Paul wrote the troubled church at Corinth about a lot of matters, including their neglect of the Lord’s Table. Their guilt was not that they were not meeting and having the meal; rather, they were guilty of misusing the meeting and the meal. Paul even makes the rather sarcastic comment: “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 Corinthians 11:20–21). “Sure, you are going through the motions, but that is all you are doing.” No wonder he concluded about their supposed faithful observance: “When you come together it is not for the better but for the worse” (v. 17). Yes, the table was set with the elements, those assigned to serve were present, and perhaps there was a fairly full house. But that was one of the problems: It was only partly full, not completely full. And they refused to wait for those who were still on their way and who would “fill up” the supper table.
The church at Corinth was evidently composed of members from among the entire social strata. Some were poor and some were wealthy, or at least better off than those who were poor. When it was time for a church supper, the wealthy got first choice and, while they gorged themselves, some of those who were poor ended up with an empty plate. Especially those who came late to “supper.” Why were they late? We can speculate that either the well-off finagled to come early and start before others arrived, or, perhaps more likely, those who were poor were servants and were being held up by their masters at work. This made them late to church. “Better late than never,” they assumed. But sadly, they would leave the gathering the way they arrived: hungry. So sad. If each member had patiently waited, everyone could have enjoyed the food and fellowship. The refusal to wait for one another meant that, though food settled in the stomach, the fellowship went out the door. When it came time to observe the Lord’s Supper, indifference robbed the ordinance of its meaning. It morphed what was intended as a means of grace into a means of disgrace.
Paul was not one to simply rebuke. Rather, with a pastor’s heart, he also admonished a solution. Part of that solution was to tell the church members to “wait for one another” (v. 33). This was not merely a chronological issue; it was a consideration issue. “Put yourself in the shoes of others and treat them as you would want to be treated. It’s not about you, it’s about us.”
This reveals an important principle, with a special application in these days.
We have not enjoyed the Lord’s Supper since March this year. I suspect that, like me, you are hungry. Many churches have become creative and are having the Lord’s Supper “online” or in small groups. I appreciate their hunger. I really do. But the biblical approach is that we should patiently wait for one another. The admonition to the Corinthians highlights the principle that the Lord’s Supper is a congregational meal and therefore, until the whole congregation has opportunity to gather as one, the meal cannot take place. Sure, we could partake of the elements in the three small services we have on a Sunday. But, with Paul, we would have to conclude that “it is not the Lord’s supper” that we would be eating (v. 20).
Brothers and sisters, be patient. In God’s providence we are in such a time as this. Apparently, our Lord is patiently waiting for when we can fully gather. Let us also wait for one another.
Hungrily waiting with you,