The Celebration of Communion

The single greatest event in the church is the crucifixion of Jesus. While the resurrection gave us justification, the crucifixion removed the barriers that prevent us from fully experiencing the love of God. The church is very good at celebrating the resurrection, but Jesus commanded us to continuously proclaim His death.

Many evangelicals neglect this important command, and the biggest reason is unfounded fear based on a misunderstanding of scripture. Let’s begin this study by examining this scripture. 1 Corinthians 11:17-32

17 Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse.
18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it.
19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.
20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.
21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk.
22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? 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 do not praise you.
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread;
24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.
27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.

Many translations use the word ‘unworthily’ instead of ‘in an unworthy manner’. Though the vernacular during the era of the translators may have been consistent to the intent of the scriptures, our modern vernacular misunderstands this as if we are being proclaimed unworthy instead of our actions being unworthy. The Greek word is anaxios, which is accurately translated as ‘unworthy manner’. Yet even if the wording might appear to be unclear, the context around this phrase should clarify any misconceptions. We sometimes take things out of context, so the meaning gets lost in our assumptions.

The Apostle Paul begins this instruction by scolding the church. “You are not coming together for the better, but for the worse,” again directing our attention to the method and not the individual’s spiritual condition. The people had turned this remembrance of the Lord’s sacrifice into a party of indulgence.

The church is reminded of how this commandment had been originally delivered. Notice, they were not merely eating the bread and drinking the wine of communion. In the Corinthian church, what should have been a celebration of Christ instead had become a runaway festival of human glory. One person ate a banquet, another was drunken, and the poorest among them had nothing.

In the late 1700s, a similar example emerged in the European church. To raise money, the church allowed parishioners to purchase the pews they sat in. It wasn’t long before people started decorating their own pews. One would deck out their family pew, and another would one-up them. Soon it became a status symbol of wealth, each person beaconing their own glory to the church by the lavishness of their pew. The church began discouraging the practice once the richest pew-owners began encasing themselves in decorative boxes to be separate from the lower status parishioners.

This same spirit exists today. Churches beacon their success through architecture and lavish buildings. Members present things that separate themselves from others, whether that be images of wealth, denominationalism, or pride in their knowledge and self-righteousness. What is supposed to be the communion of the saints at a common table focused on the Lord has been perverted into a call for divisions.

Churches deny communion to those who are in Christ but not of their particular sect. Christians separate themselves from the communion table when other believers in Christ are not of their particular label of Christianity. Communion is the one time we are commanded to put everything else aside and focus on Christ alone. Unfortunately, religion has divided the table of fellowship and excluded those who belong to Christ. This is sin and is why the Bible says, “I praise you not,” and then condemns us for breaking into factions within the church.

There is one body, one Lord, and one salvation. (See Ephesians 4:4-6) Anyone who is in Christ is in the communion of the saints – even if people within the various church sects don’t acknowledge this truth. They may be well meaning, but if anyone is supporting division, they are under the warning of the above scripture.

This is what was occurring in the church of Corinth. They were turning their tables into banquet halls. One displayed his feast, one had the party table where the group became drunk, and the poorest among them were left out of the picture. The poor people were watching others feast and probably wondered why God was not including them, but the truth is that God wasn’t in this indulgence at all. While the members were boasting about their own glory, they were shaming the cross and true faith was pushed aside for self-glorifying religion.

It is at this point that the warning is given. “I praise you not!” This is not the Lord ’s Supper. It’s a carnally minded festival. After rebuking this sham of a practice, Paul returns their focus to what had already been delivered to them, and they are reminded to take the bread and cup with a focus on Christ. Then they are commanded, “Examine yourselves.”

This self-examination is not the command to see if we are sin-free and worthy to take the Lord’s Supper. It is a command to examine our actions to see if we are conducting ourselves in a way that honors or dishonors Christ’s sacrifice. Examine yourself is not a command to see if you have sin that makes you unworthy. You are worthy because Christ has made you worthy! Let’s take a moment to look at the meaninglessness of our ideas of worthiness. Look at 1 Corinthians 15:9-10

9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

Why was Paul worthy? It’s a trick question. He could never become worthy. He is called by God because of God’s grace. Not only does God’s grace place Paul within the center of God’s perfect will, it also becomes the force within him to do good works. God produced good works as Paul focused on Christ.

The same is true for you. You can never become worthy. Let me reiterate that for emphasis: you will never be worthy enough to earn the right to partake of the Lord’s Supper. You are a partaker of Christ because of God’s grace alone! If you have any doubts on this, let’s look at what the Bible calls sin.

  • To know good and not do it is a sin.
  • To disobey God willfully or ignorantly is a sin.
  • To lust in our heart is equal to adultery.
  • To be angry without a godly cause is sin.
  • Even if we have a godly cause, if anger produces an outburst of wrath, it is sin.
  • To hate is equivalent to murder.
  • To speak against of person in a position of authority, political or otherwise, is rebellion against God and is sin.
  • To fail to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength is a sin. That is all, not most. Any failure to love is sin.
  • To fail to love your neighbor as yourself is sin. Do you have anyone in your town that has less than you do?
  • To fail to pray for someone is a sin.
  • Anything not of faith is a sin. Do you act 100% in faith 100% of the time?

Now examine yourself. Can you identify every sin you have committed and confess them and be declared worthy? If you think you can, I need to remind you that self-righteousness and pride are sins.

Do you see the problem with the false doctrine of having to become worthy in order to partake of communion? 99% of your sins will never be acknowledged. 98% of those are because you don’t even recognize the areas in your life where sin exists. The Bible says that the person viewing life through the natural mind will always be in sin. Only when we are in the Spirit do we have life and peace. It’s all about faith. And that is exactly what the Lord ’s Supper is all about.

It isn’t about your ability to confess your way into perfection. It is about Christ’s work that has set you free from the law of sin and death. You are celebrating His victory over sin, and you are declared worthy because of your faith in Him. Nothing else can make you worthy. If you are putting your trust in your ability to confess your sins, you are hopeless indeed. The best you can do is deceive yourself into thinking you have made things right. However, the life in the Spirit by faith in Christ is always right with God.

Examine yourself. Are you focused on anything other than Christ? Are you trusting in your righteousness, or His righteousness given to you? It is not a man-centered philosophy. It is a faith-centered trust in Christ.

Let’s take a moment to look at the Bible’s unveiling of communion. It began in Exodus 12:21-23

21 Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Pick out and take lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the Passover lamb.
22 “And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning.
23 “For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you.

This is where the Passover celebration came from. The angel of judgment passed through the land and not one person was judged based on their merits or sins. The most noble among them were doomed if they were not under the blood. The vilest among them were saved, if they were under the blood. This is why the Bible calls Jesus the Lamb of God. He is the Passover, but this was not revealed until His birth 2000 years ago. Once Jesus became the Passover Lamb, it became a sin to perform the Old Testament sacrifices. He is the only sacrifice. All that came before Him were merely proclaiming His coming death. Now we take the communion celebration to proclaim the death He accomplished.

Even in this Old Testament ordinance, we see the cross. The blood on the doorpost and the top of the door is the cross. To strike the doorposts is foretelling of His hands that would be nailed and would bleed. The top of the door is the crown of thorns that bloodied His brow. Jesus even called Himself the door of salvation. And none of this would be understood for another two millennia.

The Old Testament is filled with foreshadows of Christ. Melchizedek blessed Abraham and gave the wine and bread of communion, for He was the priest of the Most High God. Now Jesus, the High Priest of our confession brings us the bread and wine of His sacrifice. Though God revealed it in both the Old and New Testaments, no one could understand until God revealed it at the crucifixion, and through the Spirit opening the eyes of our heart. Look now at John 6:51-60

51 “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
52 The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”
53 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.
54 “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
55 “For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.
56 “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.
57 “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.
58 “This is the bread which came down from heaven– not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”
59 These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.
60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?”

We have the perspective of history, but the disciples did not. Many of Jesus’ followers turned their backs on Him at this teaching. It was a hard saying. You also will find many things hard to understand, but those who understand that He is their life will not allow this to discourage them.

The day was coming when even those who said, “It’s a hard saying,” would understand. Yet only those who had faith to stay with Him received the blessing of witnessing His resurrection and being part of His first calling. When Jesus said, “Will you also go away?” Peter said, “Where shall we go? Only You have the words of life.”

Peter had no clue what Jesus was talking about, yet because he knew the word was true, he walked in faith until the time when God would open his eyes to see the truth. Even though Peter was overtaken by his flesh and even denied Jesus three times, God did not allow Peter to fail. And that is a message that should give you comfort. Even if you fall, God is able to make you stand. Just believe on Christ, trust His word, and rely on His power.

Your sins are not God’s barrier. Those are part of the body of flesh you are learning to leave behind. Don’t trust in your ability to remain sin-free. Your flesh is never sin-free. There are just blind spots where you can’t recognize your faults, but in God’s eyes, you are faultless if you are in Christ. You are worthy because, by the grace of God, I am what I am. By the grace of God, you are what you are. He has made you stand, and it is by His grace alone that you stand.

Don’t be faithless, but believe. Let’s look at our celebration in Luke 22:19-20

19 And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

When you take the bread, reflect on the gift of Christ. His body was broken for your sins. The wrath against all your sin was laid upon Him. You are not partaking of condemnation, you are partaking of life! As Jesus said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” When you take this bread, you are proclaiming your trust in His death and the gift of life He provided to you.

20 Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.

When you take this cup, it is your declaration of faith in His forgiveness for your sins. It is the proclamation that His blood purchased your life. It is your trust in the New Covenant. The Old Covenant was condemnation, but now you are trusting in the new Covenant purchased for you. It’s all about His gift of love, and nothing is dependent upon you. The only thing God requires is that you believe on Christ. Put your trust in His atoning blood, and celebrate His death for your life. This was shed for you!

Let us remember and celebrate the Lord’s death until He comes. This celebration is in remembrance of His gift. His death is your gift of life. May the Lord bless you as you trust in Him!

Eddie Snipes 2014
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