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SCRIPTURE REFERENCES » 1 Corinthians 11:17–34

Sermon: 1 Corinthians 11:17–34: The Lord’s Supper – How Is It To Be Observed?


Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:17–34

“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. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 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.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.” (1 Corinthians 11:17–34, ESV)

Introduction

Most of you were here last Sunday when I announced that the elders of Emmaus desire to move us to the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper, and to the use of wine (though grape juice will still be offered). If you were not here last week, that might come as a surprise. I would encourage you to listen to last week’s sermon. In it I attempted to answer the question, what is the Lord’s Supper? The reason I addressed that question first is because our view of what the Supper is will inevitably have an impact upon how we think it should be observed. In answer to the question, what is the Lord’s Supper? three simple observations were made. First of all, the Lord’s Supper is a covenantal meal. Secondly, it is a symbolic meal. And thirdly, it a spiritual meal.

Today I wish to build on that by addressing the question, how should the Supper be observed? I have seven points: One, it should be observed weekly. Two, with bread and wine. Three, after the proclamation of the word. Four, within the church. Five, with thanksgiving. Six, thoughtfully. And seven, in faith. Let us now move through these points one at a time.

Weekly

First of all, see that the Lord’s Supper ought to be observed weekly.

In the moment I say these words I’m aware that they sound rather strong. When writing the sermon I actually debated between the word weekly and regularly. We, for nearly five years now, observed the Supper regularly, but not weekly. Many of our dear brothers and sisters worshiping in other churches throughout this valley, and throughout the world, observe regularly, but not weekly. By no means do I look down upon our past practice, nor do I wish to call into question the sincerity of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have a different opinion concerning the frequency of observance. I do not think of our past practice as sinful, nor would I dare accuse those who continue in regular but not weekly observance of sin. That language would be far too strong, in my opinion.

I made it clear in the sermon last week there are indeed situations where it would be appropriate for churches to decide to observe the Supper less frequently and using grape juice instead of wine, though my opinion is that the scriptures point to weekly observance and wine. You can go back and listen to the sermon if you missed it. At the heart of it is the idea that there may be pastoral concerns which lead us to deviate from the norm… for a time… until the concern can be addressed, and the church moved into line with the scriptural norm.

The truth of the matter is that the scriptures never explicitly command weekly observance of the Supper. By that I mean that the scriptures never say, thou shalt observe the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. Let me say two things about the lack of an explicate command: One, it may be that the lack of an explicate command is intended to give a degree of freedom to the people of God to discern what practice would be best given their situation according to the principle stated above. Two, the lack of an explicate command makes determining the proper approach to the Supper a little more difficult. The point is that we should be patience and humble towards those who see all of this another way.

With that said, though it is true that no explicit command can be found concerning weekly observance, it has grown more and more clear to me that the weekly observance of the Supper is strongly implied in the scriptures.

By the way, if we demand that the scriptures produce an explicit command or statement before we believe something or do something we may find ourselves waiting for a long time on some things. The scriptures communicate truth, not only through explicit commands or statements, but also by way of implication (or what theologians have called “necessary consequence”). Does the Bible ever say, for example, that God is triune in an explicit way? No. But the scriptures, by way of implication and necessary consequence clearly teach that God is triune as we take the whole of the scriptures into consideration.

The weekly observance of the Supper is, in my opinion, strongly implied in the New Testament.

For example, in Acts 2:42 we are told what those who had believed upon Christ and had been baptized in the earliest days of the church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42, ESV) This phrase, “to the the breaking of bread” is almost certainly a reference to the Lord’s Supper. It is not just that the early church gathered together for fellowship, the teaching of the word, prayer, and a common meal.  No, when they gathered as the church they celebrated the meal. They broke the bread – the bread which Christ commanded them to break in the upper room before his death and resurrection. This comes through more strongly in the greek, for the greek contains the definite article. Literally rendered, it is not, “they devoted themselves to… the breaking of bread”, but “they devoted themselves to… the breaking of [the] bread.” That is significant, I think. I do wish that our english translations would bring that out.

Also, notice 1 Corinthians 11 which we read at the beginning. What was the church doing when they gathered together? They were celebrating the Lord’s Supper! It is true that Paul was addressing the disfunction in their observance of the Supper. So bad was their behavior that Paul even said, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.” (1 Corinthians 11:20, ESV) In fact, it was the Lord’s Supper that they were eating (the rest of the passage makes that clear). Paul’s point was that the Corinthians were treating one another so badly that they had, in effect, made what was supposed to be the Lord’s Supper into something else. We tend to focus so much either on Paul’s rebuke, or upon Paul’s instructions for proper observance, that we miss the simple fact that the church made a practice of observing the Supper when they came together.

Listen to Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:17:  “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. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you… When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.” (1 Corinthians 11:17–20, ESV) From there Paul instructs them concerning proper observance so that when they come together they might partake of the Supper in the right way, so that the Supper they ate actually resembled the Supper that Christ instituted.

The point is this: both Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 11 imply regular and weekly observance of the Supper. When the church gathered together on the Lord’s day “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of [the] bread and the prayers.” We know from other passages that they also addressed God and one another in the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). Notice that these are the components of our worship. We give ourselves to the word, we seek authentic fellowship, we pray and sing, and I believe that we ought also to break the bread together whenever we gather.

There is so much more that could be said. For now I will be content to say, in response to the question, how should the Supper be observed, that the New Testament implies the weekly observance of the Supper.

With Bread and Wine 

Secondly, see that the Lord’s Supper ought to be observed with bread and wine.

When Christ instituted the Supper it was in the context of the celebration of Passover. He “took [the Passover] bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.’” (Matthew 26:26–30, ESV)

So the elements used in the Supper were bread (representing the body of Christ), and wine (representing the blood of Christ). More specifically, I think it is right for us to imagine unleavened bread and red wine. How do we know this? Well, from the Old Testament’s instructions concerning the proper observance of the Passover feast, and from history.

There are some who insist that the phrase “the fruit of the vine” is referring to unfermented grape juice. There are others who, though they admit that it was wine, claim that it was not nearly as alcoholic as our wine today. The truth of the matter is that there is no evidence for this whatsoever. If it is true that the wine of the Supper was non-alcoholic, or only mildly alcoholic, then how is it that the Corinthians were struggling with drunkenness in the observance of the Supper? It is beyond doubt that the Passover was celebrated with bread and wine, and that the Supper that Christ instituted involved the eating of bread and the drinking of wine.

You might say, Joe, why does it matter? What difference does it make whether we use wine in the Supper or grape juice? After all, doesn’t the symbolism still work? Grape juice is red, and it is “the fruit of the vine”?

Please hear me. On one level I would admit that it doesn’t matter. I agree, the symbolism still works. The Supper is valid and effective no matter if we use juice or wine. It That is not the issue, in my opinion.

The real issue emerges when we begin to ask the question, why is it that we would ever think of moving from the use of wine to grape juice in the first place? Have you ever thought of that? Have you ever asked yourself, why would Christians decided to make such a change? 

To put it another way, we might ask the question why is the burden of proof placed upon those who desire to move from juice back to wine – from that which is innovative and unoriginal back to the original? Should not the burden of proof forever rest upon those who have insisted upon the change?

The answer to the question, why would we ever think of moving from the use of wine to the use of juice? is found in the temperance movement in our nations history. It is tied to the prohibition era. There was a time in our nations history where, in some Christian circles, any use of alcohol was considered sinful. This, I think, was a problem. This smacks of legalism. The scriptures nowhere forbid the use of alcohol. The scriptures forbid drunkenness. And we should take care to draw the line where the scriptures draw the line. We get ourselves into all kinds of trouble as Christians when we begin to add commands to the commands of God. People do this kind of thing with good intentions (to discourage drunkenness in this case). But legalism is legalism even if it well intended.

In my opinion, this is the issue. I mentioned this last week, and I’ll mention it again. When I think of the monthly observance of the Supper and the use of juice instead of wine I can’t help but think of them as alterations of the original – alterations which are based upon the wisdom of man, in a vain attempt to address issues of the heart (drunkenness, monotony in worship), but through the external formality of manmade religion. It is better to just get to the heart of it, I think, instead of playing with the externals.

Please here me again. I am not saying that all who observe monthly, or who have abandoned the use of wine, do so in this spirit or according to this rational. Often times we find ourselves doing certain things or believing certain things because it is what we have always done or believed. I am not questioning the intentions or integrity of those who think differently on this issue. I am simply saying that if we are to burrow down deep enough seeking answers to the question, why the abandonment of wine? this is what you would find at the core.

So does the Lord’s Supper still “work” if we use juice? Yes! In fact we will be using juice today. Why? Because I told you that you would have a couple of weeks to think about these things and to speak with the Elders before anything different was instituted. We wanted to honor that. No one is saying that Supper doesn’t “work” with juice. That is not the issue. The issue is more fundamental (pun intended). Is has more to do with the question, why would we ever alter that which Christ has instituted? And what sort of thinking lays behind such alterations? When I consider the theology that motivated the abandonment of wine, I do not like what I see. It is concerning to me. It smacks of legalism – manmade religion based upon the wisdom of man instead of God’s revealed truth. More on that another time.   

After the Proclamation of the Word 

Thirdly, in response to the question, how should the Supper be observed? see that it ought accompany and follow the proclamation of the word.

This has to do with the way sacraments function. They are symbols, are they not? Baptism and the Supper are signs, or symbols. But how do we know what they are symbols of? We understand their symbolic significance only because we have, first of all, been given the word. Jesus did not say, here. Eat this. They are symbolic. Leaving the disciples to wonder as to what they were symbols of. No! He first gave them his word! He spoke, saying, “Take, eat; this is my body.” (Matthew 26:26, ESV) And “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27–28, ESV)

It is God’s word which gives meaning to the sacrament. It is God’s word which defines the sacrament. To partake of the sacrament apart from the word will lead to idolatry, superstition, and ignorance. But to partake of the sacrament after the hearing of the word, and according to the word, is a great benefit to the people of God. It is then that the Supper nourishes the soul and strengthens the faith of those who are in Christ.

The Lord’s Supper has a way of sealing or confirming the word. Think of it. The word of God is preached. We hear it. We are urged to believe in it and to obey it. In particular, we are urged, by the preaching of the word, to believe upon Christ and to walk with him (either initially or in an ongoing way). And the Lord’s Supper is a sign of that very thing – our continual faith in Christ – our abiding in him. When we partake of the Supper are we not saying, I still believe! I am receiving this word that I have heard. I believe it. I remain in Christ, and depend upon him today? It is a powerful thing, really, to hear Christ proclaimed – to have him offered to you in the preaching of the gospel – and then, as a kind of sign and seal, to partake of him in the sacrament as an outward, visible, tangible manifestation of that inward and spiritual reality.

This is why it is important that the word be preached and then the sacrament administered. The sacraments loose their significance when the proclamation of the gospel of God is lacking. They, over time, turn into empty and superstitious rituals.

Within the Church 

Fourthly, see that the Lord’s Supper ought to be observed within the church.

I cannot say very much here, but it is important to see that the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper were given to the church. They are sacraments of the church and are to be administered in that context. It was to the Apostles that Christ said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…’” (Matthew 28:19–20, ESV) And what did those Apostles do? They preached the gospel, planted churches, and appointed officers –  elders and deacons – to serve within the congregations. It is in that context that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are to be administered. I am not saying that it must happen in a church building – that is not the point! Notice the cover of the most recent Heart Cry Magazine! It is a picture of brothers and sisters gathered together somewhere in Asia, I think, baptizing in a river. The church is gathered, though – that is the point. And the same is true of the Supper. It is to be observed when we come together as a church (see 1 Corinthians 11:17ff.).

Remember that one of the things that the Supper symbolizes is our individual union with Christ and our union with one another! To detach from the body of Christ – to detach from his holy temple – to separate from his flock – and then to partake of the Supper, which, among other things, symbolizes the fact that you are a member of his body, a stone within his temple, and a sheep of his fold, is a profound contradiction. It is hypocritical. You are partaking of something which symbolizes unity when in fact you are settling for, or perpetuating, disunity. It is not right. The sacraments were not given to the individual Christian, nor to the family, nor the state. They were given to the church – and they are to be administered in that context.

Some might respond by saying, fine then! I will not gather with the church, and I will not partake of the Supper. If that is your attitude, I pray it changes. And I pray that your absence from the Lord’s Table would serve to symbolize the severed relationship that exists between you and Christ and his people. Just as the empty seat of the prodigal son at the fathers table served as a perpetual reminder of the severed relationship, so too ones absence from the Lord’s Table serves as an external manifestation or representation of a broken or damaged communion bond.

Brothers and sisters, if you have been neglecting to gather together with God’s people, repent of it (Hebrews 10:25). Come and sup with God and with his people. The Lord’s Supper is indeed a symbol, and a vital means, by which that communion bond is maintained.

With Thanksgiving 

So the Supper is to be observed weekly, with bread and wine, after the proclamation of the word, and within the church. Would you see, fifthly, that the Supper is to be received with thanksgiving?

It is with this fifth point that we turn our attention to the condition of our heart as we approach the table. We are to partake with hearts filled with thanksgiving.

The truth of the matter is that we should always give thanks. All of our prayers should be characterized by thankfulness. When we eat a common meal, it is good to give thanks for the food we are about to eat. When we eat and drink, is it not a reminder of God’s provision? Is it not a reminder that God cares for us? Truly, we should maintain a thankful disposition always as God’s people.

How much more as we partake, not a common meal, but of the meal that God has set before us. This meal reminds us of the provision that God has made, not only for the body, but for the soul – not only as it pertains to earthly and temporary things, but for heavenly and eternal things. If we give thanks for the food which feeds the body, how much more should we give thanks for the food which feeds the soul, namely Jesus the Christ – his body broken for us, his blood spilled. The Lord’s Supper is a celebration. It is a joyous occasion. It is a time for giving thanks.

When Jesus instituted the Supper “he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” (Luke 22:19, ESV)

Thoughtfully  

Sixthly, see that the Lord’s Supper ought to be received thoughtfully.

Here I only wish to remind you of the symbolism embedded within the Supper. Never should we partake of the Supper in braindead way. No, as the elements are presented, distributed, and consumed, the mind is to be engaged. We are to ask the Holy Spirit to illumine, in this case, not the spoken or written word, but the visible word. For that is what the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper is intended to do – it preaches the gospel to us, not through words, but by way of symbol. Just as we will not benefit in the least from the spoken or written word if the mind is disengaged, neither will we benefit from the Supper if we approach in a mindless way.

Instead, we are to consider the symbolism. We are to think of the broken body and shed blood of Christ, in which there is the forgiveness of sins. We are to think of where he is now, ascended to the right hand of the Father, where he serves as our Mediator, and from where he will return. We are to think of the importance of believing upon him – chewing on him with the mouth of faith. We are to think of our union with Christ. We are to think of our communion with God through faith in Christ. We are to think of our union with one another. All of these things are communicated through the Supper by way of symbol. The point is that we are to think as we partake.

In faith

Seventhly, see that the Lord’s Supper ought to be received in faith.

Brothers and sisters, the Supper benefits you nothing if you do not have faith in Christ. In fact, if you do not have faith and you partake of the Supper it brings, not a blessing, but a curse. To partake of the Supper is to receive God’s mark; God’s name. And to receive it in an unworthy manner – to take his name in vain – brings, not a blessing, but a curse. “For the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7, ESV). It is a big deal to say that Jesus is Lord. And that is one thing that we do in the Supper. Are we not saying that we belong to Christ? We are receiving his mark, are we not? He puts his mark on us in baptism and in the Supper. Let us be sure, then, that we are partaking in a worthy manner with true faith in the heart.

“Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.” (1 Corinthians 11:28–32, ESV)

What does it mean, then, to partake in a worthy manner? It means that we are to partake only if we have faith in Christ. It means that we are to partake as long as we are living a life marked by repentance. It means that we are partake when we have done everything in our power to maintain unity within the body of Christ. To partake when we know there is no faith in Christ; to partake when we know that we are living in sin and are unwilling to turn from it; to partake when we know that we have sinned against our brother or sister in Christ and have not done our part to make it right, we  partake in an unworthy manner. It is a serious thing.

Here is what partaking in an unworthy manner does not mean. It does not mean that if you have sinned in the past week, or day, or hour, you cannot partake. If that were the case, then the trays would go out full and return full every Lord’s Day.

Brothers and sisters, repent of your sins and believe in Jesus. If you are doing that, then come to his Table. Come and commune with one another and with God the Father who has adopted you into his family through the broken body and shed blood of his uniquely begotten Son, Jesus, who is the Christ.

Conclusion

So how are we to partake of the Supper?

Weekly; with bread and wine; after the proclamation of the word; within the church; with thanksgiving; thoughtfully; and in faith.

Posted in Sermons, Joe Anady, 1 Corinthians 11:17–34, Posted by Joe. Comments Off on Sermon: 1 Corinthians 11:17–34: The Lord’s Supper – How Is It To Be Observed?


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