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
Listen to Eddie’s weekly podcast at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/hollydale-baptist-church/id893226987

 

Why Perpetual Repentance Cannot Work

“Examine yourselves,” the preacher pronounced from the pulpit as he prepared for the altar call. “Look at your life. Have you sinned this week? This month? Do you have any unconfessed sins? Come down and get your life right with God. Confess your sins and be forgiven.”

 

Some Sundays, the message creates more of a guilty conscience than others. If people begin responding, we’ll sing another stanza of ‘Just as I am’. If no one responds, we’ll sing another stanza anyway because the preacher is sure the Holy Spirit is convicting someone’s heart of sin, but they are resisting.

 

This is a widely accepted message in many evangelical churches and denominations. Though it seems right because we want to deal with sin, this approach is flawed at its core. What is the flaw? Look at the focus of the message. Where is the focus? Look at your sin. Look at yourself. I recently read a devotional that called for repentance and at the end, it stated, “Resolve now to put off all ungodly conduct and yield completely to obedience to Christ.”

 

This sounds good, but there is one important flaw. It’s the same flaw that caused the Law of the Old Testament Covenant to fail. Let’s let the scriptures explain. Romans 8:3-4

3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh,
4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

 

The Apostle Paul goes on to clarify, “The Law is good and holy, and the commandments of the law are good and holy.” In spite of this, the Bible says that instead of producing goodness and holiness in us, the law makes us exceedingly sinful. The reason? Romans 7:14 explains:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.

 

The problem isn’t God’s law. The problem is that the law is spiritual, but we are carnal (or of the flesh). The flesh cannot become spiritual and therefore cannot fulfill a spiritual law. The law exposes sin and our utter incapability to measure up; therefore, it makes us exceedingly sinful by pointing out every act of the flesh. The flesh is at war with the Spirit, so it stands to reason that any effort through the flesh fails in its attempt to produce spiritual righteousness. When we view our spiritual condition through human eyes of the flesh, it drives us to despair, which then, if we have understanding, also drives us to the solution. This is also explained in Romans 7:24-25

24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
25 I thank God– through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

 

Don’t lose sight of this contrast. In the flesh, we can do nothing but serve the law of sin. When we are looking to ourselves, we only have two choices – self-deception, or utter despair. But when we look at the Spirit by focusing on what Christ has done, we are taken out of the despair of the flesh and placed into the promise of God.

 

And this is why perpetual repentance cannot produce lasting results. Certainly we can drive people to despair by asking them to focus on sin. This will either cause people to shut down and disengage, or it may drive them to the altar. They will beg for mercy and have an emotional appeasement for a moment. However, that appeasement will disappear the next time they fail to measure up to the standard of perfection. Then they will no longer feel right with God. Never will they grow close to God, for their sin will always drive them away. The person depending upon commitment and resolve will never get beyond surface Christianity.

 

Notice the Apostles didn’t preach to focus on sin. When they looked at themselves, they recognized their wretchedness compared to God’s holiness. However, when they looked to the gift of Christ’s completed work, which was given to them, they could do nothing but rejoice. The message wasn’t, “We must do something with our sin.” The message was, “Christ has already taken sin out of the way; we then receive grace and rejoice in what He has done.”

 

The message of the gospel is not to become holy, righteous, and resolve to be perfect. The message of the cross is to become a partaker of God’s holiness, righteousness, and to trust in His perfection. Look at one of my favorite passages in 2 Peter 1:3-4

3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,
4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

 

Paul said it best when he said, “Not having my own righteousness, but that which is through faith in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that Jesus became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. It’s never your righteousness. You are a partaker of God’s righteousness, and you receive it by faith. You trust in God’s righteousness and God promises to overcome sin on your behalf. The more focused you are on Christ, the less power sin has. The more focused you are on sin, the less you will experience the power of faith in Christ. The power of God doesn’t change. Your faith in His power is either your strength or lack thereof.

 

In the past, when I preached, “Look at your life. Have you sinned…” what I was actually saying was, “Take your eyes off of the righteousness of Christ and look at your flesh.” Then defeat is a guarantee. Our calling is ALWAYS to take our eyes off our flesh and look to His grace. Grace is the gift of God’s unmerited favor. It is the completed work of Christ, given to you without any merit or service of your own. It is received by faith. Faith is believing in God’s works and trusting in His promise that His work is credited to your account. When we believe in Christ’s works, success is a guarantee.

 

There is only one type of repentance that is valid for the Christian. When we realize we have taken our eyes off of Christ and are again focused on the flesh, we need a change of mind and a change of direction. We repent by taking our eyes off ourselves and placing them back on Christ. We then walk with Him in His righteousness and rejoice that we are partakers of true righteousness. True righteousness is something we cannot produce.

 

Do you struggle with sin? This is normal. But the answer is not to focus on sin and lament over failure. The answer is to trust in God’s righteousness and focus on Him. When our minds are on Christ, we can do nothing but serve the law of God. When our minds are on the flesh, we can do nothing but serve the law of sin. The carnal mind draws from the flesh and human effort. Even during righteous acts it is still drawing from sinful flesh. This is why Jesus said, “Many will come to Me in that day and say, ‘Look what we have done in Your name,’ but I will declare, ‘You are a worker of lawlessness.”

 

If it is a good deed done through the flesh, even if it is done in Jesus’ name, it is still an act of the flesh, and whatever is of the flesh is sin. According to the Bible, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

 

Yet this is good news indeed. Your righteousness has already been accomplished. You need to do nothing but trust in the righteousness of Christ, given to you by faith. God only asks one thing of you. Trust in what He has given you. Hebrews 11:6 says:

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

 

Take your eyes off your sins, failures, good works, religion, or any other self-focus. Believe in Him and receive the reward of faith – trusting in God. Nothing else has eternal significance. When you fail, you have simply stepped back into the flesh, and God calls you to again trust in His mercy and grace. Then receive righteousness and experience perfect fellowship as if that righteousness were your own.

 

As preachers and teachers, we should be turning people’s focus away from themselves and toward trusting completely in Christ. As listeners and receivers of the word, we should be taking our eyes off both our righteousness and our sin, and we should be looking to Christ alone. Not ourselves. Not our sin. Not our works. Not our righteousness. Christ alone. That is the Christian who will experience the victory already accomplished by Christ, and that person will grow into the faith God has provided. If there is one thing to resolve it’s this, resolve to trust in nothing but Christ. You can’t do it and you’ll only get frustrated with both failure and lack of spiritual fruit in your life. Stop trying and start trusting in Him. Then God has promised to both subdue your iniquities and will cause the fruit of the Spirit to emerge in your life.

Eddie Snipes 2013