The Lord’s Supper—1 Corinthians 11:17-34

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Levi Durfey

 

INTRODUCTION

 

I read a story about a boy who was riding his bike when he was struck and killed by a speeding car. The older brother remembered how, later, his father went out and picked the boy’s mangled bicycle out of the ditch—a man of few tears—he wept profusely as he took it to a place behind the shed that was out of the way. Over the years, when the father would go behind the shed for a piece of scrap or whatever, seeing the bike would bring back memories of his son.

 

As I thought about the story, I wondered: What would have happened if some kids had found the mangled bike behind the shed and had tried playing with it? I imagine that the father would have told them to stop and put it back. It would have been disrespectful to the memory of his son.

 

When my father died, in the days following, no one old enough to know what was going on sat in his chair. There was no discussion about it, everyone just knew—it would be disrespectful to do so.

 

The Lord’s Supper was given by Jesus for us to do, to remember him. Some in the Corinthian church, however, were treating the Lord’s Supper, and thus the memory of the Lord, with disrespect.

 

THE DISRESPECT OF THE LORD’S SUPPER

 

Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, 

that ye come together not for the better, 

but for the worse.  (1 Corinthians 11:17)

For first of all, 

when ye come together in the church, 

I hear that there be divisions among you; 

and I partly believe it.  (1 Corinthians 11:18)

For there must be also heresies among you, 

that they which are approved 

may be made manifest among you.  (1 Corinthians 11:19)

 

A purpose of God in allowing divisions in a church is so that those who are solid Christians, who are “approved,” will “be made manifest” or made obvious. Not that it is good for divisions in a church to persist, but divisions will reveal those Christians who are strong and solid in doctrine and faith. Someone once said, “Better a division over doctrine than a corrupt unity.” One of the divisions at the church in Corinth had to do with the Lord’s Supper. Paul explains what the problem was:

 

When ye come together therefore into one place, 

this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.  (1 Corinthians 11:20)

For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: 

and one is hungry, and another is drunken.  (1 Corinthians 11:21)

What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? 

or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? 

What shall I say to you? 

shall I praise you in this? 

I praise you not.  (1 Corinthians 11:22)

 

Today, Christians take the Lord’s Supper with barely enough bread and drink to register on the taste buds. This was not always the case. In the early church, Christians came together and ate a large meal to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It makes sense, when you think about it, because Jesus celebrated the first Lord’s Supper at a Passover meal with his disciples. So the first Christians celebrated the Lord’s Supper in a way similar to our modern day fellowship meals at church.

 

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before some of the people in the church began to abuse this arrangement. It seems that there were those who were richer and had easier work schedules who could get there sooner than the poorer Christians who weren’t able to break away from work until later. The rich would arrive early and start eating before the others arrived.

 

Thus some were treating with disrespect something that should have been very meaningful for all of them. So, at the end of the chapter, Paul gave a very practical command:

 

Wherefore, my brethren, 

when ye come together to eat, 

tarry one for another.  (1 Corinthians 11:33)

And if any man hunger, 

let him eat at home; 

that ye come not together unto condemnation. 

And the rest will I set in order when I come.  (1 Corinthians 11:34)

 

If you are starving, and can’t wait, eat at home! But the Lord’s Supper is too important for you not to wait for the rest to get there so you can partake together. Why did this problem happen in the church? Because they had forgotten the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. 

 

THE MEANING OF THE LORD’S SUPPER

 

Paul teaches us several important truths about the Lord’s Supper.

 

1) The Lord’s Supper Was Instituted By Jesus

 

For I have received of the Lord 

that which also I delivered unto you, (1 Corinthians 11:23a)

 

Paul “received” this information directly from the Lord Jesus. He then “delivered” to the Corinthians (and to us today).

 

That the Lord Jesus 

the same night in which he was betrayed 

took bread:  (1 Corinthians 11:23b)

 

The Lord’s Supper was held in an upper room. Jesus and his disciples were eating the Jewish Passover meal, which was a memorial of the Israelites flight out of Egypt. In particular, Passover reminded the Jews of the blood of a lamb that they put on the door posts so that the angel who killed the firstborn of Egypt would “pass over” them.

 

Jesus took the Passover meal and applied the meaning to himself. He himself instituted something new for the church to do to remember him. The fact that the Lord’s Supper came from the Lord himself means that it’s something we should take seriously—we are guests at his table.

 

2) The Lord’s Supper Symbolizes Jesus’ Body

 

[Jesus] took bread:  (1 Corinthians 11:23b)

And when he had given thanks, 

he brake it, and said, 

Take, eat: this is my body, 

which is broken for you: 

this do in remembrance of me.  (1 Corinthians 11:24)

 

In the Jewish Passover meal, the bread was unleavened, representing the purging of sin from their lives and homes. Jesus takes the bread and states, “this is my body.” Christians have debated for centuries what precisely that means, but I won’t go into the debate here.

 

Baptists understand that Jesus was speaking symbolically: the bread and the cup are symbols of his body and blood. 

 

(1) Now a danger for us is to think that since the bread and cup are only symbols, the Lord’s Supper is not really a big deal. We mustn’t think that a direct order from our Lord is no big deal. 

 

(2) Another misunderstanding is that because the bread and cup are symbolic, it really doesn’t matter what you use to represent them. I’ve seen the Lord’s Supper done with potato chips and Pepsi. I see the point that they were trying to make, the elements are merely symbols and it’s our hearts that really matter.

 

I don’t mean to be legalistic here, but I think it is important to keep symbols close to what was originally used. For example, Jesus used unleavened bread. We know this because Luke 22:1 tells us that this was the “feast of unleavened bread…which is called the Passover.” Unleavened bread is used in the Bible to represent sinlessness and newness, while leavened bread represents the old wickedness and sinful ways. 

 

Why is important that the bread we use be unleavened? What does the bread symbolize? Christ’s body. Did Christ ever sin? No. So the best bread to use, if you want to have the best symbolism, is unleavened bread. The Lord’s Supper symbolizes Jesus’ body.

 

3) The Lord’s Supper Reminds Us Of Jesus’ Blood

 

After the same manner also he took the cup, 

when he had supped, saying, 

This cup is the new testament in my blood: 

this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, 

in remembrance of me.  (1 Corinthians 11:25)

 

As we’ve already mentioned, the Passover was instituted back when God freed the Israelites from Egypt. On the night before the Exodus, God sent a plague to kill all the firstborn (human and animal) in Egypt. He told Moses to tell the people to kill a lamb and take it’s blood and paint the blood on the door frames of their houses. 

 

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Why would they do that? Because the purpose of the Old Testament sacrifices was to teach people that the price of sin was high: death. God ordered that his people would regularly sacrifice animals to him, not because he is a gruesome God demanding sacrifice, but to show them visually how serious their sin was. When you had to take your best sheep and kill it and offer it to God, that impressed the seriousness of sin on your mind. 

 

So the Israelites, on that night, painted blood on their doorframes. It showed that they understood that they were sinners and their sin required a penalty of death. Therefore, when the destroyer came to kill the firstborn of Egypt, he would see the blood on the door frames and pass over that house (Exodus 12:23). 

 

On the night on which he was betrayed, Jesus knew that the very next day he himself would become the Passover Lamb. It would be his pure blood that would cause God to pass over the sins of all who trust in Jesus and the sacrifice he made on the Cross. So the Lord’s Supper is the New Testament Passover. Instead of remembering the parting of the Red Sea and the exodus out of Egypt, we remember Christ’s death on the cross and our exodus from sin and death and hell through his blood.

 

Do you understand that you are a sinner? That sin is serious, so serious that God used the death of animals in the Old Testament to impress that fact on his people? That he sacrificed his only Son on the cross for the sins of the world?

 

Friend, if you have never received Jesus Christ as your Savior, I would encourage you to do so today. Your sin is serious, so serious that you need a Savior, and Jesus is that Savior who died for your sin.

 

How does remembering the Lord’s death benefit us as Christians? It sets us on the right course again. As humans, we easily forget.

 

Remember how quickly the Israelites forgot about the parting of the Red Sea? How long was it before they forgot that mighty miracle? According to Exodus 14:31 and 15:22-24, it was three days! Three lousy days and they forgot the power of God! 

 

Do not think that you are above forgetting. Did you this last week think of the Lord’s death on your behalf? When was the last time you thanked him for dying for you? We need reminded of the Lord’s death and the salvation he bought us. We tend to wander if we are not reminded. 

 

We are like sheep that tend to wander off to the bad parts of the pasture. We need reminded of our Good Shepherd’s sacrifice. We need set back on the right course on a regular basis. The Lord designed this Lord’s Supper so that we wouldn’t forget: do this “in remembrance of me.” 

 

4) The Lord’s Supper Proclaims The Lord’s Death

 

For as often as ye eat this bread, 

and drink this cup, 

ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.  (1 Corinthians 11:26)

 

The KJV word for “shew” means “proclaim.” In seven other passages where the Greek for this word is used, the KJV translates this word as “preaching.” Every time we eat of the Lord’s Supper together we are proclaiming the Lord’s death. We are preaching the gospel message. We are proclaiming the gospel to any unbelievers here. 

 

Donald Nash tells about one man who was saved at the Lord’s Supper:

 

Robert Tinsky was reared in Judaism. Dissatisfied spiritually, he visited a Christian Church for the first time…He was astounded by the observance of the Lord’s Supper. He didn’t understand it. He asked some young people seated near him what it meant. They faithfully told him the gospel story as portrayed in the loaf and the cup. He was amazed that there was a God who loved mankind enough to give His Son to die for us and at the wisdom that originated such a living memorial. He became a Christian and a faithful preacher of the gospel.

 

The Lord’s Supper proclaims the gospel to the unbelievers that might be here today. Are you ready to be like those young people who explained it to Robert Tinsky?

 

But unbelievers are not the only ones who need to hear the gospel. Believers also need to hear the gospel to have their own faith strengthened. The Lord’s Supper is a proclamation that can stir the faith of a believer. We should come to the Lord’s Supper with the right attitude. If we come thinking we won’t get anything out of it; then we probably won’t. We should come to have to gospel preached to us again.

 

HOW TO PARTAKE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER

 

Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, 

and drink this cup of the Lord, 

unworthily, 

shall be guilty of the body and blood 

of the Lord.  (1 Corinthians 11:27)

But let a man examine himself, 

and so let him eat of that bread, 

and drink of that cup.  (1 Corinthians 11:28)

For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, 

eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, 

not discerning the Lord’s body.  (1 Corinthians 11:29)

For this cause many 

are weak and sickly among you, 

and many sleep [that is, die].  (1 Corinthians 11:30)

For if we would judge ourselves, 

we should not be judged.  (1 Corinthians 11:31)

But when we are judged, 

we are chastened of the Lord, 

that we should not be condemned 

with the world.  (1 Corinthians 11:32)

 

There’s a lot in just this passage alone to challenge believers. Does God cause sickness and death to chasten sinning believers? Yes, he does.

 

God has the right to do what he wants when he wants, even chastening believers with sickness or death. Remember Ananias and Sapphira from Acts 5—they lied and were put to death for it. Some will say, “I can’t believe in a God who would do such a thing.” Fine, but your not believing doesn’t change who God is. 

 

We need to take God seriously. There’s a lot of pie-in-the-sky fluff that goes around passing for religion. You know, Jesus is a loving, nicey-nice, teddy-bear sort of guy. Banish that thought. God is loving, but he is also holy, and he wants us to take him seriously.

 

For this reason, God wants us to “examine” ourselves when we come to the Lord’s Table. Are we taking it seriously? Are we harboring sin in our hearts? What is our motive in taking the Lord’s Supper?

 

We can never really be “worthy” in the sense of being sinless. I think we ought to confess our sins and then turn quickly to our source of forgiveness: the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

 

To take the Lord’s Supper as a means of beating yourself to somehow make yourself worthy is the wrong motive. The Lord’s Supper calls you to remember that Jesus was already beaten and crucified for you! 

 

Nothing you do to beat yourself up will add anything to the work that Christ already did. Confess your sin, and claim the forgiveness bought for you by the blood of Jesus.

 

Complete in Thee! no work of mine

May take, dear Lord, the place of Thine;

Thy blood hath pardon bought for me,

And I am now complete in Thee.


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