Imagine the Lord Jesus Christ is in attendance when we gather in our churches for worship. Imagine he listens to us sing and pray, and peers into our hearts. I wonder, would He find us prepared to take Communion? Or does He know that some of us walk into church quite flippantly, as if it was any other day of the week? This imagination of the Lord’s presence is actually not fiction; it is based on biblical truth. The last book of the Bible, the book of the Revelation of Jesus to John, begins with a description of the glorified Lord Jesus. The apostle John described Him this way:
He is “clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters…from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:13-16).
But when John saw Jesus in this vision, Jesus was not far away. He was in the midst of the seven golden lampstands which are later identified as the seven churches of Asia Minor. As Jesus commanded John to send a message to each church, he told him what to write. He told him what specifically to commend the churches for, and how to rebuke them.
The Son of God saw…and heard…everything.
But, if I am correct, the conscious awareness of His presence among us probably does not exist most of the time. And yet it is true. Through the Holy Spirit whom he sent, Jesus is present with us. All of this brings to our mind a consistent pattern in Scripture: God cares how we worship. More than that, we see, when His people willfully ignore His commands God is not pleased. And He takes action. Let me give you just three examples: two from the OT and one from the New.
- Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron the high priest. When they offered strange fire, an unauthorized sacrifice, on the altar, fire came down from heaven and consumed them immediately (Leviticus 10).
- Uzzah, though trying to help stabilize the Ark of the Covenant when it almost fell off the wagon, touched it. As a consequence, God’s anger struck him down immediately (2 Samuel 6).
- Ananias and Sapphira deceived the apostles about how much money they were giving to the offering. Within three hours, both of their hearts stopped beating (Acts 5).
From these examples, one thing is clear: God cares about how His people worship. But this goes beyond our offerings, our singing, our praying, and our listening to His Word. It encompasses even how we take Communion.
Take a moment to read 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.
The early church practiced something called love feasts, which were a little bit like our fellowship meals. This common meal was an expression of brotherly love and an opportunity for rich believers to share with the poor. The early believers closed their love feasts with a celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
Sadly, in Corinth, the love feasts became an opportunity for some to engage in carnality. As a result, the sacredness of Communion was lost. God was so grieved by their abuses that some church members were even being put to death. Therefore, the Apostle Paul was forced to address this issue. In the passage before us, there is one big, overarching idea: God takes Communion seriously and, therefore, so should we.
Since God cares how we take Communion, we must be careful to prepare ourselves for this mandated element of gathered worship. In today’s Scripture, the apostle gives four directives to us.
Repent of the sins which harm Christian community (vv. 17-22).
The apostle called the Corinthians to repent of two categories of sin: divisions and fleshly sins of self-indulgence. As to divisions, they were guilty of quarreling about which of their leaders was the better preacher (Chapter 1). Some members were suing one another in the courts, divorce was spreading, and there was conflict over what to do with food that had been offered to idols and the roles of men and women in church. As to self-indulgence, they were guilty of immorality, greed, stealing, and drunkenness (even during the Lord’s Supper!).
But a divine mystery to ponder is the truth stated in verse 19; that is, that God allows factions to occur in churches in order to weed out false believers and lift up those who are truly approved by Him. As much as God dislikes disunity among His people, and as much pain it causes believers to be involved in church disputes, He has a purifying and affirming purpose in it all.
Remember the seriousness of the divine ordinance (vv. 23-27).
The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance we have received from Christ himself! Therefore, it must be taken seriously.
- The bread represents the body of Christ (vv. 23-24). It speaks of His humility and humanity—the humility of His incarnation and death and the full humanity of his body.
- The cup represents the blood of Christ (v. 25). It speaks of the sacrificial atonement of His death. It is the price of the new covenant.
This is the portrait that Christ intended the Lord’s Supper to paint every time we take part in it, until He comes.
Review your own heart and your own life (vv. 28-32).
Paul urged the Corinthians and, thereby, urges us: Let a person examine himself. This is the required preparation for the Lord’s Supper. Paul is saying, “Don’t take Communion if your heart is not right before God and your fellow believers. Do everything that is your responsibility to be right with both.
The Lord’s Supper is not the time to be examining everyone else around you. It is the time to examine yourself! This is crucial since the neglect of self-inspection leads to judgment (v. 29). To participate in the Lord’s Supper knowing that your heart is not ready, or while possessing ungodly attitudes toward other members of His body, is to take it in an unworthy manner. God takes this so seriously that some in Corinth were being judged through sickness and even death.
Respect others more than you respect yourself (vv. 33-34).
Clearly, the Corinthians were exalting themselves above others. They failed to obey the gospel call to esteem others as more important than themselves. Others-esteem should govern how we relate to one another in the church.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
In preparation for your church’s next Communion service, ask yourself:
- Is my heart properly prepared to participate in the Lord’s Supper? What heart sins do I need to confess?
- Am I being divisive? Refusing to resolve conflict? Refusing to make the first move in conflict resolution, or refusing to respond to the one who is? Am I indulging in self-satisfying sin?
- Is there financial or material restitution that I need to make to someone?
God takes Communion seriously and, therefore, so must we!
[Adapted from last Sunday’s sermon at Cornerstone Community Church in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. To listen click here and search on “How to Take Communion.”]