Mary Poppins said: Just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. And she was right. Receiving correction, like taking medicine, can be unpleasant. Commendation, however, is like sugar. When people are commended, they are more receptive to the one who is doing the commending. And they are more receptive to the other things he wants to communicate, even if it involves correction. The Rabbi had commended Messiah’s followers in Corinth for holding to the traditions he passed on to them. However, the way they were eating the meal when they met, and the way some of them ate the bread and drank the wine, wasn’t right. Now the Rabbi corrects them.
In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. When Messiah’s Community meets, the people should be benefitted, not harmed. They should receive instruction. They should worship the Lord together; pray together; strengthen their relationships with one another; grow in love for each other. But when the community in Corinth met, their meetings were doing more harm than good. They were doing things which harmed people and prevented some of the good things from happening. That needed to change.
The first problem: divisions. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church (think community), there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. The world is divided in so many ways – by nationality, skin color, language, religion, ideology, politics, economic status. Messiah’s Community is to be different. We are to be united. Paul had communicated to them earlier in this letter that he was aware of divisions in the community, that some of them had chosen one leader to support, and opposing other leaders. Here he gives another reason for divisions among them – there were differences among them. Exactly what those differences were, the Rabbi doesn’t say, but it seems likely the differences were differences in faith and in practice – what they believed and how they practiced their faith.
Messiah’s people can have differences about some things we believe, like if Messiah will return and reign on Earth for a thousand years, or if Messiah will return, but there won’t be a Millennial Kingdom in this world. However, we can’t have differences about a core belief, an essential belief like Messiah’s resurrection, or the Trinity. Messiah’s people can have difference about how we practice, like if we worship on Shabbat or on Sunday, but we can’t have differences in practice when it comes to things like participating in worship at the temple of an idol, or engaging the services of a prostitute.
While it’s not good for Messiah’s Community to have differences that cause division, Paul sees a silver lining: God can bring something good out of a bad situation. Their differences served a useful purpose. They revealed who was going too far, and who wasn’t; who was believing and practicing the rights things, and who wasn’t; who had God’s approval and who didn’t.
Keep in mind that this community was founded by an apostle. It had great leaders. The people had a lot of knowledge. The supernatural was occurring among them. Even in a great community like that, there were divisions based on differences in faith and practice. This teaches us that in any community that belongs to Yeshua, we should not expect perfection. We should not expect that everyone will be like Yeshua – perfect and mature and wise and godly all the time. Since Yeshua told us there would be wheat and tares, we should not even expect that everyone will be saved. We should expect that there will be differences about some beliefs and practices, and some of those differences may reveal who has God’s approval and who doesn’t.
The first problem: divisions among them. The second problem: the way they ate the Lord’s Supper. So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. When the community met, they ate a meal together – like our Onegs. The meal included bread and wine. The bread and the wine had special meaning. What should have happened was that, when they ate their meal together, the food and wine should have been shared so that everyone had enough food to eat and enough wine to drink. But, that wasn’t happening. Some brought a lot of food to eat and a lot of wine to drink – for themselves. They were having their own private, very nice meals. Some either were poor, or didn’t have enough time to prepare, and were not able to bring enough food and wine to satisfy their needs. Instead of those with a lot, sharing their food and wine with those who had little, those with a lot ate a nice, big meal, and those with little didn’t have enough to satisfy their hunger. And, some were drinking to excess, and getting drunk – which also teaches us that the wine they drank was wine, real wine, not grape juice. This is not how the one new man, the new united humanity, is to act. This is not how brothers and sisters are to treat each other. This is not how a community of people who love each, is to behave.
When Messiah’s people meet and eat the Lord’s Supper, which in this case included a meal, the focus is not to be on the food. The focus is to get closer to the Lord and get closer to the other members of the community. The Rabbi asks four questions to help them understand this.
Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? The answer is yes. They have homes to eat and drink in. If they want to have a nice meal with a lot of food and wine, they should do that at home.
Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? The answer is yes. When people eat a meal together, and some get a lot of food and wine, and some don’t get enough, those who don’t get enough are humiliated. The behavior of those who have a lot of food and wine doesn’t just humiliate those who don’t get enough; their behavior humiliates the entire community – a very special community which belongs to God. Their behavior makes the entire community look bad, harms the community, and reveals their contempt for the community. They despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing.
The last two of the four questions: What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? The Rabbi answers his own questions. Certainly not in this matter! This is not praiseworthy behavior. It is behavior that requires correction, not praise.
To correct them; to help them understand the purpose of the Lord’s Supper – which in their case meant eating a meal, which included the special bread and the special wine, the Lord’s representative reminds them of the traditions he taught them when he was with them: how the Lord’s Supper is to be observed, and why it is to be observed. For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The teaching that Paul passed on to them about the Lord’s Supper was received by Paul from the Lord – either directly from Yeshua Himself, by Yeshua communicating directly to Paul; or indirectly, by Paul receiving truth from the apostles or those close to the Lord’s representatives. Either way, the point is that Paul’s teaching about the Lord’s Supper was not something that originated from Paul. It came from the Lord – and therefore was true.
This is what Paul received from the Lord: The Lord Yeshua, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 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.” 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.”
Some observations: The Lord Yeshua, on the night he was betrayed (it was a very special night – the first night of Passover), took bread (it was unleavened bread), 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.” When the Lord Yeshua said, “This is my body,” He was not telling His disciples that the bread was literally His body, or would miraculously turn into His body. “This is my body” is non-literal language. It was not meant to be understood literally. We know this because His body was not the bread. His body was separate and distinct from the bread. His body did not turn into the bread. The bread did not turn into His body. The Lord’s use of non-literal language is reinforced by His words: Do this in remembrance of me. The Lord Yeshua was teaching His disciples that eating the bread would help them remember Him, and His sacrificial love for them when, in the future, they ate the bread.
The same principles apply to the wine. 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.” Again, the Lord Yeshua was not telling His disciples that the wine in the cup was His actual blood, or that it would miraculously turn into His blood. When He spoke these words, His blood was in His body. His blood was separate and distinct from the wine. Again, the Lord was using non-literal language, and again, this non-literal use of language is reinforced by the words: Do this in remembrance of me. The Lord Yeshua was teaching His disciples to remember Him, and His sacrificial love for them, and the blood that He would spill for them that enabled them to enter the new covenant, this fabulous new arrangement, this amazing new deal, this tremendous new agreement between God and human beings that grants us so many great benefits – when, in the future, they drank the wine.
When we eat the bread and drink the wine, we remember that the Lord Yeshua loved His people so much that He was willing to sacrifice His life for us, for His brothers and sisters, for His community. And we do more than remember; when we eat the bread and drink the wine we also proclaim the Lord’s death – to ourselves, and to the world. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. When someone asks: What do you Christians and Messianic Jews do when you meet? We say: We pray to God. We praise God using words and songs. We learn from the Word from God. We strengthen our relationships with one another. And we observe a very important tradition: we eat bread and drink wine, which reminds us of the life and death and resurrection of the Lord Yeshua. We will continue to do this until He returns – and He will return. Why do we observe this very important tradition of eating the bread and drinking the wine? To remember and to proclaim the Lord’s sacrificial love and sacrificial death for His people.
If the Lord’s Supper is about the Lord’s sacrificial love for His people, then how can those with a lot have a feast while those who have little experience hunger and humiliation? Selfishness and lack of consideration for others is the opposite of what the Lord’s Supper is about. The Lord’s Supper is not just about you and your relationship with God. The Lord’s Supper is about you and your relationship with God and your relationship to the Lord’s people. If you don’t understand that, you are participating in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, and that is a serious sin, so serious that the Lord may choose to punish you for it. 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. To eat the bread and drink the wine without love for and commitment to the Lord, is a sin against the Lord. And, to eat the bread and drink the wine without love for and commitment to your brothers and sisters who are eating the bread and drinking the wine with you, and who are participants with you in the body and blood of the Lord, is a sin against them – which is also a sin against the Lord, since they are united to Him.
We don’t want to do that. We don’t want to sin against the Lord or the Lord’s people. We don’t want to eat the bread and drink the wine in an unworthy manner. We want to eat the bread and drink the wine in a worthy manner. To prevent us from eating the bread and drinking the wine in an unworthy manner, we want to examine ourselves before we eat the bread and drink the wine to make sure we understand that we are committing ourselves to serve the Lord and love the members of His community. If we don’t, we are sinning and He may judge us. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Messiah (referring to Messiah’s Community) eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.
When we eat and drink, we want the food and wine to make us healthier and happier. When we eat the bread and drink the wine of the Lord’s Supper, we want to be blessed. But when we eat the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, without discerning the body, without understanding that this is a commitment to serve the Lord and love our brothers and sisters, the opposite may take place. Instead of health, happiness and blessing, the Lord may judge us so that we come weak, sick, even die.
Notice this: “To fall asleep” is an expression which means “to die.” Paul uses “fall asleep” instead of “die,” because for followers of Messiah, death is not permanent. Death is more like falling asleep and then waking up. We may die physically, but death will be followed by eternal life. “Fall asleep” is an expression reserved for believers who die. This teaches us that we may sin, so much so that the Lord judges us by ending our lives in this world. But, we still belong to Him. We are still saved. However, it is better if we don’t sin so that the Lord ends our lives.
The Lord may judge us if we sin, but prefers that we judge ourselves so that He doesn’t have to judge us. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. If we examined ourselves; if we looked carefully at ourselves for bad attitudes and bad behaviors, and corrected ourselves, the Lord would not need to judge us. Obviously, that is the preferred choice.
The Lord has the right to judge His people with weakness, sickness, even death. If the Lord allows this to happen to us or to others we care for, we should not get angry or bitter. We should understand that the Lord’s judgments for His people are more than punitive – designed to punish. They are redemptive. They are designed to benefit. 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. A good father disciplines his children. His discipline, while painful, is beneficial. The Lord is like a good father, and his judgments are designed to help us change our bad attitudes and bad behaviors. If we respond to His judgments in the right way, with wisdom and cooperation, not anger and resentment; and if we humble ourselves and turn to Him and His ways, we show we are His children and He is our Father; and we will not be condemned with the world.
Paul writes his final directions about observing the Lord’s Supper. So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. When the community gathered, they wanted blessing, not judgment. Therefore they should eat their meal together, and food should be shared so that everyone had enough. They should focus on unity, love, consideration for each other, commitment to each other. No one should come so hungry that he was focused more on the food than on the meaning of the meal.
The Rabbi had other directions for them about eating the meal together, and drinking the special bread and drinking the special wine that reminded them of Messiah, but those other directions would wait until he arrived. And when I come I will give further directions.
Some final thoughts:
I like the way we observe the Lord’s Supper.
Ideally, I’d like to do it every week, not once a month.
I’d like to try something different – eating the bread and drinking the wine during the meal.
Father in Heaven, the Community of Messiah is divided in so many ways. Help us come together in unity, but that one new man, that new united humanity that You want us to be.
When we eat the Lord’s Supper, may we eat it in a worthy manner. May we understand that we are committing ourselves not only to You, the holy God, but to each other.
Father, the Shema community is blessed in many way, but we have a long way to go. Help us grow in unity, love, consideration for each other, and commitment to each other.