Is the Lord’s Supper the first time Paul dealt with Church Issues?
If head covering is for today, in what type of setting should this symbol be practiced? We made the case here that because of the structure of 1 Corinthians 11 and because of how Paul sees prophecy functioning, that corporate worship meetings are in mind. Some argue that when Paul says “in the first place” (1 Cor 11:18), the word “first” indicates a new setting (the local church). Head covering therefore, shouldn’t be understood as a church issue since it was dealt with before he said that.
Let’s take a look at the verses in question together.
But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. (1 Cor 11:17-18)
Let me quickly clarify the context before we look at this verse more closely. Paul had just concluded his teaching on head covering, a topic which he had praised them for maintaining (1 Cor 11:2). In the above verse he now switches to issues that he cannot praise them for (1 Cor 11:17), the first being their abuse of the Lord’s Supper.
While it is possible to understand “in the first place” as referring to their coming “together as a church”. It is more likely that he is referring to the first issue that he could not praise them for. So it’s Paul speaking of the “first” abuse rather than the “first” time he’s dealing with an issue in this setting. See, if you were just told that when you gathered together as a church it’s “for the worse”, you’d want to know why. And Paul does just that. He says the first way their meetings are “for the worse” is their divisions during the Lord’s supper. The second reason comes immediately after when he says, “Now concerning spiritual gifts” (1 Cor 12:1).
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown in their popular commentary say it this way:
He does not follow up the expression, “in the first place,” by “in the second place.” But though not expressed, a second abuse was in his mind when he said, “In the first place,” namely, THE ABUSE OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS, which also created disorder in their assemblies 1) Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown – Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:18 (Accessed on e-Sword)
So by saying “in the first place” Paul is telling them that this is the first of two ways that their church meetings are “for the worse”. It’s unlikely that this is the start of a new context since the contrasting statements, “I praise you” (1 Cor 11:2) and “I praise you not” (1 Cor 11:17) indicate he has the same context in mind.