Communion, then & now
Some in the early church remembered the original last supper and the communion served by the Lord. The words and message they gave about the Lord were fresh in their ears. The concept of the communion was very different than that of many churches today. We have lost much of the original teaching on communion.
If we had kept the original teaching of communion, and had practiced its teachings in these last years, we would have avoided many church splits,
many backslidings of saints, and much heartache in congregations.
Communion is vitally important! Some Christians place great importance on it. Others minimalize it. Some ignore the subject. Some will seldom take communion. Some will want it with every church gathering. Some will do it so often that it becomes a ritual.
A study of the Scriptures and the practices of the early church, will enlighten us as to the importance of the communion. There was misuse of communion by some even in the early church, but Paul treated the misuse with great concern.
Too many today simply allow misuse, misconceptions, and abuse of the ordinance of communion to continue. Not Paul, he set out to straighten out
the misconceptions, abuse, and misuse.
In Corinth, there was some corruption of the communion. Paul was very troubled about this, and he expressed to the Corinthians that God put great importance to communion.
It was common in the early church to share a common meal, and then have communion follow this meal. Christ had instituted the first communion in this way. He served the bread, and the wine following the Last Supper.
The motive for this supper preceding the communion was good. The rich and the poor could each bring what they could, and all was to be shared.
Everyone could then have a decent meal, without the poor needing to ask for charity.
However, at Corinth, the "love feast" (as it was called) deteriorated into a time when the sharing terminated. The rich ate alone with what they brought, and overindulged. The poor had little to bring and were going home hungry. The poor were shunned and ignored.
"THIS IS NOT THE LORD'S SUPPER."
I Cor. 11:20
Paul was ashamed to call this the "supper" instituted of the Lord. He said that it would be better to eat at home, than to have disgraceful church suppers. Paul denounced them for their abuse of the church service,
and for their entering into communion with the sins of selfishness, divisions, and unconcern for others evident.
Still, today, we find that many observe communion with the sins of selfishness, pride, unconcern, divisions, etc. still apparent. Paul indicated that communion was meant to be a time when such sins were discovered and eliminated.
I Corinthians 11:18
"WHEN YE COME TOGETHER IN THE CHURCH..."
The idea is that whenever two of three believers come together into any location, you have a church. There were no church buildings when this was written, and for many years the early church did not build buildings. We too often refer to the meeting places as the churches. It is the two or three or more believers who are the church whether they are meeting in a prison cell, a house, a park, or a beautiful "sanctuary".
Whenever we are gathered, the care must be taken to not grieve the Holy Spirit. In a communion service, the Lord has an agenda. He has a purpose in the way in which we are to observe the communion. If we do it wrongly, He will be upset, and judgment will come.
This is not a popular concept, and in many places communion is little more than a ritual. When Moses struck the "Rock" twice in the wilderness, instead of once as the Lord commanded, the Lord punished that disobedience with the refusal to let Moses enter the Promised Land with Joshua and the rest.
We too can fail to observe an example of type, as did Moses, and come under the judgment of the Lord.
communion = koinonia
The word "communion" comes from the Greek word - koinonia. It means a "participation, fellowship." We use this word to refer to the time when,
as a body of believers, we join in a fellowship with each other, and the Lord.
This "fellowship" is to remind us that we are linked together, not only with each other, but with the Lord.
I Corinthians 10:16
"...IS IT NOT THE COMMUNION OF THE BODY OF CHRIST."
The term - "body of Christ" - refers to the "body of believers", according to the context of the verse. (See I Cor. 11:29, 12:12, 13, 20, 26, 27.)
We partake of the "Bread" when we take communion, and this Bread is a type of the body of Christ. We become part of His body when we partake of the Bread. So, at our communion service, we should recognize our "fellowship" together. We, together as the body, meet to remind ourselves that we are part of One body- -of which Christ is the head.
If we are indifferent toward another part of the "body of Christ," we are not creating the proper atmosphere for communion. Some are insensitive toward the hurt, pain, loneliness, suffering of a part of the "body." Like those of the Corinth church, who were insensitive, proud, and intemperate
toward the poor of the church, many today partake of communion with little, or no concern and love for a part of the same "body of believers."
This brought God's serious displeasure with those in Corinth, and was recorded in the Word of God to warn us that God feels the same today
about this type of sin.
I Corinthians 10:16
"THIS CUP OF BLESSING."
The elements, both the cup and the bread, of communion are meant to bring us a blessing. This is like the blessing which the striking of the "Rock" once by Moses was to bring.
The water was to flow freely as blessing to the people. When he struck the rock twice in disobedience, the water still flowed, but a judgment also came upon Moses for his disobedience.
In the same way, if we do not partake of communion properly, we come under the judgment of God.
The lack of self examination, and repentance, will bring damnation, weakness, sickness, death, curse, and the chastening of the Lord.
( I Cor. 11: 29-32 )
I Corinthians 11: 32
"BUT WHEN WE ARE JUDGED, WE ARE CHASTENED OF THE LORD, THAT WE SHOULD NOT BE CONDEMNED WITH THE WORLD."
The word - "chastened" comes from the Greek word - "paideuometha."
This word means "to be disciplined by deed." We are not just to be scolded by the Lord, but the Lord works out deeds that discipline, and chasten us.
FAILURE TO JUDGE SELVES WILL MAKE THE BREAD TO BRING A CURSE
The IMPORTANT sin of Corinth to be noticed here is found in I Corinthians 11:31-34. Here Paul refers to the failure of the people to examine, and judge their own lives to see if they are worthy of taking communion.
Paul insisted that the communion was serious enough that people must judge themselves, or God would examine their lives and give damnation to those are not purified at the time of partaking of communion.
I Corinthians 11:27,29
"WHEREFORE WHOSOEVER SHALL EAT OF THIS BREAD, AND DRINK OF THIS CUP OF THE LORD, UNWORTHILY, SHALL BE GUILTY OF THE BODY AND THE BLOOD OF THE LORD. FOR HE THAT EATETH AND DRINKETH UNWORTHILY, EATETH AND DRINKETH DAMNATION TO HIMSELF, NOT DISCERNING THE LORD'S BODY."
The word "unworthily" is a frightening concept in regards to communion. What does it mean ? We need to analyze, and not ignore this teaching.
The word comes from the Greek word - "anaxios" - which means -"irreverently, unfit." The idea is that we are not to casually, without proper preparation, partake of the communion elements of the cup and the bread.
Paul spells out the proper preparation, and the possible punishment for not following it.
Those who partake "unworthily" are guilty as those who crucified our Lord on Calvary (vs 27). Those who partake "unworthily" of these communion elements are eating and drinking "damnation" (vs. 29). Some hope that the Lord, at worst, has a scolding for them for their failures. Yet, here we see that a possible punishment is "damnation."
In I Corinthians 11:30, we find that many are weak, sickly, and some are even dead as a result of incorrectly partaking of communion. There is a curse of God upon those who partake of the bread unworthily. It is not a little thing, it is vitally important that we confront the issue.
The healing lines in many churches would greatly shorten, if people would truly study the subject of communion.
I Corinthians 11:30
"FOR THIS CAUSE, MANY ARE WEAK AND SICKLY AMONG YOU, AND MANY SLEEP."
Paul mentions several sins that were present in Corinth.
In I Corinthians 11:18, Paul mentions "divisions". This is the Greek word "skismata." It refers to "practical heresies, i.e. one group feeling superior to another group." The one group in Corinth felt that they deserved more than the others and that they should not have to share. They thus sat at an opposite corner of the room and ignored the needs of the others.
In I Corinthians 11:19, the Greek word - "hairesis"- is used to refer to "theoretical schisms." These are purposeful departings from the doctrine
taught by the Lord. Jesus taught that the whole of the law could be
summarized in these two commandments--love God with all your being,
and love your neighbor as yourself. Any other doctrine taught that violates
these two commandments is called "heresy."
In Corinth, the "heresy" that Paul mentions here is the thought that some are not as good as others in the church.
In verse 21, Paul says that the one group was selfish with what they had.
In the case of Corinth, it was food and riches that they did not want to share. In some churches today, the one group tries to control power, or position. Whatever the commodity is, the selfishness, and not sharing of it - will defile communion.
SHAMING THE POOR
In verse 22, Paul censures them for treating some Christians different than others. This sin in Corinth is found in many churches. Those who cannot dress as well as the wealthy are often shunned in churches. Those of social status are often given preference over the more common laborers when positions of authority are awarded. Riches are not to be the status mark
to determine the spiritual worth and value. Peter and John said, "SILVER AND GOLD HAVE I NONE." and the same can be said of many today
who earnestly love the Lord.
PARTAKING OF THE LORD'S SUPPER UNWORTHILY
I Corinthians 11:27-30, shows that the Lord considered events and actions
in the church, to be defiling to the communion being observed at the end of their feasts. The event that we call "communion" is so special to the Lord, that if we observe it correctly, we are blessed, and if it is done incorrectly,
He considers it to be gravely sinful.
The elements of communion are the bread and the drink. The bread represents the body of Christ, and the drink represents the blood of Christ.
I Corinthians 10:16-17
"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 BEING MANY ARE ONE BREAD, AND ONE BODY; FOR WE ARE ALL PARTAKERS OF THAT ONE BREAD."
At communion, we all partake of the bread, that represents that One (Jesus), and are all part of that One. We are all united - believers in Christ.
That is why we are told to "TARRY ONE FOR ANOTHER."
I Corinthians 11:33
"WHEREFORE, MY BRETHREN, WHEN YE COME TOGETHER TO EAT, TARRY ONE FOR ANOTHER."
So if we come together for communion, and do not first become concerned about the feelings, hurts, and concerns of the others with us in the service,
we are out of order.
The proud, despisers of others, have no business at communion.
Since, it is so important to be thus concerned, we are told to judge, examine ourselves.
I Corinthians 11:28, 31
"LET A MAN EXAMINE HIMSELF, AND SO LET HIM EAT OF THAT BREAD, AND DRINK OF THAT CUP... FOR IF WE WOULD JUDGE OURSELVES, WE WOULD NOT BE JUDGED."
The Greek word for "examine" is - "dokimatzeto." It means "to prove to test worthiness." It is used of Paul in I Corinthians 3:13 to refer to putting our works to a test of fire. The fire brings the dross to the surface, so that it may be removed. We need to examine our actions, thoughts, and motives
to see if we have the proper concern for the other parts of the body. Some Christians, who are judgmental, critical, dominating, unloving, selfish, etc.,
are to find through this examination those faults.
They are to be repented of and changed. Then communion is to be taken.
The Greek word for "judge" (vs. 31) is - "diakrinomen." This word means to
"make a distinction between." In preparation for communion, we must make a distinction between our correct, and incorrect behavior and thoughts. We must evaluate ourselves so we can repent of the incorrect.
Too many partake of communion without this self-examination. Some want to judge the ones who have mistreated us. But the Bible says to examine ourselves, not others.
This examination should not make any of us avoid communion, for the purpose is to make us able to partake of communion. If we examine ourselves, and repent of any, and all failures, we then can partake of the elements, and receive a blessing.
Should we worry about others who are taking communion with us who are not partaking worthily? You may pray for them, and be concerned for them,
but do not try to stop them or judge them. Think of the first communion.
Jesus was in charge. With Him was Judas, who was about to betray Him. Also there was Peter, who would deny Him three times that same night.
The rest of the disciples would all forsake Him before the night was over.
Jesus served bread and drink to them anyhow. He knew what was in man,
yet did not refuse to serve any.
BECOME LIKE JESUS
I Corinthians 11:24,25
"THIS DO IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME."
At communion we are to remember Jesus Christ. What kind of person are we commemorating at communion? John said that the world could not contain all the books that could be written about this Jesus.
About Jesus, we should especially remember:
A HUMBLE PERSON
"HUMBLES HIMSELF TO BEHOLD THE THINGS IN HEAVEN AND IN EARTH."
He has to humble Himself to behold us, and yet He did more that this, by humbling Himself enough to come as a babe in a manger, live as a human being for us, minister to the common person, die on a rugged cross between two thieves, etc. We should greatly love such a Person.
Knowing that these same disciples would soon forsake Him or follow afar off (one would betray Him within hours), Jesus still offered them the first communion elements, washed their feet, and worshipped with them. Humbly He shared the last supper with those who would soon greatly disappoint Him.
A FRIENDLY PERSON
"HIM THAT COMETH TO ME, I WILL IN NO WISE CAST OUT."
Jesus is the kind of Person that the adulterer, the thief, the hated tax collector, the wayward, the child, the religious, the blind, the leper, etc. could easily approach... and know that they would be accepted. Jesus died for all, and loves all. He was friendly to all.
A TENDER, AND FORGIVING PERSON
This Jesus could be merciful to the woman caught in adultery, tender to a doubting Thomas, and forgiving to the woman at the well. He is tender and forgiving with our sins also.
A SOMETIMES ANGRY PERSON
This Jesus sometimes was very angry. He was angered at the hardness of the legalists who wanted to make rules beyond the two that He said were sufficient (Love God supremely, and love your neighbor as yourself.) He was angry at the disciples who sought to turn the children away from Him. He was angry at the Pharisees who felt holier than the common person who could not keep all the rules they added to the law. He became very angry at the moneychangers in the temple who cheated the people who came to worship and pray.
A REJECTED PERSON
"HE CAME TO HIS OWN AND HIS OWN RECEIVED HIM NOT."
This loving Jesus, Whom we are to be like, was rejected, mistreated, hated, abused, lied about, despised, etc. We sometimes are similarly treated by even the religious people of the day. It was the ones that we would have least suspected of treating Jesus that way that did those horrible things to Him. His own people, who claimed to be awaiting the Messiah rejected Him. The church people of today have spiritually abused many, and like the Jews of that day, often feel little or no guilt for their behavior.
When we remember this Jesus, we realize our own unworthiness. We realize that without Him we are helpless. We are all dependent on this One. Since we all are unworthy, helpless, and dependent on the same One, we see barriers break down between the saints.
Sometimes in the congregations barriers build because of spiritual abuse, grudges, misunderstandings. The proper way to handle them, is to remember Jesus, and how He treated the same problems.
The breaking down of the barriers between the saints is God's ultimate purpose in a congregation taking communion. God does not want divisions, schisms, grudges, controversies, and hurts amidst His children.
We should partake of communion properly so these "cancers" cannot remain in a congregation.
Communion is also a feast of testimony. A testimony that we are all part of ONE body because Jesus died on a cross to make us all ONE in Him. We are to remember Him, His sacrifice, and discern that we are all part of that ONE body now, when we partake of communion.
A RETURNING PERSON
I Corinthians 11:26
"...YE DO SHEW THE LORD'S DEATH, TILL HE COME."
We not only commemorate the fact that this Jesus died for us, wants us to be forgiven, and took the penalty for sin. We are also to remember that as a risen and ascended Lord, He is coming again for us.
PARTAKING OF COMMUNION
With these facts presented here, we are now ready to prepare to take communion. If we remember to examine, and judge ourselves, and to repent of incorrect relationships with any within the body of believers; we will be able to receive the elements of communion and be blessed of God.
The communion should be a blessed time of restoration of relationships, healing, revival, and fellowship. Let's restore communion back to the place God desires.
If we partake unworthily, we are partaking of a curse from God. We have a choice. Communion is not a simple ordinance, and it is not an event within the church to be taken lightly. The curse can bring death, sickness, judgment, and wrath from God.
Remember that you should be searching your heart for any lack of Christ-likeness in your relationships with the others here. If there is any fault found in your search, repent of it now. Then after this service be sure to find the one with whom you felt a problem, and make things right with them.