The Breaking of Bread – Part 1

In the early days of the church in Jerusalem, the new converts must have listened intently to the teaching of the apostles. Their first love for Christ, placed in redeemed hearts by the Holy Spirit, would cause them to forsake their Jewish background, and to desire the new doctrine and practice introduced by the Lord Jesus. To this end ‘they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers”. Acts 2. 42. To continue steadfastly in the breaking of bread, as in every other regular weekly gathering, did not mean that any brother or sister could or would stay away at the slightest possible excuse. The conscience of any believer before the Lord will enable him to discern what is a legitimate reason for absence from a reason with no genuine basis. Nor did this steadfastness imply that regular attendance would have a mere traditional basis with no spiritual exercise about the matter before the Lord. Nor did this steadfastness allow a disciple to treat attendance as a matter of self-convenience, just going elsewhere at the slightest whim or provocation. David loved the habitation of the Lord’s house, Psa. 26. 8, enabling him to say, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord”, 122. 1. With joy, he knew the place of God’s choice, and so should we also.

Priorities in Assembly Activity.

God is a jealous God, and rightly so on account of the infinite majesty of His person. Consequently He would have our priorities centred on service Godward before being centred on service manward, whether to saint or sinner. Usually the times of assembly meetings are arranged for the convenience of the Lord’s people who attend, but brethren who arrange these times must ensure that these times do not cut across spiritual principles The spiritual implications of the Levitical sacrifices must not be overlooked, for things Godward and things manward had their order which cannot easily be overturned when we consider New Testament principles. The burnt, meal and peace offerings in Leviticus 1-3 were entirely Godward, followed by the “law” of the various offerings in chapters 6-7 where there was an ample portion for the priests.

Acts 2 42 gives the point of view from the basis of the initial development, which was then followed in the subsequent practice. The “apostles’ doctrine” shows the “how and why”, while “fellowship” shows the “where and when”. This spiritual intelligence is necessary before one can participate in the breaking of bread in the light of doctrine and fellowship. Otherwise one may follow traditional methods and congregations that have departed from the scriptural truth. This explains the order of the features in Acts 2. 42.

Again, the spiritually mature and educated position is clearly shown in 1 Corinthians 11-14. In 11. 2-16 Paul first establishes what is necessary and preparatory for assembly gatherings: the Headship of Christ is to be displayed in their respective ways by brethren and sisters alike. Everything else flows from the practical recognition of this. If the first in Paul’s ordering is neglected, then there is little safety in what follows. For immediately afterwards. Paul deals with service Godward. namely, the Lord’s supper, 11. 17-34. This is followed in chapters 12-14 by service saintward, where the apostle deals with spiritual gifts given for edification. The doctrine behind the Giver and the gifts comes in chapter 12; love as the motive in all useful service comes in chapter 13; while the use and control of gifts in an assembly meeting are dealt with in chapter 14. Finally there is a mention of service sinnerward at the beginning of chapter 15. where the gospel is preached and recalled, revolving around Christ who died and rose again. It is therefore not spiritually healthful for converts to have their interests led in different directions, as if the breaking of bread is a dull, uninteresting and last-of-all necessity.

Authority for the Breaking of Bread.

Six times in the Scriptures we read words similar to. “See … that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount”, Heb. 8. 5. In other words, in the design and manufacture of the tabernacle nothing was left to the innovation and planning of man. Such obedience in following God’s pattern led to the glory of God appearing and taking possession when all the tabernacle was erected and all the furniture arranged. The same can be said about Solomon’s temple, for David received the pattern “by the spirit” and “in writing”, 1 Chron. 28. 12, 19.

Thus the breaking of bread was instituted by the Lord Jesus in the upper room, as recorded by the three gospel-writers Matthew, Mark and Luke, Matt. 26. 26-30; Mark 14. 22-26; Luke 22. 19-20. This event is not recorded by John in his account of the upper room in chapters 13-15, no doubt because his selection of events in his gospel was given as an aid to belief. John 20. 31. whereas the Lord’s supper is not given as an aid to faith. To consider the supper as an aid to faith is to lower its spiritual heights, rendering its objective as saintward and not Godward. The introduction of gross material so-called aids into what Christendom regards as the breaking of bread makes a mockery of the true spiritual aids to faith given in John’s gospel.

Moreover, the breaking of bread was practised by the disciples in the historical book of The Acts. In 2. 42 the new converts engaged in this act in Jerusalem, while in 20. 7 towards the end of the third missionary journey Paul and the assembly at Troas broke bread “upon the first day of the week”. It appears that Paul stayed in Troas for “seven days” especially to wait for this holy opportunity prior to his departure.

Finally, the subject of the breaking of bread was taught by the apostle Paul in one of his Epistles. Although in the context of the apostolic correction of the saints in Corinth, much more appears in 1 Corinthians 11. 17-34 than is strictly necessary for correction. Paul claims to have received it from the Lord, and in turn to have delivered it to the Corinthians, v. 23. So the apostles who had lived with the Lord in His lifetime on earth had received the breaking of bread from their Lord in the upper room, and Paul too received it by revelation from the Lord. In other words, the breaking of bread has just as much divine authority behind it in the church-age as it had at the end of the Lord’s lifetime. Yet some circles of Christendom would deny the relevance of the act in these days! Hence, since the Lord introduced it. and since it was perpetuated by Paul in doctrine and practice, any other method, addition or tradition should be avoided. In fact, we judge that men’s methods, additions and traditions are the opposite to the intentions of the Lord, and must therefore be in opposition to Himself.

The Name

Several times, this act is called the “breaking of bread”, and once it is called “the Lord’s supper”, 1 Cor. 11. 20. The objective is not primarily to provide food for believers who attend; rather the objective is to provide a portion in worship to the Lord. As a “supper”, it was first introduced by the Lord in the evening (see the following paragraph), this evening being, according to Jewish reckoning, part of the following day and not part of the previous day.

The word “Lord’s” in “the Lord’s supper” is not the genitive of possession in the original Greek. In every case except two in the New Testament, the word “Lord’s” does mean possession, such as “the Lord’s freeman”, 1 Cor. 7. 22, and “the Lord’s body”, 11. 29. Properly speaking, the word is the adjective corresponding to the noun, as “spiritual” corresponds to “Spirit”. The English word is the little-used “dominical”. implying “pertaining to, or having the character of, the Lord”. The other case where this word occurs in the New Testament is “the Lord’s day”, Rev. 110. Thus we may properly render the two expressions as “the dominical day” and “the dominical supper”, as is done in J. N. D.’s French translation Thus the “Lord’s day” and the “Lord’s supper” coexist uniquely for the church period, characterizing the service of the church in a way that is completely distinct from the preceding Jewish period of the Old Testament. In other words, the Lordship of Christ dominates throughout this day and this supper. (In passing, we may quote “spiritual drink”, 1 Cor. 10. 4. and “the Spirit’s temple”, 6. 19, implying character and possession respectively To interchange the two words would produce confusion! Thus the “dominical day” and “the day of the Lord”, 1 Thess. 5. 2, are completely distinct.)

The “breaking of bread” denotes the act, but the “Lord’s supper” denotes the conditions behind the act. The “breaking of bread” is the name used in the historical contexts in Acts 2 and 20. But the actual name “breaking of bread” can also be used for an ordinary meal. Thus in Acts 2 46. the large new assembly in Jerusalem did not possess a “hall” in which to meet. They continued “in the temple” for public testimony; “breaking bread from house to house” - or “at home” - as the act of partaking of the Lord’s supper, and they “did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart”, implying fellowship over an ordinary meal. But in Acts 20. 7 we judge that the act of participation took place before Paul’s long discourse, while after the miracle they broke bread, ate and talked till break of day, v. 11, suggesting fellowship over a meal. In fact, the word “eat” here is quite different from that in Matthew 26 26 where the Lord said, “Take, eat”.

Moral Conditions around

We must stress that this “supper” is not called a “breakfast” or early morning meal. All references stress that this was an evening meal, and hence it was properly called a “supper”. It was “the even”, Matt. 26. 20; “in the evening”. Mark 14. 17; and “after supper”, Luke 22 20. In John’s Gospel, it was the time of “supper”, 13. 2, and “it was night”, v. 30. Paul uses the expressions “supper”, 1 Cor. 11. 20, “the same night in which he was betrayed”, v. 23, and “when he had supped”, v. 25. Today, exactly when the saints partake of the Lord’s supper on the Lord’s day, may be a matter of general convenience, though it may have to be borne in mind that this first day really commenced at dusk on what we term Saturday, and ended at dusk on what we term Sunday. The practice of breaking bread on the evening of what we term Sunday may have to be reviewed if it is judged that the scriptural idea of a day has precedence over our mere convenience.

But there are spiritual meanings behind the use of the words “evening” and “night”. No doubt, the stress is not on the actual time, but on the moral conditions around. For when the Lord instituted the supper during that evening before the cross, there existed the greatest darkness amongst men. amongst whom the Lord moved on His way to the cross. However, there was light in the sanctuary of the upper room where the Lord was with His disciples. Today, we remember Him in the breaking of bread in the light of the sanctuary and in the light of His presence. But around us, dark moral conditions prevail prior to the coming of the Lord. We are “children of light” and not “of the night, nor of darkness”. We do not sleep, for those that sleep “sleep in the night”, 1 Thess. 5. 4-8. In our upper room with the Lord in the midst, we turn from the world.

Lord Jesus Christ, we seek Thy face, Within the veil we bow the knee;
0 let Thy glory fill the place,
And bless us while we wait on Thee.
Shut in with Thee, far, far above
The restless world that wars below, We seek to learn and prove Thy love,
Thy wisdom and Thy grace to know.

To be concluded.


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