Some Thoughts on Holy Communion

Some time ago I heard a sermon where the preacher said some things about communion which I did not agree with. So I decided to see exactly what the Bible says about it. Here is what I found out after doing some research.
My Thoughts on Holy Communion

There is a question in the minds of many Christians concerning Holy Communion that begs to be answered. If you participate in the Lordís Supper with un-confessed sin in your life, will God make you sick or even kill you? This belief is prevalent in many churches today and proclaimed from many pulpits. The question: is this a valid doctrine according to the scriptures? Or is a misinterpretation of scripture which has crept into the church? We understand God is sovereign and can do what ever he wills. We also accept that his Scriptures tell us about his nature and tell us how he deals with us according to his nature. Psalm 138:2 says God has exalted his Word and his Name above all else. His name and His Word show his nature. We need to look at exactly what the Scriptures have to say about the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:20 calls it The Lordís Supper in the New American Standard Bible. It is often referred to by this name, Holy Communion, The Lordís Meal, Eucharist or The Holy Eucharist just to mention some of the terms used by different churches. I could find no other scripture which calls it by name. In the protestant church we recognize only two sacraments of the church. They are Baptism and The Lordís Supper.

Where in the scriptures is the Lordís Supper mentioned? I found three places all in the synoptic gospels which tell the story of Jesus and the twelve apostles gathered in the upper room to observe Passover. They are: Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:15-20. All three accounts are almost the same. One difference is Matthew says Jesus blessed, as does Mark, while the Luke and Paul say He gave thanks. This subtle difference points to the fact that the authors did not copy each other or another source, but were reporting the same event. Matthew 26:26-29 NASB says, "While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." (27) And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; (28) for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. (29) "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."

It would be a misnomer to say that Jesus blessed the bread or drink, as the King James says. What he did was bless God or gave thanks to God. Other sources which are non-Biblical give us a traditional Jewish blessing which was used by the man of the house during the time of Jesus. For the bread it was, "Blessed be thou, our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread out of the earth"! There was also a blessing for the drink, "Blessed be our God, the King of the universe, the Creator of the fruit of the vine"! This blessing was used my many Jews before each meal they ate together and historians agree that it would be used when observing the Passover meal. It was probably what Jesus used in the upper room that night with his disciples to observe Passover. It was the Passover meal which Jesus and his disciples were gathered to celebrate when Jesus gave us Christians what we call the Lordís Supper.

When we compare the accounts of this last Passover we find some subtle differences recorded by the authors. Matthew and Mark mention the bread before the cup and drink . Luke mentions the cup which was passed during the celebration of the Passover then the bread and "sacramental" cup. Luke is the only Gospel which contains the phrase "do this in remembrance of Me," in Luke 22:19. This scripture gives us the commission for the observance of the sacrament. In First Corinthians Paul may be quoting what Luke has told him or taking what he writes from the other Apostles in Jerusalem. What we can be sure of is that it was an observance in the early church. What do we know about time frame for observance? We have no guidance from the scripture as to how often it is to be observed. We are not told to observe it every time we meet nor are we told to observe it once as year as the Jews did Passover. Logic would say once a year as the New Passover but the dialog in First Corinthians strongly implies it was observed much more often than once a year. From what I see in the scripture we are free to observe when we desire. We also know we are not under Law but under Grace and this surely applies here.

Let us look at what Paul has to say about the Lordís Supper. 1 Corinthians 11:20-34 NASB "Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper, (21) for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. (22) What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you. (23) For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; (24) 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." (25) In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." (26) For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. (27) Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. (28) But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. (29) For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. (30) For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. (31) But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. (32) But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. (33) So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. (34) If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come".

These are undoubtedly the scriptures which lead to the belief in question. It is specifically 11:27 which is quoted often to re-enforce this doctrine. The New American Standard Bible uses the words "in an unworthy manner" which reads clear enough to understand for me. The King James Version for this verse reads, " 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." Just maybe the interpretation of the word "unworthily" in the KJV is the basis for the belief that there are serious consequences is you take communion with sin in your life, or more plainly that God "will get you" if you partake of communion with sin in your life. We will explore several avenues in regard to communion and this belief: what various reputable commentaries have to say about communion in general and this verse in particular, what do other scriptures say about it, what is the purpose of communion for me, and what way if any do the sacraments relate to each other.

First let us see what some reputable commentaries say about these verses and about the Lordís Supper.

Albert Barnes has much to say about 1 Corinthians 11:27 in his commentary, Notes on the New Testament, he says, 
"Unworthily - Perhaps there is no expression in the Bible that has given more trouble to weak and feeble Christians than this. It is certain that there is no one that has operated to deter so many from the communion; or that is so often made use of as an excuse for not making a profession of religion. The excuse is, "I am unworthy to partake of this holy ordinance. I shall only expose myself to condemnation. I must therefore wait until I become more worthy, and better prepared to celebrate it." It is important, therefore, that there should he a correct understanding of this passage. Most persons interpret it as if it were "unworthy," and not "unworthily," and seem to suppose that it refers to their personal qualifications, to their "unfitness" to partake of it, rather than to the manner in which it is done. It is to he remembered, therefore. that the word used here is an "adverb," and not an "adjective," and has reference to the manner of observing the ordinance, and not to their personal qualifications or fitness. It is true that in ourselves we are all "unworthy" of an approach to the table of the Lord; "unworthy" to be regarded as his followers; "unworthy" of a title to everlasting life: but it does not follow that we may not partake of this ordinance in a worthy, that is, a proper manner, with a deep sense of our sinfulness, our need of a Saviour, and with some just views of the Lord Jesus as our Redeemer. Whatever may be our consciousness of personal unworthiness and unfitness - and that consciousness cannot be too deep - yet we may have such love to Christ, and such a desire to be saved by him, and such a sense of his worthiness, as to make it proper for us to approach and partake of this ordinance. The term "unworthily" (Š ŪŠÓť ýÚ anaxio s) means properly "in an unworthy or improper" manner "in a manner unsuitable to the purposes for which it was designed or instituted;" and may include the following things, namely:
(1) Such an irregular and indecent observance as existed in the church of Corinth, where even gluttony and intemperance prevailed under the professed design of celebrating the Lordís Supper.
(2) an observance of the ordinance where there should be no distinction between it and common meals (Note on 1Cor. 11:29); where they did not regard it as designed to show forth the death of the Lord Jesus. It is evident that where such views prevailed, there could be no proper qualification for this observance; and it is equally clear that such ignorance can hardly be supposed to prevail now in those lands which are illuminated by Christian truth."

Robertsonís Word Pictures says of 11:27, "Unworthily (anaxio?s). Old adverb. He does not say or imply that we ourselves must be "worthy" (axioi) to partake of the Lordís Supper. No one would ever partake on those terms. Many pious souls have abstained from observing the ordinance through false exegesis here."

Peopleís New Testament Commentary says of 11:27-30, "Shall eat . . . or drink . . . unworthily. In a light, disorderly way, or with an unholy frame of mind.
Shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Profane the body and blood by profanely eating the sacred tokens of these.
Let a man examine himself, etc. To see whether he can eat in loving remembrance of the death of Christ."

John Wesleyís Explanatory Notes on 11:27, "Whosoever shall eat this bread unworthily - That is, in an unworthy, irreverent manner; without regarding either Him that appointed it, or the design of its appointment. Shall be guilty of profaning that which represents the body and blood of the Lord."

Some of the commentaries mentioned other possibilities about what "unworthy manner" meant. That was once believed that the bread and drink must be what was used when it was commissioned, that is unleavened bread and wine exactly as it was used by the Jews to celebrate Passover. This view is not accepted by any today. Others mentioned that the Papist (Roman Catholics) receive only the bread and often not the drink. That the sacrament requires both bread and cup. As this may be true it is apparent this is not what Paul is referring to. One rule of understand scripture is not to make it say something it does not say even if that fact is true. How many sermons have we heard which took one or two verses and used them out of context to make the main point of the sermon. Even though the point may be 100% true, those who do this may be guilty of adding to or taking away of the revelation of the New Testament.

What I did not find was any reliable commentary which related the terms unworthy manner or unworthily to receiving the sacraments with sin or even un-confessed sin in ones life.

Let us move on from "unworthy manner" to what does the sacrament represent and why do we partake of it. In Matthew 26:26 when Jesus took the bread - the bread or cake, which the master of the family used to divide among them, after they had eaten the Passover. The custom our Lord now transferred to a nobler use. This bread is, that is, signifies or represents my body, according to the style of the sacred writers. Thus Galatians 4:24, Paul speaking of Sarah and Hagar, says, These are the two covenants. Thus John the Baptist said of Jesus, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." This is the Lord's true Passover. Now Christ substituting the holy communion for the Passover, follows the style of the Old Testament, and uses the same expressions the Jews would normally use in celebrating the Passover. The original Passover in Egypt was a type and shadow of the true Passover where God "passes over" our sin. It is this we celebrate when we celebrate the Lordís Supper. In Exodus we find the origin of the Passover. Exodus 12:13 NASB "The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt."

Exodus 12:21-24 NASB "Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, "Go and take for yourselves lambs according to your families, and slay the Passover lamb. (22) "You shall take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and the two doorposts; and none of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning. (23) "For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you. (24) "And you shall observe this event as an ordinance for you and your children forever."

Much like God differentiated between His chosen people when he saw the "blood" and the Egyptians, He will differentiate today between those who are his covenant people because of Jesus when he sees the "blood" which Jesus shed as the true Passover lamb. This blood applied because of our confession applied to our "spiritual house" (our bodies) he will Passover our sin and we will live and not die. This is what we celebrate when we celebrate the Lordís Supper. In the same way that the Passover was to be celebrated forever, we believe the Lordís Supper is to be celebrated by his church forever.

Jesus said this "represents" my blood, as the bread does my body. Luke and Paul vary the expression, adding what Matthew and Mark have omitted. "This cup is the new covenant in my blood." By this cup he meant the wine in the cup, and not the cup itself. Pointing to it, probably, he said, "This - Ďwineí - represents my blood about to be, shed." The phrase "new testament" in the King James Version should have been rendered "new covenant," as it is in the New American Standard Version, referring to the "covenant or compact" that God was about to make with people through a Redeemer. The "old" covenant was that which was made with the Jews by the sprinkling of the blood of sacrifices. In Exodus 24:8 we read, "And Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you," etc. In allusion to that, Jesus says, this cup is the new "covenant" in my blood; that is, which is "ratified, sealed, or sanctioned by my blood." In ancient times, covenants or contracts were ratified by slaying an animal; by the shedding of its blood, imprecating similar vengeance if either party failed in the compact. So Jesus says the covenant which God is about to form with people the new covenant, or the gospel economy is sealed or ratified with my blood. That is what is celebrated by receiving the cup of drink during the sacrament.

The blood represents more. Leviticus 17:14 NASB "For as for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, 'You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.'" because it is "the life" of Jesus, the "blood" is being used by the sacred writers as representing "life itself," or as containing the elements of life. It was forbidden, therefore, to eat blood, because it contained the life, or was the life, of the animal. When, therefore, Jesus says that his blood was shed for many, it is the same as saying that His life was given for many. Romans 3:25 sums this up well is says of Jesus, " whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;"

There is another question which begs to be answered. What benefit, if any, is there in observance of the Lordís Supper? I can find no specific scripture which addresses this directly. It is plain that it serves to remind us of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. It serves to remind me strongly of my accepting of that sacrifice, not merely having an intellectual or head knowledge of it. I have always believed it serves as a "touch point" to God. A fresh connection to His mercy and grace. A fresh cleansing and forgiveness of sins known and unknown to me. That is the "in remembrance of Me." I believe this "touch point" is powerful and also contains healing for our bodies as well as souls. When we look to the scriptures we find Peter quotes Isaiah, "and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed." According to scripture Jesus shed his blood on the cross for our sins and he was beaten and wounded for our healing. I remember another scripture in Matthew chapter 15 Jesus referred to healing as "the childrenís bread." I can not help thinking of this every time I receive the bread during Communion. It may stretch your faith to accept this point of view, but it does not oppose teaching in the Word. Could it be that it is for this reason Paul says, "many are sick and some sleep?" He is plainly speaking of the consequence of receiving Communion in an unworthy manner. Could Paul been telling then they had not been receiving healing and blessings because of this? We realize we live under Grace and the Spirit and not under law. Second Corinthians 3:4 says, " we are servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." To have the attitude that "God will get you" if you are not worthy to receive communion, is to put oneself under the letter of the law and not under grace. However, Godís Word is plain that sin, whatever kind, can and will rob us of Godís blessings. To me there is a great difference in God making you sick or killing you and not receiving healing because of some sin in your life.

What ever our take on The Lordís Supper, we know it is a reminder of Jesus giving of his life on the cross for our salvation. We realize it is not just some ritual to observe, but an act of worship. It is an act of worship, as we do it in humility and obedience to our savior. We partake of the bread and drink in faith. The book of Hebrews states that without faith it is impossible to please God. I remember the story of the blind men who came to Jesus seeking healing for their blindness. Jesus made a statement which is challenging, comforting, or scary and more. He said, "It shall be done according to your faith." Partake of the Holy Communion with faith in the grace of God and his love for you and his desire to bless you.

 

I close with this thought. Joseph Prince in his book "Unmerited Favor" makes a statement which I believe says more than some complete books. He says, "We need ministries that remind believers that God is no longer angry with them because of their sins and that all their failings -- past, present and even those in the future -- have been perfectly nailed to and judged at the cross."

So what do you think? Am I using the correct scriptures and proper application here? Or is my theology off here? Let my know what you think. Do we apply grace or law to the Lord's Supper?

To email Aaron click here