I want you to turn with me in your New Testament to 1 Corinthians chapter 11 please - and, as announced, I'll be speaking this morning on 'The Practice and Principles of the Lord's Supper'. I had anticipated spending one Sunday morning on this, but due to the amount of material that I have, I'm going to split it into at least two Sunday mornings - so two weeks from now we'll take up the issue again, and it may well evolve into three or more Sunday mornings depending on how I feel the Lord leads regarding this.
But we'll look this morning at 1 Corinthians 11, beginning to read at verse 23, Paul says: "For 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. After 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. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. 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. But let a man", or for that matter a woman, "examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come".
So our subject today, and in a couple of weeks time, is 'The Practice and Principles of the Lord's Supper'. Now let me make two preliminary remarks. First: it is impossible to deal with every issue related to the Supper of the Lord in two or even three weeks, and so I will not be entering into a critique regarding the errors of others perhaps, and even ourselves, in how we might remember the Lord. That would take a whole series of studies I think. There is a place for such teaching, I believe, but my objective is to exhort true believers to remember the Lord, and to obey that command biblically. But there are many errors regarding how those who profess Christianity remember the Lord. Indeed Erwin T. Lutzer, the pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, in his book 'Deserving of Tears' quotes Philip Melancthon, the friend of Martin Luther - and if you know anything about the Reformation, you will know that after Catholicism the Protestant Church had a great debate, a very painstaking debate over the Lord's Table. Philip Melancthon says this: 'Is there anything more sorrowful, more deserving of tears, than that the Lord's Supper should be used as a subject of strife and division'.
We don't want to do that - whilst we will highlight certain scriptural things that we feel are worthy of our acceptation, we don't want to make the Lord's Supper an issue to divide Christians, rather it should in nature be something that unites us all. Indeed, it was said of some Christians a couple of hundred years ago that they were so particular about the matter of breaking bread, and also so careless about the matter of breaking hearts. We don't want to be like that: have our doctrine all correct, and yet our lives are in shambles. Yet Erwin T. Lutzer continues concerning Philip Melancthon, and says: 'If Melancthon were alive today, he might not weep because of controversies that surround the Lord's Supper, but he might well sorrow because of our indifference to its meaning and importance'.
That is where I want my emphasis to be these weeks. There is a great indifference concerning the importance of the Lord's Supper and its meaning, and indeed the pendulum has swung very dramatically from a great debate around the subject to an even greater disinterest about it. The second preliminary remark I want to make is that at times even we as Bible believing Christians are guilty of imposing upon the word of God own presuppositions regarding this truth of the Lord's Supper. I believe it is vital that, as we embark upon this study, that we suspend our assumptions, our prejudices and our traditions. I think it would be helpful for all of us if we just come to the Bible with a clean sheet, and ask of the scriptures: what saith them concerning the Lord's Supper?
Now there'll not be too much controversy, I don't think, in what I have to bring to you this morning - so you can relax! I want us to answer three questions: first, why should we observe the Lord's Supper? Second, when should we observe the Lord's Supper? Thirdly, and I will only be beginning this consideration: how should we observe the Lord's Supper? I will elaborate much more on that in our next study.
Let's begin trying to answer, from the word of God, the first question: why should we observe the Lord's Supper? Now that might seem a foolish question to ask, and yet we must realise that there are those in Christendom who do not believe it is necessary to be at the Lord's Table, and to remember the Lord through the breaking of bread and the drinking of the cup. The Quakers do not believe in this ordinance, the Salvation Army does not believe in this ordinance. Why should we observe - first, should we? Yes, of course we should, but why should we?
There are three qualifications, I believe, for an ordinance to be valid and practised today in the church. The first qualification is that it must be instituted by the Lord Jesus Himself - and in three of the four gospel records we have Him instituting this Supper - it must be instituted by the Lord. Secondly, it must be practised in the Acts of the Apostles - and of course several references are there to this Supper. Thirdly, not only must it be instituted by the Lord and practised in the Acts of the Apostles, but it must be explained in the Epistles. We have read this morning from 1 Corinthians 11, from what is the lengthiest most detailed explanation of the Supper of the Lord in the Epistles, though there are other brief references through them. Now the only two ordinances that possess these three qualifications - instituted by Christ Himself, practised in the Acts, and explained in the Epistles - are the ordinances of believer's baptism, and the Lord's Supper. I think right away it's clear that we ought to be practising this today, yet that does not satisfy some.
Yet, within our text this morning, there is, I believe, an indisputable verse that shows us that we must obey this command of the Lord. It is found in verse 26: 'For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come'. Has the Lord Jesus come again? Of course He hasn't. We are to practice this until He come, He hasn't come, so we are to keep on remembering Him in His own appointed way until He comes.
'Till he come! O let the words
Linger on the trembling chords'.
We need to remember Him till He comes: 'This is my body which was broken for you. This is the blood of the covenant of the New Testament in this cup, drink it'. These are the means by which the Lord Jesus wants us to remember Him in His bodily absence, until He comes again - whilst He is with us, of course, by His Spirit. Now can I liken the Lord's Supper to a photograph? We're not entering into the debate of transubstantiation, or for that matter consubstantiation - if you don't know what those are, it doesn't really matter - but these emblems are, if you like, a photograph of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the sense in which, if you were to go into my study there, on the desk there's a photograph of my children. If you were to wander in and say: 'Who's that?', I would say, 'Those are my children' - yet they are not my children, they are an image of my children, and yet it's quite acceptable for me to say, 'Those are my children'. The bread and the wine speak to us of the Lord Jesus, but they're like a photograph - because there's a day coming when He breaks the clouds, and we will go to be with Him, and then we'll no longer need the picture because we will have the Person.
The bread and the wine, or the bread and the cup more correctly, are tangible signs for us as physical people to remember the Lord Jesus in His absence. But this is the point: till He comes - He is coming, but we have to remember Him until He comes. That is why we should observe this Supper. So I think, personally, that the issue of whether or not the Lord's Supper and its practice today is biblical is very clear. I have to say that whether or not you believe it should be practised today does not come down to whether it is found in the Bible, it comes down to a separate issue. You see, it comes down to whether you believe that the church today should actually seek to recover the simple and the primitive nature of New Testament Christianity; or whether you fall into the camp that could be called 'the development people', who espouse the development theory - that is, namely, that ecclesiastical bodies and officials can add to Scripture, or delete from Scripture, or change, upon the authority of the church or their ordination, change the teaching of the New Testament.
So we've seen clearly that the Bible tells us that this was practised. The Lord instituted it, it was practised by the early disciples in the Acts, and it is explained in the Epistles - it's clearly biblical! Yet there are those who say: 'Well, we don't want to get back to the primitive nature of New Testament Christianity, the church has developed beyond these practices today' - that is why some don't practice it. Yet I hope that everyone here this morning is a believer that believes we should be of the first persuasion, and we should get back to the basics of early New Testament Christianity. We should get as close as we can to the primitive nature of the early apostolic Church.
Now that being established, we can clearly see that this was a practice in the New Testament. Christians gathered around the Table of the Lord, they gathered to worship the Lord by the reading of scripture, by praying, by singing hymns, by sharing with one another, by preaching, and by taking part in these emblems of Christ's Passion. We also find from 1 Corinthians 16 that there was a collection taken when the believers met for that event. Now we will look into those practicalities in a later week - but the point I want to make in answer to this question, 'Why should we observe the Supper of the Lord?', is that He has commanded it, the early Christians practised it, the Epistles commended it and explain it. Therefore, as far as Christ is concerned, the apostles are concerned, and the apostles' doctrine in the New Testament is concerned, every believer has an appointment with the Lord Jesus Christ around His Table.
Why should we observe it? Because we all have an appointment with the Lord at it! The implication of that, personally for the Lord Jesus Christ, is that He misses us when we're not there. We know from Luke chapter 7 - you can look up the verse if you wish, Luke 7 verses 45 and 46 - that when the Lord entered Simon's house, that dear woman broke the ointment upon Him and anointed Him, and He turned to Simon and He rebuked him and said, Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet', verse 46, 'My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment'. If the Lord Jesus Christ missed the Pharisee's kiss, and the Pharisee's anointing of His feet with fragrant oil, surely He certainly misses you when you are not around His Table to lavish love on Him that has been absent for so long.
This is the only meeting that the Lord told us to have, the only one. It's the only gathering at which the Lord has requested you be at, and yet many believers cannot bear to be there! Now I don't want to labour this point, but I have to say that there is something wrong if you don't want to be there. Having said that, often there can be something wrong with the way we practice the Lord's Supper which does not encourage people to be there - but we'll deal with that in time. What we're dealing with now is the command of the Lord: why should we observe? Because we have an appointment with Christ, is that not enough?
The second question: when should we observe this Supper? Well, it might be a surprise to you, and some of you might take issue with me on this point, but the Bible does not say how often we are to practice the Lord's Supper - it doesn't. The Lord is recorded as saying by Paul, if you look back at 1 Corinthians 11 please, in verse 26: 'As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup'. Now of course, at the first in the early church, we know from the Acts of the Apostles, this was practised every day - every day they broke bread! If you turn for a moment to Acts chapter 2, I think it's important we take time over these things, Acts 2 verse 46, says: 'And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart'. Now that breaking of bread was probably part of a fellowship meal that all these believers have together, it was called initially 'the love feast'. Now when we turn to Acts chapter 20, if you turn with me, we read in verse 7 that: 'Upon the first day of the week', this is in Troas, 'when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight'.
Now that verse may imply that the disciples ceased from breaking bread every day, and began the practice of breaking bread on the first day of the week - every Lord's Day. Then we come, as we have referenced, to 1 Corinthians 16, and we find that 'Upon the first day of the week every one laid by in store, as God has prospered them' - they gave financially, and of their produce. One translation, I think, accurately translates that phrase: 'On the first day of every week they laid by in store'. Now let me repeat what I said initially: the Bible does not say anywhere how often the Lord's Supper should be practised - it only says 'as often', and the apostolic practice seems to have evolved to the point where, on the first day of every week, they broke bread. Now we believe that apostolic practice is apostolic preset - because they did it, we should do it. Paul said, didn't he, in chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians: 'The things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord'. Because of the significance, the first day of the week being the day the Lord rose again, being the day on which the Holy Spirit came and the church was born at Pentecost, and various other reasons, it is a significant day on which to break bread. Because that was the practice of the apostles and the apostolic church, we conclude that it is to be the continuing practice of the church today.
Now, let me deal with a common objection to breaking bread every Lord's Day. People say: 'There is a great danger of overfamiliarity'. Well, of course there is a danger with overfamiliarity with any precious truth, but for that reason some churches only break bread once a month, and others do it four times a year. Now I have to say that the motivation for that is a worthy one. Those people have their hearts in the right place, they don't want to cheaply remember the Lord, and many of them have great preparation running up to those special times. Though it is a worthy motivation, I have to say it is unbiblical for the reasons we have cited - 'as often as ye', it was anticipated that it would be often, and we find it came to be every week on the first day.
Incidentally, I'm not wanting to offend anyone unnecessarily, but if you belong to a denomination or a group that does not remember the Lord every Lord's Day, you would do well to study some of the forefathers of your particular tradition. For instance, the Presbyterians, John Calvin in his Institutes of Christian Religion said that the Supper should be observed, I quote: 'Very frequently, and at least once in a week'. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, led his people every Sunday to break bread. The great Baptist preacher, C. H. Spurgeon, wrote these words: 'Shame of the Christian Church that she should put it off once a month. They who once knew the sweetness of each Lord's Day celebrating the Lord's Supper will not be content to put it off to less frequent seasons'.
Now, let us summarise what we're saying concerning when we should observe the Lord's Supper. We cannot say it was only practised on the Lord's Day in the early church, but what we can say is that it was practised on the Lord's Day in the early church. Now please note one other thing which might be a little controversial to some - I don't see why it should be - but it seems, certainly at least to me, that this Supper was practised in the evening of the first day of the week. It was instituted by the Lord on the night in which He was betrayed. In Acts 20, in verse 7 we read about the practice in Troas - we see that Paul preached until midnight, it's unlikely therefore that the ordinance began at 10 in the morning. In verse 8 we read: 'And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together'. Now many believers in the early church were slaves, and they had no power or freedom to decide to go in the morning or the afternoon, most likely they were only at liberty to worship in the evening. The fact, of course, that this ordinance is designated the Lord's Supper would indicate that the time it is to be celebrated, or was celebrated I should say, was in the evening.
It was C. H. Spurgeon who said: 'No one ever heard of a man taking his supper before his breakfast, until men invented the idea'. I tend to agree with him. Now please don't misunderstand me: I am not saying that there is anything wrong with breaking bread in the morning, as we do - but what I saying is, don't make an unbiblical rule that says you have to do it in the morning, and you can't do it in the evening; because in all likelihood it was practised in the evening in the New Testament apostolic church. It's good that we should make that point - to see how our man-made traditions, at times, can obscure the simplicity of what was New Testament practice. We must beware of that, not doing things or propounding dogmatically things that we cannot prove from the word of God, but only from our own traditional experience. We'll see more about that, I think, in our next study.
So, how often should we observe this Supper? Frequently, at least once in the week - therefore none of us as Christians can agree with the axiom, 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder'. Now maybe that's the case in your marriage, I don't know, that's another problem you'll have to deal with! But I think it's more the case that absence makes the heart wander. As far as the Lord's Table is concerned, your absence is an indication, I believe, that your heart is wandering, or has wandered away from the Lord. If you love someone, it's very simple, you want to be with them. If you love someone, they will be often in your mind, you will think often of them - how often? As often as you can! Is that not the case? There can be no overfamiliarity when there is intimacy.
In John 14 verse 15 the Lord Jesus said: 'If you love me, keep my commandments'. Now people have done great disservice to that verse, they have interpreted it as meaning you love the Lord by obeying, and that is not what it means. You do not love the Lord by obeying in heartless judicial manner, that is not love. What it does mean is that if you do love the Lord, you will obey. Just as temperature is what moves the mercury up the thermometer, love is what moves obedience. It is love that motivates us to obey Christ's commands, and so love is the motivation, and the thermometer is our obedience of love - so remembering the Lord, if you like, is a gauge to our love to Christ; the Christ who says, 'If you love me, keep my commandments'. Would He have to say to some of us here today: 'I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot'? The Lord's Supper is a thermometer of your love to Christ - are you cold, or are you hot?
We've seen why we should observe it, when it should be observed - thirdly and finally: how we should observe it. Now I'll deal with this in greater detail the next time we take up this subject in two Sunday mornings, but the first reason - and I'll highlight this again next time - the first reason we should obey this command, and the first way we should obey it is with a consciousness that Christ is in the midst. Let me repeat that: we should obey the observation of the Lord's Supper with a consciousness that Christ is in our midst. The hymn goes:
'Amidst us our Beloved stands,
And bids us view His pierced hands;
Points to the wounded feet and side,
Blest emblems of the Crucified'.
I think we've lost this: He and He alone is to be the central focus of our gathering. He promised in Matthew 18 and verse 20 that 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst'. You see, the Lord Jesus Christ is the only Head of the church, and He is the Head of the body which is the church. There is one Head, and there is one body, of which every one believer is a member. So we meet to Him, we gather to Him, we gather to His name.
'Gathered to Thy name, Lord Jesus,
Losing sight of all but Thee'.
You see Christ - and we must maintain this, and I believe we must rediscover this - is the gathering centre of His people, Christ and Christ alone. Now why is that so important to emphasise? Well, many people today gather to a preacher - and this is where I feel like getting out of the road permanently. No believer should gather to a preacher - that's why it grieves me and others at times when certain preachers may be in the pulpit, you clear off! Which proves that you're not gathering to the Lord, you're gathering to a preacher. Now that's a problem. Other people gather to a pastor, or a priest, or a minister, and believe that a man is the dispenser of the emblems, and even the grace of God, and even perhaps - God forbid - pardon and penance. Others gather to a denomination, and they will not gather anywhere where their particular sectarian name is not above the door, and that is a problem. Others gather to a building, and you hear even of folk in this assembly talking about 'the house of the Lord' - this is not the house of the Lord, you are the house of the Lord. You are living stones. You see, it's because we have moved away from this principle doctrine, that Christ is the gathering centre of His people, that we have lost the edifice that is built upon it, and many of the truths that derive from it. We gather to His name, and to His person alone.
How should we observe the Lord's Supper? Here's the first answer that I want to dwell on as we close our meeting this morning: we ought to gather to that observance with a consciousness that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, by His Spirit, is in the midst. Now you might be saying: 'Is that not the case at every meeting?' - well, yes it is, we'll deal with that in a subsequent week. But we as believers are to appropriate the presence of Christ by faith, it's a thing we take to ourselves by faith. Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of God, the word of God says: 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst' - so you take that when you're round the Table and you don't feel that the Lord's there, and you can't sense He's there, and maybe the ministry and the contribution isn't helping to make you feel He's there, but it's up to you by faith to appropriate His presence.
The question really comes down to: do we believe He is there? Just think of this for a moment: imagine if the announcement was made over television or in the press, and from church pulpits around our land, that the Lord Jesus Christ will be appearing tonight at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast at 8:00pm. Imagine it, just imagine it! I don't know how many it holds - is it 7000 or more? It wouldn't hold that amount that night. Do you know what I think would happen? I think that planes right across our globe would have to put on unchartered flights to get pilgrims from all over the world to come to the Odyssey Arena in Belfast to meet with the Lord! Yet He is with us, He's with us by His Spirit. I know we find that hard because we are tangible creatures, material and physical, but that's why He's given us tangible emblems, physical, material, to help us realise that He is in the midst. Do we believe that?
I read a story this week by Vernon Schlief in his book, 'Our Great Adventure in Faith', and he talks about his own experience in his home assembly many years ago. This is what he says: 'One Lord's Day, when Christians were gathered together to remember the Lord, my great-grandmother happened to lift up her head to glance out of the window, and was startled to see that our barn in the distance was burning, with great flames licking at the roof! She nudged her husband, my great-grandfather, and whispered excitedly in his ear, 'John, our barn is on fire'. Without so much as lifting his head, he whispered back to her, 'Hush, we're in the presence of the Lord''. Now, that does seem extreme, doesn't it? Maybe it is, but should we not admire his perception of the Lord in the midst?
How should we remember? Paul says we need to look up. This is the Lord's Supper, not the Saviour's Supper, He has been exalted and given a name which is above every name. He is the Lord Jesus Christ, and whilst we do remember His death, He's no longer on a tree - we remember Him as the Lamb, but we worship Him as the exalted Lord! Don't keep Him on the cross! Look up! The Lord's Supper! Look back: 'Remember me', He says. Look out: 'We do show forth his death' - there is a sermon in the Supper, and I believe unbelievers should be at it, not partake of it, but be at it. We are to look forward: 'Till He come', till faith gives way to sight, and the picture is removed, and the Person we see face-to-face, and we're like Him as we see Him as He is.
But not only do we need to look up, and look back, and look out, and look forward, we need to look in. Verse 28: 'Let a man or a woman examine themselves, and so let them eat'. This is profound, this has really affected me. It has affected how I broke bread this morning, I think it will affect me how I break bread from now on.
Should we break bread? Yes. When should we break bread? Often. How should we break bread? Conscious that the Lord is in the midst. Ron Harris says we should ask ourselves: am I ready to stand before Him? Am I ready? Did you ask that this morning? Was it a rush to lick your face with a flannel, brush your teeth, and get something into your stomach to get out? Am I ready to stand before Him? When I come to the Lord's Table I should be as ready as if I was before the Judgement Seat of Christ. What did Paul say? 'If we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. We need', he goes on, 'to examine ourselves and deal with any unconfessed sin before we come to His Table'. How should we remember Him? Intimately, emotionally, lovingly - this is the love feast as we remember Christ.
Can I finish with this story, Martyn Lloyd-Jones records it in his book on 'Spiritual Depression', and it talks of the days of the Covenanters in Scotland. A young girl was going to attend the Communion Service held by the Covenanters on a Sunday afternoon. Now you need to know that in those days it was forbidden by the law to have any remembrance of the Lord's Supper, other than the established church - and so the soldiers of the King of England were instructed to look everywhere for anyone who was a nonconformist in that matter and was going to partake of the Lord's Supper. Now as the girl was just about to turn a corner on her way to break bread, she came face-to-face with a band of soldiers and she knew she was trapped. For a moment she wondered what she was going to say, she didn't want to lie, and yet at the same time it would be deadly to tell the truth. Immediately upon being questioned, she found herself answering in this way - listen, this is beautiful, she said: 'My elder brother has died, and they are going to read his will this afternoon. He has done something for me, and he has left something for me, and I want to hear them read the will'. They allowed her to go on.
My elder Brother has died and they are going to read His will next Sunday morning. He has done something for you, He has left something for you - do you want to be there to hear His will?
Father, lest we forget Gethsemane, lest we forget Christ's agony, lest we forget Thy love for us, lead us to Calvary. Lord, touch hearts here this morning that aren't remembering the Lord Jesus, and help them to be with us - but more, to be with the Lord and not miss the opportunity of worshipping at His feet. Amen.
Don't miss Part 2 of "The Practice And Principles Of The Lord's Supper"...
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This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "The Practice and Principles of The Lord's Supper - Part 1" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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