In my sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:17–34, we observed how Paul corrected the twin problems of (1) divisions at the Lord’s Supper and (2) indifference to the divisions with three solutions (vv. 17–22). First, he rehearsed the gospel of Jesus Christ by re-explaining to the Corinthians what the bread and cup symbolize (vv.23–26). Next, he called for all participants to examine themselves before taking of the meal (vv.27–32). And last, he challenged the church to “receive one another” as they came to the Table (vv.33–34).
Paul’s view of the Lord’s Supper is a worthwhile reminder of how serious this meal is. He warns that when divisions go unchecked at the Lord’s Table, the church and its members eat the meal in vain (v. 20). While the bread, the cup, and the church may be gathered, it is possible that the people eat their “own meal,” not the Lord’s Supper (v. 21). Such a sober reminder calls us to examine our hearts and repent of anything that would bring division in the body of Christ.
At the same time, those who are resisting sin and trusting daily in the gospel need not worry about taking the meal in an unworthy manner, as many earnest saints often do. The warning is directed to those resisting repentance, not resisting sin. On this point, Ray Van Neste offers a helpful corrective about the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11:28.
It is a fairly common practice for believers voluntarily to abstain from Communion because they feel they are not properly prepared at that given time. They think they should not partake of Communion if they are struggling with sin. This . . . arises from a misunderstanding of the call to examine ourselves. The warning . . . is against partaking in an unworthy manner, referring to the unrepentant self-centeredness of the Corinthians who were ignoring other members of the body. The warning does not apply to those who are struggling with sin but are looking to the cross in repentance, hating their sin and yearning to be pleasing to God. (Ray Van Neste, “The Lord’s Supper in the Context of the Local Church,” in The Lord’s Supper, ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford, 386)
All in all, the Lord’s Supper is a vital part of the Christian experience. It calls the hard-hearted to repentance and it invites the broken-hearted believer to taste afresh the grace of God. Sadly, it has been misunderstand and misapplied in too many contexts. Hence, the reason why we considered it yesterday.
If you desire to better understand how Paul speaks about this meal in 1 Corinthians, I pray that yesterday’s message might serve you. You can find it here: “Revisiting the Lord’s Supper: A Holy Heart for a Holy Meal.”
At the same time, for those interested in diving deeper into the theology, history, and practice of the Lord’s Supper, let me encourage you to pick up The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes, edited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford. As I preached on 1 Corinthians 11, I found Jim Hamilton’s chapter particularly helpful.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss