From the very beginning of the church in Jerusalem, the early disciples understood the key to maintaining the unity of the saints in the bond of peace. Since the first converts were Jews, they understood the bonding nature of a fellowship meal, which meal they ate annually in the Passover feast. When Jesus was at His last Passover meal with His disciples, He changed the significance of the Jewish Passover meal (See Mt 26:26-29). The Passover meal became His Supper, and thus, the occasion for the disciples to come together in order to remember their spiritual nationhood and covenant as a result of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. Instead of an annual observance of the “Passover meal” as in the Old Testament, the early Christians had their love feast/Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis (At 20:7). They needed no commands to do this. It was simply natural to do that which gave them purpose for being one covenanted nation with God because of the cross.
A. The Passover feast of unity:
Under the Sinai law recorded in the Old Testament, God commanded Israel to come together annually for the Passover meal (Ex 12). This was a meal during which the Jewish families would come together with the priests and eat the food that came from their sacrificed animals. The purpose of the meal was both to remember their covenant that God had established with them as a nation at Mount Sinai, and to celebrate their oneness as a nation. All the tribes of Israel were to eat as one nation in order to remember that they were one united and covenanted nation under God (Ex 12).
The spiritual significance of the Passover meal was brought into the new covenant relationship that Christians have with God through Jesus. Jesus changed the significance of the Passover meal. In partaking of the meal, Christians are to remember Him as their Passover offering. In partaking of the bread and cup during or after the meal, Christians are to remind Jesus to come again for them (Download Book 39, The Lord’s Supper, chapter 3, BRL, africainternational.org).
Through the eating of the meal and partaking of the bread and fruit of the vine, Christians preach the Lord’s death until He comes again (1 Co 11:26). The church is the new spiritual Israel that is in a new covenant relationship with God. Therefore, when Jesus stood with His disciples at His last Passover supper with them, He changed the meaning of the bread and wine of which the disciples partook when they continued to eat their “Passover meal.”
And as they were eating [the Passover meal], Jesus took bread and blessed it. And He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat. This is My body” (Mt 26:26).
Jesus gave a new meaning to the bread of the Passover meal. When the disciples would eat the bread during His kingdom reign, it would be in reference to His sacrificed body, as well as His one spiritual body of obedient disciples. The disciples did not understand either of these concepts at the time Jesus ate the bread with them during His last Passover with them.
And He took the cup and gave thanks and gave it to them, saying, ‘All of you drink of it. For this is My blood of the covenant that is shed for many for the remission of sins’” (Mt 26:27,28).
All the Jewish disciples knew the significance of the Passover meal. It was a meal of remembrance and a celebration of the one nation of Israel that was established by God and brought into a covenant relationship with Him at Mount Sinai. But at the time Jesus took the bread and cup during His last Passover, the disciples did not understand the significance of the unity they were to promote among themselves by eating what they would later consider to be the Lord’s Supper.
B. The one bread and one body:
The unity factor of the Lord’s Supper in the context of the Corinthian letters was brought out by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:16,17. Notice how Paul brings the teaching of Jewish unity that surrounded the Jewish Passover into the fellowship meal of the Lord’s meal.
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not the fellowship of the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not the fellowship of the body of Christ? (1 Co 10:16).
The eating of the meal was to bring fellowship and unity between members of the body. This event in the lives of the disciples was the foundation upon which the Lord’s Supper was eaten. The eating of the one bread and drinking of the cup was to signal their common fellowship they had with one another in Christ. The partaking of the love feast and Supper was an event that brought together the many into one.
Paul continued to explain, “For though we are many, we are one bread and one body, for we are all partakers of the one bread” (1 Co 10:17). Unfortunately, what was to symbolize their oneness in Christ, the Achaians corrupted to be an occasion to manifest their lack of unity. They thus came together for the worse, and not for the better (1 Co 11:17).
Paul rebuked, “… when you come together in assembly, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it” (1 Co 11:18). “Therefore,” Paul challenged them, “when you come together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper” (1 Co 11:20). They did not come together to remember that the many members throughout Achaia were one body. On the contrary, when they came together they manifested their divisive attitudes and behavior. The disciples throughout Achaia came together into one assembly for the love feast and Supper, but their coming together revealed their divisions, not their unity. Therefore, their coming together was not for the purpose of remembering that they were one body by eating the one bread. They had corrupted the purpose that the many members were to come together in fellowship by partaking of the one bread. Their coming together, therefore, was not to accomplish the purpose of the love feast/Supper.
Paul explained how their division was manifested in their coming together. “For in eating, each one takes before others his own supper” (1 Co 11:21). It was no longer a sharing meal to promote unity. What was happening was that they were eating as individual groups wherein the different cliques, or groups, sat by themselves independent of others while they ate and drank. The occasion was so contrary to the oneness of the body that Paul revealed that “one is hungry and another is drunken” (1 Co 11:21). Instead of making sure that everyone present was able to share in the food and drink, some groups selfishly consumed their own food while others were allowed to go without food and drink. Each group who had plenty, ate all their own food and drank all their own wine in having their own supper. Others were left to go hungry. That which was instituted to encourage unity became the occasion to manifest divisive behavior.
It was the classical case of sectarianism in the church. When all the denominated sects of the church came together, they could not break down the walls that divided them from one another. Therefore, the meal that was to bring them together in unity, and then climax with the Lord’s Supper to celebrate their common covenant with God, was a clear manifestation of their sectarian behavior. By their divisive behavior during the love feast/Supper, they despised the assembly for the Supper that was to encourage fellowship (1 Co 11:22).
From the context of 1 Corinthians 11, therefore, we see the eating of the fellowship meal and Lord’s Supper as an occasion to manifest that we are one body under the cleansing blood of Jesus. If we do not eat in order to promote our oneness in Christ, then we eat and drink judgment unto ourselves (1 Co 11:29). This was what the eating of the love feast/Supper became in the gathering of the Achaians.
If the occasion explained in 1 Corinthians 11 is a fellowship meal that we eat in order to celebrate our oneness in Christ, then it is unfortunate that many groups today fail to see any significance in having such a meal at all in order to promote unity. In fact, if we understand that this fellowship meal was an opportunity for all the saints of Achaia to come together in fellowship with one another, then we might consider that we unknowingly violate the principles that Paul gives by having our own meal within our own group, and thus, we eat our own supper to the exclusion of others. It would certainly not be wrong for each group to have their own fellowship meal on a weekly basis to celebrate their unity with every other Christian throughout the world. If the occasion herein discussed by Paul was an area wide fellowship meal and Lord’s Supper to create a bond of unity among all the disciples in a particular region, then we might want to reconsider doing the same occasionally in order to bring the disciples of a particular region together in order to encourage the organic function of the body in a particular region. Unfortunately, it is usually the case that independent groups have their “own supper,” but never invite other Christians in the area to the feast in order to celebrate unity.
Paul concluded the exhortation of 1 Corinthians 11 with some very practical instructions. “When you come together to eat [the fellowship meal],” he wrote, “wait for one another” (1 Co 11:33). Waiting for one another is an indication that we are one body in Christ. Eating before everyone arrives from distant areas is an indication that parts of the body are not being considerate of all the parts of all the body.
If any member could not wait to eat before all the members in Achaia had arrived, then Paul instructed that the local members “eat at home so that you do not come together for judgment” (1 Co 11:34). What Paul was saying was that everyone must wait until everyone arrives before the eating of the Supper begins. Doing so accomplishes the purpose of the love feast and Lord’s Supper. Waiting for one another promotes unity. Not waiting on one another brings judgment upon ourselves because we are not eating the “one bread” of the Supper in order to celebrate the oneness of the body.
The fellowship meal with the Lord’s Supper is more than a meal to satisfy hunger. If one cannot wait to satisfy his hunger at the area wide fellowship meal, then he must eat before he comes. If anyone starts eating before everyone has arrived, then his actions manifest his lack of understanding of the purpose of the fellowship meal and Supper. He is thinking of his own belly, and not the unity that was to be signalled to the whole body by the whole body eating together as one.
[Next lecture: November 5]