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The Lord's Supper - Part 2

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
October 3, 2022 2:00 am

The Lord's Supper - Part 2

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew

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October 3, 2022 2:00 am

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If you would please turn with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 11 as we continue making our way through verses 23 through 34. Last time we looked at verses 23 through 26, so we're going to pick it up at verse 27 tonight.

1 Corinthians 11 beginning at verse 27. Let a person examine himself then and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.

But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home so that when you come together, it will not be for judgment.

About the other things, I will give directions when I come. Let's pray together. Holy Spirit, you indwell your people so that we might know our God and understand his word. So that we might be both comforted and convicted by the truth of the gospel. So would you do that which only you can do in our hearts? Open our eyes to behold wonderful things from your word. If in any area of our lives we're out of step with your word, would you conform us to the image of Christ and to the will of God, we pray in Jesus' name.

Amen. Be seated. A couple of Sunday nights ago, we walked through the various New Testament passages that address the how and the what and the why of the Lord's Supper. We learned the liturgy and the meaning of communion. Paul, of course, had to spell all of this out for the Corinthians because they had so abused and distorted the practice of communion that they needed to be taken back to square one. Well, now that Paul has told them what the Lord's Supper ought to look like, he's ready to give them a stern warning about the danger and consequences of practicing it incorrectly. Unfortunately, because of the stern and corrective tone with which Paul had to address the Corinthian church, I think it's often assumed that the Lord's Supper is primarily a time for deep introspection and self-examination.

But let me just ask you this. How much emphasis did Jesus place on self-examination when he instituted the sacrament in the upper room? He certainly called us to use our minds in a contemplative way, but the direction of our contemplation was supposed to be, above all, Christ-ward.

Do this in remembrance of me, Jesus said. There is, to be sure, an appropriate measure of self-examination that needs to take place as we approach the Lord's table. But to make self-examination the main event, as I think can sometimes be the case in certain Christian circles, is to miss the point and to miss the grace of this sacred meal. So I'd like for us to spend a few moments tonight considering the warning that Paul issued to Corinth and that he issues to us when we're headed down the same path as Corinth. But I also want to remind us that the Lord's Supper is a gift and a grace that the Lord gives to his church. And as such, it is not something to be dreaded or avoided.

Rather, it is something to be pursued and enjoyed and even celebrated. So after we've looked at the warning, we will consider some practical ways to prepare for and engage in the sacrament of communion. Well, first we see a warning for Corinth in verses 27 through 32. And Paul's warning includes a danger, it includes a command, a consequence, and even a comfort. He begins first by highlighting the danger of misusing and abusing the Lord's Supper. Verse 27, whoever therefore eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. So the first thing that we should note is that the phrase unworthy manner translates a Greek adverb, not an adjective.

Now, go back with me in your mind, perhaps way back for some of us, to elementary school grammar, where we all learned that an adverb modifies, among other things, a verb, an action, while an adjective modifies a noun. If Paul had used the adjective, he would have been making a statement about the recipient of the Lord's Supper, about us. He would have been saying, Christian, don't you be unworthy as you come to the table. But instead, Paul uses the adverb, which means he's saying something not about the worthiness of the Christian, but rather about the worthiness of the Christian's eating and drinking at the table. Paul is not saying, Christian, make sure you are worthy before you participate. He's saying, Christian, make sure your actions are worthy as you participate.

You see, left to ourselves, all of us are unworthy in terms of our person and character. If the standard is only come if you deserve to come, then none of us could ever come. But what Paul is insisting upon is that in our coming, undeserving though we are, we ought to come with due reverence and gratitude and recognition of the grace that the table of the Lord conveys. Paul's warning, as one pastor put it, was not to those who were leading unworthy lives and longed for forgiveness, but to those who were, by their behavior at the meal, making a mockery of that which should have been most sacred and solemn. To come in an unworthy manner, then, is to come carelessly without proper thought to the significance of what communion means. I remember early on in my life learning the word sacrilegious.

It was a word we used regularly in our home, as I recall, a word you really don't hear much anymore. I can remember my parents saying to me on numerous occasions, Eugene, don't be sacrilegious. They'd say that whenever I would joke about something that was holy or make light of something that was sacred. Certainly there is a danger of religious formalism and dead ritual, but there is also a danger of irreverence and impiety and blasphemy. I think we live in a day and age that seems to prefer the casual and the informal, but, church, some things are holy and ought to be treated with a proper degree of reverence and respect. Paul is telling us that the sacrament of communion is one of those things.

We ought not approach it flippantly or thoughtlessly. To do so is to receive the Lord's Supper in a sacrilegious and demeaning and unworthy manner. So how was Corinth specifically in danger of taking communion in an unworthy manner?

Well, we saw last time that they were sinning against each other by neglecting certain members at their love feast. They were more concerned with getting their own fill of food and wine that the poorest among them were going hungry, and nobody seemed to notice or care. It was a self-centered lack of love that was spilling over into their observance of the Lord's Supper. And this self-centeredness obscured the very meaning of the Lord's Supper. Rather than conveying the sufficiency of Christ's body and blood for all of the church, it was conveying a message of selfishness and intemperance and individualism.

And so what should have been making much of Christ and displaying the unity of the church was actually making a mockery of Christ and splintering the church. Well, this led Paul to issue a command in verse 28. In light of the importance of approaching the table with due respect and decorum because of the significance of the table, Paul says, Paul insisted that the Corinthians, because of their lack of temperance, examine themselves first, test their actions and attitudes in approaching the table to see if the manner in which they participated in the sacrament was true to the meaning of the sacrament. Did they come to the table with an adequate apprehension of what they were doing, or did they come with just an air of frivolous negligence overlooking Christ's intent to demonstrate his saving sacrifice for sinners through this meal? Corinth was doing it all wrong, and so Paul had to say to them, Corinth, hit the pause button, ask yourself, am I adequately reflecting on what this meal is all about? Paul then wraps up his warning by pointing out the consequence of sacramental negligence. Verse 29, the word body in verse 29 could refer to the body of Christ as it's represented there in the elements of communion, or it could refer to the church as the body of Christ on earth. The New Testament uses that word in reference to the church often.

But both of these options have warrant, but I really don't think either option significantly changes Paul's point. In fact, think about it for just a moment. It is the body of Christ crucified that defines the body of believers, the church, and there would be no need for communion without the church. So since there would be no need for communion without the church and there would be no church without Christ, we could say, in a sense, both Christ and the church are in view here. The point Paul is making is that the Lord's Supper points the church to its source, to the atoning work of Jesus Christ, and in turn, the atoning work of Jesus Christ makes all believers one body. Remember Paul's statement back in 1 Corinthians 10, 17.

He says, because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. One of the most important things that we are doing when we take communion is identifying ourselves with the people for whom Christ died. The Westminster Larger Catechism says that one of the purposes of a sacrament is to distinguish between those who are in the church and those who are outside of the church. And yet, Corinth's behavior during the very sacrament that should have been distinguishing and marking out the people for whom Christ died was actually excluding and overlooking and dishonoring some of those for whom Christ died. They were failing to discern the body in that they were failing to properly distinguish between the church and the world. And so through self-centered negligence, they were excluding persons whose sins had been forgiven by the blood of Christ from the very meal that was supposed to highlight the fact that their sins were forgiven by the blood of Christ.

It was a failure to properly discern the body. And notice the consequence of this negligence. Paul says in verse 30, that is why many of you are weak and ill and some have died. I doubt that we would put negligence during communion near the top of the list of sins that are most odious to God, but church, evidently, God takes this very seriously because the consequence of this sin, at least in some cases, is physical sickness and even death. It seems that God takes the sacramental and representative nature of communion far more seriously than we do.

He doesn't take kindly to us demeaning each other at the Lord's table because it is a demeaning of the body and blood of His only begotten Son. This consequence shows that there is a connection between our spirits and our bodies. Granted, this flies in the face of our modernist sensibilities, but there it is in verse 30. Spiritual ills may have physical results. Disobedience in the spiritual realm can and often does affect the physical body. This doesn't mean that every sickness or death is brought on by a spiritual failure, but our bodies and souls are not disconnected from each other, and one has only to read the dramatic account of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 to realize this connection between spiritual and physical well-being. Church, God wants us to take each other and our standing in Christ very seriously, and so Paul's stern warning is important, but then notice how he concludes this rebuke with an incredible comfort.

They're easy to miss, but here it is in verses 31 and 32. He says, if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged, but when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. Paul is saying that we can either judge or examine ourselves or else God will do the judging for us, but here's the comfort. Even if we are negligent and invite divine judgment, that judgment is not the final condemning judgment that the world receives from God. Rather, it is the loving, restorative judgment of a gracious Father. It's a Hebrews 12 kind of judgment. Hebrews 12 says, my son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord nor be weary when reproved by Him, for the Lord disciplines the one He loves and chastises every son whom He receives. The comfort here is that even when we neglect self-examination and are judged by God, that divine judgment is not eternal damnation. Rather, it is loving discipline, and so even the chastening that we incur through a neglectful participation in the Lord's Supper drives us back to the very attitude we ought to have had to begin with, one of gratitude for Christ.

Well, Paul concludes this section with a correction for Corinth in verse 33. He says, so then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. Show deference to each other.

Keep an eye out for each other's needs, not just your own appetite. Verse 34, if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. The purpose of the Lord's Supper is not the satisfying of physical hunger, so then if you are physically hungry, gratify your appetite at home so that your physical appetite does not control your behavior at the Lord's Supper.

And then the last sentence says, about the other things, I will give directions when I come. And this implies that there were other matters related to Corinth's observance of communion that needed addressing by the Apostle Paul, but they could wait. Evidently, they weren't as pressing, which suggests that not every aspect of our observance of the sacrament is of equal urgency and importance. Well, over the course of these two sermons, we've considered a whole lot with regard to the Lord's Supper. So I'd like to begin sort of wrapping all this up, tying it all together, by considering for a few moments how all of this ought to inform and shape the way we practically approach communion. How do we make the most of this means of grace? What should be our frame of mind as we approach the table in worship?

So let's walk through some of these practical considerations together. In one of my commentaries that I studied this past week, I came across a very helpful summary of what it is we're to be doing as we take communion. And I want to share these exhortations with you and just encourage you to take them to heart each time you observe the Lord's Supper. When we take communion, we need to, first of all, look back to Christ's death.

We need to look back to Christ's death. At the very least, communion is a remembering of Christ. Do this in remembrance of me, he says.

And so as I hold the bread and the cup and as I eat and drink these elements, my mind is to recall the greatest act of love and sacrifice that has ever occurred in history. I am to remember the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I am to remember his agony and Gethsemane as he surrendered his will to the Father. I am to remember his humiliation before Pilate and that angry mob. I am to recall his intense suffering at the Praetorium and his painful walk to Golgotha and his last words on the cross as he declared, it is finished. The debt is paid. The account that kept us guilty before God is closed. It's canceled.

It's deleted. When you take the supper, look back to Christ's death and remember. But then we also need to look in at ourselves. To look in at ourselves. We cannot deny that there is an element of inward soul searching as we approach the table. Paul tells us to examine ourselves.

And we don't want to be remiss here. However, I do feel compelled to just stop at this point and issue a word of caution because I think the Reformed church in particular gets easily out of balance at this very point. We want to take sin seriously and that's a good thing. We want to be adequately self-skeptical because we know from God's word that our hearts are far blacker than we could even fathom. But church, we need to remember that self-examination is not the chief end of communion.

Jesus Christ is. I fear that our approach to this self-examination can sometimes be akin to Peter's attitude there in the upper room. Jesus went to wash Peter's feet, but Peter resisted him and said, you're not going to wash my feet. Maybe Peter's reaction sounded noble, but then Jesus clarified, if you don't let me do this, you have no part in me, Peter.

So what did Peter do? Well, he went to the other extreme and he said, well, then wash my entire body. And Jesus said, that's not necessary.

Just do what I'm telling you to do. We might convince ourselves that taking the commands of Christ to extremes that go beyond Christ's intent is somehow noble and godly, but it's not. If we're not careful, we can take this healthy, honest self-examination and turn it into an act of self-righteousness and pride by getting so caught up in contemplating our sinful unworthiness that we never look to Christ. We make the problem the focus rather than the solution, and that's not what the supper is about. Or we get so caught up in thinking about our personal private sin that we give no thought to the fact that this sacrament is a corporate declaration of the church's unity and fellowship and victory in Christ. We are not proclaiming the doctrine of total depravity in these moments.

We are proclaiming the efficacy of the Lord's death and the reality that He will return one day to make plainly visible what we can now only see with the eyes of faith. When I was about 10 years old, I had some money burning a hole in my pocket one day, and so I thought it would be a great idea to spend it on some toy soldiers that I really wanted. I'd seat them at the dollar store. The only problem was the dollar store was on the other side of town. So I decided to slip out the back door and get on my bike and head off before anyone could object. And by anyone, I mean my parents, of course. Kids, if you ever have to slip out the back door to do something before anyone sees, you probably shouldn't do it. Well, I made it to the dollar store, bought my bag of toy soldiers.

It even came with this cannon that fired plastic ammunition. It was great. I threw the bag over my shoulder and started heading home, totally oblivious to the fact that it was already suppertime, and my parents, who had no idea where I was, were at home worried sick and on the verge of calling the police to report a missing person. About 30 minutes later, I came casually riding up the driveway to our home and noticed my dad coming out to meet me.

I'll spare you some of the details for the sake of time, but let me just say it was not a kill the fatted calf because Eugene's come home sort of moment. After my dad and I spent some quality time alone together, we sat down at a very quiet and awkward table for supper. My dad said something to the effect of, Son, I want you to think about what you've done. Let me tell you, no amount of toy soldiers or carefree bike rides across town were worth the uncomfortable, awkward silence at our dinner table that night. But you know what made that meal so uncomfortably awkward? It was the fact that the normal atmosphere at our dinner table was one of laughter and enjoyment and conversation at the end of the day, and I had ruined that through a lack of consideration for the rest of my family. Now, what if I had said to myself in those moments, this feels awful.

What I've done has ruined the sweet atmosphere of our home, so I'm going to make sure this never happens again. And what if I had resolved in my heart to spend every supper from that night forward, taking to heart my dad's admonition to think about what I had done? And so from the age of 10 onward, I would spend every supper dwelling on what a bad person I am. Would that response have made me a less selfish person? Would that preoccupation with the misery of my sin have honored my father's intention in telling me to think about what I had done? No, it would have missed the point entirely.

It would have actually had the opposite effect by prolonging for a lifetime the joylessness brought on by an afternoon of selfishness. My dad's admonition had a context. He told me to think about my selfishness precisely because I had wreaked havoc on the tranquility of our home by being selfish.

What he was not doing was declaring that henceforth and forevermore I should dwell on my failures lest I ruin the peace of our home again. Now, let me apply that to our attitude in approaching the Lord's table. Yes, Paul said, let a person examine himself and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

But that admonition was given in the context of a church that was grossly abusing the sacrament through thoughtless desecration of the sacrament, a church that was regularly obscuring its spiritual unity by indulging its physical appetites and it needed to stop. This self-examination then is not some overly subjective preoccupation with one's sin nature. I'm called to look inward only in order to make sure that I'm looking to Christ and loving the people for whom Christ died. In other words, that I am in fellowship with the Lord and in fellowship with the Lord's people. And if I'm not, then the solution, brothers and sisters, is not to abstain from the means of grace.

The solution is to repent of my sin and to run to the means of grace. We would never treat the Word of God like that, would we? We would never say, I'm too sinful today to read the Bible. I need to wait until my heart is in a better place.

I need to wait until my assurance is stronger. I need to wait until I get right with these people before I read the Word of God. No, the Word of God is part of the means of getting all those things right.

So it is with the Lord's Supper and baptism and prayer. In fact, any means of grace, God gives them to us to help us, to nourish us, to grow us up. There's nothing noble or godly about neglecting them out of some sense of personal unworthiness.

Yes, we are all unworthy. That's the very kind of person who needs God's grace. It's the one who doesn't recognize his unworthiness that ought to stay away, lest he eat and drink judgment to himself. Now, to be sure, there are legitimate reasons to abstain from the table. This table is for Christians. If you want nothing to do with Christ, don't come to his table. This table is for the church. If you are outside of the church through unbelief, through discipline, don't come to the table.

But other than that, nothing should stop you. So look inward, but only insofar as it drives you to repentance so that you can come to the table in a manner that's worthy of the table. Thirdly, we should look up towards God.

Look up towards God. Having remembered Christ's atoning work and acknowledged our sinfulness and need of that atoning work, we are to look up in the present and enjoy the peace with God that only comes through the gospel. This is that participation with Christ that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 10. Communion is an appropriate name for it because that's exactly what we're doing. We're enjoying the communion, the company of the Trinity as we are welcomed into God's throne room on the merits of Jesus Christ, our high priest. The Eucharist is also an appropriate name. Eucharist simply means thanksgiving. As we sinners enjoy the privilege of communing with the triune God, that ought to be the most gratitude-filled moment in the world for us as we look up towards God and realize that he accepts us in Christ. Fourthly, we're to look around at the church.

This sacrament is not some individualistic expression of self. As we've seen particularly from 1 Corinthians 11, it's an expression of our mutually belonging to each other. We are the church, the called-out ones, the congregation, the mighty host that has been gathered from every nation and tribe and people and language in taking these elements, we are identifying ourselves not only with Christ, but visibly with the bride of Christ. These are our people.

This is our family. So we look to the past, we look up and around in the present, but then we also look forward to the future as we look forward to Christ's return. God's plan of redemption has yet to climax, but it will culminate in the most glorious way. Jesus Christ will return in the same way that he left, only this time he'll return as king, exalted for all to see.

And he's coming for us. Paul says that every time we take communion, we are proclaiming Christ's death until he comes. Church, this means that one day we won't need mere bread and wine. We will have Christ himself. We will see him and hear him and talk with him and touch him and enjoy his company forever and ever and ever.

Think about that day. As you hold the sign in your hand, look forward to the day when you will hold the substance. And then lastly, look outward to the world. Paul says that the Lord's Supper is a proclamation of the Lord's death. It's a proclamation, a preaching of the gospel. When we take communion, our children are watching. Our fellow saints are watching. The angels in heaven are watching. People lost and dying in their sin are watching, and we are proclaiming to all of them that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

Church, every time we come to the table, we are coming to the one who gave his life that we might live. We are coming to the one who now ever lives to make intercession for us. We are coming as unworthy sinners, made worthy solely by his perfect blood. To come to this table is to forsake my own righteousness for the righteousness of Christ. It is to forsake my preoccupation with my own guilt in exchange for the eternal innocence of Christ. It is to say nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.

If Christ sits down at the right hand of the Father because the work is finished, who are we to stand up as if there is more to be done? Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back, guilty of dust and sin. But quick-eyed love, observing me grow slack from my first entrance in, drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning if I lacked anything.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here. Love said, You shall be he. I, the unkind, the ungrateful, ah, my dear, I cannot look on thee. Love took my hand and smiling did reply, Who made the eyes but I? Truth, Lord, but I have marred them, let my shame go where it doth deserve.

And know you not, says love, who bore the blame? My dear, then I will serve. You must sit down, says love, and taste my meat.

So I did sit and eat. Jesus says, I am the bread that came down from heaven. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.

Let's pray. Jesus, our words fall short of expressing to you the gratitude and the comfort and the joy that your redeeming work has secured for us. Our sin is so strong that you are stronger. Lord, our appetite for you is so weak that you make us hungry and then you satisfy that hunger with yourself. Our faith is clouded with doubt that you give us bread to touch and wine to drink. Lord, all we can say is thank you, thank you. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-28 20:53:13 / 2022-12-28 21:05:03 / 12

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