For Us, Seriously: An Introduction to the Lord's Supper
July 3, 2016
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
When the Corinthian church came together, it was not for the better. It was for the worse. These are very disheartening words. Something wrong was happening at Corinth. Something terribly wrong.
It is easy to think that their wrong was selfishness and division. Yes, there were divisions and factions within the church. Yes, some members got drunk while other members went hungry. Yes, the church was despised and those who had nothing were humiliated. Such selfishness and division is appalling and deplorable, wretched and cruel. It should make us sick and angry hearing it.
But that was not the ultimate wrong in Corinth.
You see, at the end of the day, the Corinthian church did not just strike at each other. They struck at Christ himself. The Corinthians did not merely trample upon church unity. They trampled upon the church’s union with Christ. Paul masterfully goes from the issue of church division to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. And he tells the Corinthians that by taking the bread and the cup and then turning around and humiliating those who had nothing, they ultimately treat the very body and blood of Christ in an unworthy manner.
Brothers and sisters, this reality ought to stop us dead in our tracks and make us think twice about showing favoritism at church, or slandering or gossiping about a member, or hating or humiliating a brother or sister in Christ. For when we do such things, we strike at the very person and work of Christ himself. When we do such things, we may become hypocrites who are uncommendable.
In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus clearly states that his body and his blood was given to us and for us. And the Bible makes it clear that believers are united with Christ and one with him. Therefore, if we dishonor another member at church, we dishonor Christ himself. If we mess with anyone at church, we mess with Christ himself. Conversely, if we serve one another at church, we serve Christ himself. If we love another member at church, we love Christ himself.
Many churches have split because of division. If they would only realize the sobering reality that by striking at members of the church, they ultimate striking at the very person and work of Christ. If only they realized the meaning of Christ’s words to Paul when he said to him: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
Paul gives the Corinthians a warning. He tells them that anyone who 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. He tells them that anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body and the blood of Christ eats and drinks judgment on himself. This is a gigantic warning. And it is a real warning that had real consequences. Some people actually got weak and ill for taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. Some people even died doing so.
Why is this so serious? This is so serious because our salvation and Christ’s person and work is so serious. Eating at the Lord’s Table is participating with the Lord himself. Partaking of the bread and the cup is covenanting with Jesus himself. It is profoundly personal. You engage someone who is a living being. Someone who is holy. Someone who is majestic and powerful. Someone who is righteous and perfect. Someone who is real. That is why all of this is so serious.
Why is this so serious? This is so serious because when we eat the bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death. Jesus was betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, and abandoned by his disciples. Jesus was wrongfully arrested and blindfolded and struck and mocked. Jesus was nailed to a cross and crucified to death. And then he was buried. When we take the bread and the cup, we proclaim all of this. We proclaim all of Christ’s suffering and humiliation and death - not the suffering or humiliation or death of any member of the church.
Brothers and sisters, let us take Paul’s warning to the Corinthians and take the Lord’s Supper seriously. In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel didn’t have the Lord’s Supper. But they had similar signs and seals of God’s covenant of grace. You see, they were baptized in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food that we eat. They all drank the same spiritual drink that we drink.
Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. Let us us take the Lord’s Supper seriously.
Brothers and sisters, let us take church and Christian life more seriously. Let us come to church and walk with God in a more mature manner. Let us be less casual with our faith and more serious about our vows to Christ. Let us not go back to the ways of our youth or be nostalgic for the ways that things used to be. Brothers and sisters, it is time to grow up and grow up fast. It is time to do harder things. It is time to sacrifice as adults. It is time to grow in the knowledge and grace of Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us take church and Christian life more seriously.
Brothers and sisters, let us take sin more seriously and not do it. Let us confess our sinfulness again today. Let us hate our sin more and more. Let us understand how personal it really is. Let us take sin more seriously and not do it.
I would like to close now by thinking about the Corinthian church. The Corinthian church is widely understood by scholars and pastors to be the worst church in Paul’s time. It seems that the Corinthian church gave Paul the most headaches and heartaches. And Paul sent a lot of strong language their way, and not a whole lot of commenadation and praise.
But while the Corinthian church was not a good church, it was still a church. And while the Corinthian church was so frustrating to Paul, it did have one great thing going for them: Christ loves his church. Christ will not abandon his church. Christ will feed his church and perfect his church and bring his church to the new heavens and the new earth - beautifully and perfectly, without fail. And Christ has given his church the Lord’s Supper. He will always have a seat at his table for his church. His bride is always invited to have communion with him. Brothers and sisters, I hope this breaks your hearts in a good way. Christ loves the worst. Christ loves his church.