We have seen that the specific problem with the way the first-century Corinthian believers celebrated the Lord’s Supper had to do with creating divisions in the church. Favoritism was being shown to the wealthier believers, with the result that they got the best food at the fellowship meals that took place alongside the sacrament and that the poorer members often were left with little if anything to eat. This humiliated the poorer believers and introduced class distinctions into the church that mirrored distinctions in secular life. Instead of being a sacrament to unify the church, the Lord’s Supper became another source of division. The only way forward for the Corinthians was to first recognize the purpose of the sacrament and then for them to examine themselves before coming to the table so that they would partake with the right attitude (1 Cor. 11:17–32).
That brings us to today’s passage, where Paul gives specific advice on how to restore unity around the Lord’s Table. The Apostle says that when Christians come together for the sacrament, they should “wait for one another” (v. 33). The Greek verb here translated as “wait” refers to more than just delaying the start of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper until everyone arrives. It has the connotation of receiving or sharing as well (see the ESV text note). In other words, Paul exhorts believers to give one another a warm welcome when they come to the Lord’s Table to commune with Jesus and with each other. The gospel does not obliterate class distinctions entirely, but they have no place for separating people in the church, for we are all equal at the foot of the cross. Rich and poor alike have the same standing before God through Christ, so we must embrace one another fully in the worship and fellowship of the church.
Paul goes on to say that if anyone is hungry, he should eat at home (v. 34). This seems to be a directive aimed specifically at the wealthier believers who were using the corporate worship of the church as an excuse to do what might be done outside the covenant community—eating a lavish meal that was not shared with those of a lower social station. The Apostle’s admonition is for the wealthier Christians not to bring such practices into the church but rather to eat the same food as the poorer Christians. It is a call for those of a higher social class to humble themselves and show their unity with others by eating the same food at the same time.