In many churches today, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is simply tacked on to the end of a regular service. It’s almost like an afterthought. A few verses of Scripture are quickly read, a brief prayer is offered, and the elements are distributed. In this kind of atmosphere it is doubtful that anyone can give much serious thought to the significance of the occasion. As a result, many worshipers leave their churches holding the same grudges and nursing the same hatreds they had when they entered.
Not everyone, of course, takes such an attitude toward the observance of the Lord’s Table. In fact, some go to the opposite extreme. They are so conscious of their imperfections, and so frightened by Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 11 about eating and drinking “unworthily,” that they either take communion with great fear or they stay away from the service altogether.
To help avoid these two extremes, I would like to suggest three characteristics of a proper observance of the Lord’s Supper. A correct understanding of its significance will not keep us away from the communion table; rather, it will draw us to it and encourage us to participate in a conscientious and meaningful way.
When the Lord’s Supper is observed properly, there should be:
• Sincere Appreciation
• Brotherly Consideration
My prayer is that this study will help God’s children come to the Table of the Lord in a way that is pleasing to Him and with an attitude that brings the greatest blessing.
The first characteristic of a proper observance of the Lord’s Table is:
The very sight of the bread and the cup (symbolic of the body and blood of Christ, reminding us of His great sacrifice at Calvary) should fill our hearts with thanksgiving and praise to the Lord. Referring to the Lord Jesus, Luke told us:
He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 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” (Lk. 22:17-19).
Please notice that we are told in verse 17, Jesus took the cup and gave thanks. And in verse 19 we read that He took bread and gave thanks. When our Lord gave thanks, He was not “asking the blessing” at a dinner. He and His disciples had already finished the Passover feast. What our Lord prayed over was only some unleavened bread and a cup of wine. He may have been offering thanks for what the bread and the wine signified—the sacrifice that would provide redemption for mankind. Regardless of the subject of our Savior’s thanksgiving, however, there should be sincere appreciation and thanks in our hearts as we partake of the elements.
The second characteristic of a proper observance of the Lord’s Supper is:
By looking into our own hearts and lives, we should make sure that there is nothing unconfessed and uncorrected which might result in our partaking of the Lord’s Supper unworthily. Some of the Christians in the early church at Corinth had evidently taken a light and frivolous attitude toward the Lord’s Supper. The apostle Paul therefore wrote to them as follows:
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. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body (1 Cor. 11:27-29).
Please notice what the apostle said in verse 27. The Greek word translated “guilty” is enochos. It may mean “to be liable to the penal effect of a deed.” Some say, therefore, that to be “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” means that God looks upon the offender (the one who eats and drinks unworthily) as guilty of crucifying Christ. Ellicott’s Commentary On The Whole Bible offers this word of explanation: “Sin was the cause of that body [of Christ] being broken and that blood [of Christ] shed, and therefore the one who unworthily uses the symbols of them becomes a participator in the guilt of those who crucified that body and shed that blood.”
Whether or not you agree with such an interpretation, there’s no escaping the fact that a careless and irreverent celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a very serious matter. The person who eats and drinks unworthily shows a disregard, almost a contempt, for the broken body and shed blood of the Savior. That’s why it is very important for us to engage in careful self-examination when we come to the Table of the Lord.
The apostle Paul, having indicated the sad consequences of eating and drinking “unworthily,” went on to say:
But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup (v.28).
The word examine in that verse can mean “to test.” As we gather at the Table of the Lord, we have the obligation to test our lives. A good way to do this is to ask ourselves some probing questions about our actions, our motives, and our relationships.
First of all, in reference to our actions, we might raise such questions as these: Are we conducting ourselves like Christians at home, at work, and in every contact with others? Is our language becoming to a Christian? What about our habits? Are we wasting time? Are we watching the wrong kind of television programs? Are we reading books that feed our souls? Are we faithful in our spiritual obligations?
Then, in reference to our motives, we can test ourselves by asking questions like these: Why do we go to church? Why do we give our financial support to it? Why do we teach Sunday school? Are we doing what’s right for the right reasons? Or are we doing what is good to boost our own egos or to impress our peers? Our service for the Lord and what we do for others ought to be performed because we love the Lord supremely and our neighbors as ourselves.
Finally, in reference to our relationships with others, we should ask questions like these: Are we kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving? Do we owe anyone an apology? Do we have wrongs to make right? Are we harboring ill will or an unforgiving spirit toward those who may have wronged us?
Yes, as we anticipate eating the bread which represents the body of Christ, and as we drink from the cup which represents His blood, we must be sensitive to our sins, our faults, and our failures.We should see them in the light of the tremendous price Christ paid to secure our redemption. And with that awareness, we must confess our sins and determine with God’s help to forsake them. Doing that, we can claim that wonderful promise in 1 John 1:9.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Having been cleansed “from all unrighteousness,” therefore, we will not be eating and drinking unworthily. Since it was our sin that nailed Christ to the accursed tree, we would be guilty of sacrilege if we commemorated His great sacrifice at Calvary while living in deliberate sin with no intention of confessing or forsaking it. To partake of the bread, a symbol of the body of Christ that was given for us, and to drink of the cup, a symbol of His blood shed for our sins, while harboring ill will toward a brother or sister in Christ would be an affront to Him. It would be like adding insult to injury. At the communion table, therefore, as we engage in selfexamination and our sins and failures come to mind, we should confess them, forsake them, and accept the forgiveness of God. Failing to do so—partaking of the elements of the Lord’s Table with no concern for the sin in our lives—can result in chastening. If we do judge ourselves, however, the punishing hand of God can be avoided. Paul said:
He who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged (1 Cor. 11:29-31).
Of course, not all weakness, not all sickness, not all death is the result of such judgment. In fact, it could very well be that God is not judging abuses at the Lord’s Table in our day in exactly the same way as in the early church. Regardless of the manner in which the heavenly Father chooses to chastise His children, the apostle’s words about the consequences of eating and drinking unworthily should encourage us to engage in sincere self-examination and honest self-judgment in preparation for the Lord’s Supper.
What a difference it would make in the Christian community, and in society at large, if we who profess to believe in Christ would be careful to avoid eating and drinking unworthily at the Table of the Lord! If we all observed this, no believers would ever remain at odds with one another.We would all forgive each other freely, even as Christ has forgiven us. If we obeyed this command, the misunderstandings that cause so much strife and tension would melt away. Relationships in our homes, in our churches, and in our places of employment—yes, everywhere—would be revolutionized. The watching world would be impressed. And those around us would see that Christ really does make a difference in the lives of those who have placed their trust in Him.
The third characteristic of a proper observance of the Lord’s Supper is:
The apostle Paul, writing in 1 Corinthians 10 said:
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread (vv.16-17).
Some believe that Paul’s words in verse 17, “we all partake of that one bread,” may reflect a practice in the early church. A sheet of unleavened bread was passed through the congregation. Each believer broke off a piece for himself. The smaller portion denoted the truth that Christ died for each individual. And the larger portion spoke of the truth that they all shared a common salvation and made up one body. Yes, as we gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ at the Table of the Lord, we should be conscious of our oneness with those who partake of the elements with us. Although we eat only an individual piece of bread, we should keep in mind that as believers we are all members of one body—the body of Christ. As born-again believers, we all share the wonderful benefits of our Savior’s atoning work at Calvary.
One of the glories of the Christian faith is that we are all made spiritual equals through salvation. Rich and poor alike become the children of God, members of His family. The millionaire and the pauper, when placing their trust in Christ, both experience the same new birth, are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit, and share the same hope. How glorious, therefore, the truth of our equality in Christ! The apostle Paul said:
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26-28).
Remembering our Lord as we gather for communion, we should be very conscious of our oneness in the Lord with our fellow believers. We should see them as our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we do, there is brotherly consideration, another characteristic of a proper observance of the Lord’s Supper.
To summarize, the communion service should be an edifying and strengthening experience, but this can happen only if we are completely sincere in our observance of it.We must enter into it with sincere appreciation, self-examination, and brotherly consideration. If these elements are present when we assemble with fellow believers to remember the Lord’s death, it truly becomes a lifetransforming commemoration of our Savior’s love and sacrifice for us.