Monday, June 4, 2012

Afraid to Take Communion?

I've known several Christians who were afraid to participate in the Lord's Supper. The most common reason for this fear is preaching that emphasized introspection, reverence, and personal purity as prerequisites for "worthy" participation in Holy Communion. The textual basis for such preaching is 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, the most lengthy discussion of the Lord's Supper in all of Scripture. So, let's examine the text, verse by verse, and see what a Christian's attitude toward Communion should be. 

Verse 17 But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse.
The Corinthians were getting a strong rebuke. Their behavior was so bad that their meeting did more harm than good! (but at least they gathered)
Verse 18  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. 
Corinth was a divided church – divided over favorite teachers, taking each other to court, and divided over social class.
God values highly a unified church. That’s why this epistle stresses unity so frequently. In chapter 11 we see an emphasis on unity in the Lord’s Supper. In chapter 12, unity in spiritual gifts. And in 13 – unity in love.
Verse 19  For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you.
There were faithful and unfaithful believers in the church. That’s why there were divisions/factions.
Verse 20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper, 
What they were doing when they celebrated “the Lord’s Supper” was so bad (v 17) that it could not rightly be called the Lord’s Supper. 
Verse 21  for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 
Cultic meals were almost always a part of ancient worship. The early Christians ate a fellowship meal and the Lord's Supper together ("after supper" v 25). See also Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7, 11; Jude 12. In Corinthian society some guests got more and better food than others based on their status. The wickedness of the culture came into the church. It was not the Lord’s Supper. It was their supper (20-21). They were getting drunk at the table. But that wasn't Paul's main concern. They were not unified! The rich and poor were separate (perhaps even eating in different rooms, the dining room saved for the rich and the courtyard for the poor). The rich ate well while the poor ate poorly. And the rich may have started eating while the poor were still at work. Some communion that was!

Verse 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God, and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.
Be ashamed you who shame the poor and despise God's church. You have houses to eat in. Others have nothing
Verse 23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;
Jesus was betrayed by a disciple – his friend.
Verse 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me."
This is my body, obviously not to be taken literally. “Broken” (in KJV) may not be in the original. Christ’s physical body was never broken, at least not his bones. But his entire person was broken for us. It “pleased the Lord to crush him.” His suffering was “for you.” We eat to remember him and his suffering.
Verse 25 In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." 
The cup is the New Covenant – a gracious covenant of love. Again, we drink in remembrance of him.
Verse 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.
We eat the Lord’s Supper to proclaim his death until he returns. His death was a profound demonstration of self-giving love. A selfish Lord's Supper is impossible
Verse 27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.
Those who participate in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner are guilty of the body and blood of our Lord.
Verse 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 
Examine yourself before you participate.
Verse 29  For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. 
He who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner brings judgment[1] on himself by not recognizing the body of Christ. An abuse of the body is an abuse of Christ himself (see Paul's encounter with the risen Lord). A true Lord’s Supper recognizes the unity of the body. 1 Corinthians 10:17 For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.
Matthew 5:23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath something against thee; 24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
Matthew 6:14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Verse 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 
A community sin brought community judgment. The Spirit must have revealed to Paul that the reason for many sicknesses and death in the Corinthian church was their sinful “Lord’s Supper.” This does not mean that the ones who got sick and died were the same ones who were guilty. Neither does it mean that sickness and death in the church are always a divine judgment (whether pertaining to the Lord's Supper or not). It does remind us that “judgment begins at the house of God.”
Verse 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged.
Judge yourselves or God will judge you.
Verse 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world.
Still, when God brings judgment to the church it is so that the church will be spared in the final day of judgment. His chastening is for our good.
Verse 33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 
That’s why you should wait for one another, rather than some of you feasting privately.
Verse 34  If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you may not come together for judgment. And the remaining matters I shall arrange when I come.
If you’re hungry, eat at home. That way your gatherings will not bring God’s judgment.

Christians are a family. We are a close family. There is no room for division in this family.
Do not fear the Lord’s Table – reverence it. Jesus did not come to condemn us. He came to save us. By celebrating the Lord’s Supper we proclaim his sacrificial death – His death for us. We have all sinned, some more recently and grievously than others. He came to change that. He came to change us. That includes you. If you are weary and weighed down with guilt and care, come to the Table. There is grace for you there. There is life for the repentant there. Come to Jesus and live.

[1] KJV has damnation here and translates the same Greek word more helpfully as condemnation in verse 34. These days we tend to think of damnation in only one way – eternal condemnation. That is not what Paul has in mind.

Fee, Gordon. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. 1st ed. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987.

Keener, Craig S. ; InterVarsity Press. The IVP Bible background commentary : New Testament. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Morris, Leon L. 1 Corinthians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. IVP Academic, 2008.