Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12:21-26 What God wants in the church

1 Corinthians 12:21-26

21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

One theme that permeates the book of First Corinthians is reversal of status. In status-conscious Roman Corinth that was a big deal! They did not seem to remember that Jesus said, Many who are first will be last, and the last first (Mark 10:31).

This theme of status-reversal was strongly expressed in 1 Cor. 1:27: But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. In our text for today this theme surfaces again. Garland explains 1 Cor. 11:21 by saying: Eye and head are transparent metaphors for those in leadership roles, who are likely more affluent and better educated. The hands and feet represent the laboring class or slaves. Eyes and heads in the church always get special treatment and then begin to think that they are special.[1] It is a short step to the delusional idea that the special people really dont need the other, lesser people.

With the words on the contrary (1 Cor. 12:22), Paul turns the reasoning of the special ones upside-down. Those parts of the body they consider to be less endowed with power and status than others (Thiselton) are in fact necessary.[2] In 1 Cor. 12:23, Paul points out that the Corinthians already give special honor to parts that they think are less honorable and unpresentable by covering them up; this is regarded as a reference to sexual organs.[3] Other parts of the body, such as the face, are presentable and need no special treatment (1 Cor. 12:24a).

But quite aside from human evaluation of the various parts of the body, God has leveled the playing field by giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it (1 Cor. 12:24b). That God had two purposes in mind is made clear by verse 25: (1) that there should be no division in the body and (2) that its parts should have equal concern for each other. Gods stated purposes ran counter to the culture of Roman Corinth and were in direct conflict with the presence of divisions in the church and the self-absorbed, high-handed practices of the strong.

Jesus was the countercultural model of honoring those who society thought unworthy. He loved the poor, the oppressed and the weak and had harsh words for the elite. It should not surprise us that it honors him when we hold the most humble member of the body in high regard.

When there is mutual concern and reciprocity, the church suffers together or rejoices together according to the welfare of any person belonging to it (1 Cor. 12:26). With this in mind, Garland summarizes: The church is not to be like its surrounding society, which always honors those who are already honored. It is to be countercultural and bestow the greatest honor on those who seem to be negligible.[4]

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 595.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1006.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 613.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 596.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:30-34 A supper about unity

1 Corinthians 11:30-34

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. 32 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.

33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. 34 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.

It is important to understand that communion is nothing to treat lightly. We are told why in 1 Cor. 11:30-32. Paul then summarizes his advice about the Lords Supper (1 Cor. 11:33-34). Keep in mind that Paul is the apostle of Jesus Christ and, therefore, speaks for Christ. Pauls advice is more than advice just as the Lords Supper is more than just supper. The wise will listen and obey, and the others will continue to get sick or die!

Though one authority believes weak, sick and fallen asleep (1 Cor. 11:30) are figurative terms describing the spiritual condition of Corinthian Christians, most others believe physical condition is in view. Gordon Fee says that the Spirit has revealed to Paul that abuse of the have nots during the Lords Supper is the cause for the weakness, sickness and death, but he adds that this does not mean that all Christian illness and death are caused that way.[1] Note that fallen asleep is the standard way the New Testament speaks about death among Christians; showing that death is not the same for them as for others (1 Thess. 4:13-15; 1 Cor. 15:6, 18, 20, 51).

Verse 31 is what is called a contrary to fact condition or even the unreal condition. Had the Corinthians been discerning their disrespectful attitude (toward Christ) and unloving conduct (toward others) — but they were not — then they would not now be experiencing the incidents of weakness, sickness and even death, all of which are happening.

Being more discerning with regard to ourselves (verse 31) means having both a serious and repentant awareness of any sin in our lives as well as a consistent commitment to our new identity in Christ. Some of the Corinthians seem to have been more interested in what the martyred pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace. Anthony Thiselton summarizes Bonhoeffer this way: Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without repentance . . . communion without confession, grace without discipleship . . . Christianity without Christ.[2] Some Corinthians did not want to share food with their hungry brethren in the faith, did not want to worship with lower classes, and did not want to give up their pagan culture, including participation in idol banquets and sexually immoral behavior.

As members of Gods family, we can expect his discipline (1 Cor. 11:32; Heb. 12:1-13) when we stray from the way of Jesus, who suffered and died for our sins. Thiseltons remarks about this discipline reveal its purpose: It should not give rise to doubt of salvation or be endured merely with resignation. It plays a positive role in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ in suffering as well as glory.[3] The alternative to receiving the discipline that all believers get is that a person may be finally judged with the world, and no one wants that!

Pauls command in 1 Cor. 11:33 for all to eat together has an entirely theological purpose. Their Christian identity makes them one in Christ, and they cannot be divided in their common worship. Similarly, 1 Cor. 11:34 is not mainly about food. Garland explains: If they are intent only on indulging their appetites, then they should stay home. If the churchs gathering is to be meaningful, it has to be an expression of real fellowship, which includes sharing.[4]

Many of the lower classes might not be able to meet as early as the more socially advantaged. The strong must wait to share with the others. Jesus could have eaten the finest food on earth every night, but he and the twelve ate together.

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 565.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 898.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 898.

[4] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 555.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 Proclaim the Lord’s death, not division

1 Corinthians 11:23-29

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night 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. 25 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. 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

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. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.

Because Christian churches so frequently use the words contained in 1 Cor. 11:23-25 for conducting communion services, it is almost certain that you will initially believe that these words were originally given by Paul primarily for that purpose. But Paul had previously taught them the meaning of the Lord’s Supper — when he spread the gospel in Corinth — and was here seeking to correct abuses that had developed. Recall that Paul has just told the Corinthian Christians that the divided and class-conscious meal they are customarily having cannot possibly be the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20).

Note carefully that verse 23 begins with the word for — with the sense “because” — to signal the fact that the problems Paul has just spoken about will become obvious in light of what he is about to tell them. David Garland explains Paul’s intent by saying: “He does not intend to teach the Corinthians something new about the Lord’s Supper or to correct their theology of the Lord’s Supper. He cites it only to contrast what Jesus did at the Last Supper with what they are doing at their supper.”[1]

English versions of the Bible, including the NIV, speak of the night he [Jesus] was betrayed (1 Cor. 11:23), but increasingly scholars see this verb to be bearing its much more common meaning “hand over.”[2] Consider the italicized verbs in the verse: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread .” (1 Cor. 11:23). The two italicized verbs are forms of the same Greek verb. Second, the latter usage of the verb is in the Greek imperfect tense, which generally means the action took place over a period of time in the past; Jesus was betrayed only once, but he was handed over again and again during his trial and crucifixion including the moment when he voluntarily gave up his spirit in death for the sake of others (John 19:30).

You may be asking why this matters. Paul is not seeking to emphasize the sin of Judas, but instead to stress the sacrificial giving of the Father and the Son. Anthony Thiselton explains that the context in both the Gospels and here is that Jesus was handed over to death by God for our sins; God gave him up for all of us (Rom. 8:32).[3]

The sharing of the bread and the cup during the Last Supper involved everyone. Even though Peter James and John were arguably the closest to Jesus, they got the same bread and cup that everyone else got. As we have seen, that is not how things were done in Roman Corinth when the believers gathered to share the Lord’s Supper.

Garland explains how Paul’s conscious imitation of the Lords Supper allows him to make his point forcefully: “They are to imitate Christ’s example of self-giving. Everything they do in their meal should accord with his self-sacrifice for others. . . . Chrysostom [an early church father] . . . grasps the essence of Paul’s admonition: ‘He [Christ] gave his body equally, but you do not give so much as the common bread equally.'”[4]

The new covenant in my blood (1 Cor. 11:25) looks back to the blood of the sacrifices which Moses sprinkled on the people to establish the old covenant with Israel. The blood Jesus shed in his death for us established the new covenant God had promised through Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31-34); this new covenant is discussed more thoroughly in Hebrews 8 and 10.

When Jesus said we should eat the bread and drink the cup in remembrance of me (1 Cor. 11:25), he is not speaking about remembering in the mere sense of mental recollection. To remember in the biblical sense includes acting on what you remember, and in this context it means to behave as Jesus did — to imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). Thiselton explains, “Remembrance of Christ and Christs death retains the aspect of self-involving remembering in gratitude, worship, trust, acknowledgement and obedience.”[5]

Paul explicitly tells the Corinthians that the Lord’s Supper has one purpose: to proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor. 11:26). Do you see the warning? The one who filled this special meal with meaning by his death is coming back! When he does, every Corinthian — high and low — will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). So, verse 26 gives a transition to verses 27-29, where judgment is the prevailing theme.

Paul does not say specifically what it takes to participate in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner (1 Cor. 11:27). But by this point that explanation is not necessary. Garland points out the sea change in tone: “They cannot treat this meal as a pleasant gathering of in-group friends . . . . It is fraught with spiritual peril if they treat the meal or those gathered for it in a cavalier manner. They will incur Gods judgment.”[6]

The NIV has made a concerted effort to be gender-inclusive, and has generally succeeded, but not in verse 28. Paul uses singular nouns and verbs here to stress individual responsibility for self-examination. The Common English Bible does a good with: “Each individual should test himself or herself, and eat from the bread and drink from the cup in that way” (1 Cor. 11:28, CEB). No one else can do this for you; you have to do it yourself! The verb Paul uses places emphasis on the result of the self-examination; did it affirm the genuineness of your faith or not?

Some people go through life playing the game, whether at work or in a social setting. In relation to the Lord’s Supper, each of us must come to it with an attitude of humility and an awareness that we are dealing with Christ, not just some religious ritual. To the phrase “discerning the body” (1 Cor. 11:29) the NIV adds the words “of Christ” to point the reader toward an interpretation contains a Greek verb which means “to make a distinction.”[7] Thiselton says the distinction believers must make is to be mindful of the uniqueness of Christ, who is separated from others in the sense of giving himself for others in sheer grace.[8]

Merely to go through the motions of communion is to eat and drink judgment on ourselves (1 Cor. 11:29). Tomorrow we will see just how far that judgment may go.

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 545.

[2] BDAG-3, paradidomi, hand over, q.v.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 869.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 545

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 880

[6] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 550.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 892.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 893.