There is tremendous confusion on this subject throughout the Christian world. What ought to be a means of grace and a real spiritual blessing often becomes a curse through misuse. In one sense this should not surprise us. Even in New Testament times Paul had to say to the Corinthian Church, “Ye come together not for the better, but for the worse” (1Cor.11:17). He noted that because they were participating in the Lord’s Supper in the wrong way, “many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (v30). A considerable number of them died under the chastisement of God.
A major problem in Corinth was the divisions. Reference is made to this in chapter 1. Indeed it is the first matter mentioned after the initial greeting. Some said, “I am of Paul”, others “I am of Apollos” and others “I am of Cephas” (1Cor.1:12). The Apostle asks, “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptised in the name of Paul?” (1:13). Communion is meant to be a feast of love. It is about the oneness of the body of Christ. The church should be distinguished by love: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (Jn.13:35). Yet on the other hand there is an inevitability about divisions: “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1Cor.11:19). It is God’s plan to allow false doctrines and practices to arise so that people will be tested. Who is on the Lord’s side? Those guilty of the division are those who introduce the wickedness into the church, not those who stand against the evil.
The attitude of some in approaching communion is terribly carnal and earthly. It was so in the early church: “In eating everyone taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry and another is drunken” (1Cor.11:21). It is no wonder that God was angry. People brought their own supper with them and yet called it the Lord’s Supper. The poor were hungry. Some overindulged and were drunk. People should eat at home. The poor should not be shamed in this way and left standing watching. Drunkenness is a sin. We would be surprised to see someone drunk at the Table. Yet are there not many who come to the Lord’s Table with as little thought and preparation as someone coming to any ordinary meal? We eat only a mouthful of bread and wine to emphasise that this is a spiritual feast. We must see behind the symbols and by faith feed upon Christ, otherwise we are treating the Supper just as our own supper.
This is My Body
“The Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me” (11:23-24). But in what sense is it His body? The Roman Catholic teaching is that once the priest has blessed the bread it literally becomes the flesh of Christ. To the human senses it looks, feels, smells and tastes like bread yet it is really meat. To us this is nonsense yet to Roman Catholicism it is vital. The individual who partakes receives benefit whatever his thoughts, attitude or understanding, and whether he has faith or not. Those who carefully interpret Scripture with Scripture see clearly that this is wrong. Jesus is talking in symbolic and figurative terms as He often does. The broken bread symbolises the body of Christ broken on the cross for us. The wine symbolises the blood of Christ, which is His life given for us. By faith we must discern the Lord’s body in the symbols and feed upon Him. The sacrament actually brought pain and sickness upon many of the Corinthians. There is no blessing whatsoever in the sacrament unless the individual participant exercises faith in Christ and so feeds upon His finished work.
Who is to take the Sacrament?
The Lord’s Supper is for the Lord’s people. It is for those who are converted, who have been born again and have turned their back upon their sinful past and by grace are living for God. Only such can remember the Lord’s death with gratitude and can properly show it forth. Those whom Jesus has loved and redeemed by His death, are the only ones who will delight in remembering the Lord’s death. They yearn in anticipation “till he come”. For the unregenerate, the death of Christ will contribute to their further condemnation. We are to examine ourselves to discover if we are true Christians and only then to come to His Table. It is interesting however to note that the Apostle says, “Let a man examine himself and so let him eat” (v28). He does not say let a man examine himself and so stay away from the Table. The implication is that having examined himself, if he finds that he is not converted he should immediately turn to the Lord with all his heart. Having been converted he is now ready to come to the Table. Self examination is often stressed in Scripture, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves” (2Cor.13:5).
There is a great warning in the Bible against coming to the Table unworthily. Such a person is “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” and “eateth and drinketh damnation to himself” (vv27,30). But who is worthy to sit at the Lord’s Table? None of us in and of ourselves. We are all poor sinners who deserve nothing but the wrath and curse of God forever. Yet worthy is the Lamb. We come as sinners cleansed in the blood. However it is important to notice that the word used here is the adverb “unworthily” and not the adjective “unworthy”. It is not describing the person but rather the manner of his coming and partaking. The Corinthians were coming unworthily because they were treating it as their own supper, some were hungry and others were drunk. They were failing to understand what the Supper meant and that they were by faith to receive spiritual blessings. The divisions among them caused bitterness, anger and jealousy in their hearts. The unity and love which should have characterised them was missing and so they were desecrating the Lord’s Table and suffering for it.
The Table should strengthen our faith by encouraging us to feed on Christ. He is portrayed before us. We are clearly reminded of what He did for us. The sacrament is kept in conjunction with the preaching of the Word which proclaims Christ’s person and work. We give thanks for His death. Confessing our faith before men we are strengthened. Christ is our food. Our love for the Lord and for our fellow-Christians is increased. Our hope of heaven is encouraged.
Judge yourself so that you will not be judged (v31). Make sure that when you come together around His Table it is for the better and not for the worse (v17).