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Instructions Concerning the Lord's Supper Print E-mail
Instructions Concerning the Lord's Supper

I.  Introduction:

We have been studying through the book of 1 Corinthians in our Sunday School class and a few weeks ago, Barry asked me to fill in for him and teach 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.  In my preparation and study and talking with the class, I thought it might be good for us to look at this passage corporately.  I think this is appropriate for a few reasons.  First, because we see the ordinance of the Lordís Supper as important for the life and health of our Church (we take weekly), it is important that we consider the instructions given here by Paul.  Second, many seem to misinterpret and misapply Paulís warning in this passage.  Third, my own understanding of this passage has changed over the years (even some since I have been at Trinity).  Thus, I think our time would be well-spent considering what Paul teaches us here.  I want to begin by just offering a brief explanation of the passage.  After that, I want to ask and answer four practical questions concerning the Lordís Supper.

II.  Brief Explanation (Overview) of the Passage:

 I want to break the passage into four sections, say a word about each, and consider the whole in the end.

 A.  Verses 17-22  These verses give us the situation in Corinth.  Paul is writing here to correct a serious error in how the Corinthians were observing the Lordís Supper.  What is the error?  Look at verses 21-22.  Apparently the rich were gorging themselves at the Supper while the poor had nothing.  This was obviously humiliating to the poor and served to divide the congregation.  Thus, Paul wants to correct this error in their practice.

 B.  Verses 23-26  Paul here recounts the Last Supper that Jesus had with His disciples on the night that He was betrayed.  Much could be said here, but I want to simply point to the purpose of the Supper that Paul highlights.  In taking both the bread and the cup, Jesus tells us to Ďdo this in remembrance of me.í  Likewise, Paul says in verse 26 that each time we partake we are proclaiming the Lordís death until He comes.  Thus, we partake to remember what Christ has done for us, His Church, and to proclaim to one another publicly that our hope and faith rests squarely on what He has done at the cross and what He will do when He returns.  Paul writes this here to remind the Corinthians of the purpose for partaking in the Lordís Supper.

 C.  Verses 27-32  Paul now moves to address the manner in which the Table should be approached and to offer a stern warning against approaching in an unworthy manner.  To approach in an unworthy manner is to be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord (v. 27) and to eat and drink judgment upon oneself.  Of course, the important question is ĎWhat does it mean to approach the table in an unworthy manner?í  The answer that Paul gives us in these verses is that anyone who takes without examining himself and discerning the body will be taking in an unworthy manner.  Thus, the unexamined person is unworthy.  If you have not discerned the body, which could either refer to Christís body that was given for us at the cross or the Church as the Body of Christ, then you are taking in an unworthy manner.  Paulís goes on to explain that because the Corinthians are not examining themselves and discerning the body, the Lord has caused many of them to be weak and ill, and some have even died.  This does not mean that they were condemned to Hell along with the world (see v. 32), but rather that they were judged in this life so as to be saved from the future judgment.

 D.  Verses 33-34  Finally, Paul sums up his argument by telling the Corinthians to stop being divisive at the Table (not discerning the body) in order to avoid this judgment.

 Thus, Paul is addressing the particular error of the Corinthians of not discerning the body and examining themselves at the Table.  The Lordís Supper had become a spectacle of division between classes in the Church at Corinth.  Yet, Christ died to redeem a people.  Under the New Covenant, which He purchased with His blood, the rich and the poor, the black and the white, the Jew and the Gentile, are no longer divided, but unified in Him.  The Corinthians were making a mockery of this and being judged for their error.  Paul writes to correct this error by reminding them what the purpose behind the Supper and warning them about the importance of examination in their partaking.

III.  Four Practical Questions:

 A.  How do we prepare to take the Lordís Supper?  First, we would do well to remind ourselves of the purpose behind our taking.  As Paul does here, we need to remember that we take to remember and proclaim the hope that we have in Christ, who died in our place and has promised to return for His own.  We need to get our hearts ready for the Table by meditating on these serious and weighty truths.  Second, we must prepare by examining ourselves and discerning the body.  If you are wavering in your faith in Christís sacrifice for your sins, then repent and pray for increased faith.  If you have treated a brother with contempt, then repent and make things right.  Practically, as we prepare each Sunday for corporate worship together, we should be examining ourselves, repenting of our sins, and laboring to be unified as a Church.

 B.  Should we ever refuse to partake as believers?  My answer to this question has changed through the years as I have sought to faithfully understand this passage.  I remember thinking as a kid, ĎIf you have sinned too much, then you should not take.í  In other words, if you had a bad week, then you should refuse to come to the Table.  Yet, is that what Paul is saying here in 1 Corinthians 11?  Does he tell the Corinthians to ever stop taking?  No, actually his instructions center on how they should take it and not if they should take it.  In other words, Paul is saying to them: ĎStop taking it in this manner, which is unworthy.  Rather, examine yourselves, discern the body, and then take.í  Look at verse 28 again.  We do not examine ourselves to determine whether or not we are worthy to take.  If we did that, then none of us could ever take, for none of us are ever worthy.  Rather, by examining ourselves before we take and discerning the body, we are taking in a worthy manner. 

To conclude that sin should keep us from the Table seems to contradict the very purpose of the Table, which is to remember and proclaim that Jesusí death for our sins was enough.  Calvin says it this way: ďFor if we allege as an excuse for not coming to the Supper, that we are still weak in faith or integrity of life, it is as if a man were to excuse himself from taking medicine because he was sick. See then how the weakness of faith which we feel in our heart, and the imperfections which are in our life, should admonish us to come to the Supper, as a special remedy to correct them.Ē#  Unfortunately, abstaining from the Table because of sin is how this passage has often been applied.  I think this is a misapplication based upon a misunderstanding of this text.  Rather, we want to prepare our hearts for the table by examining ourselves and discerning the body so that we can then take in a worthy manner.

 C.  What should our focus be as we take?  Simply stated, we should focus on what Christ has done for us at Calvary and what He has promised to do at His return.  We look back to the cross and forward to glory.  We know that we are undeserving sinners, we know that we are not worthy in and of ourselves to come to the Table.  Yet, our hope does not rest in our worthiness but in His.  We trust in the fact that what He did for us at the cross is enough to cover all our sins.  Thus, we repent of our sins and pray for continued grace to follow hard after the Lord.  We examine and discern, we repent, and we take in faith.  In this way the Supper is a means of grace in that it encourages our faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for our sins.

 D.  What about non-believers and fencing the table?  Should non-believers be encouraged to partake of the Lordís Supper?  No.  Why?  The best answer that I can give from Scripture is that this passage calls for all those that are taking to examine themselves and discern the body, which involves spiritual discernment.  I do not believe that a non-believer is able to do that, since the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).  Thus, for this reason, I think we should warn unbelievers about drinking in an unworthy manner.  At the same time, we need to warn believers not to take without examining themselves as well.  I am not sure that I have been as faithful to this as I need to be.  I want to call us to examination and discerning the body each week as we take the Lordís Supper.  Warning non-believers and believers in this way is what I mean by Ďfencingí the Table, a term that I am borrowing from Church History

IV.  Conclusion:

 There is so much more to be talked about when considering the Lordís Supper, but I simply wanted to focus our attention tonight on the passage in 1 Corinthians 11 and in particular the issue of abstaining from the Table.  My hope and my prayer is that each week as we eat the Bread and drink the Cup we will do it in a worthy manner, namely by examining ourselves and discerning the body, and we will faithfully remember and proclaim the death of Christ and our hope in His future return.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Saturday, 08 April 2017 )

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