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God’s True Covenant People
Fall Quarter: Covenants With God
Unit 3: An Everlasting Covenant
Sunday school lesson for the week of November 26, 2017
By Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell
Scripture Lesson: 1 Corinthians 11:23-34
Background Scripture: 1 Corinthians 11; Jude
Purpose: To celebrate in worship and our daily lives by remembering the redemptive life and death of Christ.
Key Verse: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Every time you drink it, do this to remember me.” (1 Corinthians 11:25)
Hearing the Word
We are now at the conclusion of this quarter’s study of the covenant in the Bible where we engaged in the writings of the Apostle Paul. The “Adult Bible Studies’” writer introduces Paul’s writings as the oldest documents in the New Testament and reminds us that he is the converted Jew and dedicated apostle of Christ. The writer describes Paul’s writings as an immersion into the Hebrew Scriptures, the awareness of the blessings and failures of God’s covenantal relationship with Israel, and the guarantee of his covenantal relationship to those who believe in Christ.
1 Corinthians, The First Letter
The early writing in 1 Corinthians is described by the writer as Paul presenting his case to the Christians of Corinth and refers to 1 Corinthians 1:30: “It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus. He became wisdom from God for us. This means that he made us righteous and holy, and he delivered us.” The writer describes the following to this letter as “theologically grounded advice” of a founding pastoral commitment to his people that scolds and attempts to explain what it means to be called into a new life in Christ.
The writer describes Corinth in the time of Paul as a capital city of the Roman province of Achaia in southern Greece: population more than 100,000, two seaports, bordering the east and the west coasts of a 3.5-mile isthmus, a major commercial hub and link between Asia Minor and Rome. It was destroyed in 146 B.C. by the Romans and re-established by Julius Caser in 44 B.C. as a Roman Colony. The culture was ethically and religiously diverse, largely populated by Jews and included Hellenistic influences.
Teacher: Ask the class if they see the church as culturally and ethnically diverse. If so, in what ways? If not, how can it be strengthened?
Paul and the First Letter to the Corinthians
The writer provides the following accounts. Paul is described as the founder of the church in Corinth. He spent a year and a half in the city, pastoring this new community of Christians in Corinth. The new converts were mostly Gentile with some of the wealthy and important figures in the Corinthian society, such as Erastus, the city treasurer (Romans 16:23). However, the majority were of the lower social class, including the freed people and slaves (1 Corinthians 1:26 – read aloud).
The church, which consisted of a small number of people (about 40-50), had its problems. Three years after Paul had left Corinth and unable to return from Ephesus, he addressed some pressing concerns directly by letter probably delivered by Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (1 Corinthians 16:17). Unfortunately, some of the problems experienced in the church of Corinth plague the church today: rivalry groups whose loyalties varied, according to Paul, between himself, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ (1:12); sexual issues, marriage, and flagrant immorality (5:1-13); 6:12-20; 7:1-40); lawsuits in the community (6:1-11); pagan worship, food from pagan sacrifices (8:1-13; 10:14-32); proper attire for worship (11:2-16); the claims of having special wisdom or spiritual gifts (1:17-22; 2:6, 11; 3:18-20; 12:1–14:40).
The writer points to the scriptures, 3:1-5; 9:1-27, as Paul’s need to defend his “apostolic” authority; and, to this lesson’s focus of the disturbing treatment of the poor and disadvantaged during the worship.
Worship in a House Church in Corinth
The writer describes the house meeting at the wealthy person’s house in the Greco-Roman world as: usually built around a wall-enclosed, open-air atrium (courtyard) with an entrance to the street; festivities and dinner parties held in these homes were often elaborate with fine foods, wine, with some offered as a libation to a god or goddess; a symposium of speeches, debates, entertainment, and more drinking; usually the participants were similar in status, but sometimes only the privileged few were given access to the dining room to recline and partake of a greater feast.
Christians in the Mediterranean Cities, First Century
The Christians’ fellowship and meal house meetings are contrasted as different from the Greek. They did not separate the men and women at meals. However, they were like the Romans as they allowed for both to eat together. The Christians were unlike both the Greeks and the Romans because they usually included a diverse group of people in their fellowship, including the poor, slaves, freed, Jews, and Gentiles. Their gatherings mostly included the celebration and the patronage of the Jesus Christ, not some other deity. The writer says that in some ways their meetings were modeled after the Jewish Passover meal that ended with prophecy (preaching), scripture reading, witnessing, hymns, and prayers.
Ask: How are our worship services and small group gatherings similar today?
1 Corinthians 11:17-22
11:17-22: The writer expresses that Paul’s complaints are valid and to the point. The fellowship meals had become a travesty, and meals were not shared. Some feasted and became drunk on wine, while others went hungry and thirsty. We see that when there is a lack of Christianly order, divisions take place and the marginalized are often hurt. Paul said, “This is not the Lord’s meal.” There could be no praise for this behavior. As Paul scolded, “It does more harm than good” (verse 17).
Teacher: Ask the class in what ways can Christian leaders address bad behaviors and disorder within the church today?
Verses 23-24: The writer conveys Paul’s advice to clean up the disorder and biases at the community meal as “theologically grounded” in a tradition that went back to the words of Jesus at the Last Supper. It included making the connection from earlier in the letter where Paul referred to the significance of the broken bread and the cup of blessing (10:16-21); then, beginning with 11:23-26, where Paul authored the oldest written account of the Lord’s Supper. The narrative of Jesus’ last meal is found in all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19-20). The writer says that Paul mentions he received the tradition from the Lord, but that this does not mean that Christ told him this directly. But, it was a tradition that carried the Lord’s authority vital to those who received it. Paul begins his account of the Lord’s Supper with “On the night on which he was betrayed” (verse 23). The writer says that the inference is probably to Judas; however, it has been suggested that “betrayed” could be translated as “delivered” and might refer to God who “gave [Jesus] up for us all” (Romans 8:32; also 4:25). The writer provides an abbreviated order of the Jewish meal: The presider typically took a loaf of bread and pronounced a blessing over it. Symbolically, those who shared that bread shared in its blessing; and Jesus followed that ritual at the Last Supper by giving thanks for the bread but then added, “This is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me” (1 Corinthians 11:24).
Verses 25-26.: Paul’s account, after Jesus and the disciples ate their meal, Jesus took a cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (verse 25), adding as he did with the bread blessing that drinking from it should be a reminder of him and his sacrifice. The writer adds that the broken bread, similarly, like the wine was not to quench physical thirst or intoxicate, a problem at some community meals. Instead, it was meant to refresh and renew. The writer describes Jesus’ interpretation of this symbolic act as a reference to God’s covenant with the Israelites at Sinai when Moses read aloud from the covenant scroll, threw sacrificial blood over the people, and announced, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord now makes with you on the basis of all these words” (Exodus 24:7-8). These expressions of bread and wine, liturgy, and witness to the sacrificial death of Jesus brought an eager anticipation of the Lord’s triumphant return from heaven.
Verses 27-29: The writer refers to another side to the excitement about Jesus’ expected arrival, which is the judgment that also accompanied that return. The author characterizes Paul’s “disgust” as evident because of what he had heard about the behavior of some Christians at the fellowship meal. He describes Paul’s language as filled with terms common to the courtroom: “inappropriately,” “guilty” (verse 27), “test” (verse 28), “judgment” (verses 29, 34), “judge” (verses 31-32), “disciplined” (verse 32), and “condemned” (verse 32). Paul doesn’t stop there but likens their inappropriate behavior of the meal practice as guilty of crucifying the Lord as those who were at the cross enjoying his death. The meal proclaims that the “Lord died for us,” yet the offenders had eaten it for “themselves and not with and for others.” Implying that theirs was a loveless supper, a sin against Christ and their fellow brothers and sisters, and inserts 6:6 as those who sin “are crucifying God’s Son all over again and exposing him to public shame.” “Each person at the meal should “test” (or “examine”) himself or herself,” says Paul.
Verses 30-34: In verse 30, the author says that Paul could be suggesting that the abuses of the community meal may have left the underprivileged weak, and sick without proper food or even with deadly illnesses from malnourishment. However, the writer provides a different perspective and notes that most interpreters think Paul was merely reflecting the views of his culture and that sin against God was believed to have physical consequences. The writer provides the following Biblical notions to describe what Paul meant about sin: Job’s struggle; Jesus’ disciples asked whose sin caused the blind man’s condition (John 9:2); and Paul himself had already alluded to the Israelites’ punishment for sin in the wilderness (10:7-10). We can find solace in that God’s punishment is not imminent. We can examine and correct behaviors that are not pleasing to God. Even when God chastises us, we are not under condemnation. We are convicted to correct our behaviors and strive to live a more holy life. Just as God is patient with us, let us be patient with one another no matter our mistakes or sins.
This quarter’s lessons served to express the need for the covenantal relationship with God, self-examination, reflection, and Jesus Christ as our model. As we commune with one another, let us remember to be considerate and respectful of all, especially the marginalized. We are constantly faced with the challenges of social issues and are called to do what is right and pleasing to God. Let us put aside anything that causes us to separate from his will and remember the redemptive life through Christ as we care for the least of these.
Dear God, may we continue to walk in your love, peace, and justice for one another as you have done for us. Let no hindrance cause us to separate, malign, and disparage one another in actions, deeds, or thoughts. Let us forgive each other’s sins as you have forgiven ours. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell serves as the Associate Director for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The “Adult Bible Studies, Series Fall 2017” book is used for the content of this lesson.