God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 11:17-18 not for the better but for the worse
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, April 21, 2023
17 In the following instructions I do not praise you, since when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.
In verse 2, Paul had a word of praise for the Corinthians and the way they were holding on to what he had taught them. Now he moves onto another subject of his teaching, the Lord’s Supper, and he no longer praises them. In fact, he has to take them to task for more than one abuse. This section, where Paul does not praise them, lasts from here to 14:40. They are making errors with regard to the Lord’s Supper, to spiritual gifts in general, to speaking in tongues, and, in fact, to the way they fail to show love to one another.
Already in the first chapter Paul talked about divisions in the church (1:11-12). Those were about preferences of one preacher over another. But worse things were happening. There were divisions happening for other reasons, hurtful things such as class or even racial issues. Such things should never be. Homeowners and homeless, wealthy and poor, indigenous people and newcomers should all worship together. We all have sins to repent of. We all need to hear the same forgiveness from Christ. We all need to hear the same lessons from Moses and the Prophets, from the Apostles and the Psalms. Teachers, students, employers and employees should raise their voices together in prayer and in the hymns, and learn from the same sermon.
Divisions happen because the devil wants to drive a wedge between God’s people. The Apostles, Jude says, foretold that “‘in the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.’ These are the people who cause divisions. They are worldly because they do not have the Spirit” (Jude 1:18-19).
The prophet says: “You should not look down on your brother” (Obadiah 1:12). And Paul says in another place, “Why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat” (Romans 14:10). This is nothing less than the application of the Fifth Commandment among the people of God.
We live in a nation where one political side wants to ban guns and yet keep abortion legal, so that the unborn can be killed more easily but making it more difficult to kill anyone else. But the other political side wants to keep guns in the hands of everyone and abolish abortion, making it more difficult to kill the unborn and easier to kill everyone else. What sanity is in either side? But our politicians cannot be counted on to do what is right or sane, because the people who elect them are neither right nor sane. We are sinful, and sinful self-interest will only make God’s creation more and more wicked.
The entire sum of the Fifth Commandment is, for the simple-minded and the foolish, not to murder anyone nor kill anyone, but to leave the matter of death (such as for the crimes of murder or treason) with the government. It also means not to hurt anyone. Then, for the spiritually mature, the commandment also teaches us not to be angry or to hate, or even to be ill-disposed toward anyone, for our thoughts can do as much damage as our words or actions. It is also part of the Fifth Commandment to not fail in doing our neighbor good. It may not be possible to teach every person how to feed and clothe themselves properly, and therefore it falls under the Fifth Commandment to support and help people with such things as public welfare. For to allow my neighbor to starve or freeze, even on account of his own errors or addictions, is still doing violence to him. “For,” as Luther preaches in the Large Catechism, “you have withheld your love from him and deprived him of the benefit whereby his life would have been saved. Therefore God also rightly calls all those murderers who do not afford counsel and help in distress and danger of body and life, and will pass a most terrible sentence upon them in the last day, and Christ himself has announced (Matthew 25:42f)” (Ten Commandments par. 190-191).
Therefore love one another (2 John 1:5), not only a little, but “love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). For we all sin, we all need a Savior, and by the grace of God we all have access to the same Gospel of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ our Lord. Service to each other, especially to the people of God, is one of the most delightful ways we serve our Lord himself.
Pastor Timothy Smith