“Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.” (1 Corinthians 11:17–18, KJV)
Years ago, I began a business to help people in the printing and paper converting industry improve their manufacturing processes. It was not my original intention to design machine components when I started the business, but this was a need that about fifty percent of my clients needed. So, I would design sub-components to retrofit existing machines.
When I designed a sub-component, it would take manufactured parts, off the shelf gears and motors, etc. It would take some time to design the sub-component and have the parts machined and purchase the gears, motors, solenoids, electronics, etc. Every part was unique, different. However, each part was essential for the function of the entire sub-assembly. The parts were united and worked harmoniously. If they did not the entire machine would fail. The entire sub-component that I put on the machine was made of parts that perfectly worked together, they were united. The church is built the same way, to function in unity.
Paul here begins to speak of a problem that the church in Corinth experienced. It was one of disunity, which was seen in the way they partook of the Lord’s supper. What happened was that participants were partaking of the table with a total disregard for others in the assembly. Paul stated that one would go hungry and another would get drunk (v21). The church had turned that which Jesus instituted as a beautiful meal of remembrance into a free for all.
The communion meal reflected on the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. It was a work that set believers free from the power of sin and death. Yet, the work of Christ’s sacrificial death also established a special unity between all believers. The communion meal was a testimony to this work. So, the church by their actions had turned this meal that was picture of the selflessness of Jesus into a display of selfishness. This meal which should have pictured unity, by their actions became one of disunity.
I have always felt that it was best for the church to partake of the elements of the communion meal at the same time, that is together. The reason is that it was a picture of the unity of the church. Yet, the unity of the church is something that occurs in the hearts of the parishioners. I have never seen parishioners abuse the participation in the communion meal as described by Paul in the Corinthian letter. Yet, I am convinced that in many cases people have participated with disunited hearts. I mean where there have been divisions, grudges, strife, unforgiveness, bitterness, and etcetera that existed in the hearts of parishioners against others in the body. While this is not seen on the outward actions like Paul described here, these problems have existed none the less.
When a church comes together to partake of the communion elements, everyone must remember the reality of the unity Christ provided on the cross. Every participant must examine their own hearts to determine if their heart is divided against another in the church. If it is, they are acting no different in their hear from those in Corinth. The remedy is this, confess this sin to God, repent from this wicked attitude, and make things right with anyone in the church with whom there is disunity. You see, the church must rise above the way the world functions and display Christlike behavior towards one another. By God’s grace, every believer is able to do this.