In our last essay we studied 1 Cor. 11:17-26, in which Paul raised a second problem with the Corinthians’ public worship; namely, their conduct when celebrating the Lord’s Supper.
In this essay we are we are going to conclude our study of Paul’s criticism of the Corinthians’ abuse of the Lord’s Supper and begin our study of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In 11:27-34 Paul issues a warning to the Corinthians.
In verses 11:27-28, Paul warns them about eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord’s Supper “unworthily.” If they do, they will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. What he meant by “unworthily” we saw back in verses 21-22. It was their showing no respect for the Sacrament by the humiliation of the poor and getting drunk of the rich.
Paul meant by being guilty of the body and blood of the Lord that their profaning of the Sacrament was equivalent to crucifying Christ again. Therefore in effect they were siding with those who killed Jesus rather than with those who benefit from his sacrifice. Unfortunately, many modern-day Christians have misinterpreted these verses to refer to personal unworthiness. They may have committed some sin; and as a result, they avoid participation in the Sacrament, because they fear that they might partake of it unworthily and be condemned. I saw this more often than I liked during my years as a pastor. But Paul was not condemning the Corinthians’ personal unworthiness. He was condemning their behavior at the table of the Lord.
Therefore Paul tells them to examine themselves before participating in the Sacrament. I was raised in a Presbyterian USA church, and we had Communion only once per quarter. And every time Communion was scheduled, there also was scheduled on the Thursday evening before Communion what was called a Preparatory Service. The purpose of the Preparatory Service was personal and corporate reflection to prepare the congregation for Communion. Was that service necessary? No, I do not believe it was. Was it helpful? Yes, I believe it was, because it caused the congregation to take the Sacrament seriously, which was precisely what the Corinthians were not doing.
The phrase in verse 29, “without discerning the body,” represents another interpretive challenge. It is important, because those who do not discern the body bring judgment on themselves. Scholars have suggested several different interpretations of this. One is that the Corinthians were failing to discern the food of the Lord’s Supper from the food of the regular meal. Most reject that view, because it doesn’t fit the context. Another interpretation is that they were failing to discern the Lord’s body as they ate the Eucharistic elements. That is they were not reflecting on what the elements meant. Still another view was that they were failing to discern that the word “body” meant Christ’s body, the Church. Barrett essentially takes the second position, because he believes that verse 29 is parallel to verse 27, and the reference is to the body and blood of the Lord. I believe he was correct.
Interestingly, in verse 30 Paul suggests that some of their physical diseases and weaknesses, and even some of their deaths have been a result of their abuse of the Lord’s Supper. Once again, those who have feared taking the Lord’s Supper because of possible sins have focused on this verse. But Paul was not saying that disease and death in general were the judgment of God. Rather he was saying that those who have abused the Eucharist by showing contempt for the Church of God and humiliating the poor have brought temporary judgments on the community in order to discipline it.
Paul wraps up the section with a brief summary in verses 33-34. As throughout the passage, Paul is vague. But in the total context, the command to “wait for one another” seems to mean that the host must not go ahead with a big meal for his rich friends as he had been doing. Rather he is to wait for (that is welcome) the poor on the same basis as the rich. Paul was not insisting that the rich provide sumptuous fare for the poor. He was insisting, instead, that those who can afford sumptuous meals are to eat them at home before coming to public worship. Then the poor and rich Christians will be on an equal footing in the public worship context. Verse 34 tells us that Paul had some other issues regarding the Corinthians’ practice of eating the Lord’s Supper, but he would wait until he came to Corinth to deal with them. In the meantime they must be “one body” to be a truly Christian fellowship. Thus the unworthy behavior must stop. The Lord’s Supper must be a memorial to Christ’s death, not an excuse for a party that discriminates against poor brothers and sisters in Christ.
Now then, we are ready to move to a consideration of the gifts of the Spirit. This is the subject of the next major section of the letter, 12:1-14:40. We only have space in this essay to do an introduction.
All right, the first thing Paul establishes in regard to spiritually gifted persons is that for them, Jesus is Lord. The genuinely Holy Spirit-filled person always confesses Jesus as Lord, and means it (v. 3).
The second thing Paul stresses is the tremendous diversity found in the body of Christ (vv. 12:4-11). There is only one body, as Paul will emphasize later in the chapter (12:12ff.). And there is only one God. But within that unity is great diversity. We will explore that diversity in future lessons, but this morning I want to introduce the subject with a list of nine general principles that we find in the New Testament regarding the gifts of the Spirit.
First, there is a difference between the gift (Acts 2:38) and the gifts of the Spirit. The gift of the Spirit is the impartation of the Holy Spirit into us when we believe. The gifts of the Spirit are supernatural abilities that enable us to minister in Christ’s name.
Second, there is a difference between the fruit (Gal. 5:22-23) and the gifts of the Spirit. As you know the fruit of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness gentleness, and self-control. As already mentioned, the gifts of the Spirit are supernatural abilities.
Third, there is a difference between natural talents and supernatural gifts of the Spirit. Sometimes it is very difficult to tell the difference. A person’s natural talent may be more impressive than any supernatural gift he or she may have.
Fourth, gifts of the Spirit are unearned (Eph. 4:7-8). If it were possible to earn them, they would not be gifts. They would be something earned.
Fifth, God decides who receives which gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:11; Heb. 2:4). A Christian does not choose which gift or gifts he or she wants as if picking out one’s dinner from a buffet table.
Sixth, gifts of the Spirit are for every Christian (1 Cor. 12:7, 11). It is true that the gifts of some Christians are not immediately obvious, and many of these Christians are not aware of what their gift is; but if they are sensitive to the indwelling Holy Spirit, they will discover it and begin to use it to serve the Lord.
Seventh, gifts of the Spirit are quite diverse (1 Cor. 12:8-10). In future essays, we will be studying the various gifts of the Spirit that are mentioned in the New Testament. And the huge diversity of gifts will become apparent.
Eighth, gifts of the Spirit are for ministry and service (1 Pet. 4:10; 1 Cor. 12:7). This is a very important truth. God doesn’t give us supernatural gifts for our benefit, but for the benefit of those around us.
And ninth, our personal ministry and service are part of the larger ministry of the Church (2 Cor. 10:3-4). We always are part of a larger work that in the end is God’s work. Some are so obviously gifted by God that they begin to think that they are really special in God’s sight. Therefore they start thinking too highly of themselves and their gifts. This mistake, which quickly can become sin, must be avoided, because it leads to a besmirching of the Lord Jesus instead of a glorifying of him.