The Lord’s Supper
G. B. Fyfe, London
In the Christian era - the Church age - there are only two divinely-appointed ordinances which every true believer is expected to observe. The first is believer's baptism (which formed the subject of our previous article in this series), and the other is the Lord's Supper.
The two ordinances, while similar in one respect, differ in others. They are alike in so far as both speak of death. Baptism symbolizes our identification by faith with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. It speaks of our death with Christ. The Lord's supper also expresses the idea of death. Here it is the proclamation of His death. When we partake of it we do two things; we remember the Person and we proclaim His death, "till he come". It denotes Christ's death for us.
But the two ordinances differ in the following ways. Baptism (water baptism) is individual in its application; the Lord's supper is partaken of collectively. Another difference is that baptism is complied with once only in the life of the believer, whereas the Lord's supper is observed repeatedly until the Lord returns in person.
Its Designations. Turning our attention to this second ordinance, we find it is spoken of in Scripture by two names. These designations express the divine and human sides of the ordinance respectively. "The Lord's supper" is the title which emphasizes that the supper was instituted by the Lord Himself. This invests it with great importance, and ought to hallow it to our souls. "The breaking of bread" is a phrase also used to describe the ordinance. This title indicates what the saints do when gathered together in the name of the Lord. He has instituted the supper; a^ break bread in loving remembrance of Himself, and in willing response to His expressed desire.
Its Institution. The supper was instituted by the Lord on the very night of His betrayal. It took place in the upper room in Jerusalem with His Jewish disciples around Him, immediately after the commemoration of the Passover. But in case later on there should be some doubt in the minds of the Gentile believers as to whether it was meant to be observed by the Church or not, the authority for the ordinance was given to the apostle Paul. So, the supper was instituted by the Lord while here in the flesh, and confirmed by the Risen Lord in His exaltation in heaven, as the Church's commemoration of Christ, to be kept continuously during the period of His absence. The "breaking of bread'* is therefore commemorative -it takes our minds back to the past, to the cross and Christ's sin-atoning death. It is, moreover, anticipative, projecting our thoughts into the future, to the time when faith will give place to sight. We do it only "till he come".
Its Distinction. Paul's subject in I Corinthians 10 is the Lord's table. In chapter n he writes concerning the Lord's supper. We must distinguish between these two, for the terms, although associated, are not synonymous. When the apostle speaks of the Lord's table (a spiritual table, of course!) and the one loaf, he has particularly in mind the communion of Christians. At the table the saints feast upon the rich provision of divine grace, as revealed in the Person and work of Christ. On the other hand, in chapter n it is the truth of the Lord's supper which is presented, and the remembrance of the Lord is the dominant theme there. Furthermore, the loaf in chapter 10 represents Christ's mystical body - the Church; but in chapter II the bread is a symbol of His own physical body given for us in sacrificial death. It is important to observe this distinction.
Its Celebration. In i Corinthians n Paul deals with three matters concerning the Lord's supper:
1. The Perversion of the Supper, w. 17-22.
2. The Pattern of the Supper, w. 23-26.
3. The Preparation for the Supper, w. 27-34.
In other words, Paul censures the Corinthians for their desecration of the Lord's supper - they were eating it in the wrong way. He also counsels them as to how the supper should be observed in the right way. In between these two sections he inserts a re-statement of the circumstances in which the ordinance was instituted, and the solemn significance of this most sacred act.
Space does not permit the development of the truths contained in the first two sections, but we will comment briefly on the third - The Preparation for the Supper. Here, at least two things are essential:
(a) There must be self-examination to see if there is any unjudged sin on our conscience. We cannot properly partake of the supper until we have confessed it in self-judgment in the presence of God. "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat", 1 Cor. 11. 28. The effect of our self-examination is not to preclude us from eating, but to enable us to eat aright. "So let him eat" - that is, in this self-examined and sin-confessed condition, let him then eat.
(b) There must be soul-exercise. This will ensure that we discern "the Lord's body" - the sacredness of the Lord's body. Our attitude will be reverent and our spirit humble when we handle the loaf and partake thereof, discerning in the bread a representation of the body of the Lord. "Not to discern" means to go through the motions of breaking and eating of the symbolic loaf in a formal or mechanical manner, with
wandering thoughts, and no realization that we are performing probably the most sacred act we can do on earth! We eat and drink unworthily, therefore, when we neglect to examine our selves, and fail to perceive the sacredness of the Lord's body, as represented by the token bread. A warning of stern judgment is given to any who are guilty in this way. May we ever guard against partaking "unworthily"!
Regarding our conduct and attitude at the Lord's supper, there are several simple practical points, which are of such an elementary nature, that we seldom make reference to them in our oral ministry.
Punctuality is one. Are we always prompt in our arrival, or do we often rush in late for this divine appointment?
Propriety - spiritual propriety - is another. Do we chatter or converse with one another before the commencement of the meeting? Should we not be concentrating our thoughts and composing our spirits when we thus come together? It goes without saying (or must it be said?) that reverence should characterize all our attitudes and actions in the house of God.
Participation. As the meeting proceeds, the hearts of all should be in exercise. Acting as an holy priesthood, true participation of all the members in the offering up of spiritual sacrifices and acceptable worship (audibly and inaudibly) unto God the Father, should mark the occasion. Do we always contribute our quota?