For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
(1Co 11:23-25 ESV)
Those are oft quoted verses in many churches before the start of the communion service. I would like to look at what Paul wrote about Communion in the entire context. The larger context in First Corinthians shows multiple issues with communion in the time of Paul:
But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. (1Co 11:17 ESV)
For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, (1Co 11:18 ESV)
for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. (1Co 11:19 ESV)
When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. (1Co 11:20 ESV)
For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. (1Co 11:21 ESV)
What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (1Co 11:22 ESV)
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, (1Co 11:23 ESV)
and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (1Co 11:24 ESV)
In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1Co 11:25 ESV)
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1Co 11:26 ESV)
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. (1Co 11:27 ESV)
Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. (1Co 11:28 ESV)
For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1Co 11:29 ESV)
That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. (1Co 11:30 ESV)
But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. (1Co 11:31 ESV)
But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (1Co 11:32 ESV)
So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— (1Co 11:33 ESV)
if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come. (1Co 11:34 ESV)
There are numerous points made in this section and I would like to touch on some of them,
In verses 20-21 Paul writes “ When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat – For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal”. Paul also says that at these meals some people go hungry while others get drunk. Paul makes a distinction here between just eating a meal together with other believers and the Lord’s Supper. He is saying that just getting together with other believers for a meal is not the Lord’s supper. He goes on in the next verses to ask things like don’t you have your own houses to live in, and don’t you see the you’re humiliating the people who come to these gatherings and don’t get to eat?
In verses 23 through 25 Paul lays out the pattern of service for holy Communion. In verse 23 he specified that this is the instruction that he received. Jesus started with the bread, and announced, “This is my body”. At this point he gives the directive, “Do this in remembrance of me”. In the next verse he specifies the next step in the procedure, which is the same way Jesus did it! Paul then quotes the words of Jesus, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
In verse 26 he then states the spiritual significance of what is going on – that as often as you do this you are declaring the importance of Jesus’s death in our lives. Jesus’ broken body became our sin. Jesus’ blood washed away those sins, and this became The New Covenant with God!
This, then, is the point. Jesus’ death frees us from the power of sin. Because he died for us Jesus is life giving. Because of his death Jesus is healing. Because he gave his body Jesus is resurrecting. That is why his body is the bread of life. Remembering these things is breath and life, bread and wine, and eternal power to us.
Further on in the verses, verse 27 does specify that people who receive communion without this frame of mind are unworthy and are actually part of the problem that Jesus had to go to the cross for. In verse 30 says that if you partake of the Last Supper without this frame of mind you bring judgment on yourself. He even goes on to say that this lack of believing in what Christ’s body and blood accomplished is at the cause of why so many are weak, ill, and dying. And that is because weakness, sickness and yes, death, are with us because of the power of sin in the world.
In my own head I see a vision of holy Communion with a neon sign flashing, “Jesus Christ Became Sin For You” – “His Death Washed Away Your Sin” “Sin Has No Power Over You”- “Walk In Deliverance”. Or how about this:
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