At the Lord's Table
25 Aug 2007, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
AT THE LORD'S TABLE
This morning Jesus gathers us to His table, where we drink from one cup and eat from one loaf in thoughtful contemplation of the wonderful provisions of God's grace. From this personal vantage point of God's family table we are not only privileged to ponder our relationship with our crucified, risen, and soon-returning Lord, but also our relationships with one another.
Many of us, or even most of us, have a great need to deepen our appreciation for sitting at the table with our Lord.
The fact that the Christian believers at Corinth were experiencing considerable difficulty with the Lord's Supper should bring us peculiar comfort.
Compared to the tenacious neglect of destitute church members outlined in the first book of Corinthians, our own lack of appreciation may seem to be minor. Paul now calls us, along with those erring believers, into the Upper Room to watch the Lord at the Last Supper. If we watch closely and listen carefully, we shall never be the same again.
In 1 Cor 10: 14-22 Paul begins by paralleling the sins of Ancient Israel with the experience of the Christians in Corinth. He deals with the issues of idolatry, their arrogance in reference to immorality, and of 'putting Christ to the test' by linking their participation in the Lord's Supper with their involvement in idol feasts. He not only outlines their failure to follow his directives, but also deals with the issuing of complaints against his leadership. In this way he says they are reflecting the rebellion of ancient Israel.
He continues in 1 Cor 10: 1-5, 12 to suggest that some of the Corinthian believers had developed a strong and misplaced confidence in their spiritual invincibility. It would seem that some were saying that their participation in baptism and the Lord's Supper provided their spiritual security. They believed themselves safe even if they were immoral (6: 12-20) or participated in idol feasts (8: 10; 10: 14-22). Paul argues that the Israelites had also been 'baptised' and had eaten spiritual food, but were anything but 'safe'.
He goes on then to reveal the true source of Christian confidence when he says in 1 Cor 10: 13 that while we are always kept aware of our susceptibility to temptation, we are assured that God is faithful and eager to help us in our weakness.
1John 3: 18-22 (The Clear word Paraphrase) takes this a little further by reminding us that '…to love someone doesn't mean just saying so or only being fond of them. It means helping them, whether we feel loving toward them or not. (V19) This is how we know that we really possess the truth. Our hearts will be at rest as we come into His presence. (V20) So when our conscience condemns us, let's listen, remembering that God knows far more than our conscience does. (V21) If our awakened conscience does not condemn us, we can come with confidence before God. (V22) We can ask Him for whatever we need to do His will, and he will give it to us because we obey His commands and do what pleases Him.
While Paul suggests that some of the Corinthian believers were making too much of baptism and the Lord's Supper, he also makes it very clear that he in no way demeans these ceremonies. In fact, he calls Christians back to their baptism as the pivotal event of their experience (Rom 6: 3, 4; Gal 3: 27; Col 2: 12) and his respect for the Lord's Supper is self-evident (1Cor 10: 14-22; 11: 17-34).
We are reminded in DA 653-656 that the Lord's Supper '…is the means by which [Jesus'] great work for us is to be kept fresh in our minds…and it is at these appointments'…that [He] meets His people, and energises them by His presence.'
Another situation that arose with the Corinthian believers was the problem of class structures and social status that had slowly invaded the table of the Lord. It was this issue that caused Paul to make the comment in 1Cor 11: 27 where he says: 'Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.'
This was to call for some form of self-examination that would lead to a realization of how unworthy we really are. It is this understanding of our unworthiness that should compel us to seek His grace at His table. 'True safety lies only in the recognition of one's absolute helplessness apart from Christ, and the constant need of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to deliver from sin' (Nichol, 1957: 743). Spiritual Pride can be a great deception and those that live in this period of world's history need to be constantly on the alert (Ibid: 744). Unfortunately, the spirit of love and brotherly fellowship that should have characterised the true followers of Jesus in Corinth had all but disappeared.
Because the Corinthian believers had only recently abandoned heathenism where they had been accustomed to engaging in excessive feasting and drinking in honour of false gods, they found it easy to fall into a similar pattern when it came to the Lord's Supper. We need to be constantly reminded that compromise with non-Christian beliefs and practices will always result in a departure from the purity and simplicity of the gospel.
These situations at Corinth were so serious that Paul wanted to educate them again as to the true meaning of the Supper. To that end he ushers them into the upper room, inviting them to recline around the table and watch how Jesus hosted that first communion. Christ's sharing of the bread and the cup at this first service was to contrast with the selfish practices displayed in Corinth. This was not just a sharing of food and drink, but a sharing of himself. In its true form this beautiful service is to be repeated again and again until that day when we all join in the marriage supper of the Lamb.
To appreciate the deep significance of this ordinance, it is necessary to meditate upon the events clustering around its institution when Jesus broke the bread and took the cup in remembrance of Calvary and all its implications.
'Before taking part in the Lord's Supper every believer should prayerfully and carefully review his experience as a Christian, and make certain that he is ready to receive the blessings that participation in this ordinance [will provide] for all who are in [a] right relationship with God. He may well ask himself whether day by day he has an experience of death to sin and new birth to the Lord, whether he is gaining in the battle against besetting sins, and whether his attitude toward other men is right. Words, thoughts and deeds should be inspected, as well as habits of personal devotion; indeed everything that has a bearing on progress toward the attainment of a character that reflects the image of Jesus' (Ibid: 765).
While the Lord's Supper represents a special occasion for a public declaration of new resolves, the foot washing aids the believer in attaining the requisite experience of preparedness (Ibid).
Let us remember again this morning the importance of forgiveness and the fact that there should be no trace of pride, selfishness or intemperance in our lives as we set our minds on Jesus and His sacrifice. Let us separate now for the Preparatory Service involving the washing of the feet.
We have been reminded today that we do not live the Christian life in isolation, but in community. It is in worship and in the Lord's Supper that the Lord's family gathers around His table. On these special occasions Jesus, our risen Saviour, is always concerned about how His family members relate to one another and their witness to the world. This important gathering today is one way to express the unity and love of members for one another and, this in turn, should help to advance the mission of the Church. This is my prayer for you this morning as we have participated in this special memorial service.
Nichol, F. D. (1957) Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary. Vol. 6, Washington DC: Review & Herald Publishing Association.
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