Supper Manners (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)

MOTIVATE           Table Manners from previous centuries[1] 

–          Some people put their hands in the dishes the moment they have sat down.  Wolves do that.

–          Do not keep your knife always in your hand, as village people do, but take it only when you need it.

–          Do not put back on your plate what has been in your mouth.

–          Do not offer anyone a piece of food you have bitten into.

–          Do not chew anything you have to spit out again.

–          To lick greasy fingers or to wipe them on your coat is impolite.  It is better to use the tablecloth or the serviette.

–          It is not decent to poke your fingers into your ears or eyes, as some people do, or to pick your nose while eating.  These three habits are bad.

–          Do not blow your nose with the same hand that you use to hold the meant.

–          To blow your nose on your hat or clothing is rustic, and to do so with the arm or elbow befits a tradesman; nor is it much more polite to use the hand, if you immediately sear the snot on your garment.

–          Nor is it seemly, after wiping your nose, to spread out your handkerchief and peer into it as if pearls and rubies might have fallen out of your head.

–          “There are those who teach that a boy should retain wind by compressing the belly. Yet it is not pleasing, while striving to appear urbane, to contract an illness. If it is possible to withdraw, it should be done alone. But if not, in accordance with the ancient proverb, let a cough hide the sound.”[2]

Regardless of the century you live in or the home you eat in, there are always table manners for you to be aware. Likewise, when Christians come to the Lord’s Table they must understand what is expected when they participate in the Supper.

EXAMINE             1 Corinthians 11:17-34 The Corinthian church had multiple problems which the letter addresses. When they “come together” (word used 5x / v.17, 18, 20, 33, 34) their assembling led to divisions (schismata, v.18) and differences (haireseis, v.19). This specific problem related to when they participated in eating the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner.  The Lord’s Supper is a serious element in the corporate service of worship. The elements of bread and fruit of the vine represent Jesus’ action on the cross of his body and blood being sacrificed for the forgiveness of sins. When the Corinthians participated in this ordinance, “their meetings did more harm than good” (v.17). So, Paul seeks to condemn and correct their actions of worship by offering 3 positive table manners of the Lord’s Supper:

Lord’s Supper table manner #1: Share Unity (11:17-22).

Paul had no praise for the Corinthians. Unfortunately, social classes became a dividing factor in the church. Those who had much were eating plenty and indulging in sensory pleasure. Those who had little were embarrassingly left in want made to feel inferior.

–          Divisions of class: have & have not’s

–          Difference of belief: misunderstood Christ & Church

Illus: Imagine Chef Jim cooking steak & bbq ribs for only Deacons and all other members being served spam & spaghettios. And this not just an instance but ongoing issue. This would be a problem!

When Christians celebrate the Lord’s Supper it is a reminder that we all fall short and are on equal footing from the grace coming from the cross of Jesus. It is an opportunity to share a common meal and unite together as one body under one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

Unity with Christ – fellowship (koininia)

Romans 6:3-5 “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

Unity with Believers – fellowship

1 Corinthians 12:12 “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body”                


  • No union with Christ means you should not participate in Supper
    • Unbelievers – “not discerning the Lord’s body” v.29
    • Children
      “Anticipation is the best preparation for appreciation.” Robbie Castleman in Parenting in the Pew, 113.
  • Unity with Christ should reflect unity with Christians
  • Open communion for all believers vs. Closed communion for local church members

Lord’s Supper table manner #2: Share the gospel (11:23-26).

Paul explained the origination of the supper from the words of Jesus. Paul says he received this direction directly from Jesus; exactly how this was revealed is unsure (dream, inspiration, verbal or written accounts/ Scripture). As often as the bread & cup is observed the Lord’s death is proclaimed/preached.

Jesus took bread said, “Take eat; this is my body broken for you…”

Jesus took cup said, “Cup is new covenant in my blood.”

µ      Jesus is spiritually (not physical transubstantiation) present with us in this ordinance. The bread is “my body” but the cup is not “my blood”, showing no physical exchange, but the representation of “the new covenant in my blood”.

“The world drinks to forget; the Christian drinks to remember.” Steve Brown quoted in Charles Colson’s The Body, p.121.

  • Bread & Cup “keep on doing this in remembrance of Me”
    • Shows aspect of past in your salvation
  • “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim

the Lord’s death till he comes.” 11:26

  • Shows aspect of future in others salvation

Lord’s Supper & Gospel Proclamation

  • Songs must center on gospel – life, death & resurrection
  • Preaching must center on gospel
  • Conducting ordinance must center on gospel acts of worship
    • Prayers of thanksgiving (all)
    • Serving of elements done in love (deacons)
    • Receiving of elements with humility (body)


Lord’s Supper table manner #3: Share Accountability (11:27-34).

Paul summarizes his statements on the Lord’s Supper by commanding believers to examine themselves. The person who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner brings judgment on themselves. The reality is that no one is “worthy” of participating in the Lord’s Supper. God wants believers to share the Supper recognizing they are dependent on what the elements symbolize – Christ’s sacrificial death. In this sense, participating in the Lord’s Supper is mandatory for believers’ spiritual growth.

Many believers at Corinth who ate the Lord’s Supper w/o reverence for Christ and his body suffered judgment; and for some this meant death. What a scary thought that God would discipline us for not having the right “table manners.”


In preparing to participate in the Lord’s Supper:

µ      Are you a believer?

µ      Are you in unity with believers?

µ      Remember the great sacrifice of Jesus – humble worship


[1] The Rise of the Fork: Selections from etiquette books, 15th – 18th centuries. (From Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process

[2] Erasmus. On Civility in Children (1530) quoted by Richard Zacks, An Underground Education

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