I am getting ready to lead my weekly staff Bible study and I want to write out the lesson here, giving me an opportunity to think through what I want to teach. Currently, we are studying the Biblical Names of God. Our current Name for God is Jehovah-jireh. Today, I am taking a break to study the topic of the Lord’s Supper. I am afraid that there is much confusion in our church today on why we take communion and what its purpose is. I would like to clarify that from the Word of God. I do not want to share what I have been “taught”, think, feel, or believe. Instead, I want to examine the Scriptures to see what God actually teaches on the subject. There are many different misconceptions today because so few actually study the topic as described in the Word. They just hear others teach on the subject and take the second hand knowledge at face value. In order to better understand this topic, take a moment to read I Corinthians 11. I included the entire chapter because the context is very important. When teaching on the Lord’s Supper, many teachers just start with verse 23. We need to see the entire context to understand what the Apostle Paul had in mind when writing about communion.
I. Ancient misconceptions
I want to begin with the misconceptions about the Lord’s Supper so that we can clearly see what the Lord’s Supper is not, and then turn our focus to what the Lord’s Supper is. In the Corinthian church, the Lord’s Supper had become a cause for division. Communion is not supposed to divide us. By nature, it brings us together around a common goal. The Corinthians did not understand this and they, like we today, had a sin nature that loved to manifest itself in everything. Another thing that communion is not is that it is not an opportunity to shame ourselves. The Corinthians were shaming themselves with the Lord’s Supper. They viewed it as a meal and may have used it as an opportunity to over eat. The purpose of the Lord’s Supper is not nourishment. Another shameful act that the Lord’s Supper was producing was drunkenness. They used wine during the Lord’s Supper just as Jesus did with His disciples. Instead of drinking it in moderation, they were using communion as an opportunity to get drunk. This may have been a carry over from their pagan rituals in their temples. The purpose of communion is not eating or drinking. The final misconception about the Lord’s Supper among the Corinthians was the fact that they were using communion to look down on others. Some of the Corinthian believers were very wealthy while others were very poor, probably recently released slaves or former prostitutes. They did not have material wealth. Those who were wealthy were using the Lord’s Supper as an opportunity to flaunt their wealth and look down on the impoverished among them. Some were coming to communion and treating it like a luxurious meal while others were coming to communion without anything to eat at all. The Lord’s Supper had an entirely different purpose and Paul is going to explain that purpose, as we will see in a moment.
II. Modern Misconceptions
The ancient misconceptions seem odd but they are nothing compared to the modern ones. In our modern world, there are many different denominations that treat communion very differently. It all stems back to unsound doctrine (unhealthy teaching) about the Word of God. Many people involved in churches really have no idea why we celebrate the Lord’s Supper other than it is a ritual that has been passed down from one generation to the next. We do not even question why we do it, we just do it because our parents and grandparents and great grandparents and great great grandparents did. We do not want to question “traditions”. Some people believe that communion is what forgives their sins and therefore they have to continually take it in order to be forgiven, and, heaven forbid they die without taking communion one last time. The Lord’ Supper does not forgive sins. The shed blood of Jesus Christ allows our sins to be forgiven. God is the only One who can forgive our sins. Neither the one who administers communion nor communion itself has the power to forgive sins, only God can do that. Some denominations teach that communion is a magic incantation that can ward off evil or black magic. This is simply not true. Taking communion does not keep the devil away. It does not protect you from evil spirits or magic. Other teach and believe that communion is medicine that wards off sickness and that the more often you take it the better chances you have of not get sick physically. This is also a major misconception. Communion does not cure diseases. The final misconception is that communion is for anyone who wants to take it. This is not true. The only people communion is for are those who are in the New Covenant with Jesus Christ because communion is the sign of being in the New Covenant. If you are not a born again believer under the New Covenant then the Lord’s Supper is not for you. What other misconceptions about communion have you heard?
Okay, we get what communion is NOT. So the question is, “what is communion for”? I am glad that you asked. God’s Word gives us the answer. In verse 25 of I Corinthians 11, the Apostle Paul teaches us that communion is the sign of the New Covenant that was inaugurated in the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. A sign is a reminder. God always uses signs when He makes a covenant with people. A covenant is a solemn, binding promise or agreement made by two or more parties with conditions and consequences. God made a covenant with Noah and all the earth. The sign of that covenant was the rainbow in the sky, a reminder to God and to all the earth that He (God) would never again destroy the entire earth by flood. God made a covenant with Abraham and the sign of that covenant was circumcision. This was a daily reminder for Abraham that he was in covenant with God. God made a covenant with the people of Israel through Moses and the sign of that covenant was the LAW that they received from God via Moses. It was a daily reminder of the fact that they were in covenant with God. God made another covenant with all mankind and he invites every single person to enter into covenant with Him through Jesus Christ. For those who enter the New Covenant, they are reminded of their covenant with God through communion. So, taking communion is a time to pause and remember what God has done for you and what you have pledged to do for Him. When we take communion, we are reminded of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins to make it possible for us to enter the New Covenant. We are also reminded that He will one day return to this earth and rule the nations. The Lord’s Supper is also a time for personal evaluation and examination. It is a time to reflect on our relationship with God, our relationships with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and our relationship with our spouse. If there is conflict with God, with our fellow believers, or with our spouse, then we must does as Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:23-24, that is, go to the person with whom we are in conflict and seek reconciliation. It does not matter if you are the aggressor or the offended party, you need to take the initiative to be reconciled. If you are the offender, then you need to confess and ask for forgiveness. If you are the offended then you need to do as Matthew 18 teaches and confront the person in love, seeking reconciliation. If you are the offended one, extend forgiveness to the offender, even if he or she does not admit his or her faults. Reconciliation can only take place if the person confesses his or her fault but forgiveness can be offered even if the person does not want it because it releases you. If you have sinned against God then as James 5:13-16 teaches us, we need to confess our sins to our spiritual leaders and repent in order to experience God’s forgiveness and be reconciled with Him. Confession leads to accountability and both are very important. Now, if you choose not to do this and take communion anyway, please dear friend, know that there are grave consequences. Paul teaches us that if we do not examine ourselves before taking the Lord’s Supper and just treat it like a ritual then, we take the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner and we risk bringing judgment upon ourselves.
How do we take communion in an unworthy manner?
If we do not deal with the divisions among us first and be reconciled, offering forgiveness to one another. If there is conflict in our homes and we do not resolve the conflict before taking communion then we end up taking communion in an unworthy manner. If there are people in our lives whom we simply cannot forgive and yet we continue to take communion then we are doing so in an unworthy manner. If we have unconfessed sin that we refuse to repent of and be held accountable for then we are taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner.
What are the consequences?
The Apostle Paul explains that the consequences are a three part punishment. God shows His mercy in the fact that He gives us multiple chances to confess and repent so that we do not face the final form of punishment.
- Weakness – The first thing that God does is that He begins to cut off our prosperity in what we do. Weakness here could be translated impotence. Nothing seems to work in any direction that you attempt. Up until this point, God caused what you touched to prosper. Now, since you refuse to examine yourself or confess, nothing seems to work any more. God is doing this to get your attention. He wants you to come to your senses and examine yourself, confessing, repenting, and reconciling relationships. If not then there is step 2.
- Sickness – This is not a simple head cold. This stage is illness. If you do not want to come to your senses after the first warning, the second one gets worse. Again, this is to get your attention and help you snap out of the delusion that sin causes. You need to come to your senses. If you choose not to at this point, then step 3 kicks in.
- Sleep – This is the New Testament’s way of saying ‘DEATH”. God takes you out because of your stubbornness. Since you are in the New Covenant, you will not be judged like the world so He carries out judgment now. Your salvation remains and you inherit the kingdom of God but in shame.
What is the solution?
Examine yourself. Ask God to examine your heart and expose what is there. Confess! Repent! Be reconciled to God and to others so that you can be an example of the love of Christ to the lost and dying world around you. May the Lord help us understand communion and walk in the light of that knowledge on a daily basis!