Worship at The Lord’s Table
1 Corinthians 11:17-32
If you have travelled around this great nation, if you have gone to NY or Washington, DC you have probably seen many of the Memorials that are there in those Cities. In Washington DC there is the Washington Monument, The Lincoln Memorial, The Vietnam Memorial and many others are in that city. If you ever make it to West Point there are memorials all around the grounds, one for each war the United States has been in. There is a memorial being constructed for the victims of 9/11. Many of these memorials are just awesome to behold, and had cost millions of dollars to build.
But the most significant memorial wasn’t created from Marble or Silver or Gold.
You see The Lord’s Supper is first of all a memorial, a memorial to the death of our Wonderful Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus used something very simple and basic. Our Lord used eating and drinking, and this simple memorial is to be repeated again and again until He returns.
Jesus took the bread and the cup, two common items at a meal, and initiated something very special for His people.
This Memorial is one of the most significant times of Corporate Worship for us, as the Body of Christ, His Church, gathers to Worship at The Lord’s Table. As we have been focused on the topic of Worship the last few weeks, this morning we are going to focus specifically on this most significant gathering for Corporate Worship.
The value of coming to Worship, to experience & celebrate the Lord’s Table, depends on the condition of the hearts of those who participate in it. This was the problem at the Church in Corinth. Many were partaking of the Lord’s Supper in a very careless way. Because the Corinthians were sinning in observing the Lord’s Supper, God disciplined them. The Church at Corinth was a church that had a lot of Issues. Much of 1 Corinthians is a letter of Correction to the Corinthian Church. Here in Chapter 11 of 1 Corinthians Paul deals with Correcting some things in their Corporate Worship. Some areas that needed to be changed as they gathered for Corporate Worship as the Body of Christ.
As we look at our text for this morning we see that Paul addresses a problem with their Worship as the Church would gather to celebrate The Lord’s Table.
1. The Problem vs. 17-22
17 But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.
A. Their Divisions & Factions
Earlier on in the letter Paul had confronted the Church with the issue of their Divisions within.
Let me refresh your memory some in chapter 1: (summarize) 10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided?
The people were more focused on these human leaders than they were on Christ. What a wretched thing to view. A Church divided in all these little divisive groups. They were to be One in Christ, Unity is to be prevalent in the Body of Christ. Not disunity that all too often can be rear its ugly head.
Christ is to be exalted, when we focus fully and completely & properly on Him and are doing what He has told us to do, all the pesky little negative things seem to go away in The Church. When the Church and each member is focused on Christ and serving others, looking outward, the things that can often trip us up just become molehills and not mountains.
It is true for all of us as we go about our lives if we focus on Christ and serving others, not be all absorbed with ourselves, our attitudes change, the mountains shrink to molehills. Paul also mentions about factions.
They serve to clarify whom God approves as faithful and who are not. God’s approval contrasts with what Paul had written earlier about being disapproved by God. Thus, “the approved” are those who behave in a mature Christian manner and thus stand out from the ones who do not. Mature Christians will become evident in times of crisis.
Of course divisions and factions were only a problem back in the 1st century right?
B. Their Eating & Drinking
20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper,
21 for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.
Back in the early Church The Lord’s Supper was usually part of a meal the early Christians shared together called often called the “love feast.” In Corinth, instead of sharing their food and drinks, each person or family was bringing their own and eating what they had brought. The result was that the rich had plenty but the poor had little and suffered embarrassment as well. This was hardly the picture of Christian love and unity that the Church was to display. They were eating their own private meals rather than sharing a meal consecrated to the Lord. Sadly, some with plenty of wine to drink were evidently drinking too heavily. Can you imagine?
Many people would be rushing in from work, many were slaves in the early Church as well, they didn’t have much at all. Remember too that they didn’t come to a beautiful building, they would gather at someone’s home, usually someone who was somewhat wealthy.
The Church here thought they were coming to celebrate the Lord’s Supper but Paul informs them it was really “The Selfish Supper” they came to celebrate. Think of the contrast:
The Lord Jesus set aside His own personal interests and sacrificed Himself so that by His sufferings, we might be saved. And yet at the Lord’s Supper in Corinth, there is no self-sacrifice but only self-indulgence. Many of the believers are only concerned with satisfying their own bodily appetites, they concerned about themselves and not their fellow-believers. This had become nothing more than a selfish celebration, The Selfish Supper.
What the Corinthians were doing at the Lord’s Table denied the things it was intended to symbolize. The Lord’s Supper was to be a celebration of our Lord’s Tremendous Substitutionary sacrifice on Calvary for our unmerited benefit and blessing. They had twisted it to become something so different.
We can look at the Corinthians & say what’s the matter with you? But I wonder if we do a bit of soul searching here and ask ourselves, do we prefer certain people over others? Do we only want to socialize & worship with those who are like us? Why do so many struggle so to reach out to those who are different than they are? May none of us be guilty of allowing any kind of prejudice, to control our attitudes toward any brother or sister in the body of Christ. We must always remember that God is serious about His body, about His Church.
2. The Pattern vs. 23-25
Paul brings the Corinthians back to the basics here. He wants them to Recapture the true meaning of the Lord’s Supper, as it was first instituted by our Lord. If the Corinthians are to practice the Lord’s Supper as our Lord meant it to be, they must be reminded of that first Lord’s Supper which our Lord celebrated with His disciples shortly before His death.
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
As we celebrate The Lord’s Table, we remember that Jesus Christ took our place on the cross that day on Calvary. We remember that His death was substitutionary, we deserved that terrible torture & suffering for our sins, but He willingly took our sins upon Himself and suffered as no one else ever has, He did that for us. 2 Cor. 5:21 “21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
The Lord’s Supper is God’s way of getting us to keep the cross of Christ central in the life of the church.
A. The Bread B. The Cup
The Bread and the Cup are symbols that remind us of what our Lord has done for us. As we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together, the bread we eat & the cup we drink to do not become the body and blood of Christ. Some have wrongly taught this, that the bread & cup are changed into Christ’s flesh & blood. This is not at all what our Lord taught. The bread and the cup are symbols our Lord has given us to remember all He has accomplished and suffered for us.
The Bread representing Christ’s Body that was broken and beaten for us. The body He willing gave that we could be forgiven of our sins.
The Cup representing the blood that was shed for us. The blood that washes us whiter than snow. The scriptures tell us that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Through out the Old Testament we see that Blood Sacrifice that was required, the shedding of the blood of Bulls & goats but those sacrifices all pointed to our Lord, The Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of The world”
Heb 9: 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
3. The Purpose vs. 26 & 28
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
A. We look back
We proclaim His death, at His first coming. When we celebrate the Lord’s Table we are actually acting out a sermon, a sermon of the Gospel. When we celebrate the Lord’s Table we look back to all Jesus did and accomplished at His first coming. We can get so used to things so used to routine, things can become common place to us if we are not careful. I am convinced that this one of the reasons why our Lord commanded that we gather together to celebrate The Lord’s Table.
A man told of his first visit to Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park. Rings of tourists from all over the world surrounded the geyser their cameras and video cameras all trained on the famous hole in the ground. A large digital clock stood beside the spot, predicting 24 minutes until the next eruption.
This man and his wife spent the next 23 minutes in the dining room of the Old Faithful Inn overlooking the geyser. When the digital clock reached one minute, they along with every other diner left their seats in the Inn and rushed to the Huge window to see the big event.
Almost immediately as if on signal, a crew of bus boys & waiters descended upon the tables to refill glasses of water and clear away dirty dishes. When the geyser went off, all the tourists oohed and awed and clicked their cameras. Some people actually applauded during the great event. But glancing back over is shoulder, this man saw that not a single waiter or bus boy-not even those that had finished their chores- looked out the huge windows at the great geyser. Old Faithful had grown entirely too familiar & had lost its power to impress them.
What a picture of what can happen to a Christian. At first they can be like the tourist, as young believers, they are in awe and wonder at God’s greatness, His Mercy, His Grace, His faithfulness. But then over time, if they are not careful, they can become like the bus boys and waiters, all too familiar with our Awesome God.
That is one of the reasons I am convinced that our Lord put this memorial in place. That we would never forget the great price that was paid. That we would not become too familiar with what it took to redeem, to justify, to sanctify, lost rebellious sinners.
Remembering that: We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isa 53:6
B. We look in
For us to partake in a worthy manner we must examine our hearts, me must judge our sins, and confess them to the Lord. To celebrate the Lord’s Table with unconfessed sin in our life is to be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. It was for sin that our Lord suffered on the cross, If we will not judge and confess our own sin, God will judge them.
Our God will not allow this most important work of our Lord be taken of lightly. The remembrance of the Most Important events & acts in the History of the Universe.
Notice carefully vs 27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.
Many Christians will read this verse and say, how can I ever be worthy, I know Jesus is worthy, but I am so unworthy, I fail so often, I am so conscious of my impurities, I am so far from being worthy.
Look carefully at the word there. It says unworthily in the KJV, or better an “unworthy manner” (NASB, NIV, NKJV), the word there is not an adjective describing the condition of the one partaking of communion, but it is an adverb, describing the manner in which one partakes of the Lord’s Table. This was the issue with the Corinthians, it was the manner in which they were celebrating The Lord’s Table.
The focus is on my & your attitude as we come to The Lord’s Table. If I come in a frivolous, careless, irreverent, unrepentant, disrespectful way; if as the bread and cup are prayed over I am off thinking about 1,000’s of other things and not Christ and His sacrifice, If I am preoccupied with the things of the week and the world, if I am not thinking upon and dwelling upon the Savior who died for me, if I think of this as just a religious ritual then, if I then I have crossed the line, I partake in an unworthy manner.
Now if we realize there is sin in us we have not dealt with, we have not confessed, we need to deal with that. We need to lay that open before God. We look in.
C. We look ahead
We remember the living hope, the Dynamic Living Confidence that we have as believers in Jesus Christ. We look forward to His coming again. Its getting closer each second. We are to celebrate The Lord’s Table until Christ’s return for His Church at The Rapture. We look ahead, we look forward to His coming. Which should encourage us to be about the work God has called us to, to be reaching a lost world for Him.
D. We look around
Recognize the broader, corporate dimensions of the Lord’s Supper. The Corinthians tended to approach the Lord’s Supper in the same way most of us do, viewing the celebration individually and personally. Now do not misunderstand me here. If the Lord’s Supper does not apply to us personally and individually, it can have no meaning at all. But the Lord’s Supper goes beyond us as individuals and includes the church of our Lord corporately. When we partake of communion, we are not only reminded of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary for the forgiveness of our sins, we not only remember the great price He paid for us personally, we also symbolically demonstrate that we have become a member of His body, the church.
The Corinthians had completely neglected this. They were so focused on themselves at their Selfish Supper. The Unity in the Body of Christ.
1 Cor 10: 16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. What a great picture as the Church corporately celebrates and worships at The Lord’s Table
E. The Penalty vs. 27-32
27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.
29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.
A. Sickness B. Death
The sin of the Corinthians, for which divine discipline was imposed, was related to the manner in which the Lord’s Table was observed.
The problem Paul deals with here in the Corinthians’ celebration of the Lord’s Supper should be instructive to us. I doubt very much that the Corinthians grasped the seriousness of the sin they committed by how they were celebrating Lord’s Supper. I imagine they were shocked to learn that this was the reason for sickness and death in their assembly.
Some of our most serious sins are subtle sins, sins that our culture may not even regard as bad taste. The Corinthians’ practice at the Lord’s Table was sin because it distorted one of the great symbols of our age, the celebration of our Lord’s suffering and death on our behalf.
To disregard or distort the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper is to distort and misrepresent the gospel. No wonder the Corinthians were sick and dying!
Some things for us to take from this message of Correction to the Church in Corinth:
*We need to be reminded of the subtlety of sin. Sins should not be determined on a cultural basis but rather on a biblical basis. The Corinthians were guilty of a deadly sin, and they hardly seemed to know it. As we observe the exposure of this sin in Corinth by Paul, let us open our own hearts and minds to the Word of God and the Spirit of God, asking as the psalmist did to have our sins exposed and cleansed:
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; 24 And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way (Psalm 139:23-24).
*We must be alert to the dangers of repeating a ritual without experiencing its reality. God gave the Israelites many symbolic celebrations to observe. Their purpose was to commemorate God’s great acts in the past and to remember His covenant(s) with them. The prophets frequently rebuked the Israelites for repeating the rituals, while forsaking or forgetting the realities behind them. They just went through the motions, their heart wasn’t into it.
We must, we must, Worship The Lord each and every time we Partake of The Lord’s Table. Remember what He did for you, Remember that tremendous price, the great cost our Savior made to redeem you, and remember what it means to your eternity.
And as we come to celebrate The Lord’s table today may each us Worship & celebrate the Lord’s table with reverence, respect and repentance.