A Divine Imperative--Unity *
by Robert J. Young

I want to study with you today what I call a divine imperative. I sometimes include this lesson in a series. That anything would be considered a divine imperative means it is very important. The divine imperative we study today is UNITY.

Atmosphere matters. Atmosphere is very important in a local church. Because the first, and sometimes the only, impression people have about the church is based on what happens in the assembly, atmosphere matters at worship.. Worship must be a place where acceptance, bonding, love, brotherhood, mutuality, community, and celebration are communicated. When these components of unity are apparent in the times we share, unity will develop. How can that be done?

As we answer that question, we will spend our time today in 1 Cor. 11, focusing on the Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper is in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and we need that New Testament context and teaching so we can grow in our understanding, and distinguish Bible and tradition.

To appreciate our text, one must understand the pattern of 1 Corinthians. Paul is addressing problems, and attempting to help the church at Corinth develop solutions. In chapters 1-4, the problem is division. In chapter 5, the problem is incest, although the problem may more accurately be described as no discipline. In chapter 6, legal questions and questions or morality, in chapters 8-10, questions about eating meat. If one does not see the pattern, one does not understand all of the dynamics at work in 1 Corinthians. Our st7dy needs a context. When we get the context right, we are started toward correct answers.

Our Scripture reading is 1 Cor. 11:17 to the end of the chapter. The passage reinforces what the Bible reveals elsewhere--that worship has both a vertical and a horizontal nature. In the previous chapter, Paul speaks of our participation as with God and with one another.

In chapter 11, the problem is focused (11:17-19). Generally, the problem is that their assemblies are not filled with praise. In fact, Paul describes them as no praise. The assemblies were "for the worse," detrimental to those who attended. What an amazing statement! The idea that our assemblies might be bad, that those who attend might leave worse off than when they came. Further, there is a problem with division, with schism. There is inward alienation. These are not necessary physical factions, but there are heresies, cliques, people whose purpose is to exclude others. Corinth is a divided church, and therein is the fundamental problem. The problem is described beginning in 1 Cor. 3. Paul calls upon the Corinthians to work to solve the problem.

Specific problems are mentioned in vv. 21-22. (We will get to vs. 20 later.) Paul says that what they are doing is not the Lord's Supper. They are drunken, literally sated or full. The reference is perhaps to their love feasts. They are eating without loving and caring. In the first century world, there was a very small middle class. There was much economic diversity. About 5/6 of the people were slaves. Paul write to say that when the church has no concern, it is a cause of shame. "Shame on you." Insensitivity will not advance the church.

So in v. 20, the results of their practice is that the supper they are eating is not the Lord's.

Once we understand the problem, we need a solution. The solution to the problem at Corinth is in understanding the purpose of the Supper. In the larger context, the solution to many of the problems the church faces is in understanding the purpose of our assemblies. What is the purpose of our worship? We must change our understanding to change our practice. We must understand God's purpose so we can be the genuine body of Christ. Concerning the Supper, we must understand that it is not sacramental and ritual. We must understand that even in the Supper are both vertical and horizontal components.

This is illustrated in v. 23ff. What are the disciples to remember? Remember that this is referring to an event before the cross. Jesus has not yet died when he speaks these words. Yet he says remember. What are the disciples to remember?

Perhaps, they are to remember their humanity, their weaknesses. They have just been arguing about who is greatest. They have been seeking position. In John 13 we learn that they refused to serve. Their seeking for position repulsed them from service. Jesus was not seeking position, but service. He can to serve, to die, to be a ransom. But he accepted them as he served them, as he dined with them. Luke 22:15 indicated how intensely he wanted to be with them. When you add the dynamic of the cross, the application becomes clear.

In vs. 26, the Supper announces our fellowship, that we are family. Here is our reunion, a declaration of our mutuality. We are the body of Christ. The body carries about the Head in this world. We exist in an atmosphere of love and service and sensitivity. Jesus is announcing his love. We are declaring in the horizontal aspect of the Supper, "I too will love, even the least ones." We disappoint one another, we disappoint ourselves, we disappoint God. The Supper declares our acceptance anyway. In vs. 27, we are called upon to see and acknowledge our brothers and sisters, in love we share life, and so the Supper is not a ritual where one can come, check in, punch one's ticket, and leave. We work in relationships. (See 1 Cor. 10:16-17.) We work together. What are our relationships? How does the body respond in this world? How do we find support, encouragement, togetherness?

In vv. 28-31, we see perhaps the body of Christ on the cross, but even more, we see the spiritual body of Christ. In vs. 31, the church properly understood is a cohesive force, we are all connected, this affects our attitudes. Therefore, in the Supper, every week we are reminded. I am among the sorry ones. I am among the least. But the Supper is a declaration of the one another nature of the Christian community.


*Developed in part from sermon notes from Bill Smith.

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Last updated February 23, 2001.