord! They could not deliver themselves. They would remind themselves that God’s rescue was their only hope. They all then drank from the second cup of deliverance.

Before partaking in the third cup, the host would hold up unleavened bread, known as the bread of affliction which reminded the household of the affliction that they suffered while in slavery. He would break the bread which meant the meal had begun. After eating the bread, they ate bitter herbs to remind them of the bitterness of their slavery.

Then came the the Lamb. The Passover Lamb. As they ate they remembered how God had done something miraculous to free them from slavery. Through Moses, God sent plagues as a sign to Pharaoh to let his people go. He turned the Nile River into blood and killed all of their livestock, and sent plagues of frogs, gnats, flies, boils.

The final plague was the plague of death. God was going to strike the heart of Egypt by sending the angel of death to kill the firstborn son of the Egyptians. However, the firstborn of the Israelites was under the same curse as well. When it came time for God to pass judgment over sin, the Egyptians and the Israelites were equally guilty. All had fallen short of the glory of God.

But God, being rich in mercy, provided a way for His people to be saved from this death.He was willing to make an exchange with them. God, is in His mercy, was willing to offer them a substitute. If they would take a spotless lamb, shed its blood and put it over the doorpost of their homes, the angel of death would pass over them. That’s why it’s called the Passover.

That is exactly what happened. All of the Israelites in a home protected by the blood of the lamb were spared, but every single first born in Egypt was killed, including Pharaoh’s child. The last plague was too much, so Pharaoh let the people of Israel go.  

The Third Cup
The Cup of Redemption
"and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment." (Ex. 6:6c)

The word redeem here means that God’s deliverance was brought about by the payment of a price. The host held the third cup and reminded them that the price that was paid was the shedding of blood to cover their guilt and sin. God brought them out and delivered them from slavery but they were redeemed with a price. They all would drink from the third cup with thanksgiving.

The Fourth Cup 
The Cup of Hope
"I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God." (Ex. 6:7)

Following the Cup of Redemption, they sang another hymn and finished with the fourth cup—the cup of hope. This cup symbolized the redemption that was not fully complete. Though God had delivered and redeemed them from slavery, he promised that one day the Messiah would come to fully transform his people and establish his kingdom.

Every year the Jews would commemorate the Passover in the same exact way. Jesus and his disciples were Jews, and they celebrated the Passover as well. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus was the host of the Passover meal celebrated with his disciples.  Luke 22:14-16 says,

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

I hope you can start to picture the connection here. Jesus began the passover feast with the explanation of the first cup of sanctification. God’s desire was to free his people from the burden of slavery and set his people apart to worship him and him alone. Then, they all drink from the first cup.

After singing a hymn, Jesus then reminds them of the second cup of deliverance. God not only promised to sanctify and set apart his people, but he fulfilled his promise by delivering them from slavery. It wasn’t anything that they did, but it was the power of the Lord on display. So, they drank from the second cup.

Jesus then picks up the bread (the bread of affliction) and did something that would forever change the passover meal. Instead of reminding them of their affliction and the turmoil of their slavery, Jesus spoke a message that had never been heard before. Let’s pick back up in our text, in verse 23-24,

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 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.” 

The bread no longer represents the affliction and suffering of the people of Israel, but it is a symbol of the affliction and suffering that Jesus would endure on the cross. His body would be beaten and ripped apart. But, he knew that his affliction would lead to healing once and for all.

Jesus said, “This is my body, which is for you! Do this in remembrance of me.” So, they ate. They ate the meal, the bitter herbs and fruit and then the passover lamb—the lamb that was slain to spare the people of God from death. Death passed over them because they were covered by the blood of the lamb. So, Jesus picked up the third cup of redemption and in verse 25 he said,

In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

The old covenant was between God and the people of Israel to set them apart for his glory. Death passed them over to free them from slavery to Egyptians. By saying the cup was the new covenant in his blood meant that he would become the perfect lamb that would be slaughtered. His blood would cover the doors posts of our hearts. And the wrath of God toward the sin of the world would pass over those who believe in Jesus. Do you see it? If God looks at your heart and sees the blood of Jesus, death passes over you! But it is only by faith that you can be covered by the righteous blood of Jesus.  Romans 3:25-26,

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Is the door of your heart covered by the blood of Jesus? Do you have faith in Jesus? Do you have assurance that death will pass over you? If you have faith in Jesus, you can be assured that death will pass over you because Jesus paid the penalty of your sin to redeem you. 

In the Lord’s Supper, we simply eat bread and drink from the cup, but it is so much more than that. It is packed full of meaning.

II. The Proper Meaning (1 Cor. 11:23-27)
     A. Remembrance (23-25)

So, we know how the Lord’s Supper originated and what the elements represent, but what does it mean to observe it? Well it is summed up in the verses we just read. The proper meaning is remembrance. We observe the Lord’s Supper to remember. 

Remembering is tough for me. That is actually one of the things that my mother prayed for me to find in a wife—someone who could help me remember. I forget what I went into the kitchen for. I forget the sole reason why I went to the store. The phrase, oh how quickly we forget describes me. My wife helps me so much when I forget things. 

I think Jesus knows us all too well. He knows how quickly we can forget if we are not reminded.  That is why he said, this bread is my body, do this in remembrance of me. This cup is the new covenant in my blood, do this, whenever you drink it in remembrance of me. 

This is a memorial for Christ followers to remember what Christ has done. So, if you believe in Jesus, when you take the Lord’s Supper, you remember the salvation made possible through Jesus’ sacrificed body. You remember that his blood was the payment to redeem you from death. 

II. The Proper Meaning (1 Cor. 11:23-27)
     A. Remembrance (23-25)
     B. Gospel Proclamation (26)

The Lord’s Supper helps us remember, but we also proclaim the Gospel when we observe it. Verse 26 says, whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. The event of the Lord’s Supper in itself is a visible proclamation of the Good News of Jesus. You share the salvation story when you observe it. 

And, when we observe it today we will make that proclamation. We proclaim his death which has given us life. But we also proclaim death until he comes. Christ’s death was not then end, but the beginning of something eternal. Heaven awaits the redeemed and we proclaim with hope that he is coming again to bring us there. 

The proper meaning of the Lord’s Supper is remembrance, gospel proclamation, but also unity in fellowship. Let’s look at verse 27,

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.

II. The Proper Meaning (1 Cor. 11:23-27)
     A. Remembrance (23-25)
     B. Gospel Proclamation (26)
     C. Unity in Fellowship (27)

Let’s recall the abuse of the Lord’s supper in the beginning of our passage. The verse here says it should not be observed in an “unworthy manner.” Some people think that this means that the Lord’s Supper should not be observed by those who are unworthy. If that were the case, then none of us would be able to. It says “unworthy manner” which focuses on the actions of the one observing it.

Remember the context. The church was destroying its unity because of their lack of love. The poor were not being allowed to join in the fellowship and share in the Lord’s Supper. The church was sending the message that the Gospel shows favoritism and can be abused for selfish gain.  In doing so, they were guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 

The Lord’s Supper means unity in fellowship of believers. Divisiveness at the Lord’s Table is sin. So how should do we approach it in a worthy manner? In the final verses of our text we will see the proper methods for observing. Verse 28 says,

Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.

III. The Proper Methods (1 Cor. 11:28-34)
       A. Examination (28)

The first method is examination. In verse 28 it says to examine yourself before you observe the Lord’s Supper. The word examine means to “determine the genuineness of.” We must look at the genuineness of ourselves. What exactly are we looking for? The next verse makes it clear

For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.

III. The Proper Methods (1 Cor. 11:28-34)
       A. Examination (28)
       B. Discernment (29-32)

This word here for discerning means “to make sense of distinctions or discriminations.” Those who eat and drink without making sense of the distinctions or discriminations in the body of Christ eat and drink judgement upon themselves. 

So, when put together, we should examine or determine the genuineness of our hearts by making sense of any discriminations that we may have toward the body of Christ. There were consequences or judgements for the Corinthians for failing to make these examinations. Verse 30-32,

That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

These are tough verses. This a rare occasion in the New Testament where we see God take extreme disciplinary measures to protect the unity of his church. The discipline of Ananias and Sapphire in Acts 5 is another example. The best illustration I could think of to explain this comes from working out at the gym.

I love working out at Crossgates. When I signed up they offered a free workout session with a trainer, and part of it included a free health examination if I so desired. Let’s just call it like it is—a fat test. They take caliper and pinch your fat and give percentages of body fat in various areas.

This was probably one of the more humbling moments of my life. However, I needed to have the examination to know the areas of body are unhealthy so that I could then focus my workouts on making them healthier again. If I blatantly disregard my body, then there are short and long term consequences to my health.  

God desires a healthy church. He does not want divisions because of discrimination. God disciplines his children when we fail to examine any divisive discriminations that we might have toward other believers. In this case, some were getting sick and had some had even died. They did not show love toward God or others, used their religion to gratify themselves and injure their fellow believers. 

In Hebrews 12, God makes it clear that he discipline those he loves. In that passage, he reminds us that every believer undergoes discipline. If not, then we are not legitimate sons and daughters of God. He disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. The result is a harvest righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by his discipline. 

Jesus commands his disciples to observe the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of him. But, we can’t both remember Jesus and forget about our brother at the same time. They are connected. The solution is repentance. Verse 33-34 says,

So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions.

III. The Proper Methods (1 Cor. 11:28-34)
       A. Examination (28)
       B. Discernment (29-32)
       C. Repentance (33-34)

The third method is repentance. Repentance for the Corinthians’ situation meant eating together with everyone in their fellowship meal. They should be more concerned about unity with their fellow believer than getting full. 
The Lord’s supper provides an opportunity for examination and repentance when necessary. God loves us and wants us to be unified as his church. Before you observe it, pray and ask the Lord to help you discern if there is any willful sin or a lack of respect and unity between you and another church member. 

He is not saying that we have to agree with everybody on everything. We disagree, but in love we set aside our differences so that we can focus on the mission of the church. But we should never allow those things to bring disunity and disfunction that destroys our fellowship.

If there is, ask him to help you to make it right. God loves you, and he wants the best for you. He wants the best for us. He wants us to be healthy so that we can make the biggest impact in this world for him. A commentator named Michael Green, gives a really good summary of the meaning and method of the Lord’s supper.

We look back (to Christ’s death) 
We look in (in self-examination)
We look up (to fellowship with God) 
We look around (to fellowship with each other)
We look forward (to Christ’s Return)
We look outward 
(to proclaim God’s word)

As you observe the Lord’s Supper, observe it with joy. We should find joy in reconciliation with fellow believers. We should find joy in being unified as the body of Christ.  But, above all, we should consider it joy that Jesus Christ has redeemed us. He has rescued us and paid the price to forgive us of our sins. He died so that we could live. 

Whenever we observe the Lord’s Supper, we “Do this in remembrance of him.”