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The Significance of the Lord's Supper (I Corinthians 11:17-34)

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.

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Introduction: Importance of Memorials

If you've ever lived, or worked with someone who has Alzheimer's Disease, then you realize, more than anyone, the importance of memory for a person to know who they really are and how they fit into the world in which they live.

  • Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia.
  • It is a progressive disease beginning with mild memory loss and possibly leading to loss of the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to the environment.
  • Alzheimer’s disease involves parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language.
  • It can seriously affect a person’s ability to carry out daily activities.

In working with patients with this sad disease, I realize just how much that we all take for granted in life. Just the fact that we can remember a loved one, a wonderful time that we had with family and friends, and the shared history that we have with them, is a blessing that is denied to more than 5.8 million people in America alone today suffering from Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

Our memories are important. To know where we came from, how we got here and why we do what we do is very important. Learning from the mistakes of the past, so we don't repeat them, and capitalizing upon our victories as well, is essential for the progress, well-being and future of any individual, group or nation.

Every culture and civilization, throughout history, has had some form of memorial (either statues, buildings or ceremonies), that depict people and events of the past in order not to forget the significance of them.

God Himself, knowing how quickly we forget, has established memorials for His people, reminding them of what He has done, so that they might continue to realize the importance of serving and worshipping Him in their lives. And also, that they may understand that it is He and He alone that has brought them to this point.

One such memorial has become known as the Lord's Supper. It is also called the Eucharist, or Communion. And its purpose is to commemorate the greatest salvation event in human history. That is the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for the salvation of the world.

Unfortunately, there have been many who have totally misunderstood that purpose and have added things that Christ did not intend. Some would even say that the elements used for this ceremony actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Others would say that there is some spiritual presence in those elements. The real truth is that Scripture indicates that the elements are merely symbols that help us remember Jesus' sacrifice of His body and the shedding of His blood for our sins.

We have been studying the book of I Corinthians and have now come to 11:17-34. In this chapter, the apostle Paul is correcting the believers in the church of Corinth, who have, themselves, misunderstood the significance of the Communion service for the Church. By studying this corrective action, we can see more clearly, the reason that this service was instituted and how we should be observing it as members of the Body of Christ, the Church, today.

However, first we have to see the Jewish observance from which this memorial service was taken by Jesus on the night before His death. And that is the observance of the Passover.

I. Communion and the Jewish Passover

Passover, also called Pesach, is a major Jewish holiday that celebrates the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. This occurs on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, the first month of Aviv, or Spring. Here is a recounting of the events as told on the website chabad.org. It tells us this:

As told in the Bible, after many decades of slavery to the Egyptian pharaohs, during which time the Israelites were subjected to backbreaking labor and unbearable horrors, God saw the people’s distress and sent Moses to Pharaoh with a message: “Send forth My people, so that they may serve Me.” But despite numerous warnings, Pharaoh refused to heed God’s command. God then sent upon Egypt ten devastating plagues, afflicting them and destroying everything from their livestock to their crops.

"At the stroke of midnight of 15 Nissan in the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE), God visited the last of the ten plagues on the Egyptians, killing all their firstborn. While doing so, God spared the children of Israel, “passing over” their homes—hence the name of the holiday. Pharaoh’s resistance was broken, and he virtually chased his former slaves out of the land. The Israelites left in such a hurry, in fact, that the bread they baked as provisions for the way did not have time to rise. Six hundred thousand adult males, plus many more women and children, left Egypt on that day and began the trek to Mount Sinai and their birth as God’s chosen people."

It must be added to this that the death angel would pass over the homes on which the blood of a sacrificial lamb was placed on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the Israelites houses. That is how the firstborn of Israel were saved. God said that when He saw the blood, He would pass over them (Exodus 12:1-13). This later became the symbol of Jesus Christ, the lamb of God, who took away the sin of the world.

Jesus instituted the Communion while celebrating the Passover, the greatest salvation event in Israel's history. It took place on Holy Thursday, the night on which He was betrayed by Judas (I Corinthians 11:23), and just before His crucifixion on Friday. Jesus' death on the cross for our sins, has now become the greatest salvation event in human history. For it has brought about eternal salvation for all who place their trust in His finished work on their behalf.

Now that we know where this memorial service came from, let us go to I Corinthians 11 and find out what Paul believed were the reasons for this solemn faith-filled ceremony.

II. Communion is a Demonstration of Our Unification (11:17-22)

The first reason we can glean from I Corinthians is that the Communion service that Christians observe demonstrates our unity, both with the Lord and with one another. By observing this service, we show to the world and to one another that we are connected by our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are a family. We're all sons and daughters of the living God, as well as brothers and sisters in Christ. We have a common Salvation, Lord and destiny.

Paul said it well earlier in the book in I Corinthians. In 10:16,17, he compared the idol feasts that some of the Corinthians were wrongly participating in with the Communion service in which all Christians are to take part. He 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."

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In I Corinthians 11 there were factions taking place and not the unity that was supposed to occur. Some rich Christians were bringing plenty to eat and drink to the love feasts that the church was having. But, instead of sharing, they were getting in their little cliques and eating until they were full. And many were also drinking wine and getting drunk. In the meantime, others, presumably the poorer among them, went hungry and thirsty.

Paul tells them that this wasn't the Lord's Supper that they were observing. This is how he responds to this travesty of their unity. In verse 22 he said:

"What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? 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 do not praise you!"

The Body of Christ, unlike the world that is forever divided, is to demonstrate to those whom we see every day, that Jesus' death has brought us together in love and unity.

III. Communion is a Commemoration of Jesus' Death (23-25)

Not only does the Communion service show our unification in Christ, it also is a commemoration of what Jesus did for us on the cross of Calvary. In verses 23-25 Paul tells the Corinthians:

"For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in in which He was betrayed took bread: and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said: 'Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same manner He also took the cup after supper; saying: 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink, in remembrance of Me."

As we take the elements of communion, it should cause us to remember what our Lord went through for us. He paid a debt He did not owe. And we owed a debt that we could never pay. Thank God, for His amazing grace and love that He was willing to do this for us on the cross.

IV. Communion is a Proclamation to the World (26)

Beyond commemorating the Lord's grace, love and mercy in saving us, the Communion service is a proclamation to the world of what Christ did on behalf of everyone who, by faith will accept it. Verse 26 tells us:

"For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He come."

If we love Christ and know that without Him, we would be on our way to an eternity in Hell, it should make us want to tell others what the Lord can do for them, and where they will be without Him.

As unbelievers see or hear about the Lord's Supper, or Communion, they get the story proclaimed to them over and over again as we relive the memory of it in this beautiful memorial service.

If they should attend our services, as we do it, they hear the gospel and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they may be led to receive Jesus themselves. And that one faith-filled memorial service could be the difference between someone spending forever separated from God, or forever in the presence of our Lord in Heaven. That is the power of the gospel proclaimed through this ceremony!

V. Communion is an Anticipation of the Lord's Return (26)

And just how long does this proclamation continue? Until Jesus Christ returns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. For the Church, the Communion service is also seen as an anticipation that one day we will meet Jesus in the air as we are taken up to be with Him in the Rapture. That is the true believer's hope. I love I Thessalonians 4:16-18 which tells us

"For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus, we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, comfort one another with these words."

Thank God that this earth isn't all that there is. The future, for the Christian is always bright. Jesus' return is the blessed hope that we have a home in heaven that will last for eternity. And, as the song says:

"When we've been there ten-thousand years; bright shining as the Sun. We've no less days to sing God's praise, then when we'd first begun."

Amazing grace, indeed!

VI. Communion is an Examination of Motives (27-34)

Finally, the Communion is an examination of our motives. This service should include a rigid self-examination, checking our motives for why we are doing it. It should never be done just for show. And the Lord's Supper should never be treated like any other meal or service. It needs to be done reverentially, and we should do it out of love and thankfulness to the Lord.

The Corinthians were not treating it reverentially. It was because of this that they were coming together and getting full and drunk, while others went hungry. Here is what Paul tells the Corinthians:

"Therefore, 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. For this reason, many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.

Therefore, my brethren, when you come together, wait for one another. But if anyone is hungry, eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come."

The bottom line is that God takes the Communion service seriously and so should we. To treat it as an unholy thing, as a common meal, is a sin and God sometimes corrects His children if they are sinning and not judging themselves and their own motives. This judgment doesn't lead to eternal condemnation, as it would for the world that doesn't know Christ. But as a father, corrects a son, so God sometimes corrects us.

However, it's not always a light correction, as we see here at Corinth. Apparently, according to verse 30, in the case of the Corinthians, the sin that they were committing lead some to sickness and some even to physical death.

Apparently, a believer can sin to the point where God believes it is just best to bring them home, probably because they have in some way compromised their testimony so significantly before the watching world that they should just come on home to God. That is ultimately up to God to decide. It is our job to remove all sin out of our lives by trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit and follow God's Word as He makes it continually clear to us.

Conclusion

That, my friends, is what Paul has to say about this wonderful memorial service. Now it's up to us to put what we've learned into practice the next time we have a chance to participate in it and remember the Lord's death until He comes.

As we prepare ourselves, let us remember that it has been given to us by Jesus Himself, and shown more clearly to us by the apostle Paul to be a magnificent service of worship that gives glory to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It demonstrates our unity as the Body of Christ, commemorates what He did for us on the cross, proclaims to the world our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It anticipates His soon return. And it allows us to examine ourselves to make sure that we see this service for the beautiful ceremony that it was intended to be.

Let us thank God for the memorial service known as Communion, or the Lord's Supper. For every time we come together to celebrate it, we are reminded of the wonderful reality that it represents.

© 2022 Jeff Shirley

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