The hardships of daily life can make Scripture a little blurry. God’s goodness, which seemed so obvious yesterday, can be obscured by the worries and troubles of today. As such, I am always eager to find Scripture that encourages my confidence in its divine authorship. Every once in a while, I feel like I need to be wowed.
The Apostle Paul’s rebuke to the church in Corinth about the Lord’s supper can do that.
When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. (1 Cor. 11:20-21)
Let me explain.
Normal life in a class-stratified world
The world of the New Testament consisted of two social groups: the rich and powerful, and the poor and worthless. Extant ruins of coliseums and amphitheaters still have the marble, front-row seats that were reserved for the elite as if that ancient entertainment served to both amuse and remind everyone of the social hierarchy. Old inscriptions tell the same story: they identify wealthy patrons and memorialize the honorable members of the city.
In New Testament times, the culture was stratified by class and no one questioned it. Everybody had his or her place. So if Scripture were of human origin, it would contain remnants of these cultural distinctions, too. But it doesn’t.
Normal life in the Kingdom of Heaven
A merely human version of the Lord’s supper might implore us to continue the re-enactment of Jesus’ last supper. The full meaning of Passover is now clear. This rite is understandably central in the church calendar, and it is of such importance that we don’t have to wait for another year to celebrate it, like we do for Passover. We can do it the next week. That makes sense. An ordinary human could add that.
And sometimes the poor will come late because they are still working while the rich have already begun their celebration, and sometimes the rich will have more food than the poor because people bring their own food, and sometimes the rich might be a little tipsy because they have been celebrating with the good wine. That makes sense too. That is just how things are. Nothing here to sound an alarm.
So when Paul delivered his strong rebuke of the social distinctions present in Corinth’s celebration of the Lord’s supper, he had insight that only comes from God himself. No mere human would be able to detect a problem because the air they breathed was permeated by these divisions. If we were to watch the Corinthian church in action we might even say that they seemed quite civil toward each other. But an inspired human, who had access to the mind of God, could see through the cultural haze. With his eyes opened, Paul could see that the anti-God assumptions of the world had found their way into the church, and he was aghast.
Paul’s insights were so contrary to the expectations of the day that they are evidence of the divine authorship of his letter. The gospel of Jesus reveals the poverty of the rich and arrogant, and raises up the lowly and rejected. It creates one church in which we are all essential members of the body in which Christ is the head. Only a heavenly gospel would give us reason to consider the interests of others as more important than our own.
Paul had no tolerance for a socially acceptable, stratified communion table. In that staunch, counter-cultural opposition, we are blessed to see the clear work of the Divine Author.