Five times. Five times in eighteen verses. Three-hundred-ninety-eight words in this passage and twenty of those words are the same four word phrase repeated five times. While the subject of the passage is appropriate conduct at the Lord’s table, the context of the passage is clear. It’s all about what happens when you come together.
But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse . . . when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you . . . When you come together, it is not the Lords supper that you eat. . . . So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another . . . so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. . . . (1Corinthians 11:17, 18, 20, 33, 34 ESV)
Come together. That’s what the people of God are to do. We don’t GO TO church. We COME TOGETHER as the church. And it’s not IF we come together, but WHEN we come together. Since the birth of the church, it has been the understood normative practice. The New Testament really doesn’t know much about not coming together except to warn against it . . . “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).
And while I’m no Greek expert, my Greek lexicon indicates the original words have in mind something much more than just being in the same place with other people. But that it has the idea of a coherence, that those who are with each other are intimately connected. That’s what the church — aka the people, not the building — is . . . intimately connected people.
Connected by a common experience of cleansing . . . the blood of Christ applied to our sin . . . forgiveness received by faith in the finished work of the cross. Connected by a encounter with the living God through His Spirit . . . born again by the Holy Spirit . . . sealed by the Spirit given as a guarantee of the hope that awaits us . . . being transformed by the Spirit of Christ living in us and through us as He works to conform us into the likeness of the holy Son of God. Connected by a common calling . . . to be the body of Christ and each of us members of it.
What is more natural for a body than that it comes together. That it is joined and “held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:21). If we just go to church then we’re but individuals with personal agendas just attending another event. But, when we come together as the church, we are a body looking out for the interests of others before our own, aware that we have a function and purpose and role in making this body whole.
How I lament what so often seems to be an increasing attitude of convenience when it comes to “going to church.” That somehow it’s just another activity to do . . . another place to go . . . when it fits in with our already overloaded calendars. That so often it’s just about showing up and not about intentionally seeking intimate connection. That’s it’s about re-charging our batteries, or appeasing our consciences, rather than that of serving and building up one another through community.
O that the church might be the church when we come together.
By His grace . . . for His glory.