Category Archives: 1 Corinthians

The Corinthian Heresy

1 Corinthians 11:17-22

In ten years of writing and teaching ministry, this may be the single most difficult passage I’ve attempted. The great challenge is to untangle familiarity with the passage, which includes fighting against regurgitating other people’s arguments. Below, though a rather lengthy post, is my exposition, verse-by-verse on the correction of the Lord’s Supper from the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth focusing on verses 17-22, the heart of the argument, and then providing some summary conclusions and applications.

 

Over at my original site, Speaking the Truth in Love, I’ve been trying to clean up some of the regular, ongoing series there in order to devote more time and attention to shorter devotionals

 

What is the Glory of God?

 

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Psalm 19:1

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

One of the more familiar phrases among Christ followers, yet also one of the more difficult to wrap our heads around, is the glory of God.  It’s familiarity has indeed been heightened, post-Reformation, with the Latin phrase Soli Deo Gloria, to God alone be glory.  Typically when hear phrases on the glory of God it stated as, “Glory to God” or “May God be glorified” or “All things to the glory of God”.  In Scripture, we see: the heavens declaring the glory of God, blindness and subsequent healing for the glory of God, Stephen sees the glory of God, sinners fall short of the glory of God, believers are to rejoice in hope of the glory of God, that we should do all things to the glory of God, man created as the image and glory of God, and perhaps most importantly that Christ is the radiance of the glory of God and that those who witnessed His life beheld His glory.

Without question it is an important phrase, one that unfortunately has fallen into the ditch of Christianese, or Christian subculture language, but this is not where it needs to reside.  The glory of God ought to reside on the tip of ever believer’s tongue flowing out of a robust understanding of what this phrase means and signifies.  It ought also to be the fear of unbelievers that God in His glory will return to judge them for their wickedness.

In order for the glory of God to dwell deep in our hearts and to flow freely out of our mouths, we must seek to clarify its meaning.  Puritan Thomas Watson, in his magisterial Body of Divinity, indicates most helpfully that God’s glory may be understood by its twofold nature.  First, that God’s glory is intrinsic to who His is, his very character and attributes.  Second, that God’s glory is that which is ascribed to Him by His Creation, i.e. give glory to God, the heavens declare the glory of God.

Commenting on the intrinsic glory of God, Watson notes,

“Glory is essential to the Godhead, as light is to the sun: he is called the ‘God of Glory.’  Glory is the sparkling of the Deity; it is so natural to the Godhead, that God cannot be God without it.”

Perhaps by way of analogy we can better understand God’s glory by considering the way that light is refracted in the most purest of diamonds.  The light emanating through the diamond of God’s being is His holiness.  The refraction of God’s holiness upon every cut, God’s attributes, is His glory.  It is this glory, the manifestation of all that God is that Moses requested to see.  It is this glory that no man, as Moses was told, can see and live.  However, it is also this glory that was veiled in humanity in the person of Jesus Christ through the incarnation of God’s Son.

[Obviously, as all analogies do, this breaks down in that God is both the light and the diamond having both glory and holiness intrinsic to His nature.  Nevertheless, the concept of the glory of God as part of who God is should be clear.]

Second, we have from Watson the glory that creation ascribes to God.  This, Watson notes as he comments upon the Westminster Catechism, is the chief end of man.  The purpose for man’s being is to glorify God.  To ascribe glory to the Creator.  This will happen whether one bows the knee to God through His Son Jesus Christ now or in the world to come, but all will give glory to God.

10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:10-11

22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.” Romans 9:22-23

Watson develops the remainder of his opening chapter on this theme of the chief end of man and what this glory to God looks like by stating

“The glory we give to God is nothing else but our lifting up his name in the world, and magnifying him in the eyes of others.”

Following upon this, Watson then enumerates four key ways in which we glorify God, namely through Appreciation, Adoration, Affection, and Subjection.  The first is nothing less than admiration of God in our thoughts as we consider His attributes, His promises, and His work.  Adoration is our worship that we give to God, which as Watson notes must by necessity be according to the pattern that God has provided in His word.  Any worship apart from this, Watson calls strange fire (Lev. 10:1).  Third, we glorify God in and through our affections.  As Watson notes, “this is the part of the glory we give to God, who counts himself glorified when he is loved.”  Finally, we glorify God through our subjection to Him as we “dedicate ourselves to God, and stand ready dressed for his service.”

Summarizing our duty to glorify God, Watson writes,

“A good Christian is like the sun, which not only sends forth heat–but goes its circuit round the world.  Thus, he who glorifies God, has not only his affections heated with love to God–but he goes his circuit tool he moves vigorously in the sphere of obedience.”

Now, let us better understand, better appreciate, and better desire that God be glorified in all that we do, knowing that we cannot add a drop of glory to His being, yet by all that we do we desire to magnify His name in our appreciation, adoration, affection, and subjection to the God of Glory.

The Check Engine Light of Worship – Part 3

 

In our study of the doctrine of the church, or ecclesiology, we have come to narrow our focus upon the practices that occur when believers gather in the name of Christ, usually referred to as worship.  A specific area of worship towards which we have drawn our attention is the observance of the Lord’s Supper.  This particular practice, because of its universality, but also because of its widespread differences, is a particularly good litmus test for the evidence of Scriptural authority, not only in matters of faith, but in practice as believer’s gather together.

In this particular series we have been looking at the key text often recited during observances of the Lord’s Supper, namely 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.  In the first post, we outlined the passage as follows:

  1. A Statement of the Problem (11:17-22)
  2. An Appeal to Christ’s Institution of the Lord’s Supper (11:23-26)
  3. Rebuke (11:27-32)
  4. Exhortation (11:33-34)

In that post, we noted that the Apostle Paul was addressing a particular error in the practice of observing the Lord’s Supper that the young church (ekklesia) at Corinth had fallen into.  Recall that the context for his rebuke was a meal, a common meal, perhaps the agape or love feasts that had become a frequent occasion in the early Christian gatherings (see Jude 1:12).  However, these meals had become opportunities for gluttony and excess for the haves and further deprivation for the have nots.  Rather than having all things in common and sharing a meal, or waiting on everyone to arrive, some of the believers in Corinth were seeing these love feasts as an opportunity to indulge.

In the second post we noted the context of the inception of the Lord’s Supper by indicating that it occurred on the night that Jesus was betrayed, which coincided with their own observance of Passover.  Additionally, we saw that Jesus commanded that this observance take place, as often as you do this and that this practice was to continue until His return.

In this post, we will begin with an examination of the institution of the Lord’s Supper by returning to the night that it began, and continue the focus of it coinciding with Passover.  In doing so, let’s return to the Gospels, particularly Luke’s account, where  we read the following

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” 10 He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters 11 and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” 13 And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes. 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21 But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23 And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.

Above we have the full context for the institution of the Lord’s Supper according to Luke’s account (please read and compare the other Synoptic gospel accounts).  Harmonizing what we read and concluded from 1 Corinthians with our passage here, we indeed find that on the night he was betrayed was also the night of Passover.  There is some debate as to whether this occurred on our current Wednesday night, which using the Jewish day/night schedule would have been their Thursday (14 Nissan), the official day of Passover, or whether this occurred on our current Thursday night, but that discussion for another day.  

That aside, we find that Jesus instructed His disciples to make preparations for Passover; prophesied about the location of Passover; desired to eat the Passover, which was a reference to the meal they were about to share; prophesied yet again of His own suffering, which He linked with the Passover; then declares that He will one day participate in the Passover again, when He comes into His kingdom; and finally, we see a reference to the particular components of the Passover, which the mention of the cup, after, they had eaten supper, and the bread, unleavened as per the instructions in Exodus 12, each providing for us the elements in which they observed the Lord’s Supper as an actual Passover meal. 

That said, it is the last statement of our Lord’s regarding Passover that is significant because it speaks to the perpetuity of Passover.  Not only does He state His desire to celebrate Passover with His disciples, in which He associates His own body and blood with the elements of the bread and fruit of the vine in one of the cups, but He indicates that there will be another day to come when He will partake of Passover again, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God”  The ‘it’ in this verse refers to Passover (it is the nearest antecedent).  

As a noteworthy point here, Jesus doesn’t even refer to this meal as “The Lord’s Supper” but as Passover, the annual Jewish feast of remembrance of the rapid Israelite exodus from Egypt, specifically marked by the Spirit passing over the houses of the firstborn who had placed the shed blood of a lamb on their doorposts.  Passover was to be observed annually when the Israelite’s reached the Promised Land.  It’s institution can be found in Exodus 12:1-28; 43-51.  In addition to serving as a reminder of God’s redemption and salvation, it served as evidence of a present participation in the covenant with the Lord.  One final point is that the Passover was clearly anticipatory, or that it looked forward to the death of Christ and the passing over, by the wrath of God, of those who have been covered by His shed blood (propitiation).  These past, present, and future elements of Passover is not to the neglect of the typological aspects, which sees Christ as the Greater Passover Lamb (John 1 and 1 Cor. 5) and the culmination of the Old Testament priesthood, sacrifices, and covenant practices (see Hebrews).   

Following the order of the Passover, our Lord proceeds into the meal and assigns New Covenant symbolism to the elements of the supper as seen with the reference to the cup filled with the fruit of the vine, and also to the unleavened bread, representing his blood and body respectively.  As a side note, do any of the Gospel accounts refer to the substance in the cup as wine?  Or do they all correspondingly refer to it as the fruit of the vine? The Greek word for wine, oinos, was available and widely used throughout the Gospels, but not here. Though historically a cause for debate and a call-to-arms, it’s an unnecessary point of contention and one that is not focused on the central issue at hand.

The significance of this institution of the Lord’s Supper occurring on Passover is not trivial.  Our Lord takes all of the history, meaning, symbolism, even typology of the Old Covenant, which reaches its zenith with the Passover celebration, and brings it to the threshold of the New Covenant.  In this sense, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a touchstone of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants.  Has that point been brought out during modern observances of the Lord’s Supper?  Hardly, if ever, because we completely ignore that this occurred on Passover and disconnect the New Covenant meal from the Old Covenant meal.  The practical ramifications of this are that it makes us as best, modern Dispensationalists and at worst, guilty of a Marcionite view of the Lord’s Supper (one that disregards the Old in favor of the New), not to mention the danger of falling into the same category error as the first century Corinthians, that of failing to correctly observe the meal and assign it the historical significance that it demands.  We will re-examine this again in a subsequent post.

Returning to our questions raised from earlier, how would first century believers have observed the Lord’s Supper and interpreted the phrase, as often (1 Cor. 11:25)?  Would they have maintained the association with Passover, or would they have deviated from the established pattern and done what seemed good and expedient to them?  Regardless of the answer, it’s clear that a deviation of the practice had taken place by the time the Apostle penned the letter to Corinth, a sobering reminder of the danger of slipping away or losing sight of Scripture’s authority.