Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 11:19-22 One goes hungry, another gets drunk

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, April 24, 2023

19 No doubt there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine may be recognized among you. 20 When you gather together in the same place, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat.

Paul seems to be hinting that the church was holding two meals. The factions or divisions in the church were showing up in one of the meals and then extending into the other.

The second of these meals (the one he will spend the most time on) was the Lord’s Supper. For the moment, we will set that one aside, because they also held another community meal which they called the Agape. This “love feast” (as it is called in Jude 1:12) was something like the pot-luck meals our churches still hold today. The ancient church did not approve of holding such meals apart from the minister. “Wherever the pastor appears, that is where the congregation should be, just as wherever Christ is, there is the whole Church. It is not right either to baptize or to hold the Agape apart from the pastor” (Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans 8:2). Later on, because of abuses, a rule was made (Third Council of Carthage, Canon 29) that Christians should only hold an Agape meal after the Lord’s Supper and not before, so that no one would be drunk at the Lord’s Table.

So when Paul says “When you gather (in the same place)” he seems to mean that after their Agape meal they remained together for the Lord’s Supper. But, because of their abuses, it wasn’t the meal of the Lord at all, because they were turning it into something else.

21 For when you eat, each one goes ahead with his own supper. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What, don’t you have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this matter I cannot praise you.

The abuse is easy to imagine, but we live in a time when we can scarcely believe how rude, cruel, and class-conscious ancient people were. Paul says, “One goes hungry, another gets drunk.” What he means is of course, some gorge themselves on delicious food and get drunk on the best wine. Others went without food altogether, and had no wine at all. But there were many who were in between. They got poor wine and meager food, and they were probably used to it.

“Why do I dine without you when I dine with you?”

The Roman poet Martial (born about 40 AD) complained bitterly in a letter: “You partake of oysters fattened in Lake Lucerne; I tear my lips in sucking at a limpet. Before you are placed splendid mushrooms; I help myself to such as are fit only for pigs. You are provided with a turbot (an excellent fish); I with a sparulus (a terrible fish). The golden turtle-dove fills your stomach with its over-fattened body; a magpie which died in its cage is set before me. Why do I dine without you, Ponticus, when I dine with you?” Similar complaints can be found in other writers such as Pliny the Younger and Juvenal.

The theme among the ancients was “Better food for better people.” But Paul is concerned about serving the Lord’s Supper, the only food and drink where the forgiveness of sins is offered and given along with the eating and drinking. What better food could there be? But it must be offered to everyone who is of the fellowship, who are able to recognize it for what it is (more about this with verses 28-29).

When Paul scolds them: “Don’t you have houses to eat and drink in?” he is saying (1) that they should leave their factions and class-consciousness at home, because there is no room for this in God’s house (Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:11; 1 Corinthians 12:13), and (2) the Lord’s Supper was to be shared as a congregation, wherever the group met. This could be in a dungeon (Acts 16:25), by a riverbank (Acts 16:13), in a home (Acts 9:11, 12:12; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19), or in a building set aside for public worship (a church, Acts 18:7).

The sacred meal of the Lord’s Supper was degraded and made shameful when such sinful things as gluttony, drunkenness, and failure to love one’s neighbor were present in the meal itself. Would we honor God and receive his blessings with thanks it we allowed only certain members of our fellowship to receive the sacrament? While there is a distinction in the Lord’s Supper of fellowship, there is not to be any distinction within that fellowship.

Another point to be made here is the abuse of consecrating the elements of the Lord’s Supper, the bread and the wine, and then not sharing them or distributing them. The Lord’s Supper cannot be received on behalf of someone else, just as baptism cannot be received on behalf of someone else (nor circumcision, for that matter). Therefore the practice in some churches of the private mass is a false sacrament. Christ gave thanks, broke the bread, distributed it, and told them, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). “So if a preacher wants to conduct the Holy Supper only by consecrating the bread and wine without distributing it,” or by eating and drinking only by himself, “he has not done what the Lord Christ did and commanded to be done.”

When we distribute and take the Lord’s Supper, we remember most of all the reason that it was given to us: For the forgiveness of our sins (Matthew 26:28). This blessing “is shown us by these words: ‘Given’ and ‘poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ Through these words we receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in this sacrament. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


Browse Devotion Archive