God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 11:33-34 Gluttony or fasting
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, May 3, 2023
33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. 34 If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you gather together it will not result in judgment. I will give the rest of my instructions when I come.
This passage does three things: First, Paul concludes and summarizes his solution to the problem the Corinthians had in the Lord’s Supper. Second, Paul offers practical advice for how to carry out the Lord’s Supper within worship. Lastly, Paul provides yet another proof text that what is eaten and drunk in the Lord’s Supper is truly the body and blood of Christ. Let’s take these in order.
Paul concludes and summarizes his solution to the problem the Corinthians had in the Lord’s Supper.
By eating a meal at home before the Lord’s Supper, at least a light breakfast (assuming the sacrament was offered in the morning, which seems to have been the case), there would be less of a temptation to treat the sacrament like a banquet, where drunkenness, gluttony, and snobbery over class differences could be set aside and the unity of the church could be better embraced.
This would also abolish the practice of fasting before the Lord’s Supper, which is not a requirement. Luther readily admits that “Fasting and other outward preparations may serve a good purpose, but he is properly prepared who believes these words: ‘Given’ and ‘poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins’” (Small Catechism). So if fasting could be done in such a way that it would not lead to sins (for example, drunkenness when the fast was broken) then it might serve a good purpose. But fasting on account of tradition with no attention paid to the purpose of fasting is of no value at all.
Christians should not be misled into false purposes for fasting. Fasting was commanded only on the Day of Atonement, when God said, “On the tenth day of the seventh month (a day in our month of October) you must deny yourselves… because on this day atonement will be made for you” (Leviticus 16:29-30). This denial was understood as fasting (“I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting” Psalm 35:13). According to Thomas Aquinas, fasting has four main purposes. Two of these are good purposes, two are wicked and misleading. He says, in part:
1, (Fasting is done) against the concupiscence (natural sinful desire) of the flesh. Fasting is a virtue that restrains desire; for sin occurs more readily by excesses in delights, and so it is virtuous to restrain the bodily appetites.
2, (Fasting is also done) to raise the mind to contemplate divine things.
About these two I have no objection. The second, “to contemplate divine things,” fits the text of Leviticus the best, where God says: “On this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. It is a sabbath of rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance” (Leviticus 16:30-31). Clearly the believers were to deny themselves and consider the awesome event that was taking place in the temple, in the Most Holy Place, on that day.
The two misleading (indeed, wicked) purposes for fasting proposed by Thomas Aquinas do not need to be listed here, because they direct the Christian to a satisfaction for sins apart from Christ. True fasting and true food, Jesus says, “is to do the will of him who sent me” (John 4:34). And Luther also warns that while preparations such as fasting are good, the real preparation is faith. “Whoever does not believe these words or doubts them is not prepared, because the words ‘for you’ require nothing but hearts that believe.”
Paul offers practical advice for how to carry out the Lord’s Supper within worship.
If we examine Paul’s text here and in other places, we see that the Holy Spirit has removed the Lord’s Supper from the ordinary status of a meal. Consider the two banquets of Esther in the center of her book. The first (Esther 5:4-8) was simply to satisfy the physical appetite of the king and one of his courtiers. The second (Esther 7:1-4) was for another purpose: to save the lives of her people from the wicked Amalekite. So Paul says: First, dine at home for your physical appetite, if necessary. Then, share in this special banquet in worship for salvation and the forgiveness of your sins, for God wants to save his people.
A further removal of the Lord’s Supper with common meals is the ancient invention, dating back at least to the eighth century (700s AD) of consuming baked wafers prepared especially for communion. While wafers (once referred to as breadlets) are not required, there is no doubt in the worshiper’s mind that these fulfill the requirements of what makes unleavened bread, which Christ used, and at the same time remove any desire to have the stomach filled and all desire sated, because no one could ever have their hunger satisfied by a piece of bread an inch long and barely a millimeter thick. The meal is meant to fill us spiritually.
Paul provides yet another proof text that what is eaten and drunk in the Lord’s Supper is truly the body and blood of Christ.
The Lord’s Supper is not only spiritual, but a physical eating of Christ’s body and drinking of Christ’s blood through the miracle of the sacrament. Otherwise Paul would not need to say, “When you come together to eat,” etc., because there would be no sin against Christ in eating and drinking if he were not truly present. Those who contest the real presence of Christ in the sacrament invariably do so because they deny the true divinity of Christ: true God and true man, although one learns quickly that few who fall into this error understand that this denial lies at the root of their theology like the worm eating at the vine that should have given comfort to the prophet outside Nineveh (Jonah 4:7).
Love one another. This is the summary of how we show our faith. Love those whose faith falters; warn them of the danger of punishment related to the sacrament. Love those whose faith is weak and invite them to eat so that their faith is strengthened. Love your children so that they will want to come to the Lord’s table often for the sake of their faith and for forgiveness. And show yourself love, but getting yourself to the Lord’s table whenever you can, so that you will not be plagued by doubts and fears, but so that you will know with certainty the promises of the Lord. And you will be able to say: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and loves me, and that I have a place with him forever in heaven.”
Pastor Timothy Smith