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THE LORD’S SUPPER - As the expression of fellowship“I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of the Christ?
The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
For we being many are one bread and one body: for we all are partakers of that one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:15-17).
The chapter from which these verses are taken seems to be much less familiar to most Christians than the chapter which follows it. There may be two reasons for this: first, its true meaning is but little understood owing to the present public state of the church; and secondly, it is in some respects much more searching than what we get in chapter 11, and if accepted, would involve a breaking loose from unsuitable associations and links.
It is one thing just to sit down and partake of the Lord's Supper as a formal and proper and enjoyable matter, and quite another to accept the fact that our doing this really touches our daily life and path in all its details, and affects all our associations and surroundings. It is a blessed moment for us when we are prepared to admit this. We shall see, as we glance at the chapter now before us, how all this comes out, and may the Lord make it very simple and plain to each reader, how much the enjoyment and understanding of what is presented in chapter 11 depends upon the honest and hearty acceptance of what we have in chapter 10. There is always in Scripture a definite principle of order in the unfolding of truth, and perhaps nowhere is it more apparent than in the case now before us.
It is evident, on reading the verses quoted above, that the main thought contained in them is “communion”, or, as the same word is more correctly translated elsewhere, “fellowship” In “the cup of blessing which we bless”, or give thanks for, we express the fellowship of His blood, and in the bread which we break there is that which is expressive of the fellowship of His body.
A little explanation of the terms in which this is set forth will
help us to grasp the meaning. The simplest idea of “fellowship” is
that of “partnership”. In fact, in most cases ‘partnership’ would
not be at all an incorrect translation of the word. This idea is
actually conveyed elsewhere in the New Testament, as we see in the
following instances, where the word used is substantially the same,
varying only in the form:
“Which were partners with Simon”( Luke 5:10)
“He is my partner and fellow-helper” (2 Corinthians 8:23).
“If thou count me therefore a partner” (Philemon 17).
A partnership, as we all know, is the combination or association of those who are partners. The idea is too familiar to us in daily life to need explanation, beyond saying that while it involves a common participation in whatever benefits are to be derived, there is also the very important point of sharing in the responsibilities which attach themselves to the position.
If we apply the principle just stated to the passage before us, the meaning becomes immediately clear. The cup of blessing of which we drink, and the bread of which we partake, set forth in a twofold way the fellowship or partnership of believers; and that which characterises or marks this bond, and is indeed the seal of it, is the death of Christ. On the one hand, we have the immense gain of it, as that which glorified God and set us free from the dominion of sin and death. On the other hand, as being identified and bound up together, as it were, with Him who was rejected and put to death here, we have to be separated from the course of things around us in which we used to find our pleasure.
It is not that we cannot do our work here but that the link that has been set up between us and Christ now puts us as much outside the things of the world in their social or religious aspect as was the case with the Lord Himself when He was refused and put to death.
Now the object of chapter 10 is to make this great truth a reality amongst the company of believers. It is not merely the presentation of a doctrine to be accepted, but something to be practically worked out in the path of the Christian. In the earlier part of the chapter Paul carries our thoughts back to the journey of the children of Israel through the wilderness. There was that amongst God’s ancient people which answered in some respects to what we understand by fellowship. They had all come out of Egypt under the value of the Passover lamb, they had all been under the cloud and had all passed through the sea. (See verse 2.) The Passover lamb set forth their own deliverance from death and judgment, the cloud was the visible sign of God's presence, indicating that He had brought them to Himself (see Exodus 19:4), and the Red Sea was God's way of their deliverance from Egypt and the destruction of the enemy’s power.
Moreover, the Israelites had had the manna from heaven and the water from the smitten rock (see verses 3 and 4). At every point they had had the benefit of God's intervention on their behalf, just as we have had. That was one side of the fellowship or partnership, but now what do we see as to the other side? How about their accepting the responsibility to walk here for God, in testimony for Him, and in separation from evil? It is a sad exhibition of what is in the human heart. The brief and pointed summing-up of it is contained in verse 5: “But with many of them God was not well pleased: but they were overthrown in the wilderness”.
The details of their failure (verses 6-10) present one of the most humiliating pictures within the compass of Scripture, and the Spirit of God uses it, through the apostle Paul, as the basis of an affectionate and earnest appeal to the Christians at Corinth to be faithful to their fellowship, and to do nothing, or link themselves with nothing, which would in any wise bring their fellowship into reproach.
This serves to bring out a point which is of interest and importance, namely, that while the actual partaking of the Lord’s Supper, or the breaking of bread, is only of weekly occurrence (evidently, in scriptural usage, the first day of the week), the fellowship of Christ's death is maintained perpetually. A Christian is always in it. It is that which marks him off from the course of things around, and he cannot get out of it, though he may shirk his responsibility and grieve the heart of Christ.
It is in connection with this that the expression “The Lord's table” is used in verse 21. It occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It sets forth figuratively that with which the Christian is in fellowship—his place of fellowship, so to speak, in contrast with “the table of demons”, which was expressive of that with which the heathen were identified. So that it is correct to say—and it is well worthy of consideration—that a Christian is always at the Lord's table, though of course he is not always breaking bread. If this fact were accepted and remembered, what a mighty influence it would have over our associations and our ways generally, and how careful we should be to be faithful to our fellowship!
With what different feelings we should meet together for the
breaking of bread on the Lord’s Day if the fellowship of Christ's
death were practically and faithfully maintained day by day in our
pathway through the world. Oftentimes we are painfully conscious,
when we come together, that there is but little in our hearts that
is in real unison with the Lord. Perhaps there has been much in our
associations—or, it may be, in our service—during the week with
which we would not like to link His name, and we can hardly expect,
when we come together in assembly, that there can be that freedom of
heart which will enable us to enjoy His company.
Nothing really helps us so much in maintaining this faithfulness to our fellowship as an intelligent grasp of the true significance of the Lord's Supper. This is evidently what Paul means when he says to these Corinthians: “I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say”—verse 15. He invites them, as it were, to enter intelligently with himself into what is divinely meant by “the communion of His blood”, and “the communion of His body”.
In this two-fold view of Christ's death we have, first, His blood
shed—that which was for God in expiation, and at the same time the
expression of God's love, for it was “the blood of the new
covenant”, in which the great purposes of God's love are set
forth (see 2 Corinthians 3); and secondly, His body given—that is,
the whole condition of man as in Adam judged and set aside when the
blessed Lord Himself in perfect grace took upon Himself our
responsibilities on the cross. We who believe in Him can with
grateful hearts see in His death the closing-up of our history here
before God as men in the flesh. Many other scriptures illustrate
this, as for example:
• “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ” (Romans 7:4). That is, the condition to which the law applied (man “in the flesh”) had been ended for God by Christ's death.
• "By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once”(Hebrews 10:10). Here, as in the previous passage, His death was the removal before God in judgment of the whole condition for which the Old Testament sacrifices had been provided.
An intelligent entrance into these wonderful realities awakens in the soul the response of affection to Him who gave Himself in order that the purposes of God’s love should be carried into effect.
Then we are prepared to accept a path of separateness and devotedness to Himself. This path is, no doubt, in some respects hard and distasteful to ourselves naturally, but it becomes easy and delightful as we learn to appreciate the immense gain which comes to us through the death of Christ, and the greatness of His love who “endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
As a result of taking up for ourselves, heartily and with distinct purpose, this path of testimony, we begin to enjoy the sweetness and attractiveness of the Lord's Supper itself, as we partake of it week by week.