November 11, 2020
Dr Ritch Boerckel and Pastor Josh Beakley
Josh: Well, Good Evening to those who are with us in person and always to those who are online. We’re thankful we have, it looks like, about twenty people there through our website and then some more online and then here in person. We’re going to discuss what we’ve been talking about, our topic of discipleship and this past sermon on Sunday. Any questions that you have, whether you’re here or online, you can text them in to our crew in the back. Those questions will come to our crew in the back and then they’ll forward them over to us and we’ll try to do the best we can to interact with them and consider as we talk about what it means to follow Jesus as the leader, and specifically not only believing in Him, but belonging to Him in this particular practice of showing we belong to Him through the Lord’s Supper. I know this was a longer section. I know you read verses 23-26. But I think we have time tonight, if I could just read the section in its entirety.
Josh: And then if you want to pray, as people respond, they can send in some questions and we’ll see what the Lord would have for us tonight. So 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. Here we are, trying to follow the Lord, follow Jesus together. We read about simple church. Devoting ourselves to the reading of Scripture is one of those, and here we are to look at God’s Word. 1 Corinthians 11, starting in verse 17. The Apostle Paul writes through the Holy Spirit in God’s Word,
“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.”
Ritch: Awesome! That’s quite a chapter, isn’t it? What a great instruction to us about something very important. Let’s pray together.
Father in heaven, we’re grateful Lord, that you, in your love for us, sent your Son, Jesus. We’re grateful that the eternal Son came down from heaven. He did not consider equality with you as something to be grasped, held onto as glorious, but rather, emptied Himself by taking on the form of a servant, taking on frailties, a human body. And yet more, He humbled Himself more by becoming obedient to death, and even bore death on a cross where He became a curse for us. Lord, we remember Him. We treasure Him. We think of so many aspects of the story of His death and burial and resurrection that fill us with wonder and cause us to recognize your sovereign power, your lovingkindness, your mercy, your grace, your righteousness. Lord, we’re thankful for the resurrected Christ. Our lives are no longer here, but we’ve been raised together with Christ and we’re seated with Him in heavenly realms. Teach us to set our minds on things above. And even a special gift like the Lord’s Supper that is a gift from you to your church, help us to always receive it in a worthy manner. Lord, that we’d receive it by genuine faith and with a humbling contrition before you of our sin, confessing our sins and looking to Christ to bring about a righteousness that is not ours, but a righteousness that is from above and a righteousness that is very practical in many ways of life. So just bless our conversation as we think about the Lord’s Supper. Allow this form of worship of you even to be filled with more meaning as a result of what we talk about tonight. Strengthen your church through it, we pray. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Josh: Amen! So, we already have a question coming in. I have a few comments to start us off with, one being, if you’re with us on Wednesday and you happen to be with us pretty consistently, you might remember that we covered this passage before, as we were going through one series. There were some questions and we said we’re actually going to circle back around as we go through discipleship and touch on it. So we’re here again, and there are always more questions coming in. So this is a familiar passage to those who have been with us.
I want to give just a word on context. This passage is in 1 Corinthians, in the New Testament. One of the early followers of Jesus, the Apostle Paul was writing to a church of early followers who were Gentiles. As an early church, they were struggling with what it meant to follow Jesus. So Paul is answering some questions they asked, addressing some problems that they were encountering. Specifically, there is this practice of the Lord’s Supper, of Communion, which is the practice that Jesus instituted with His disciples. Before He died on the cross, He broke bread and said, “This is my body.” He took a cup of wine and said, “This is my blood,” and described it as the new covenant. So His followers carried forward that practice. But there were some questions about how it was to be carried out. There were some problems that came up, here in the early church. And there have been a lot of questions and problems that have carried on through the church. But one thing that is important to note, too, is that Jesus did that when it was sort of a common understanding for the people of God up to that point, during the season of Passover. They actually had a memorial that they had been given by God many thousands of years before, when God had delivered His people from Egypt. So this was a tradition in Israel for many years, and they had problems and questions about that tradition throughout their history. But that was a part of the old covenant. Jesus institutes now this memorial as part of the new covenant. All of those things are swirling around and that’s sort of some of the theological and historical background. But this passage then gets into sort of the practical questions of, now we’re dealing with just people. These are people in conflict, and even the matter of how we do this. That relates to where we’re at even as a church, right?
Ritch: Absolutely! So, it’s the only instructive passage in the New Testament, outside of the gospels, about this very important celebration. In fact, it’s absent so much from the other epistles that some would suggest today that we shouldn’t even celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and that was not really something the church should consider. But here it is. It’s really a profound statement about what God has for His church in giving this gift of the Lord’s Supper to His church for the benefit of the church and for really, building up of the body.
He kind of introduces this section earlier in chapter 10 as he encourages this church to flee from idolatry. Then he says in verse 16 of chapter 10, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?” So he’s introducing the subject of the Lord’s Supper as he is on the heels of a discussion about idolatry, because he wants them to know that even in taking of these forms, there can be idolatry. There is a big difference between true worship and false worship.
He calls it the cup of communion. I love that! Communion means together with; union alongside of. He says that when we share in this cup, we’re sharing in a cup of communion with first, God, but also with one another as the body of Christ. Then he goes on to say, “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” What’s interesting here, whenever we see the body of Christ, too, we’ll see in chapter 12, just a couple chapters over, that becomes a metaphor for the church. And here, it’s sort of a reference to the physical body of Jesus. Yet, there is crossover. So already, there is some crossover from this real body and this metaphorical body, the church. I think that’s intentional, to indicate that these aren’t to be separated. The real body of Jesus is very much connected to God’s plan to bring about a physical body called the church in this world that is to be Jesus’ feet and hands. This supper is a celebration of the physical body of the Son of God, but also a celebration with the body of Christ on earth that is a communion. It’s intending to be a uniting, we’ve been using the word, belonging, kind of act.
Josh: Right! Now, it’s kind of interesting as you describe it like that, because I think about Paul writing this, and Paul was, in the early days, before he was confronted with the reality of the Person of Christ, he was actually going in and persecuting early followers of Jesus. He was going into the church and ripping out members of the church and throwing them in prison. Then Jesus appears to him and says, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” So here is Saul just dealing with people in the church and Jesus says, “You are persecuting me.” All of a sudden, Saul at that point recognizes these people belong to Christ in such a way, so strongly that He says, “This is me.”
Ritch: And really, this is what this act of worship is about. We sort of mentioned last week as we think about this belonging section of our series, we’ve talked about three matters that really begin with God’s gracious, invisible, mysterious work. So we begin with baptism. The whole subject of baptism for the believer begins with faith in Christ and being baptized into or by the Spirit of God. So the Spirit of God does something where He identifies us, baptizes us in relationship with God. Then the call to be baptized is the physical expression of that gracious act that has already taken place. Then we talked about membership. Church membership is really again, an expression of what God has already done. So for everyone who is born again, God has already placed us into a family. We are already members of the universal church. We’re baptized by one Spirit into one body, this thing called the church. But membership then is a physical expression that celebrates that invisible mysterious gracious act of God. It’s a recognition that this is what God did. He didn’t leave me all by myself on my own to follow Him, isolated from others. He has placed me into a family. So, church membership is just a physical expression that this is the physical family that I’m going to be joined to in a meaningful way. Then we talk about the Lord’s Supper. It begins with a real covenant that God makes with us through His blood. Then the worship expression of that, that is visible and physical, is the Lord’s Supper.
I make that point because some folks focus so much on these external acts that they actually say salvation comes through them, and that’s just the opposite. It’s turning the gospel upside down on its head. These acts are meaningful because the gospel has already worked a work of grace. It’s not something we do through certain rights, but something that God has already done for us. These other acts then become this joyful, amazing celebration. These are gifts from God that we celebrate and we receive as gifts in order to rejoice in this work of grace that God has already done in us through Christ.
Josh: So each one of these elements of following the leader is really accomplished by grace, and it’s for God’s glory. It’s by grace, for His glory. Belief is actually something that God does. We’re transformed and then we enter into that reality and God actually calls us to be into or belong to the body of Christ. He places us in Christ and then we live that reality out. God is the one who causes us to become like Christ and we seek to live that reality out. But each of those is done by grace, for God’s glory.
Ritch: And each of them, done by grace and for God’s glory, are together acts of worship. In other words, none of them are to be done in isolation. So water baptism is not to be done alone. I told the story of Dietmar. I think I amended it last week, of how he baptized himself all by himself at four o’clock in the morning. Well, he was not well-taught about baptism. I appreciated his enthusiasm, but I would have told him if we had a longer time, you really need to be baptized in church so that the church celebrates this. Here in 1 Corinthians 11, what you just read, it says, “First of all, when you come together as a church.” So four times in this one passage, speaking about the Lord’s Supper, God uses the words “comes together.” And here even it says “as a church.” It’s not as a bunch of churches even, which kind of begs some questions.
One of the things that we’ve discussed as elders pretty deeply as we’ve talked about this passage in this season of pandemic, you may have noticed if you’re a member of Bethany, during the times when we were online, you didn’t celebrate the Lord’s Supper. We missed that! Why didn’t you celebrate the Lord’s Supper? It’s a good question. We stopped short of saying this is directives from the Lord that you need to come together in order to celebrate, physically come together. We think there can be in modern age, we’ll say an authentic virtual coming together. But that’s what we wrestled with. The church didn’t have to deal with this up to this point, at least as strongly as we’ve had to. Do we just wait until we can physically come together in order to celebrate the Lord’s Supper? Now our position ultimately came to, and there were disagreements, but we came to a conclusion that yes, we could celebrate the Lord’s Supper by coming together virtually. Even now, we encourage people who are still online and can’t come physically, to participate in the Lord’s Supper. But it was a question, because we recognized that this is not the ideal. This is not the way it’s described. Now, we don’t think it’s a disobedience to a commandment. So it doesn’t say you must come together, but we also had to wrestle with it like a lot of churches did, because it’s not what God intends. Does that make sense? And as soon as we can come together, we want to make sure that part of our coming together is the Lord’s Supper.
Josh: Well, a lot of questions are bubbling up now here and even in my own mind. So, we had a little bit of that discussion and then more things came at us, so we kind of had to set that discussion aside. Thankfully, we were able to gather outside and we dealt with other things. But there are questions that it starts to give rise to. So one being, is it right to take communion on our own? You kind of described that. Or I could say, is it wrong? So here are illustrations of times. We think of maybe a couple taking communion at their wedding. I’m getting controversial, here. Or an individual taking communion on the moon, which was something. Or we think of maybe a family gathering together and saying we’re going to take communion for our family gathering, during this event. It seems like I’m asking these questions, but no, these are from our esteemed listeners, asking some of these questions. I’ll leave it there because there is more. But in these kinds of scenarios, what kind of counsel from this passage or in general, do we have about the practice of communion? And maybe one more to give it a little bit even closer to home, like a small group. Let’s say we can’t gather as a large group, because I know some churches that maybe small groups will gather and they’ll maybe do communion together as a small group of families in the church.
Ritch: Sure! All of those are great questions. What we do is we draw applications from doctrinal foundation. Not all applications that believers make are absolute. They’re good faith applications, and you have to draw some applications somewhere. There are a lot of things that aren’t absolute. The things that are absolute, you want to settle as absolute. Does that make sense? Even as I mention, while the idea is they came together as a church, it says “they came together, when you come together,” it seems to be a big emphasis of Paul. But is he just describing the situation or is he making a mandate. And people legitimately have come to different conclusions. “I think he’s actually making a mandate that this is the only description we really have that is this extensive and it’s for a purpose, to tell people you have to come together.” I don’t think that. I think it’s also a reasonable interpretation to say, no, this is a description and it tells of a really important matter related to the Lord’s Supper, that it is communal. It’s a communion. And it is about the church celebrating Jesus together and that in fact, if we don’t recognize the body, and I think again, that’s an interpretive matter. Is that the physical body of Jesus or is he talking about esteeming the body of Christ while we’re taking the Lord’s Supper? Then we take it in an unworthy manner. I actually think it’s the latter; that somehow, we have to express our love for each other inside this celebration or else we’re not taking it in a manner than honors Jesus, because Jesus is all about building His glory through a loving church family. So all of those things, I know it’s sort of talking way around maybe your questions.
I can tell you where I land. I think it’s right for believers to celebrate together mindful of the church, even if they’re not at church. So like small groups I’ve been part of. Let’s say I go to the mission field and there is a group of pastors and we celebrated the Lord’s Supper together, recognizing the specialness of the church of Jesus. Does that make sense? So it doesn’t have to be in a specific place and a specific kind of gathering. But I think, again, the foundation has to be that this is about Jesus and His church. The wedding is a little harder for me. I don’t think it’s wrong for a person to, on their own at home, take a piece of bread and remember Jesus and take a cup and remember Jesus. I don’t think that’s prohibited. I just wouldn’t call that the Lord’s Supper. Does that make sense? I’d call it something else. You’re using good elements still, and it’s not prohibited by Scripture, but I wouldn’t call that the Lord’s Supper. Just as I don’t think it was wrong for Dietmar to jump into the Sea of Galilee, but I also wouldn’t say that’s baptism. I would say that was something else other than baptism. That was a celebration that on your own, privately, it symbolizes the washing of God of your sins and the new life you have in Christ. That’s great! Just now, go be baptized, because whatever that was, I don’t think it was prohibited. It just wasn’t baptism. Does that make sense?
Josh: That’s good. Another question that sometimes people would share is what if I don’t have juice and bread? Or what if I have a soda and a cracker, or this or that? You start to get into, is that important or not?
Ritch: Again, I think if you have the elements available, it’s kind of goofy not to use the elements that the Scripture describes.
Josh: I love that theological word; goofy. (Laughter!)
Ritch: It is. When I was a youth pastor just a few years ago, youth pastors already started to get goofy back then and they almost sort of, out of novelty, decided to use different elements, when the other elements…almost to say, see, it’s all about…Well, no. I think now you’re distracting because all these kids are thinking about eating popcorn and soda instead of thinking about Jesus. But at the same time, again, it’s not a command. It’s a description. So we have to be careful with descriptions that we don’t make them into absolute commands. If you don’t have bread and the fruit of the grape, then I don’t think that keeps a group from celebrating the Lord Jesus in a way that honors Him. That also gets into whether it’s fermented or unfermented fruit of the grape, too. There’s a story I have…
Josh: As fascinating as that might be, I want to keep us moving. I don’t think it’s a bad discussion, but we do have some other really helpful questions. Here’s one that’s practical. I don’t know if there is a quick answer to this. But how do we biblically go about deciding how often we take communion? How do we land on once a month or every other week or every week? How do we decide that? Are there any thoughts that inform it?
Ritch: Yes, there are. Again, this is where we have to be careful that we don’t spiritualize our own application. This does get a little bit into things we’ve talked about earlier about disputable matters. Because whatever practice we have, we tend to think it’s the best, otherwise it wouldn’t be our practice. So that’s reasonable. It’s not wrong to think that your practice is the best. But to spiritualize it as though it has a superiority above that which is appropriate, now it becomes divisive.
Josh: So, on the one side you have a regularity that you’re trying to use for emphasis. I think about repetition. Repetition in some ways can be emphasizing something. But also, repetition can be used to deemphasize something because it becomes so redundant that you start to ignore it and miss it. So regularity is helpful to emphasize it, but also, there is a level of redundancy that you realize you get into a rut or a pattern and you start to turn your mind off. And the very purpose that you’re trying to reinforce, actually, you start to ignore. It seems like that kind of thing happens on our phones all the time. We set a reminder and we think, “I’m going to use this to remember.” Maybe we remember one or two times. Then all of a sudden it’s so frequent that for a year, we’ll turn off that reminder and never listen to it. So there is a danger of being too repetitive to the extent that it’s not actually helping us remember. There’s also a danger of being too infrequent that you are forgetting and neglecting the pursuit. So there seems to be some level of wisdom to say, how do we place Christ and this particular practice in our church family in such a way that we’re belonging meaningfully? And if we do it too much, it becomes not meaningful. If we do it too little, it’s not meaningful.
Ritch: I would say it’s not. I would say it certainly could become, the temptation may be there. I think it’s right to make that kind of distinction because again, whatever we practice, we say anything more necessarily makes it into some empty ritual, and anything less makes us into forgetful doers. I have the perfect mean here.
In our church, as you know and most of you know, before the pandemic, we began to have some months where we practiced the Lord’s Supper twice and the second time, we would have walk up communion. That’s what we called it. There were some thoughts like are we doing it too often and cheapening it by having it more than once a month? Again, the danger once a month is to cheapen it. I’m sure that has happened with most believers at some time where we’ve taken the Lord’s Supper and we weren’t kind of focused. We weren’t on that day. There was something going on in our spirit other than faith. So it doesn’t have to be. You can take the Lord’s Supper every day with the body of Christ and have it be meaningful. The blame should never be on how often we take it.
Josh: That’s a good clarification of what I said because it kind of puts the focus on what’s the perfect number? But really, there is a little bit more on the heart. Being able to engage in meaningful faith through the Lord’s Supper regardless of how frequent it is, is much more important than trying to find the perfect number. That’s a helpful clarification, for sure.
Ritch: That’s correct. Again, I think for instance, less than one a year and you probably have lost it. You’ve lost the importance of it. Most churches that I know of, the least frequency would be once a quarter. But I don’t think, for instance, Christmas or Easter is insignificant just because that’s the one time of year we set aside to celebrate the birth of Christ, the incarnation, or the death, burial and resurrection, the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Those things are still meaningful, even though they’re once a year. That’s my point. Does that make sense? They can be anyway.
Josh: So there are two areas that are somewhat related. We’ll see if we can’t unpack them just real briefly. So on the one, we’re thinking about this particular topic and there is some historical background on the practice of communion and even we think about the Reformers and the Catholic church and there were some different views that started to form on communion, on what’s actually happening in this particular act. So there were some differences and disagreements about that, which also kind of informs what we think about is happening in that particular act. So I don’t know if there is a simple way that you think about it to clarify some of the different perspectives, just to give some of that background.
Ritch: Yes, the Roman Catholic Church would teach that the bread and the wine, those elements actually become in a mysterious way, the actual literal body and blood of Christ, so that there is actually a re-sacrifice. It’s not just a commemorative thing of the one sacrifice. It’s a re-sacrifice, a re-presentation of Christ in reality, in death, burial and resurrection. I would stress, that’s really contrary to the gospel. It is, I believe, a heresy that would damage souls, to believe in it. The principle that Jesus said and that Paul restated is, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. This cup is the cup of the new covenant in my blood. Do this as you drink it in remembrance of me.” So it’s a memorial meal. That’s the emphasis.
The idea of “this is my body” as being literal sort of stretches the idea of language, because Jesus’ body was actually there as He gave them bread. So is He both there sitting and in the bread? Are there two bodies of Christ, in other words; one in the loaf and one His physical presence? Again, Jesus used so many metaphors to help us understand. Even here in chapter 12, Paul is going to talk about the body of Christ being the church. So he is using metaphors to describe in physical ways, spiritual truths, so that we can understand them.
Josh: There is a passage in John, I think it’s John 6, maybe John 5 and 6, where Jesus says “if you don’t eat my flesh and drink my blood, then you can’t be a follower or a disciple.” But that passage wouldn’t necessarily be directly correlated to this. There’s maybe some other context…
Ritch: Yes, that passage has nothing to do with communion first of all, because the Lord hadn’t instituted the Lord’s Supper yet. That was early in His ministry. It’s going to be much later in His ministry that He actually institutes the Lord’s Supper. Again, Jesus uses metaphors quite often to present the truth that He is life Himself. He’s the author of life. He’s the sustainer of life. He’s the giver of life and life is found in Him. So He says to the woman at the well in John 4, “I have water to drink from which if you’d drink this water, you’ll have water springing up inside of you to eternal life. You’ll never be thirsty again.” So again, He loves to use physical things as metaphors, as symbols, as illustrations to help us grab hold of these spiritual truths which without physical illustrations, they’re really kind of hard to grasp.
Josh: I know that there were some Reformers that came out and had some various views on communion. And I know that there may be some individuals or either a family member or someone you know, comes from a Catholic background. That deserves more conversation, and I know that you’ve had conversations with people who have questions about that. That’s important! So if you have questions, I’d say let’s continue the conversation in person. But there were some varying views on communion, so it gets into this question, I guess. What should we be thinking or what should we not be thinking when we’re taking communion? So if I have it and I say, this isn’t the actual blood of Jesus, but should I be thinking that something powerful is happening in this particular juice? What happens if it spills a little bit? Is that, “Uh oh?” I mean, these are real thoughts. What should I be thinking? What are maybe some unhelpful thoughts to think? And what are maybe some helpful thoughts to be thinking?
Ritch: The interesting thing is Paul makes this point to the church in Corinth in his second letter. The whole of the new covenant is about spirit. It’s not about these external forms. It’s about the spirit. It’s not the laws that are incorporated through stone, it’s now this new law in our hearts come by the spirit. So the sacred things are the invisible things.
Jesus says in John 4 to the woman at the well that God seeks after worshipers who would worship Him in spirit and in truth. So in this way, there is a big change between the old covenant and the new covenant, where these physical aspects of worship were so closely tied to God’s presence and God’s communication of Himself, that to treat them as unholy objects, whatever was in the temple, is to treat God Himself as unholy. But now Christ has come and this work is internal, it’s invisible, it’s new life in Christ. Our life is now actually seated with Christ in God, Colossians 3 says. The sacred things are the things that are the invisible things, the matters of the heart and the matters related to what God has said to be true about Himself. So I don’t think we should be sloppy, because that can communicate what we think that bread or cup symbolizes. But neither should we be afraid, like with Uzzah who touched the ark of the covenant and died because it was a holy thing. We also, I don’t believe, ought to have that kind of fear of the physical elements of worship.
Josh: So that brings me sort of to the next question. There are a couple of questions which I think dovetail maybe into this last issue. We had several people ask, should we take communion as a family or maybe gather with other families in the church and take communion? Is that something that’s appropriate? Should we do that more often? I heard you say in some ways this is a disputable matter, though. That’s a pretty big question that we’ve talked about that the best practice is with the church family gathering. That’s something to discuss more, to be sure, but here is one question that comes from those things. There is this really sort of unique warning that Paul gives about eating and drinking in an unworthy manner and then a warning to examine ourselves. Then he says that there is a judgment for those who haven’t discerned the body. It says in verse 30, “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” So there is a warning. There is a question here and a couple others, one of the things is should we take the Lord’s Supper in smaller settings? I guess I’ll add to that this other question, which is what is this warning about not doing it in an unworthy manner? Because actually, we don’t want to be flippant. We want to be careful to not do it in an unworthy manner. And maybe even a lot of the ways that we would engage in it, we want to recognize what is this warning? Because we don’t see a command to do it all of those times. It’s not commanded, but there is a danger. So we don’t want to be afraid of the element, per se, but what is this danger? What is this judgment?
Ritch: That’s excellent! That’s what I had hoped to communicate through the message, primarily, really. Maybe just to touch briefly. In Acts 2, we had a sermon on that earlier in the series, too, it talks about believers breaking bread from house to house. That’s why I don’t think it’s that disputable for expressions of the church to not necessarily be all in one whole of the local church in one place, celebrating. But it is the church. That’s my point. So I’d be careful wherever the church isn’t esteemed, because Christ esteems the church and it’s a gift to the church to help build the church.
So move forward to your question now though, certainly, this warning that Paul gives could be applied to other areas, like many warnings, like many other specific problems. The problem here was that when this group of believers were coming together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, they weren’t honoring the body of Christ. I believe, at least a big part of that is the church, the people around them. The description kind of makes that really plain, that there were people eating the love feast. It’s a love feast to celebrate the love of God in us and the love we have for each other. Some of them were just stuffed and drinking so much wine they were getting drunk. And he said, don’t you have homes to eat and drink in if you want to stuff yourself? But the big problem is that there are others sitting right next to them who were going hungry and without enough drink to slake their thirst. The people who had received such bounty weren’t looking over. Whether they were willfully neglectful or just unintentionally neglectful, he says this is a great sin.
The whole point of the body of Christ and the blood of Christ is that we are reconciled to God and now we’re reconciled with each other for His glory. That’s the whole point. And there is no glory in the way that you’re celebrating the Lord’s Supper. In fact, as I mentioned, he says you’re actually doing more harm than good. In other words, the testimony of the gospel in the community would have been better if they hadn’t have met at all than if they were meeting in the way they were. The idea is, I think God was grieved in a negative way as a result of the way they’re worshiping. So both upward, damage was being done to worship. And also, damage was being done to the community by their celebrations. And that’s a great travesty.
Again, I think in the Lord’s Supper, we’ve made the point that so often, the way we’ve celebrated the Lord’s Supper, and it’s not wrong, but it’s deficient when it only includes sort of a me and God kind of mentality. I used the idea of Maxwell Smart’s cone of silence, where it’s me and God and nobody else is here. It doesn’t matter whether anybody is here or not. It’s just about as long as I get up from that time of celebrating the Lord and I feel clean individually before Him, that’s where my responsibility as a worshiper ends. Paul says, no, that’s not where it ends. It doesn’t end at us just looking inside our own heart. It ends as we look around and we see needs that God would have us to meet. We see opportunities for us to encourage brothers and sisters, to help brothers and sisters, to support brothers and sisters.
Earlier, one other passage we talked about was that passage from Hebrews 10 where it says, don’t neglect the assembling of yourselves together, but all the more as you see the Day drawing near, come together to encourage one another. So the whole point of meeting together was encouragement. So if we’re taking the Lord’s Supper and our minds and hearts are not on “how can I encourage my brothers and sisters around me?” then it’s a reception of a gift that is sort of getting spoiled. It’s losing its meaning and power.
Josh: So, when he says let a person examine himself, that I’m not just examining myself in isolation, the term “cone of silence.” Yes, there is my relationship with God, but also examining myself in relationship to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ around me. It seems like this particular command should be helping them when it comes to this issue of divisions and neglect of love of those around us. That’s part of the examination. Is that appropriate?
Ritch: Yes. I think that again, the application for examining yourself can be very broad. And it should be, probably. I don’t think that it precludes other kinds of examination. But what this chapter is driving toward is examine yourself specifically in whether you’re loving your brothers and sisters in your own church. Examine yourself on whether you look around and see or whether you come to church and you sit and do your worship and then leave without any thought for the needs of others. Is that really the way you would worship? Examine yourself and see whether or not your worship is so isolated or so self-focused that you’re not lifting your eyes and heart up to your brothers and sisters around you when you come. And that’s true for everyone. It’s not just pastors or elders or church leaders, but every one of us has the opportunity before God to receive a gift of grace that reminds us of the special relationship we have with God and also the special relationship we have with each other and the responsibilities that we have that cause the glory of God to emanate from this church family.
Josh: So if I’m hearing you and this passage rightly, there is an issue that we hear about a lot in terms of division, but one of the common terms we hear in American culture is the word “cliques.” It’s where people kind of form different groups. We see groups gathering here. There is a little bit of sort of haves and have not’s. There are cliques that form. And the gospel should be a way that those cliques and those walls of division break down in some ways and that there is a unity or communion that happens. That communion is actually a way in which that kind of exercise should be happening on a regular basis, where there is a togetherness?
Ritch: That’s correct!
Josh: But I’m also reading in this passage that Paul says there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine may be recognized. So while the gospel is powerful and that community is a way we can show we belong to Christ, there are also some ways that the divisions are, in Paul’s words, inevitable, that they must happen because they’re actually going to verify the genuineness of true togetherness.
Ritch: Sure. And I think Paul is always a man who writes with such hope. He clearly is grieved and troubled by what has happened in this church. I think at the end of his discussion, he’s saying “God has a purpose for even this. I don’t want to end with just sort of a sour note. I recognize God has a purpose and one of the purposes is to identify who is really part of Jesus’ church and who is not.” That’s sort of a sobering thing.
Josh: Well, it identifies who belongs meaningfully and those who are belonging superficially. Right?
Ritch: Exactly! Yes!
Josh: This is not merely the practice of the physical act of the communion, but the spirit, the heart behind it is that meaningful sense of belonging to the body and it’s being evidenced through this practice.
Ritch: That’s right!
Josh: Well, we did have a few more questions come in. We’re out of time, here, but I know that we’ll be circling back to talk about communion in the future. I would say one of the blessings to get to be part of the church family, I know I get the benefit of talking to you, but you’re available. We’re available. We have a lot of leaders and elders available to have questions about particular matters about your family or about other religions or backgrounds. These are important things to talk through and we’re ready to talk when there is more time.
Ritch: Maybe just to close with reading the passage I kind of alluded to from 2 Corinthians chapter 3. It’s such a beautiful thing. In 2 Corinthians 3:2 he says “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men;” So that’s kind of the relationship he has in this belonging. He considers them the letter that he is writing to the world about the gospel. It’s the church. That’s the means of communication. “clearly, you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of the flesh, that is, of the heart. And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God,” And I love this! “who also made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
A lot of what we talked about kind of can be summed up with those verses. Anytime we get focused and vexed about how much bread, what kind of bread, how often, are we really focused on the Spirit who gives life? Or are we saying, “I need to know about the letter of the law.” So it’s not that those questions are wrong. They’re appropriate. But if there is a heart attitude behind them like this is the most important thing, then I think we have missed that whole center of the new covenant.
Josh: Right! And that passage actually talks about the old covenant and Moses talks about the new covenant in Christ, the leader who would come, and that new covenant in the Spirit, who transforms our heart from the inside out. Then we’re transformed through that process, becoming like Christ. I think that leads us into what you’re going to be talking about this Sunday in terms of what God does.
Ritch: Yes. I’m super excited about Colossians 1. You must come back Sunday! It’s going to be a sweet passage to digest. It’s going to be great food from the Lord. What a great passage that really talks about the mission of the church. What are we going to be about?
Josh: Thanks for the questions. It’s always sweet! I’m going to close us in prayer.
Father, thank you that we can know you because we are in Christ. We belong to you and that’s a work of grace. It’s a work that you’ve accomplished that we want to live out in ways that are meaningful and ways that manifest your love, that the world would see and know the God of love and who Christ is like through His body. Lord, we ask that you’d give us courage, that you’d give us humility, and that you’d give us awareness of those around us and the needs that others face and the ways that we can minister to those needs. Father, help us to not move beyond that or past that because of our own challenges. Use us as a church body to build the body up in love according to your work, by your grace, for your glory. In Jesus Name we pray, Amen.