Of the five apostles who wrote epistles three refer to the breaking of bread; viz., Peter, Jude, and Paul. Four of them were present at its institution. Paul was not; but he alone of the five gives us teaching in connection with it. Thus we learn that there is more instruction which flows from it than at first sight might appear, and that it is in part closely connected with the special revelation made known to Paul concerning the Church of God. As sitting at the Lord’s table the question of communion and association is necessarily raised: eating of the supper the spirit in which we should partake of it is not by the Lord overlooked. The first of these questions is taken up in 1 Cor. 10; the other is dealt with in the chapter that follows.
Having just emerged from idolatry, as was the case with the Corinthian Christians, some had seen the inanity of the idol, but had not apprehended the character of their new associations. In this they were not singular. There is often an interval of time, from whatever cause we need not here enquire, between the discovery of the evil from which souls may have separated, and the clear apprehension of the position, and its attendant responsibilities, into which they have been brought. As long as such a state continues, it is clear that steadiness of walk need not be expected. Hence the mistake of simply occupying people with protesting against that which is evil. More is wanted than this, without however in the least undervaluing it; for there is the ceasing to do evil, and the learning to do well, with both of which a Christian, to be “throughly furnished unto all good works,” must become acquainted.
Now some of the Corinthians knew that an idol was nothing in the world, and that there was none other God but one (1 Cor. 8:4); yet they thought, if they discerned that, they might sit at meat in an idol’s temple. In this they were wrong; and the apostle corrects their mistake. Care for their weaker brethren should have made them keep aloof from all participation, even only externally, in idolatrous rites, (8:10-12.) But more than this, they had no business to be there at all. The liberty for which some might plead, on the ground that they had discernment about the idol, should have been held in check by consideration for the weak brother’s conscience. The question of being there at all was, however, settled for ever by their having a place at the Lord’s table, and participating in the Lord’s Supper. Granted that the idol was nothing, yet behind it were demons, and by sitting at meat at the idol’s festival they would be having communion with demons. Was that a fitting thing for those who bore the name of Christ? “I would not,” said the apostle, “that ye should have fellowship with demons.” (10:20.) To drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons was impossible. To be partakers of the Lord’s table and the table of demons was equally impossible. “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord,” wrote Paul, “and the cup of demons: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of demons.” (10:21.) The question put in that way was obviously clear. The Lord and demons were antagonistic. A man could not have fellowship with both. Those in danger of outward conformity to heathen rites had never viewed the question in this light. How much light a word may cast upon a point! The Lord and demons! Between these there was no communion. Between them no man could form a connecting-link; yet a Christian, if unwatchful, might have fellowship with demons, (v. 10.) Solemn thought! How has it been in Christendom sadly exemplified!
But he sets other considerations before them. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” What could the cup of demons give them? Nothing good. Of what did the cup of the Lord witness? Blessing purchased by His blood for those who had sinned against God, but who now believed on His name. With what had they communion at the Lord’s Supper but with the body and blood of Christ? Speaking as to wise men, this should have been enough to open their eyes to the incongruity and the sinfulness of sitting at meat in an idol’s temple. Observe, he here mentions the blood before the body of Christ, an inversion of the natural and the historical order in which, they were first mentioned. Now since those to whom he wrote had once been worshipping idols, and had been mixed up with all the vileness and the debasing habits that idolatry encouraged, from all which they had been set free, and all their sins had been blotted out by the blood of Christ, how could they, remembering whose blood had been shed for them, and at what a cost they had been redeemed—how could they turn back to that from which they had been delivered? We can see then in the circumstances of the case a reason for giving precedence on this occasion to the mention of the blood.
Besides this, he reminds them of that which the partaking of the one loaf really set forth; viz., that all Christians are one body. We become members of this one body by the baptism of the Holy Ghost. We give practical expression to it by partaking of the one loaf. Independent action therefore must be judged. If they belonged to one body, as they declared they did, how could they be identified with that which certainly was alien to it?
Several important principles are set forth then in these few verses. First, that one who has a place at the table must keep aloof from participation in that which God abhors. It is not a question, “What am I free to do?” but “What are the associations in which I have part?” Communion of the blood and body of Christ; is this what we profess, and, if Christians in truth, can really enjoy? Then association with that which is opposed to God must not be an open question, nor a matter of indifference. From all idolatrous associations we must keep aloof; and keeping before us the principle thus illustrated, we must surely abstain from having communion with such evils as the Lord’s word declares disqualifies those having part in them from being in the company of His people.
Secondly, breaking bread together we confess, however little we may be aware of the character of our action, that we are part of one body with all other Christians; “for we being many are one body and one bread (or loaf), for we are all partakers of that one bread (or loaf).” Not that a body is thereby formed, but its existence is acknowledged, and its oneness practically confessed; for there is but one Lord’s table, how many soever may be the places in which saints are gathered unto Christ’s name. The apostle at Ephesus and the saints at Corinth were members of one body. They owned it in doctrine, and confessed it week after week, as they broke bread in remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ. From this body we cannot get free, nor by any declaration of independence discharge ourselves from responsibility in connection with it. Denominational ground is thereby condemned, for there is but one body, and in breaking bread together we declare it. But there is another side to this question. If we are all one body, we cannot be indifferent to the walk and the doctrine of those with whom we thus declare our oneness; for are we, as Christians having communion with His body and His blood, to be identified with acts and tenets which the Lord abhors? Care, and if need be discipline, becomes imperative when this truth of the one body is understood; for no choice is left us as to whether we will have this doctrine as an article of our creed or not. We cannot break bread together without confessing it.
Thirdly, as those at the Lord’s table professedly participate in the result of the atoning work of Christ, none but Christians in truth have a place at it; for the Lord’s supper does not give life, but it is for all who have everlasting life, unless for the time being under the exercise of church discipline. Eating Christ’s flesh and drinking Christ’s blood (John 6:53, 54) gives life; eating of the supper does not. As the Bread from heaven, the Lord presents Himself to the world (John 6:33, 51); but the supper was instituted only for disciples. If the supper could give life, those of whom Peter (2 Peter 2:13) and Jude (12) wrote would have had it. None however should eat of the supper, who have not first eaten of His flesh, and drunk of His blood; for who have part now in the blessed results of His death, but those who believe on Him? To the Lord’s table then baptism by water can give no admittance, though none unbaptized ought to be seated thereat. For an unconverted person to sit there and partake of the bread and of the wine is a solemn thing, since he professes by his act that which is not true of his condition.
Further, as the table is the Lord’s, all those at it are responsible to own and to serve Him. Hence too the assembly should be watchful that it admits not, through inadvertence or carelessness, those who, as far as discernment can be exercised, are not Christians in truth; for admission to the table is the act of the assembly, and not that of an individual or individuals. On the other hand, to put away is also the act of the assembly, and for that proof should be adduced about the person dealt with, that he ought not to sit down with the saints. Surmise or suspicion will not be sufficient. Judas was reckoned with the twelve, till his own act showed what he was.
Lastly, all class distinction for the administering of the elements is seen to be foreign to the word of God. “The cup of blessing which we bless,” writes the apostle. “The bread which we break.” The blessing and the breaking are acts in common, though done by one as the mouthpiece and agent of the rest. Clericalism has no place at this table. To the Lord it belongs, and He is present where two or three are gathered unto His name. Who of men would dream of presiding where the Lord Himself is present? At His table we are all guests.
Now nothing like this table had ever been known before. It is true that a Jew could speak of Jehovah’s table (Ezek. 41:22; 44:16; Mal. 1:7, 12), for both the golden altar, and the altar of burnt-offering are thus designated by the prophets, since on the altar Jehovah’s portion was placed. But in the New Testament, the Lord’s table is the place at which He dispenses to all believers the memorials of His death. At the table of the Lord, of which the prophets write, no man sat. At the Lord’s table, of which St. Paul writes, Christians have their place. Hence examination, or proving oneself, dokimavzein, becomes every Christian, not to stay away, but to judge himself, diakrivnein, and so to eat of the bread and to drink of the cup. Now in this the Corinthians had failed. For meeting professedly to partake of the Lord’s Supper, either at a meal or after it, the custom appears to have been for the richer ones to provide the food, of which all together were to eat. But, alas! self had come in, and the richer brethren consumed the provisions themselves. Gluttony and drunkenness prevailed where solemnity should have characterised the meeting. The poorer brethren were hungry, and wanting; whilst the richer were full, and were drunken. The assembly of God was despised, and those who had no houses to eat in were put to shame. The disorder was grievous; it was scandalous (11:21, 22), and the Lord had already strongly marked His disapproval of it. (11:30.) How did the apostle deal with it? He reminded them that “the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was delivered up took bread; and having given thanks, brake it, and said, This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me. In like manner also the cup, after having supped, saying, This cup is the new testament (or covenant) in my blood: this do, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye shall eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye announce the death of the Lord until He come.” (11:23-26.) Simple, but surely heart-searching, must this statement have been; a quiet, but how great a rebuke to their ways at the table. The Lord, their Lord, on the night of His betrayal, fully conscious of all that was before Him, thought of His people, and instituted this supper for them. Should then disciples of that Lord be thinking of themselves, and allowing flesh to work unchecked, when they met to show His death? How could they after that! The professed purpose of their meeting should have rebuked all the disorders they had permitted and indulged in.
The Lord had died. But why? They well knew. We know. He was delivered for our offences. Then at His table, at His supper, was the last place where self should have been unrestrained, unjudged; and we should observe how the apostle endeavours to impress this on them, and to keep it before them. Recapitulating that which he had received of the Lord about the supper, Paul omits certain words with which we are made familiar by the evangelists. “Take, eat” are, according to the best authorities, to be left out. “Drink ye all of it,” it will be seen, has no place in St. Paul’s account of what the Lord said about the cup. The word “broken,” too, in verse 24—not found in any evangelist in this connection—we may be pretty sure is an addition for which there is no Scripture warranty.
Now there is a significance in the omission of “Take, eat” in this recital of the institution of the supper; for the apostle evidently was divinely-directed, not to fix their thoughts so much on the privilege which was theirs, as to impress on them the solemnity of what they were engaged in. Hence he simply writes, “This is my body, which is for you,” fixing their attention and ours likewise on that of which the bread is the emblem; and the same with the cup. Surely as they read these words, and understood their import, a sense of shame must have come over them—remembering the scenes they had witnessed, and in which some perhaps had openly had part. And what must still further, one would think, have impressed them were the words peculiar to St. Paul—“For as often as ye shall eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye announce the death of the Lord until He come.” How little soever they had been conscious of it, that was professed by the breaking of bread. He who is the Lord, the highest in dignity in creation, had died; and yet in the presence of the memorials of His death they had been unimpressed, unsolemnised. What brought Him to die? Sin, and their sins. On no other occasion then could they have been better or more forcibly reminded of what sin is in God’s sight; yet what had been the scenes witnessed at such times? Of what a nature were they partakers! But were they worse than others? Alas! we have all the same evil nature; and though from circumstances drunkenness or gluttony could not be indulged in at the table in these days, self may be just as active in many other ways. What grace to provide atonement for such wretched creatures as we by nature are!
“The Lord’s death.” Such words invite meditation; they take us back to the past. “Till He come.” This carries us on in thought to the future. Partaking of the supper they announced the Lord’s death, and that in view of His return. The Lord had died, but the Lord will return; and He has lost none of His rights by death. In this He stands out alone from all that have entered into death. All that was His in this world before the cross is His now, and will be claimed by Him by-and-by. What was His by birth (Ps. 2) is His still, and He will possess it, though He has died. But is this all that we have to think of as we announce the Lord’s death? Oh, no! for by it all our blessings for eternity have been purchased, and are put beyond the reach of uncertainty. The mercies of David are made sure, because He is risen. (Acts 13:34.) Atonement, too, has been made by His blood shed on the cross; and the whole question of sin will by-and-by be openly proved to have been dealt with by His death. (Heb. 9:27; John 1:29.) He has tasted death for everything; He has annulled by His death him that had the power of death; delivered them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage; and has made propitiation for the sins of the people. (Heb. 2) Earth is concerned in His death, and far more than earth. How much results from the Lord’s death which His people are privileged to announce!
The supper, then, was no common meal. To partake of it unworthily was no light matter. He that did so was guilty of the body and blood of the Lord”; i.e. liable to judgment because of the slight thus put upon Him. Such an one ate and drank judgment to himself (kri'ma, not damnation, katavkrima) from not discerning the Lord’s body; i.e. what the bread signified. The Lord’s body here has no reference to the Church; and Paul never called the Church by such a name. The Church is the body of Christ, not the body of the Lord. The Lord’s body in our chapter is that of which the bread was the emblem, as He Himself had said, “This is my body.” Hence the man’s guilt consisted in treating the supper as an ordinary meal, not discerning in it that of which the elements were but figures. Now such conduct the Lord would not allow to go on unchecked. Self-judgment would indeed avert His judicial interference; but where that remained lacking, He Himself, the Lord, would, and had interposed. Weakness, sickness, and death had visited many of the Corinthian assembly for these grave scandals; but perhaps, till pointed out by the apostle, they were scarcely aware of the reason for these divine visitations upon them. Yet there was grace in them. Because they were really Christians the Lord dealt thus with them, that they should not be condemned with the world.1
They had eaten unworthily. How many souls have been troubled about this, and have kept away from the table from not understanding the language and meaning of the apostle. No question was intended about their worthiness to be at the supper. As Christians they were worthy, though of course viewing the matter in another light since their place there was of grace, they might be and as we must ever own they were, unworthy of it. But the sin dealt with was the partaking of the supper in an unworthy manner. Their ways at the table were what the apostle was writing of, and what the Lord had rebuked. They partook in an unworthy manner, not discerning the Lord’s body. Such are guilty as respects His body and blood.
How then shall we provide against this? The Lord has told us, “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat.” What care does this evince that we should not render ourselves liable to judgment? What desire does it manifest on the Lord’s part that all His people, unless disqualified by church discipline, should come and eat?
1 We may remark the terms employed in the passage. The saints are exhorted to examine or prove themselves (dokimavzw) before they eat. If they judge or discern themselves (diakrivnw), they will not be judged (krivnw). When judged (krivnw), they are chastened or disciplined (paideuvw), that they should not be condemned (katakrivnw) with the world.