1 Corinthians 11:23-26

LORD'S SUPPER SERIES: The Institution of the Lord's Supper

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Please Read 1 Corinthians 11

This morning we turn our attention to the Lordís Supper, this being the day on which we come together as a church to actually celebrate the Lordís Supper together.

I do not know what your experience of past Lordís Supperís has been, but I do know what mine have been like, and I have been far from satisfied with what has been practiced on most occasions.

Often times the Supper is tacked onto the end of a service, as though it were a necessary evil that we have to go through in order to do things right. Generally speaking it seems to be celebrated as an empty ritual, with many people just going through the motions, even relieved when it is over.

As a reforming church, it is important for us to consider the Lordís Supper and to see whether our approach to it is in need of a change. Are we measuring up to the Biblical Lordís Supper, or are we pursuing something that is merely a traditional way of doing things?

John Calvin in his commentary on this portion of Scripture says,

ĎThis passage ought to be carefully studied, for it shows that the only remedy for removing and correcting corruptions is to get back to the unadulterated institution of God.í

And this is our aim here in this place, to reform after the pattern of scripture, and so over the course of this year we will devote ourselves to this passage which is so full of instruction concerning the Lordís Supper. May the Lord be our Teacher, and His Word our textbook.

 

1. The Importance of Proper Form

When we come together for the Lordís Supper are our meetings doing more harm than good? This is a question that we need to ask ourselves in all seriousness. This is something which was actually the case with the Corinthian church, ĎNow in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. (11:17).í

What a terrible indictment for a church! We need to be sure that this is not the case with us, so we need to examine this passage this morning to see what it has to tell us as regards the way we ought to observe this Supper.

The first thing that strikes the reader of this passage is the importance of proper form. Today we find ourselves in a religious climate in which the form of the Lordís Supper can be anything, as long as the name is kept on it. It is as though it doesnít matter what is done as long as it has a Scriptural tag, then its going to be OK.

The Supper has become an institution open to all manner of abuses, and the one which sticks out from all the rest is of course the Roman Catholic Mass, and all its idolatrous and ungodly rite.

But even the more subtle corruptions need to be addressed, for all such separations from the God-given form are sin, and a deviation from the form given by the Lord Jesus Christ.

And what about what was going on in Corinth, for ĎFor this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep (11:30).í Do you see the importance in getting this right? People were getting sick, and even being killed as punishment for their abuse of the Lordís Supper. so you see, this is no light matter, it needs to be taken seriously.

Is there then a proper form to follow, a blueprint that we must carefully observe and stick to? The answer is yes there is, ĎFor I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you (11:23).í

Previously in I Corinthians 11 the apostle has been dealing with the Corinthian abuses of the Lordís Supper, which we will deal with at a latter time. Now with that in mind, Paul is seeking to teach the Corinthians the correct manner of celebrating the Lordís Supper, that which he has already previously told them about.

That which he Ďdeliveredí to them concerning the practice of the Lordís Supper was not something that he had made up on a day when he was feeling particularly inspired as people today regard inspiration, but rather it was received as a direct revelation from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. ĎBut I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal 1:11,12).í

So what he is saying to the Corinthians is that you are not messing with a human invented ritual here, but with that which the Lord of Glory expects you to do as His people, in exactly the way He has instituted it. The practice of the Lordís Supper is not to be corrupted in any way from its original institution, not to the right nor to the left, for it is not manís Supper to mess with.

Now to make this even more clear we observe the Lordís command itself, 'do in remembrance of me (11:24)í, and Ďthis do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me (11:25).í These words of the Lord Jesus Christ then are not just mere text fillers, they are commands and directions from the Lord to do this in a particular way.

When the church comes together to celebrate the Lordís Supper it is to be done in this particular way, the very way that the Lord Jesus Christ instituted - there is to be no swerving to the right or to the left. So we need to ask ourselves, what does the Bible say about this new idea that we may be thinking about? Is it acceptable to the Biblical form?

So what is the proper form? This is something that we will discover on our journey through this passage. I donít intend to give a specific formula in this message, but I will explain the text as we work our way through it so that we can develop the correct form for our Lordís Supper celebrations. There is more to the Lordís Supper than just the external ritual, and all these things are important for a correct and proper celebration of the Lordís Supper.

The important thing at this point is to be committed to observing the Supper in the way that the Lord has laid down. So this is what I exhort you to do this morning, take seriously the Word of God concerning the Lordís Supper here in this passage, and let us together seek to grow in, learn in, and reform in, our observation and practice of the Lordís Supper, according to the Word of God.

And to do so, we will find it necessary to perhaps cast off many traditional conventions that have become associated with the Lordís Supper, in order that we might return to the Biblical model. But this we must do if we are to give our allegiance to the Lord and His ways, and He will grant us the ability to do so.

 

2. The Symbolism of the Supper

Essential of course to a right practice of the Lordís Supper is a right understanding of what the Lordís Supper actually represents. And this seems to have been the thought in the apostleís mind. Having rebuked the Corinthians for their conduct at the Lordís Supper, he then proceeds to explain to them again just what the Lordís Supper is all about.

And this is something we also need to constantly be reminding ourselves of, so that we donít fall into the mistake of treating the Lordís Supper with disregard and irreverence. If we understand the significance of the symbolism here, we will be less likely to allow the abuse of the Supper - assuming of course that we are Christians.

ĎFor I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me (1 Cor 11:23,24).í

Note that it is not a coincidence that the Lord instituted the Lordís Supper on the same night in which He was betrayed. This night they would always remember, and the events of this night would add further significance to the Supper and what it was all about.

The time had come for Him to fulfil the will of God in bringing about the redemption of man through the sacrifice of Himself, and this He obviously knew. The significance - He didnít forget us, and so He institutes a memorial Supper so that we will not forget Him and what He has done for us.

The giving of thanks prior to the Supper I think is also of significance, though we do not have a record of what He actually said. But it is likely that He reflected on the significance of the event then taking place. Note that He also gave thanks prior to the taking of the cup, ĎAfter the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped (11:25).í It is implied there that He also gave thanks for the cup, in the same manner as He did with the bread.

Let me suggest that it is likely that He was giving thanks to God on behalf of man for His gift of salvation through Him to man, and in so doing He gives as an example to follow, though it doesnít appear to be commanded in the text. And by that I mean the example of giving thanks to the Lord for His salvation in Christ, especially as regards what the various symbols represent prior to our partaking of them.

And so I think that this is something that we should seek to follow, even if there be no direct command to do so - though I think the passage implies its importance in the Supper. Certainly it wouldnít be a bad thing to do.

When we consider the breaking and eating of the bread as recorded in this passage, what exactly was happening? Ďthis is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me (11:24).í Without going into great detail, it quite obviously is not calling the bread the actual body of Christ - how could it be, He was there actually breaking the bread. So I think we can safely dismiss the ridiculous doctrine of transubstantiation, that the bread turns into the actual body of Christ.

Clearly the thought is that of symbolic representation. The bread is nothing more than actual bread, nothing especially special about it at all - but in this Supper it holds great significance, for it is to represent the body of the Lord Jesus Christ and all that He suffered on our behalf. The broken bread is to bring to our minds a sense of thankfulness for all the suffering that He went through in order to bring us to God.

And thatís all it does, there being nothing magical or supernatural involved in it at all. But the eating of the bread is of great spiritual significance, for it symbolises our own personal involvement in the sacrifice of Christ, and that we acknowledge that He did it for us personally. He died a Substitute for us, suffering in our place.

So the Lordís Supper far from being of little significance is of major significance, for we Ďdo this in remembrance ofí Him. And in this we have a major spiritual memorial, as we focus in our minds on what He has done for us, and offer up spiritual worship in response.

And the same is true of the cup, ĎAfter the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me (11:25).í He instituted the second part of the Lordís Supper in the same manner as He took the bread, with a prayer of thanksgiving concerning what the cup symbolised. He then gave the cup to the disciples to drink from, again symbolising their participation in His death.

By calling the cup Ďthe new covenant in My bloodí, Jesus was saying that His death actually realised or ratified the agreement that was made between the Father and the Son concerning the work of salvation. It was a securing of the promised salvation in Christ, rendering it absolutely certain that Christians would be saved, for now their debt is paid in full, for ĎBy so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament (Heb 7:22).í

So with this in mind it is surely clear, that this celebration of the Lordís Supper is no small thing, and should not be disregarded by Christians. Indeed we should observe all these things that we have now considered for they have been instituted by Christ Himself, and each part holds great symbolic significance, and this we will now further explore by considering the purpose of the LordĎs Supper.

 

3.Purpose of the Supper

When considering the purpose of the Lordís Supper, we are asking the question, Ďwhy was the Lordís Supper instituted?í And what we find in this passage is at least two major reasons, the first of which we have already alluded to, Ďdo this in remembrance of Me.í

One of the major reasons as to why we should participate in the Lordís Supper is because it reminds us of our Lord, and of all that He has done for us. One of the things we find through out the Old Testament is that the people of Israel forgot their God. This Supper is a major aid in keeping the Lord Jesus Christ, and all that He has done fresh in our minds.

But it is more than that - it gives each Christian an opportunity to reflect on just what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for them personally. There is a realisation to be made, that what the Lord Jesus Christ did at Calvary has especial significance for me/you individually, and for us as a church together.

We are to think about all of this, remembering the blessings that have been purchased for us by Christ in His sacrifice.

The practical implication of this is that we need to focus our minds on the great truths of Scripture concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, and of what they teach concerning our place before the Lord when we come together for the Supper.

But there is a further purpose to the Lordís Supper, ĎFor as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come (11:26).í

Through the symbolism and frequent participation in the Lordís Supper, we symbolically proclaim the Lordís death to all. This event tells the world that there is real meaning to us personally in the life and death of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that they too ought to regard its significance.

The Lordís Supper is not for satisfying the pangs of hunger and thirst, it is not to gather together in order to interact socially, but it is to bear testimony to our gratitude for the Lord Jesus Christ, and to testify to the reality and continuing significance of the gospel not only in our own lives, but for the world in general.

What we are in fact doing is symbolically preaching the gospel to all unbelievers who observe our celebration of the Lordís Supper, and this the Church will continue to do until the end of this world, and until Christ returns.

And this is something we should be very careful about, for what sort of message do we send if we observe something other than the God given form of the Lordís Supper - is it not a corrupted gospel.

Remember these things as we come to the Lordís Supper now, and as we continue to consider this passage in future times. May the Lord enable us to get this right, to the praise of His glorious grace and mercy in the Gospel.

 

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UPDATED: 19 April 2014

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