A way of fellowshipping with Christ
Something happens during the Lord’s Supper. It is more than mere thinking. Many believe we are called to merely think about what happened in the past. They think this is the only thing that happens. There is something more than reflecting on the past. Something actually happens at the Lord’s Supper.
In the previous chapter, we mentioned that the Lord’s Supper is a way of fellowshipping with Christ. That is what happens when we partake of the Lord’s Supper. It is much more than a memory recall. Sometimes we might recall an event we experience with our friend. It might put a smile on our face or force us to feel the pain of a bad experience. This recollection may be meaningful but it is not the same as the Lord’s Supper.
Paul says in 1 Cor. 10 that we participate or fellowship with Christ when we partake of the Lord’s Supper. We will unpack what this fellowship means and how it comes about. So the Lord’s Supper is not an empty sign that merely points to the event in the past. It is the appointed means of fellowshipping with Christ.
Without God’s Word, it is useless
John Calvin said, “For whatever benefit may come to us from the Supper requires the Word.” (Institutes, 4.17.39) The breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine do not explain themselves. God’s Word determines both the meaning and benefit of the Lord’s Supper.
God’s Word teaches us what it is about. Jesus commanded that we do this and also explained what the activity is supposed to represent. So if there is no Word of God, then the bread and wine are simply another meal, mere food for the belly. Without the Words of Institution (that is, Christ’s word by which the sacrament is established), the actions and the ceremony would be mindless or useless exercises.
God’s Word also conveys what the Supper represents. That is, it is by means of God’s Word, the Spirit gives us what we need in the Supper. The elements of the Supper (bread and wine) do not by themselves give anything but what is promised in God’s Word is conveyed to us. Calvin also said that in the Lord’s Supper you get no more than what you get in the Word: “Hence, any man is deceived who thinks anything more is conferred upon him through the sacraments than what is offered by God’s Word and received by him in true faith.” (Institutes, 4.14.14).
There is one Christ and you do not get a different Christ in the Lord’s Supper. That is, the Christ we get in the Word is also same Christ we receive in the Supper. Without the Word, we receive nothing from the Supper. It is the Christ of the Word who comes to us through the Lord’s Supper; without the Word, the Supper gives nothing.
An illustration may be helpful here. Let us pretend that your father has been out of the country for a long time on account of his work. You received a letter from your father who promised you that he would take you Disney World when he returns. You cling to the letter and can’t wait until he gets home. You keep his letter close to you and read it over and over again. Now, is the plain sheet of paper itself important? No! Does the paper by itself promise you anything? No! What makes the paper important to this young girl? The written words of promise on the paper are important. Without the written words on the paper, the paper is useless. So, the bread and wine are useless and is invested with no significance except so much as the Word of God is present.
Without faith, it is a dangerous ceremony
Another important thing to consider is also one’s faith. One must believe in Christ and believe what He promises in His Word. The Lord’s Supper is not like medicine. You can take a pill and never think about it. The pill will work in you whether you consider it or not. The Lord’s Supper is not like that. One must be a believer and must believe in Christ’s Word in order to benefit from the Supper.
If faith is not present, then the Lord’s Supper is a mindless religious ceremony. It is no different than a young person listening to a sermon whose mind wanders off thinking about video games. The person did not benefit from the preached word. The Lord’s Supper is for believers only and they must look to Christ by faith as they partake of the bread and wine.
How can we fellowship with Christ when He is in heaven?
Many good men have wrestled with this simple question. How can we have fellowship with Christ when He is in heaven? Some believe that Christ comes down into the bread and wine. Others believe He comes down to become bread and wine. Others think that we are taken up into heaven to eat of Christ’s flesh. Each one of these positions attempted to answer the nature of eating the flesh. Nothing like this is mentioned in the Bible.
In 1 Cor. 10, we are told that when we eat, we fellowship with Christ (more on this in the next section). How can this be? In the New Testament, we learn that all that have of Christ comes to us through the Spirit of God. He (the Spirit) will take of Christ and declare it to us (Jn. 16:14-15). When you have the Spirit, you have Christ (cf. 2Cor. 3:17). We receive Christ and have fellowship with Him through the Spirit.
You don’t eat flesh
The passage already cited many times actually says that we participate in the blood of Christ and the body of Christ (1Cor. 10:16, 17). So doesn’t that mean that we get something different in the Lord’s Supper? Are we not in somehow and in someway eating or participating in Jesus’ literal blood and body?
The word “participate” in 1 Cor. 10 is not left undefined. As the context must always determine the meaning of a word, so the same rule applies here. Look at 1 Cor. 10:16, 17, the word “participate” is the same kind of word used in v. 18 “participants in the altar” as well as v. 20, “participants with demons.” That is to say, when the Corinthians were eating food sacrificed to demons, they ended up participating or identifying with demons. The idea of “partaking” is used in the same way for demons as well as for the Lord: “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” (10:21) It is clear that the meaning of partaking simply means identifying with, giving allegiance to, uniting with, etc. either the Lord or demons. When a person either ate at a pagan ceremony or at the Lord’s table, he was identifying with and participating in everything related to table.
The point was not eating the literal flesh (here on earth or in heaven). The individual was united to the particular person (Lord or Satan) associated with the table, in this case, either to the Lord or demons. So when Paul said that we are participating in Christ’s blood and body, he was simply using a metaphor for Christ’s atoning work on the cross. We participate in what Christ has done for us on the cross as represented by the elements. The body given for us; the blood shed for us — they represent what He did for us. So, in the Supper we participate in Christ’s atoning work! That is what every sinner needs; at the supper, we get the same Christ we initially received when we became Christians. We need the same Christ in order to continue to grow in Him.
You receive Christ
What does Christ give to us at the Supper if not His flesh and blood in the literal sense? We receive Christ himself. Christ is most desirable to needy sinners when He is represented as dying, making atonement for sin, making peace for sinners, as bearing our sins, satisfying the wrath of God and the curse of the law, to draw out our hearts unto faith and love.
In the Supper we receive this Christ as represented in the elements of the bread and the wine. He is received by faith and not by the mouth. Christ and His gracious benefits (to which His blood and body point) are consumed by faith to our spiritual nourishment. That is why Paul changes the language from “blood of Christ” and “body of Christ” (v. 16) to “cup of the Lord” and “table of the Lord” (v. 21) because his concern is not so much over the actual blood and body but over our fellowship with Him! His cup and the table are specific references to the table fellowship we have with Him as opposed to some mysterious intake of his blood and body.
This is what we need more than anything else. We need to receive Christ and the Supper enables us to have fellowship with Him —more specifically, we receive all that had been accomplished by his death!
There is one thing you should seriously consider. Do you want more of Christ? He is offered to us in the Supper. That should be your great concern in the Supper.
1. What does it mean that the Lord’s Supper is more than recollection?
2. What does the Word of God have to do with the Supper? Explain the illustration about the letter from the father.
3. Explain how the Lord’s Supper is not like taking a pill.
4. Do believers receive real flesh and blood at the Supper? If not, explain.
5. Explain how the word “partake” should be interpreted in the 1 Cor. 10.