In our study of this Epistle we have noticed that in the first six chapters the apostle wrote to the Corinthian church about certain matters that required correction and instruction. We can be very thankful that God providentially permitted so many things to come up in the early church in order that they might be corrected by apostolic authority during that first century of the Christian era, because similar things have continually come up in the churches of God down through the years. The remarkable fact is that no circumstance can arise, no sin can cause trouble and distress, no irregularity may appear that has not already been provided for in the Epistles of the New Testament. Problems such as ours were rife in the beginning of the church’s history, and because they were addressed by the Holy Spirit through inspired men, all we need to do today is walk in obedience to the Word.
In the first six chapters of 1 Corinthians the apostle dealt with such issues as divisions among Christians, schisms of various kinds, immorality in the church of God, Christians going to court against one another, and other lapses that disturb the peace of the church. As already noted, beginning with chapter 7 and going right on to the end of the Epistle, Paul dealt with subjects concerning which the Corinthian church had written for instruction and help. He said, “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me,” and then proceeded to respond. In chapter 7 he addressed the questions of marriage and divorce, and the relationship of a Christian wife and a heathen husband, or a Christian husband and a heathen wife; in chapters 8-9 the apostle wrote about meat offered to idols and the Christian’s relationship to idol temples; in chapter 10 Paul showed how carefully the Christian ought to walk apart from everything that savors of idolatry. Continuing his response, in chapter 11 Paul touched on more problems that were disturbing the early church.
Head Coverings (1 Corinthians 11:1-16)
In order to understand this portion properly we need to try to visualize conditions existing in those distant days. Corinth was a loose, dissolute city. I question if any of the other great cities in which the apostle preached the gospel were worse in character. We are rapidly getting into the same condition, for we are living in a day when everything like purity and chastity is looked on as a joke, and people are utterly cynical and indifferent in regard to personal morality. The literature of our day reeks with filth, pictures are vile and lewd, and plays and movies are just as bad. Low standards of behavior are prevalent. But Corinth was even worse.
Therefore the apostle desired that Christian women especially not do anything that would cast the least cloud on their reputation for purity. Loose women in those days went about bareheaded and were found in the streets unblushingly seeking those who might be companions with them in their sin and wickedness. Women who sought to live in chastity and purity were very particular never to appear in public unveiled. The unveiled woman was the careless woman, the immoral woman; the veiled woman was the careful wife or mother who was concerned about her character and her reputation.
It seems that after Christianity came to Corinth and converted women rejoiced in a liberty they had never known in the old pagan days, some of them were inclined to be rather careless and indifferent about the customs of the day. They perhaps were saying, “We are all one in Christ; Paul himself has taught us that in the new creation there is neither male nor female, and so there is no reason now why Christian women should be subject to any of the conventionalities of the day. We can go unveiled and bareheaded in public places, and we need not be concerned about it.”
The Corinthians wrote to Paul to get his judgment in this matter and he introduced his answer with this comment: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” In other words, “I am about to give you instruction, instruction that I have a right to give as a divinely appointed apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. I seek in all things to be subject to Christ. When He speaks, I endeavor to obey. Now I trust that you will have the same spirit in regard to the guidance I am about to give you, that you will seek to follow me, to be led by me just as I seek to be led by the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Then Paul praised the Corinthians for their obedience to instructions he had given them in the past. “I praise you, brethren,” he said, “that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.” He was the one who under God had founded the church at Corinth, and before leaving them he had taught them what they needed to know to carry on. Now he had to approach a rather delicate subject and give them directions that some might resent, but first he gave them credit for all their past cooperation.
When Paul used the word “ordinances,” he was not referring simply to the two Christian ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper, though these would certainly be included. It is unthinkable that any Christian should ever set them to one side, but the word here has a much wider meaning. It refers to the instruction given to the Corinthians regarding a great many things that have to do with the happy fellowship of saints. A little while ago these people had been idolaters, led by Satan, captive at his will; now they were redeemed and seeking to walk together as Christians. They needed to subject themselves to the revealed will of God if they were to have joyful fellowship in the church.
As we study Paul’s teaching here about woman’s place in nature and in the church, I wish you would bear in mind that he was not speaking, as he does elsewhere, of woman’s place in the new creation. In the new creation, as already intimated, there are no distinctions. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). We were all sinners alike; we have all been redeemed alike; we are all indwelt by the Holy Ghost alike; we have all been baptized into one body alike. All distinctions vanish as we think of one another as members of Christ. We are all one in Christ.
But this does not alter the fact that we still have our natural place, which we must maintain. The Christian is not to be careless as to his responsibilities and you will see how important this is if I illustrate it as follows: According to the Word of God I am a heavenly citizen, but if I say, “Since I am a heavenly citizen, I have no responsibilities to any country here on earth,” I will soon have to reckon with the tax collector and other authorities. The governors of this world will soon teach me that I have earthly relationships that must be maintained. Likewise, although there is neither male nor female in the new creation, we have our distinct places to fill in nature and in the church.
“I would have you know,” Paul wrote, “that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” Someone may ask, “But is not Christ the Head of every woman?” Yes, in the new creation Christ is the Head, and men and women are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones, but here Paul was speaking of creation, not the new creation.
In creation the Head of every man is Christ. When God said, “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26), He had Christ in view, and when the first man came into the world, he came as the type of Him who was to come. And so the Head of every man is Christ, and man is to be subject to Christ and to represent Christ. But God did not leave man alone in the world. He said, “I will make him an help meet for him” (2:18), and He created woman. “Thy desire,” He said to the woman, “shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (3:16). When God gave Eve to Adam, she saw Adam as her head, and that relationship still exists: “The head of the woman is the man.”
I suspect there are some modern women who resent that; they would like to make the woman the head of the man. They resent the thought that God has given to woman anything that looks like an inferior place, but let us put aside any suggestion of inferiority. The point is that it is the responsibility of the husband to care for and to protect the wife—the husband “giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7).
When a woman marries and agrees to take her husband’s name, she tacitly consents to Paul’s teaching. Some women do refuse to take their husbands’ names. They say, “We will not subject ourselves in any way, and in taking our husbands’ names, we would be subjecting ourselves.” I believe that a woman should not marry a man until she is willing to accept him as her head and assume his name. If she is not willing, it would be far better for her to remain single so she can run things to suit herself.
If a woman had said to Paul, “I refuse to take that place of subjection,” he would have replied, “The Head of Christ is God.” In other words, “Remember, the Lord Jesus took the place of subjection. He humbled Himself, but it is His glory to be in that place. When the Son of God became man, He assumed that position and He will keep it for all eternity.”
Paul continued, “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoured! his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoured! her head.” If a man should stand up in public to pray or to preach (the word translated “prophesieth” here really means “preach”) wearing a covering on his head, he would be dishonoring his Head—not that which is above his neck, but his Head who is Christ. If I stood in this pulpit preaching with my hat on, every one of you would rightfully say, “Has he no respect for the Master whom he professes to serve?” When I come into the presence of God and Christ and the angels who are learning the wisdom of God in the church, I remove my hat.
For the same reason when a woman comes into the church, she keeps her hat (or head covering) on to honor her head. Who is her head? The man. To uncover her head would be to show that she wants to be like the man. She dishonors her head if she says, “I am not going to be subject to such a rule; I have as much right to have my head uncovered in a public meeting as a man has.” Paul did not say that she dishonors the Lord Jesus Christ. She may be quite unconscious of dishonoring anyone, but I am telling you what the Word of God says.
Concerning this and other matters it has well been said, “Some things are commanded because they are right; other things are right because they are commanded.” “Thou shalt not steal” is an example of the former. The commandment did not make it wrong to steal; it was always wrong to steal. “Let her be covered,” on the other hand, is right because it is commanded. God has spoken and it is often in little things like this that our state of mind is revealed—either our self-will is still at work or we are ready to be subject to the Word of God.
In that pagan city of Corinth it would have been a great shame and disgrace for a woman to appear in public with her head uncovered; it would have marked her out as an immoral person. Of course we must recognize that customs change, but the principle of this chapter remains the same. God is calling Christian women to modesty of deportment so that they may be distinguished from worldly women.
Paul emphasized his point by saying, “If the woman be not covered [veiled], let her also be shorn.” In other words, “If she does not have a covering over her hair, let her really be like a man. Let her go to a barbershop and have her beautiful locks cut off.” I do not understand why a woman would want to be so manlike anyway; a womanly woman is one of the sweetest creatures God ever made. I like a womanly woman and a manly man, and I wonder if anyone really admires a manly woman or a womanly man. Let each one keep his proper place in God’s creation.
The apostle went on to explain: “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.” She is superior to the man in so many ways that she lowers herself when she gets out of her own sphere and tries to take the place of the man. I wonder sometimes whether women have any idea how even worldly men express their disgust at the manlike behavior of women in public places these days. When a woman takes out a cigarette and begins to smoke, I hear even unsaved men say, “What are we coming to? I am glad I did not have a mother like that.” Men hate to see women aping men, and Christian women should be absolutely above reproach.
The woman was taken from man—“The man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.” An old writer said, “When God created man, He made him of the dust of the ground; when He created woman, he took her from the man. He did not take her from his head in order that she might lord it over him; He did not take her from his feet that he might trample on her; He took her from his side, close to his heart, in order that she might be his companion and that he might love and care for her.” And so we read, “Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man… Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man [through creation], even so is the man also by the woman [through birth]; but all things of God.” So everyone has his place to fill in creation and none can take the place of the other.
We have skipped over 11:10, which comes in parenthetically: “For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.” Admittedly this is a somewhat difficult verse. A marginal note in some Bibles reads, “Power—in sign that she is under the power or authority of her husband.” I think that marginal note was probably inserted by some worthy brother in years gone by who may have had a little difficulty in maintaining his position as head of the house! I question that this is what “power” means here. You see, if a woman in a city like Corinth appeared in a public place with her head uncovered, she would at once be exposed to insults. But if when going shopping or visiting friends or going to the Christian services, she put a veil over her head, she walked down the street unmolested. Her covering was her power.
I spent the first six years of my Christian experience as an officer in The Salvation Army. In those days I often had occasion to see how that beautiful little blue bonnet was the power of the Salvation Army lassie. One day when I was seeking the lost in a saloon on the Barbary Coast in San Francisco, two of our Salvation Army lassies appeared and I noticed that everyone treated them respectfully except for one man, a half-drunken sailor. When the Salvation Army girl approached him with a tract, he turned toward her and made a movement as though he would have kissed her. As she drew back, five of those ungodly men immediately sprang to their feet, knocked the sailor down, thrashed him within an inch of his life, and threw him out into the gutter for the police to pick up. Her bonnet was “power on her head.”
Lots of other girls were in that saloon—God help them—whom nobody would have fought for or protected. There they were with their brazen faces and uncovered heads, lacking the lassie’s power, and proving the apostle right. So Paul was saying, “Women, you are not belittling yourselves when you show proper respect by appearing in public places with your heads covered. You are simply availing yourself of that which is your protection against insult.”
But what does the expression “because of the angels” mean? It is a little difficult to know nineteen centuries later just what was in the mind of the apostle. Many think he meant that whenever Christians are gathered together, God’s holy angels in Heaven are looking down with delight on the scene; that the angels note with approval everything that savors of subjection and obedience to the Word of God; and that they also observe with disapproval everything that savors of self-will and insubordination.
However, since we are told that angels are learning the wisdom of God in the church, the apostle may have been saying, “Let the angel hosts see in Christian women a reverence, a modesty, and a respect for holy things that are not found in the women of the world.” If that is the meaning of Paul’s words, it is very beautiful.
Isaiah 6:2 refers to a class of holy angels called the seraphim, each of which “had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.” The apostle may have been picturing these angels, who cover their faces in the presence of God, looking down to see the covered women sitting in reverence and modesty in the presence of God. That may be the meaning of “because of the angels.”
William Thompson had another suggestion. In his work The Land and the Book he pointed out that from the days of the apostle John the word “angel” was used for the minister in a church. Dr. Thompson said that no one who has not seen for himself the conditions under which the ministers in eastern churches worked can understand why the apostle told Christian women that they should keep their faces veiled “because of the angels.” Until recent times in oriental lands the women and men were segregated as they gathered together so that there would be nothing to disturb the equanimity of the men, but the “angel” or minister stood on a platform and saw both groups. Probably he had never looked at the uncovered face of a woman other than his mother or sister or other near relative, and therefore if the women were not veiled, he would be so disconcerted by looking into all those unveiled faces that he might not be able to keep his mind on his message!
Moving on in the passage we read, “Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?” Paul was saying, “Should she not take a reverent attitude? It is perfectly right for me to pray with my head uncovered, but a woman is to cover her head as a sign of reverent subjection.”
Going back to nature the apostle said, “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” Someone may say, “That settles the question. Her hair is her covering.” But the apostle said earlier that if she does not cover her hair, she is to let it be cut short. She has that natural covering which distinguishes her from man and over that she is to put a veil. Why? Because a woman’s hair is her glory. Is not that most striking? In the presence of God she is to cover her chief beauty so that no mind may be turned from Christ to her beautiful hair. It is precious to think of Mary of Bethany and of the poor woman in Luke 7 who anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with their hair. They cast their glory at His feet.
Closing this passage, Paul wrote, “If any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” He was saying, “If people are going to make a fuss about a matter of this kind, all I have to say is that we have no such custom. If women will persist in being disorderly in this way, you cannot discipline them; you cannot put them out of the church. I have laid down God’s Word. Now let the women settle it themselves; let them decide how far they will subject themselves to the Word of the living God.”
What is the real importance of head coverings? It is the test of whether our wills are subject to God or whether we are going to be subject to the fashions and customs of the day in which we live. The Christian is one who has forsaken the world for Christ’s sake; he has turned his back on “the fashion of this world [that] passeth away” (7:31) so that he may subject himself to another, even the Lord from Heaven. I beg of you, my brother and sister, remember Romans 14:22: “Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.” Settle with God just how far a passage like this, having to do with customs of long ago, has authority over your conscience at the present time, but do not go beyond conscience. In all things seek to be obedient to the Word of the living God, for this is the path of blessing.
The Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-26)
This passage contains perhaps the fullest instruction in Scripture concerning the correct observance of the Lord’s supper. It is evident that communion should have a large place in the hearts and minds of Christians during the dispensation in which our blessed Lord is absent in body, but sitting “on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Hebrews 8:1). The Lord’s supper was intended to call Him so vividly to mind that His people might be occupied with Him and that Christ Himself might be the joy of their hearts as they go out afterward in service.
Apparently at a very early date Christians began to misunderstand the Lord’s supper. It is rather a sad commentary on our fallen human nature that everything God has given us has been abused by man. The physical appetites He has given have been abused, and the privileges He has given have often been misused. Under the law, God gave Israel the sabbath, and you would think that men would have recognized it as a part of His gracious provision for the comfort of His creatures (Exodus 20:9-10). But many people learned to loathe the sabbath because they connected it with all kinds of laws and prohibitions that God Himself had not added to it. Our Lord Jesus had to reprove the men of His day by saying, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Other observances in Old Testament times were also misrepresented and the same is true of the two ordinances of the Christian church.
The Lord’s supper and baptism were designed to continue to be observed in the church until the end of the present age—until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him—but in the meantime people have misunderstood their significance. Some folks go to the extreme of making these ordinances saving sacraments, and other people become very careless about them. The fact is that neither baptism nor the Lord’s supper has anything to do with the salvation of our souls, except that they picture the way in which we are saved through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. And yet these ordinances are of great importance because they help to draw our hearts to Him and give us a more vivid realization of our identification with Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.
In the early church the Lord’s supper was observed very frequently; for a time at least it was observed every day. The opening chapters of Acts indicate that Christians participated in the breaking of bread daily. Afterward it was observed on the first day of the week, as Acts 20:7 seems to show. I am sure that the more often we gather together to “shew the Lord’s death till he come,” the greater will be the blessing that we receive and the greater will be the glory that is given to the Lord Jesus Christ.
In spite of frequent observance in the early church, the believers fell into ways that abused the ordinance. The apostle said that he could not praise them for the way they attempted to celebrate the Lord’s supper: “I praise you not,” he wrote to the Corinthians, “that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse.” So it is possible to assemble to celebrate the Lord’s supper, yet go away harmed rather than benefited.
How was it that these believers were celebrating it “for the worse” rather than “for the better”? In the first place there was a divisive spirit working among them. Instead of recognizing that the Lord’s supper speaks of the unity of the whole church of God and that all alike partake of that one loaf and one cup that represent the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Corinthians were grouping together under various leaders. They were under one roof, it is true, but some were saying, “I am of Paul the teacher”; some, “I am of Apollos the preacher”; some, “I am of Cephas the exhorter”; and others, “We do not recognize any of these leaders, for we are of Christ.” It was just as bad to make Christ’s name the head of a party as any other name; Christ is the Head of all believers and not merely of some little group.
So instead of praising the Corinthians, Paul had to write, “When ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you: and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved [of yourselves] may be made manifest among you.” The people were focusing on leaders instead of being occupied with Jesus Christ.
Another abuse of the Lord’s supper was that the people were linking it with the agape meal, the love feast of which Jude wrote. Many of the early Christians were slaves and could not get away from their duties very often, but when they could come to gatherings, they wanted to stay at the meeting place as long as possible, so they brought their food with them. Between services they would spread it out and partake of it together. In time the believers fell into the habit of tying the Lord’s supper into this fellowship.
At these meals some people had a great deal to eat, while others had nothing; some drank until they were inebriated, while others did not have enough to quench their thirst. The rich banqueted while the poor remained hungry and so Paul said in effect, “It is far better to do your eating at home.” He was not insisting that it is wrong for Christians to come together for love feasts, which are Scriptural. He was just saying that if the effect of these meals was to separate believer from believer, it was far better for them to eat at home.
Having reproved the Corinthians for their misbehavior at the table, Paul spoke clearly of the revelation that the risen Christ had given him from Heaven concerning the proper observance of the communion service. The apostle never knew the Lord here on earth; he was not with the twelve in the upper room when Jesus instituted the ordinance; therefore he must have received his knowledge of it as a direct revelation from Heaven. “I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you,” he wrote. That is very significant; there must be something extremely precious to our risen Savior about the frequent observance of the Lord’s supper if from the glory He, the glorified One, gave to His apostle a special declaration regarding the ordinance. And this is what He told him: “That the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread.”
Why did the apostle slip in the expression “in which he was betrayed” if not for us to realize that the Lord’s supper was meant to appeal to the hearts of His people? The expression reminds us that on the same night when our Savior was to know to the fullest extent the untrustworthiness, wickedness, treachery, and perfidy of the human heart, He instituted this feast so that His people might continually be made aware of His loving heart in giving Himself for them.
There is something very tender in the thought that Judas evidently was not present when Jesus “took bread.” Some people disagree, but if you carefully follow Judas through the accounts in the different Gospels, I think you will see that he was present at the Passover feast, but when that was concluded, the Savior said, “That thou doest, do quickly…[and Judas] went immediately out: and it was night” (John 13:27-30). Judas went out and in his absence the Savior gave the memorial feast to His own. That suggests that the Lord’s supper is only for those who have been redeemed by His precious blood. It is not for the unsaved or those who are hoping to be saved; it is for those who know Christ as Savior. It was to them the Lord spoke when He took that bread and gave thanks and said, “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.”
Some people tell us that the Lord meant that the bread and the wine are changed into the actual body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ when we give thanks to God for it. Others say that this is not true, but that when we receive the bread, in some special sense we are actually receiving the body of Christ. I do not think it is necessary to consider these various views, for the Lord sat at that table in His complete human body and did not divide it among the disciples. When He took the loaf and said, “This is my body,” His own hands held that loaf, so it seems to me the simple and clear meaning is that the bread on the Lord’s table is just a symbol of the precious, holy body of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But it certainly is true that as we receive that bread with honest and sincere hearts, with minds occupied with Christ, we do receive our Lord in faith in a sense in which we do not receive Him at other times. Thus far I am willing to go with sacramentalists. The Lord’s supper is a memorial, and it is one that makes Christ very real to us and gives us a definite sense of His presence.
A member of a large church in Christendom once said to me, “We believe in the real presence of the Savior in the sacrament, and you believe in His real absence.” I said, “Oh no, you are mistaken. We do not believe that the bread and the wine are actually changed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, but we do believe in the real presence in Spirit of our blessed Lord, for He said, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Matthew 18:20)”.
There is no time when Christ’s presence is so definitely realized and so distinctly felt as when we are remembering Him in the breaking of bread. Since His body was broken for us, the Lord’s supper is a continual reminder of the vicarious character of His death, and that is one reason our Lord desires communion to be celebrated frequently.
After breaking the bread, Christ took the cup and said, “This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.” That cup of wine (I do not speak now of whether the fruit of the vine partaken of by the people of God be fermented or unfermented) is a continuing testimony to the fact that redemption is only through His precious atoning blood.
I cannot understand how people who deny the vicarious character of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ can with consistency participate in the celebration of the Lord’s supper, for Paul said, “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew [proclaim] the Lord’s death till he come.” (As noted before, the word translated “shew” here is translated “preach” elsewhere in the New Testament.) Whenever Christians eat this bread and drink this cup, they preach a sermon. By participating in the Lord’s supper they declare that His death was not merely that of a martyr for righteousness’s sake; He died as a sacrifice for sinners. Christ shed His blood for them.
A dear Japanese man who attended some meetings in Sacramento, California, was troubled about his soul, but would not come to Christ because of his love for money. He would say, “If I accept this Jesus as my Savior, I do not see how I can make money.” So we told him he would have to make a choice between two alternatives: being rich on earth but poor in eternity, or being poor on earth but rich in eternity. When I use the pronoun we, I am referring to myself and a Japanese evangelist who was associated with me at the time, and through whom I met this man.
A year went by and I returned to the city of Sacramento for more meetings. One night when I was preaching the gospel on the street corner, I saw this little Japanese man in the audience. There was an expression of concern on his face that stirred my heart. At the close of the meeting he stepped up and shook my hand and said, “I so glad to see you again.”
I said, “And so am I glad to see you. Have you accepted Christ as your Savior yet?”
Tears filled his eyes as he said, “No, I fight against Him. I cannot give up. If I accept Him, I cannot make money. Do you have some meetings here where you are speaking?”
I said, “Yes,” and told him where the meetings were being held.
He said, “On Sunday do you have a meeting in which you eat the bread and drink the wine showing how Jesus died?”
I said, “Yes, next Sunday morning.”
“I come,” he said.
So on Sunday morning we gathered together to participate in the Lord’s supper and as the meeting commenced, the Japanese man came in and sat up front. I was praying that God might speak to him and as the meeting went on it was evident that he was greatly perturbed. Finally the people of God partook of the bread and the fruit of the vine while this heathen man looked on. Just as the elements were replaced on the table, he rose and said, “I like to pray.”
I thought, My! I wish I had told him that he would not be expected to take part in the meeting!
But he prayed like this: “O God, I all broke up. For one whole year I fight You. I fight You hard. Your Spirit break me all to pieces. O God, today I see Your people eating the bread, drinking the wine, and telling how Jesus died for sinners like me. O God, You love me so You give Your Son to die for me. I cannot fight You any more. I give up. I take Him as my Savior.”
It did not spoil our meeting at all to have him take part with such a prayer. We realized that this simple ordinance had preached to him, for Scripture tells us, “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do [preach] the Lord’s death till he come.” At the close of the meeting we gathered about him to rejoice with him and then he turned to me and said, “Jesus say before He go away, when you believe Him, you bury in water, show old life gone, new life begin. I like bury.”
“You want to be baptized?” I asked. “I will see you during the week and perhaps we can do it next Sunday.”
Referring to the Japanese evangelist, he said, “A year ago he tell me Jesus Christ coming back again, so?”
“Yes,” I said, “that is true.”
“He coming soon?”
“He not come before next Sunday?”
“Well, I can’t say; He might come before then.”
“Then I no like to wait till next Sunday. I like show I no fight any more. I like be buried today.”
I said, “Forgive me for trying to put it off; we will go down to the river this afternoon.”
And so in the afternoon, dressed in his best, he came with the Japanese mayor (we called the richest man in the Japanese settlement “mayor”) and forty other Japanese merchants behind him. We preached the Word and he gave his testimony, and then he was buried in the waters of baptism.
The Lord’s supper, if given the place our Savior intended it to have, will constantly preach to the world and will say more than any words of ours can say.
You may have known the Lord Jesus Christ for years, but I wonder whether this ordinance is precious to you. I am afraid that to some it is just an obligation; they feel that they ought to come and partake of the Lord’s supper because He commanded it. Let me suggest that the Lord’s words were not so much a command as a request. When our Savior said, “This do in remembrance of me,” He did not mean, “You must do this.” He meant, “I would like to have you do this.”
It was as though a loved one was dying and before slipping away he called the children around the bed and handing each one of them a photograph of himself, he said, “Here are pictures of myself. I am going to leave you, and you won’t see me again for a little while. But I would like each of you to cherish your picture and from time to time take it out, and as you look at it, remember me.” Would it be a difficult task to do something like that in response to the request of a loving mother or father or possibly a darling child? Surely not. If you loved that one, you would be delighted again and again to take down that picture and look at it. You would say, “There is the one who loved me and is now gone from me, but I am so glad that in this way I can remind myself of my dear one.”
There is no legalistic requirement about observing the Lord’s supper. You do not have to participate if you do not want to. You can go to Heaven by trusting the Savior even if you have never once partaken of the cup that speaks of His suffering and death, but if your heart is filled with love for Him, you will be glad to gather with His people from time to time to remember Him.
If you are unsaved, you may have thought of the Lord’s supper as a means whereby you might obtain salvation. Perhaps you have come to the communion table hoping that thereby you might obtain the assurance that your sins are forgiven. But my dear friend, the message of the Lord’s supper is this: “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;… was buried, and… rose again” (15:3-4). What you need is not an ordinance, for the sacrament cannot save you; you need the blessed Savior Himself. You need to trust the One whose death is pictured in the Lord’s supper, the Savior who gave Himself for you.
Judging Ourselves (1 Corinthians 11:27-34)
This passage deals with the state and condition of believers as they approach the table of the Lord. Paul wrote, “Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” These are very solemn words, which should surely hold the carelessness and levity of our hearts in check. How often some of us have been guilty of approaching the table of the Lord casually, forgetting that in the eyes of God communion is a sacred ordinance.
What does it mean to eat the bread and to drink the cup unworthily? A misunderstanding of the term “unworthily” has kept some conscientious people from ever approaching the table. They reason like this: I never can be sure that I am worthy. I know that my Savior is worthy, that all holiness, purity, and goodness are His, but I am so conscious of the impurities that surge up from my own evil heart. I am so conscious of my frequent failure in thought, word, and deed, that I dare not come to the table of the Lord. I dare not receive those sacred elements, for I am very far from being worthy.
Let me say to such conscientious friends that the word is not “unworthy,” but “unworthily.” It refers not to the person, but to the state of mind in which he comes to the table of the Lord. Of course in ourselves we are all altogether unworthy, but we have found acceptance in the worthy One, and in Christ every believer is worthy to approach the table.
I remember reading of an aged saint who was oppressed by a sense of his unworthiness. He bowed weeping as the sacred emblems were being passed around and refused to touch the bread. When the deacon offered it, he sobbed, “I am too great a sinner to receive that which is so holy.” His Highland minister exclaimed, “Take it, mon; take it. It is for sinners and for none else that Jesus died.”
My acknowledgment of my sinnership is that which gives me the right to come to the table, for 1 Timothy 1:15 says, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” If I truly feel my sinfulness, confess it, and put my trust in the Savior of sinners, I find in Him my worthiness.
But in 1 Corinthians 11:27 Paul did not use a noun or an adjective. He used an adverb: “unworthily.” It describes, as we have noted, how I come to the Lord’s table. If I come in a light, frivolous, careless way; if as the bread and the wine are being prayed over, I am thinking of a thousand and one other things; if I am occupied with the business of the week; if I am recalling the latest foolish story I have heard; if when the bread and the cup are actually passed to me, I am not thinking of the Savior of whom they speak; if I am perfunctorily participating in communion as a religious ordinance—then I am taking the loaf and the cup unworthily. Or perhaps I come altogether unprepared, having spent no time with God in the morning. Perhaps I have not meditated on the solemnity of all this and, rushing into His presence, I bring strange fire, as it were, and fail to recognize that the loaf and the cup represent the precious body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. To partake in any such spirit is to do so unworthily.
Those who partake unworthily, Paul said, “shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” It is as though “they crucify… the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:6). They forget that it was their sins that caused His death on the cross, they act as though He did not even die, and they fail to realize what the symbols represent.
To avoid partaking unworthily, am I to remain away from the table? Not if I am a Christian. Instead “let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.” Observe, Paul did not say, “Let a man examine himself, and so let him refrain from participating.” He said, “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat.” No matter what evil he sees in himself, if he judges himself before God and confesses his own unholiness, he is free to participate in this sacred service. In other words, he is to come into the presence of God with self-judgment. He who does not do this “eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” If he does not judge himself, he only exposes himself to divine judgment because of his frivolous behavior.
In what sense does he fail to discern the Lord’s body? Let me answer with an illustration: We have all gone to a funeral service and seen the casket containing all that was mortal of some loved one. What a solemn time it was! What would you have thought if some shallow, flippant person had come to such a service and had hardly sat down before he leaned over to the person next to him and said, “By the way, I heard a most amusing story; let me tell it to you while we are waiting for the minister to begin.” Every respectable person would have looked at him with indignation and said, “What is the matter with the foolish man? Does he fail to discern the body of our dear one lying there?”
Likewise the bread and wine on the Lord’s table represent the precious body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and anyone coming carelessly to the table fails to discern the Lord’s body. He does not recognize that communion is a memorial of death, a remembrance of the One who died for our sins.
Because the Corinthians had allowed themselves to become very casual in the way they partook of the Lord’s supper, the apostle said to them, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” Just what did he mean? What does the word “sleep” mean? If you read through the Epistles of Paul, you will see that it is a term used over and over again for the death of the believer. It is not the sleep of the soul, but the sleep of the body. When the believer dies, the spirit is “absent from the body, and.. .present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
Let me direct your attention to that lovely sentence in Ephesians 3:14-15: “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and on earth is named.” When Paul used the phrase “the whole family,” he was referring to all of God’s children, the entire redeemed family. Part of them he located “in heaven” and part “on earth.” If the apostle believed in soul sleep, he would have said, “Of whom the whole family in the grave and on earth is named.” But he did not think of our departed loved ones in Christ as being in the grave. He thought of them as being in Heaven. Philippians 1:23 indicates that death for the believer is “to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better.”
The word “sleep” is used many times in Scripture, but only in reference to the body. The weary bodies of believers are put to sleep to rest until they are awakened on the resurrection morning. It is a blessed thing to sleep in Christ, and yet there is such a thing as a believer being put to sleep before his due time. We read in Psalm 55:23 that the ungodly “shall not live out half their days,” and it is quite true that even a godly person may fall so far into sin that God may not permit him to live on to a ripe old age. He may take him home in youth or midlife.
I would not say that when a young believer dies it is always an act of discipline, for many a young saint has in grace been taken away from the evil to come. Then too, some ripen earlier than others. Some of us develop so slowly that it will take fifty or sixty or seventy years to bring us to spiritual maturity, but there are others like Borden of Yale who ripen so young that the Lord can say, “I am going to pluck that fruit now and take it home to Heaven; it is ready early.”
But early death can be an evidence of the Lord’s discipline. In effect Paul was saying to the Corinthians, “You have been dishonoring the Lord at His table by approaching it in a light and trifling manner. You have been given to levity and misused this sacred ordinance by combining it with a feast for yourselves. Therefore, many of you are weak, many of you are sickly, and many of you are even dying early.”
Sickness is one tool the Lord often uses to chasten His people. Chastening is not necessarily punishment, but it is educational, and the Lord uses sickness to make us realize our littleness, our insufficiency, and the importance of living only for eternity. Many a young or middle-aged Christian has gone on perhaps for years without giving much recognition to the Lord’s authority over his life, and then sickness has come and for long weary weeks or months and sometimes years that dear one has been laid aside. At first he has asked restlessly, “O God, why do I have to suffer? Why cannot I go out to enjoy things with others?” But little by little a change has come and after a while the sick one has been able to say with a chastened spirit, “Lord, perhaps You have lessons to teach me that I would not learn if I were healthy and strong; make me a willing pupil in Your school.” God uses such chastening to lead that believer into deeper fellowship with Himself.
It is a very serious thing to be under the hand of God in chastening. I am afraid that some of us are more or less under it almost all our days because we are so slow to learn our lessons, so self-willed. It takes us a long time to get to the place where we judge ourselves in the presence of God so that His hand may be lifted.
Paul called us to self-judgment: “If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” But how am I to judge myself? By bringing my inmost thoughts and my outward behavior into the light of the Word of God and asking myself, “Are these thoughts of mine, is this behavior of mine in accordance with what is written here?” If I find that I am cherishing certain ambitions that are contrary to the Word, if I find that this Word has something to say to me personally about my thoughts and ways, I am to turn to God and confess my failure, acknowledge my sin, and seek by His grace to walk in obedience to His Word. As I thus judge myself, I come out from under the hand of discipline.
God’s Word should always be the standard of judgment when I examine myself. When I see something in the Bible, I may say, “Certainly this has no application to me,” though it is God’s direct word to my soul. If I ignore it, I am putting aside my good conscience, and I need not expect to hear Him speak to me again until I am ready to listen. Why should He reveal other things to me when I refuse to bow to Him in this matter? When you read the Bible, do you read it only to become acquainted with it as literature, to become familiar with its history and philosophy, and to derive help from its comforting passages, or do you also read it so that you can obey it and make it your counselor?
Let me give you a word of personal testimony. For the first six years of my Christian life I was largely dependent on what I called the Spirit’s guidance. I knew very little of the guidance of the Word. When perplexed I would say, “I will ask the Lord what His will is,” and as I felt impressed I would act. But I found as I read my Bible that I was often acting contrary to the written Word.
I will never forget the night when I knelt before God and opened my Bible to a passage about baptism, which I had been avoiding for years. During those years I would say, “I am going to ask the Lord about it,” and then I would have an inward feeling that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was all I needed. Every time I read a portion of Scripture about baptism, I would dodge it. I had a lot of dodging to do, for there were a great many Scripture passages that had to do with that subject. Finally that night before the open Word I said, “Blessed God, by Thy grace from today on I will never try to dodge one thing that is written in Thy Word for Thy people in this age. If Thou wilt make it clear to me, by Thy grace I will walk in obedience to it.”
From that time I had blessing I had never experienced before. Two weeks after that I went down to the seaside and was buried with Him in baptism and a week later I sat at the table of the Lord. Previously I had said, “All you need is to feed mentally on the body and blood of Christ; you do not need the outward symbols.” One by one many things came to my attention that I had tried to make myself believe were all right, but I found they were actually contrary to His Word.
I have sought conscientiously now for many years to yield obedience when God speaks. I do not always understand why He tells me to do certain things, but it is not necessary for me to understand. What is necessary for me is to obey, to do what God has asked me to do. ft is as we obey the Word that we are kept clean. Ephesians 5:25-26 tells us that Christ “loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.” If we judge ourselves, obey the Word, and confess our failures, we will not have to be judged by the Lord.
“But when we are judged”—when we become the objects of divine discipline, when God has to deal with us because we will not judge ourselves—”we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” The unsaved man is going to be dealt with in the day of judgment; the child of God is judged by the Father during his lifetime. “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Hebrews 12:6). Every bit of pleasure that the worldling has is in this life. Sometimes people say, “I do not understand it. I am a Christian and yet it seems to me that I have nothing but trouble. I look at the people of the world and they seem to take things so easily.” You do not need to be surprised at that, for the worldling gets all his heaven right here. Christians get all the sorrow, all the trouble, all the tears they will ever have right here. Here they are chastened of the Lord; they come under the rod and are disciplined for their naughtiness, but when they get to Heaven there will be no more punishment. They will be forever with the Lord and “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”
Until we get to Heaven, let us remember that we are here to glorify our Lord. That is the only thing worth living for; nothing else matters. We have only a little while to live for Jesus and glorify Him. I do not want any thought of ease or pleasure in this world to keep me from being the kind of person God can use until He calls me to Himself.
“My brethren,” continued the apostle, “when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.” That is very sweet, for the Lord’s supper is a matter of fellowship; that is why we observe it together and why we read, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). And so we tarry and together proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. The Lord’s supper is not something to gratify one’s appetite. “If any man hunger,” Paul said, “let him eat at home.” Just a morsel of bread, just a sip of wine will do. It is only a reminder. We “come not together unto condemnation,” but in a serious manner, so truly occupied with Christ that we will have the Lord’s approval.
I like to think of the last words of chapter 11 as not merely the words of the apostle Paul to the Corinthians, but as the words of our Master to the whole church: “The rest will I set in order when I come.” There is so much that we can never regulate, so much that will never be right in this world. There are so many things that are out of gear in our individual lives, in our families, and in the church of God. We may try to set them in order, but we readily blunder. The Master says, as it were, “Walk in obedience to My Word and I will straighten out the rest when I come. I will be back soon, and what a day it will be!”
I have searched this Bible for a great many years and have never found in it one portion that would intimate that I must put one moment between this present hour and the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He may come today. I rejoice to know that all who have put their trust in Him are ready to meet Him when He returns.