“When You Come Together as a Church” (1 Corinthians 11:17–22)
Listen to the Sermon:
Hear now the word of the Lord from 1 Corinthians 11:17-22,
17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
1 Corinthians 11:17-22, ESV
Well without question this has been the strangest April of my lifetime. The longer that social distance has gone, even to an introvert, how much would all of us give to come together as a church again? How much are we realizing that we took that simple privilege so much for granted? Well in the midst of everything that’s going on in our world, in our city, in our church, this passage is a really important timely reminder. As much as we want to come together again, Paul reminds us that in fact there are worse things than not coming together. There are worse things than even social distancing.
Our big idea today from this passage is this, Division is worse than distance. Though the church at Corinth is coming together, they are coming together wrongly and from their wrong coming together there are three major problems that are emerging.
1. Paul says that they are divided from one another.
2. Paul says that they are deprived of the Lord’s Supper.
3. They are despising the church of God.
Divided from One Another
Well in verse 17 Paul says,
17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you,
1 Corinthians 11:17, ESV
Now it’s worth remembering that as we started at chapter 11, which opened up a new section within the larger letter of 1 Corinthians a section that runs from chapter 11 through chapter 14.
Here Paul is focusing on aspects of corporate worship at the church in Corinth. Paul began by talking about this idea of commendation. He said in 11:2 he says,
2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.
1 Corinthians 11:2, ESV
But he goes on to say, “I want you to understand”, and then he goes on with the section that we’ve been studying our past a couple of times in this book, where Paul talked about the roles and appearances of men and women in in corporate worship at Corinth. So, Paul says there’s much to commend there are many good things that are going on when you’re coming together. However, there are a few things that I need to address in this issue of how men and women are appearing and the roles that they are taking in corporate worship in the church.
Now as Paul deals with another aspect of their corporate worship together their celebration of an observance of the Lord’s Supper. In particular in verse 17 he says,
17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you,
1 Corinthians 11:17, ESV
In fact he’ll repeat the same thing at the end of this paragraph. At the end of verse 22 he said,
22 Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.1 Corinthians 11:22, ESV
Paul wants to say that while there are many good things perhaps that are going on, in this particular area there is nothing to commend. Well what’s the issue? Let’s keep reading a little bit in verse 17,
17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 1 Corinthians 11:17, ESV
This word for come together is two words in English, but it’s one word in the original Greek. This word “together” is used five times in this section on the Lord’s Supper and then again, it’s used twice in chapter 14 where Paul is addressing other issues and problems that are going on in the corporate worship at the church in Corinth.
This idea of coming together it has the idea of gathering together of the church for corporate worship. Now what’s important that we should have in mind is that this, what we’re doing right now, is not corporate worship. We don’t have corporate worship right now; we have household worship. The corporate worship would require all of us to come out of our houses to come to the same place at the same time to worship together. We don’t have corporate worship right now, for reasons that we’re all familiar with, instead we have household worship, and this is in fact why we are not celebrating the Lord’s Supper right now.
When Paul talks about the right administration, the right way to serve the Lord’s Supper, he says five times that this will require for us to come together. Not just to come together but to come together in the right way. Now certainly what we are doing right now is necessary, certainly it’s better than nothing and has a certain amount of value. It is good for us to worship in our households individually if we cannot come together and even once we begin to gather together again there may be some of you who cannot come to the corporate worship services because you need to protect your life or the life of others.
In Mark 3:4-5, we talked about this earlier in the service, Jesus was talking about the man with the withered hand whom he healed on the Sabbath. He says that it is good and right and proper to do good and to save life on the Sabbath.
4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
Mark 3:4-5, ESV
The very clear implication that Jesus is giving us in this scene is that it is good and right and lawful to stay away from corporate worship on the Lord’s Day in order to save life. But in the midst of this we should never forget that staying home, that watching a video that’s live streamed on the Lord’s Day, is not at all the same. That’s what we are called to do to gather together for corporate worship on the Lord’s Day, unless lives are at stake or unless we are otherwise at providentially hindered. God commands us to come together and when he does, he promises that he will bless us when we come together that our coming together will be for the better.
It’s not so in Corinth. “When you come together it is not for the better but”, in fact Paul goes one further step and says that it is for the worse. In other words, it would be better for them not to come together. It would be better for them to maintain social distance than to come together and do what they are currently doing.
Well how can this be? What’s the problem? Paul says for in the first place when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, he says in verse 18. The problem was that when they came together there were divisions.
Now think about that for a moment, they’re together but they’re not together, they’re in the same place but when they are in the same place, they are in fact divided from one another. They’re coming together physically should be a manifestation of their spiritual unity, but in fact the opposite is true. When they are coming together physically they are in fact deepening the spiritual divisions between them and so it would be better not to come together than to come together for the purpose of deepening those divisions.
Again our big idea is division is worse than distance. Well what kind of divisions are happening here? You may remember that Paul addressed personality divisions at the beginning of 1 Corinthians in chapter 1. Then again in chapter 3 where Paul said that some are saying that they’re following Apollos, and some are saying that they are following Cephas, and some are saying that that they are in fact they’re following Christ, you know the more holier-than-thou people might have been saying that.
Those were personality divisions, philosophical divisions maybe, but here these are petty divisions. These are divisions, not over convictions, but they are over cliques. These have to do with wealth and class divisions in the church and Paul says at the end of verse 18 and verse 19, that while this is tragic and while this is sinful, at the same time it doesn’t surprise him. Paul is saying as long as sin remains in the world there will never be a perfectly pure perfectly united church.
Look what he says the end of verse 18 he says,
18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized1 Corinthians 11:18-19, ESV
Life in the body of Christ will always deal with corruption, it’ll always have some decay, there will always be divisions. We should learn from this principle that Paul is reminding us of here, not to be discouraged when people in the church let us down. Sadly we should expect it and in fact we need to be watchful for it and quick to confess when we are the ones sowing division and discord and the source of discouragement in the church.
It’s going to help; we need to not pretend that it won’t happen and not to be shocked and scandalized and wash our hands of the church when we see it happening. We need to recognize that it will happen and be prepared.
Now that doesn’t excuse or justify divisions and schisms and factions within the church, but it means that we need to be realistic and ready for it and that we need to have theological categories of understanding what’s happening. When we see that specifically Paul says, “there must be factions among us”, again that’s not an encouragement toward factions, but what Paul is doing is acknowledging that even in the midst of these sinful divisions God is sovereign. God is working out his plan. God is actually at work using even the sinfulness of these factions and divisions and splits and schisms in the church to work out his sovereign purposes of purifying his people.
He says, “there the factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” In the sin of schism, as in any sin, God is not the author of sin nor is he the approver of sin. He’s not the one tempting us toward sin, but nevertheless God is exercising sovereign providential control over sin.
You know one year ago the issue was not coronavirus. If you remember one year ago in Nebraska, the issue was floods. There was massive flooding everywhere. There were people in our congregation who could not physically drive to the church because an island had formed around them as floodwaters cut off roads and things like that.
Well sin is not a flood. Sin is not something where we are powerless to control where the chaos goes. Sin in God’s control is something that is controlled; it’s not out of control like a flood but God is establishing wise and powerful boundaries that cannot be broken. He’s keeping sin from extending further than he allows it to, and he is ordering and governing sin so that wherever it’s going to go it’s always going to in the end accomplish his purposes for it. Sin isn’t this raging chaotic flood with no boundaries, but God is personally, providentially, cutting a channel for sin through human history with boundaries that he forbids sin from crossing.
Now this is true of what’s happening with the COVID-19 crisis. God has established wise and powerful boundaries so that this crisis cannot go further than he wishes it to. He’s ordering it and governing it toward accomplishing his holy purposes. God also does this with divisions in the church.
“I believe it in part for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine may be recognized.” Even when we come across divisions in the church, we don’t have to be frightened, scared, or just wash our hands of the church. We recognize that God is testing and approving those who are genuine, those who are enduring this and are attempting to make peace in truth and purity and unity. So there will be factions, even as we must take responsibility and confess the sinfulness of those divisions when we’re the ones responsible for it.
Now as we look at this passage again, I think in our current crisis, Paul’s words are all the more remarkable right now. All we can think about is when it will be that we’re just allowed to freely gather again to come together again. Paul is saying, and we need to hear this we need to hear this right now, that there is something worse than our distance in terms of divisions in the church. It is possible to come together now, only to be even more divided from one another. There’s a great irony here they’re together, but they are divided from one another.
Deprived of the Lord’s Supper
Well in the next two verses, in verses 20 through 21, Paul offers and points out another irony that though they are feasting, there these big feasts that are going on here, they are not eating the Lord’s Supper. They don’t have it. In fact, they are deprived of the Lord’s Supper.
That’s our second point. There’s plentiful food for some at least, but in all of this they are deprived of the Lord’s Supper. Paul goes on in verse 20 and says this,
20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 1 Corinthians 11:20, ESV
Paul is drawing an implication from this situation. The divided situation in Corinth, where he is saying that if they are divided then they cannot eat the Lord’s Supper, there may be bread and wine and this may be administered by a lawfully ordained minister, he may be administering the Lord’s Supper according to the words of institution from Jesus himself, but if the church is divided among along petty lines of wealth and class it’s not the Lord’s Supper that they are eating.
Well why do these divisions invalidate the reality of the Lord’s Supper? Paul explained the nature of the Lord’s Supper in in the last chapter. In chapter 10:16-17 he says,
16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
1 Corinthians 10:16-17, ESV
Therefore, the Lord’s Supper is, in part, that communion participation with fellowship with Christ. That’s part of it, but here’s the important part of the nature of the Lord’s Supper that Paul is saying is not happening here; the Lord’s Supper is also to unite and give participation, communion, and fellowship between the various members of the body of Christ.
So chapter 10:17 said, “because there is one bread we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Well if the church is divided then they are not having communion with each other. If some are hungry, as Paul says in verse 21, while others get drunk for in eating each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry and another gets drunk, if that’s true then they are not one body. They’re not all eating of the same bread; therefore they’re not united in that moment in the in the Lord’s Supper.
Additionally, it’s not just they’re not united with one another, they’re also not uniting with the Lord. They’re not participating in and celebrating fellowship and communion with the Lord. One commentator I read, Leon Morris, cited an ancient church father a man named John Chrysostom who lived from 349 to 470 AD. John Chrysostom wrote this, “what is the masters, the Lord’s Supper, what is the masters is common to all the servants. To make a difference among the servants means that it is no longer the masters.”
When we take what the Lord has given to us and we divide along these petty lines of wealth and class, then we have actually removed this supper from the Lord’s possession and from the Lord’s purposes, we perverted it to turn it into something of our own. Notice the irony here that while there is plenty of food and drink, again for some at least, there is no Lord’s Supper.
In verse 20 Paul says, “it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat.” Now it’s difficult to know what exactly is happening here. We read in verse 21 that each one is going on ahead with his own meal, so that some go hungry and others get drunk, but we don’t know exactly what that means.
Some have suggested if you if you look at ancient homes that would have been around in Corinth, some of these wealthy homes especially had just one dining room. It was called the triclinium and it could only seat around nine people or something like that. So maybe what was happening is that the upper tier, wealthy, elite in the church, were eating there, perhaps with access to more and better food, while the rest of the church had to fend for themselves.
Others think that the rich were eating early, they were rich they had more leisure time in their lives. While the poor, who had to work and had less control over their schedules, would have to come later and by the time they arrived, perhaps, there was no food left.
Still others say well maybe this was more like a picnic and less like a potluck, not everyone bringing food that they shared with one another, but each person brought his or her own meal. So as the church came together, well the rich had a whole lot of food but the poor had nothing to eat. Well as with the previous passages we looked at and talked about the fact in terms of head coverings, the details were obscure. We don’t know exactly what that passage is referring to anymore that we know about this passage, but nevertheless in both passages the doctrine is clear. What Paul is very clearly saying is that when we make divisions like this in the body of Christ, we don’t have the Lord’s Supper. We might have the right elements in the right forms, but we are betraying our master Christ by dividing along petty class and wealth lines from the very people that he shed his blood to save.
Now I want to also point out in conjunction with this what Paul says at the very beginning in verse 22, because it helps us to think about why this doesn’t count as the Lord’s Supper. Paul says in verse 22,
22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
1 Corinthians 11:22, ESV
Now this first sentence is more important than we realize probably at first. What Paul is getting at is the right administration of the Lord’s Supper and this verse helps to explain the development of the administration, or how the Lord’s Supper is served as we see in the progress of the New Testament.
Now remember the context of the very first Lord’s Supper, this is important to remember, when Jesus gave his Lord’s Supper to his disciples it happened in the context of the Passover meal. Now that’s important for a variety of reasons, but for our purposes it’s important to remember that the Passover meal was a feast and had multiple courses where different foods were served at different times. Throughout that feast, just so you know, it’s centered around a meal, a feast.
There were various scripture verses that were read, various prayers that were offered at different times. The worship service was in itself a meal but remember then that the way that the Passover was administered was by households. The Passover was a meal that was observed from house to house. We see that all the way from the very first Passover that happened in Egypt in Exodus 12:3, the Lord is instructing Moses to tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb, according to their fathers houses, a lamb for a household.
So again in the Passover meal, it was a feast, it was a worship service, that was that was built around food, but it also happened household by household. What that means is that the Passover was not a congregational coming together, a worship service like what we celebrate in Christian worship, but rather it’s something like what we’re doing right now, it’s household worship.
More than that, again it was a feasting household, feasting worship, again many courses of food with Scripture and prayer interspersed together. Now the reason this is important is as we think about how Christianity first began to spread and in the book of Acts you see the progression from Jerusalem to all Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
Well at the very beginning of the spread of the gospel into just Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 where Jews are gathered together in the city of Jerusalem for the Passover, they would organize in different households where they would celebrate it, but they were all gathered in the city of Jerusalem.
Think about what was happening there in Acts chapter 2, we read that they were celebrating the Lord’s Supper. The early church called the Lord’s Supper the breaking of bread because part of what Jesus commanded us to do is to break bread and says take eat this is my body. Well originally when they were celebrating the Lord’s Supper by the breaking of bread, they did it in their homes. We read in Acts 2:46,
46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,
Acts 2:46, ESV
So they had some kind of corporate worship where they would gather at the temple to worship, but then they were breaking bread in their homes and they received their food with glad and generous hearts. Now over time the Christians could no longer use the temple for corporate worship services and so they came together in the home of one person. So they wouldn’t stay in their individual homes, they would gather together and they would stay in the home of one person.
The next time we see the church breaking bread together, it’s not house by house as it was for the Jews who were used to celebrating the Passover meal in their individual households. As it was spreading the next time we see the Lord’s Supper, it’s in the context of a gathering together worship service which is primarily marked by extended teaching. We see this in Acts 20:7 and then again in verse 11 so here’s verse 7 and 11,
7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.
11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed.
Acts 20:7, 11, ESV
The word “together” is not the same word that we see in 1 Corinthians 11, but it’s a very close synonym, our word is like come together and the word here in Acts chapter 20 is gathered together.
So again in the early church we see them gathering together to break bread for the purpose of breaking bread for the Lord’s Supper. But this wasn’t a feast, this wasn’t multiple courses of food with Scripture and prayers interspersed, this was centered around teaching, prayer and preaching.
Well you might say, does that mean that we can do either, that either is acceptable? Well that’s where Paul’s statement at the beginning of verse 22 is so important in this passage. Paul saying that it is no longer fitting. In the progress of how the administration of the Lord’s Supper is developing in the early church, it is no longer acceptable now that Christianity has spread beyond Jerusalem, it’s no longer acceptable to do this from house to house.
Look at what he says, “do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” He’s saying your houses, individual houses are the places where you can enjoy feasting, where you can have these lavish meals and spend time together for that purpose. The Lord’s Supper is for when you are gathered together on the first day of the week, for breaking bread. The Lord’s Supper is for when our congregation comes together. This is why we are not celebrating the Lord’s Supper right now.
Celebrating the Lord’s Supper requires us not to do this individually, from house to house. Do not do it together in our homes or houses or places for eating and drinking in, they are not the place for the right administration, for the right serving of the Lord’s Supper. Now we know from wider church history that the feasts originally, they were called love feasts or the agape.
They continued for some time and it’s not hard to understand why. Jewish worship was built on feast, you can read about the festivals in the Old Testament. Also, a lot of these Corinthians had come out of pagan worship and their worship was also centered around feasts, they worship their gods at divinely sanctioned parties.
Christian worship on the other hand is not a feast. I mean you can maybe call it metaphorically a feast, we’re getting a feast. But our feast, what we are feasting on is not food, you don’t come for a full banquet prepared here where we go from course to course. You come for the Word of God; that’s what we feast upon.
You know Jesus reminded us from Deuteronomy that man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Christian worship is word based, it’s not a feast, it’s a dialogue, it’s a conversation, it’s a fellowship that we have with Christ. Not a feast but a fellowship, a fellowship that we have with Christ that is centered around the word and prayer.
The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a provision that foreshadows the feast that we are awaiting. We don’t have a feast now ,we are awaiting a feast and the Lord’s Supper is the foretaste of that great feast of the marriage supper of the Lamb in glory. Our worship is not centered around a feast but around the Word of God. The Lord’s Supper then is so important, not as the main thing, but as a seal and confirmation of God’s Word.
Now again in church history these love feasts actually continued for some time until the church forbade that love feasts at the Council of Laodicea in 364 AD and then they reiterated that ban on love feasts at the third council of Carthage in 393 AD. That’s important to understand, that the church was not making up new law by saying that, they were applying what Paul says here.
This isn’t where you celebrate the Lord’s Supper in your houses by feasting and eating. You have your houses to feast and eat in but when we come together for the Lord’s Supper that’s a different thing entirely. Christian worship is a come together conversation, with the Lord’s Supper as a seal confirmation of what God speaks to us in his word. In that dialogue it’s not a household feast.
Despising the Church of God
Well the Corinthian church here has feasting feasting everywhere, but not the Lord’s Supper to eat. Now Paul closes this section with one final tragedy that though God’s people have been highly esteemed and honored to be called out of the world as the church of God, these same people are despising the church by humiliating them. So our third and final point is despising the church of God.
We see this sort of in the second half of verse 22 he says,
22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
1 Corinthians 11:22, ESV
That phrase “the church of God” is a word that brings out the preciousness of the congregation of God’s people. Paul used it at the beginning of 1 Corinthians, and he’ll use it at the end of it. In 1st Corinthians 1:2 he addressed this letter to
2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
1 Corinthians 1:2, ESV
Then again in chapter 15:9, at the end of this letter, Paul talks about his own sin against the church of God he says,
9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
1 Corinthians 15:9, ESV
Perhaps the place where we see the great preciousness of this title, we have to go to Acts 20:28, and it’s again Paul speaking. He’s speaking to the Ephesian elders who are gathered together and he’s giving them final instructions, knowing that he will never see them again. He says,
28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
Acts 20:28, ESV
This is the church of God, it was obtained by Jesus’s own blood. To be a member then of the church is a precious thing and yet they are despising the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing, by drawing a false barriers and dividing lines between fellow members of the church. So Paul closes this passage by saying, “shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.”
Well in the midst of our time of social distancing, what are we to do with this? Three applications for you.
1. Redeem this time of distance by addressing any divisions in the body. We should all be taking stock right now, thinking through our own lives and and thinking about our various relationships to ask are there any grudges, any bitterness, any hurt feelings between you and anyone else in the body.
Perhaps did you feel a sense of uncomfortable distance between you and another member of the church before we entered this forced time of social distance? Understand gathering together again, coming together again for corporate worship, won’t make those problems go away. Why not take this time to work through those divisions that you feel from others in the church. FaceTime, or video chat with someone in some way, or sit outside six plus feet away from someone. Learn to have the safest possible way of doing this and having a conversation with that person. Don’t let there be factions in the church, go out of your way to be close to people even when we must be physically distant from them. Redeem this time of distance by addressing any divisions in the body.
2. Prepare properly for the Lord’s Supper. We are all mourning the loss of the Lord’s Supper, but we need to remember that simply being in the building and simply having the elements again will not give us the Lord’s Supper necessarily. So, Paul says here, “When you come together it’s not for the batter, it’s for the worse. It is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat now.
We’re in mourning for this because we recognize just how precious and important the Lord’s Supper is. Probably the best illustration or the best way of putting this was by Robert Bruce, a Scottish pastor who lived hundreds of years ago, he says, “In the Lord’s Supper we do not gain a better Christ, but in the Lord’s Supper we gain the same Christ better.” Right now, we have Christ by faith through his word. The word is the main thing, we don’t gain a better Christ in the Lord’s Supper even as acknowledge that we do gain the same Christ better.
Now normally we celebrate weekly and it’s a good thing, but this is a time where we have an extended period to prepare. Normally we’re ongoingly preparing or we’re supposed to be but this is a time where we have time to really think about this so part of this means that we need to prepare for our commune and a participation with the Lord.
Two sides to this, we need to address our sin and we need to grow in love for Christ. So we need to be asking that the Lord will open our eyes to see hidden sins in our life, so that we can repent from them and seek forgiveness. We also need to be asking the Lord to deepen our love and desire for him.
Additionally, we need to not just prepare for our communion with the Lord, we also need to prepare for our communion with each other. Again, two parts to this, we need to pray for the Lord to open our eyes to see or to deal with any divisions or issues that stand between us and a fellow believer. Also, we need to ask the Lord how to engage positively with people; to be reaching out to them during this time, encouraging one another, praying for one another.
Some people are texting Bible verses to one another. Again, if you’re on Marco Polo I’d love to get video messages from you or to set up a set of an extended video conversation that we can have with one another, or even just a phone call. We need to be engaging positively in the lives of one another, to uphold one another in prayer, and in this we prepare properly for the Lord’s Supper.
3. Do not despise the church of God. Now part of what this means is that this is a time to reflect on why we place such an importance on church membership at Harvest. I want to encourage you, if you’ve been thinking about membership at Harvest but haven’t taken that step, this is a wonderful opportunity to do so. There are actually people right now who are who are stepping forward, even in this time when we’re divided, to pursue church membership. That is a good and godly and encouraging thing.
As Paul says here in verse 18, they’re celebrating the Lord’s Supper when they come together as a church. There is a specific congregation of people with specific roles, a specific number of these people and they’re celebrating the Lord’s Supper in the midst of this specific accountability and the specific relationship of shepherding that’s happening in the church. If we think membership is not in the view of Paul, understand that it’s just a few verses later in Chapter 12:12 and following that Paul is going to begin his extended reflection on church membership.
As many members of the body of Christ, membership is so important. At Harvest and in our denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, membership requires only the most basic Christian responsibilities. We’re a very diverse group of people in a lot of ways, but we all hold to the same things. So we all confess our biblical faith together just as were commanded. We confess that we are sinners who cannot save ourselves. We confess together that Jesus Christ is the son of God and Savior of sinners.
Then membership requires us to make vows, the vowing that by the grace of the Holy Spirit we will endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ. Vowing that we will support the church in tit’s worship and work to the best of our abilities. Vowing that we will submit to the government and discipline of the church, as we promise to study and to pursue its purity and peace.
These are basic biblical commands which is why we limit the Lord’s Supper to those who are members of gospel preaching churches in good standing. Not necessarily even our church, we know that there are visitors who are members of other sister congregations in good standing or there are some who have just transferred here, just moved here, and they’re just starting to attend.
We recognize that all of those who are members of Christ’s body, that they’ve made these professions, they’ve taken these vows and so we celebrate with them. But we celebrate the Lord’s Supper when we come together as a church, which is why the opposite of despising the church means that we have to have a high view of membership in the body of Christ.
It also means that we cannot humiliate one another, especially over class and wealth and distinctions. In fact, not only should we not humiliate, but we need to go out of our way to honor one another.
We need to keep in mind always the reality that at Harvest we have the great privilege of being a church of many stories, but in the midst of that and in our many stories there are many opportunities for division. There are potentially divisions between young and old. We could have the possibility of divisions between those who are married and those who are single, divisions between the families that have no children, versus young children, versus grown children, versus grandchildren. We could have divisions on the basis of homeschooling versus, private schooling versus, public school. We could have divisions based on political opinions, especially on how to handle the COVID-19 crisis.
The question in all of this is will we separate into schisms, divisions, and cliques, or can we show grace to one another? Can we bear with one another in love? Brothers and sisters let us not despise the church of God. Let us not humiliate those who have nothing, let us instead hold them in the highest esteem and treasure one another as members of the church of God, purchased by the blood of Christ.
Brothers and sisters this is a time where we are separated but the Lord is at work. He is restraining everything that is happening and giving boundaries to it and guiding and ordering it to purify his people. Hold on in faith to that as we prepare for the day when we will gather again as soon as the Lord wills us to.
Pray now with me.
Lord we pray that in the midst of this we would not be divided. We pray that in the midst of all that is happening, that in fact we would grow together in unity, that you would be at work purifying your people. Father we pray that you would bring about good in this and we pray that in Harvest that you would eliminate division, schisms, and clique so that we could be many members united as one body in Christ. We pray this for Christ’s glory and for our good. Amen,