As we have previously discovered the well-to-do class of the Corinthian church is cause for many of the issues the congregation is facing. Again Paul talks of divisions (v. 18) and again Paul needs to correct their view on love and how to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. As a historic-cultural aspect we need to see that the elite of the church (i.e., those who have a good standing in society) do not need to work the entire day and stop working at around noon time. But those who are socially disadvantaged might get off sometime around sun-set.
Here Witherington writes insightfully, “[t]hese divisions seem to have been created by some more well-to-do members of the congregation treating the agape meal like a private dinner party, perhaps a banquet followed by a drinking party (convivium)” (Conflict And Community In Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary On 1 And 2 Corinthians [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995], 241; emphasis original). Thus “a serious division between haves and have-nots was … threatening the fragile unity of the Corinthian Christian community” (idem., [emphasis mine]; see also the context of 11:2-16 and the treatment on head covering with its social significance). We need to mention that private dinner and drinking parties were fairly common and social status and rank were easily identified by the benevolent treatment of those who are in good standing in society and could thus further the prestige of the host.
As pointed out above we see the selfish behavior of the homo novus (the new millionaires of their time) and how this destroys Christian fellowship (vv. 17-22). Contrary to 11:2 Paul cannot approve the Corinthian church in regards to their behavior in their worship services. We again see Paul talking about divisions in the church (the haves and have-nots) which according to v. 19 actually reveals who the true believers are. Paul strongly claims that what the people are doing “when [they] come together as church” (sunerchomenōn humōn en ekklēsia; v. 20) is not celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Each member only takes care of him- or herself and neglects the poor and hungry siblings in the household of faith (v. 21); via three rhetorical questions Paul then shames the rich in the church who follow such behavior (v. 22).
In vv. 23-36 we find the tradition of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. In using an ethical argument (“as Jesus gave his body for us, we should help one another” or differently “we cannot really remember what the Lord has done if we are unable to help each other”) Paul furthers his argument that the rich believers behavior is to be condemned. Paul states that the bread is Jesus’ body “which is for you” (v. 24) and the cup is the new covenant, established by Jesus’ blood (v. 25). In eating the bread and drinking the cup the Corinthian believers (and every believer for that matter) proclaim the death of Jesus (v. 26).
There are consequences to the wrong treatment of the Lord’s Supper (vv. 27-34). Paul warns the believers not to eat the bread and drink the cup in an unworthy manner, because this “profanes the body and blood of the Lord” (v. 27). Believers are to examine themselves (v. 28) and be aware that the Lord’s Supper involves Jesus’ crucified body and the church as his body (v. 29). Then Paul points out God’s judgment on those who participate in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner (vv. 30-32). Thus Paul’s advice is that the Corinthian believers should care for each other and not proceed with their devastating and dishonoring behavior (vv. 33-34).
In general we see in New Testament times that the church takes care of her members. That is to say that the members (which as they gather constitute the church!) should take care of each other. It is not possible to talk about faith in mere intellectual terms and let the brother or sister go their way not meeting their needs (cf. James 2:14ff.). Physical needs (e.g. hunger) are to be addressed if the body of Christ is about the whole person.
Further, we proclaim the Lord’s death (and his second coming!) by partaking in the Lord’s Supper. This then has gospel significance and we need to be sure that we partake in a manner worthy of it.