Eating & Drinking Christ

Over this past Easter Weekend (March 2005), Brother Singh shared with us a stirring message on what he thought the Apostle Paul meant when he referred to the Lord’s Supper in his first epistle to the Corinthians.

Though preachers often use 1 Corinthians 11 as their primary text to commemorate the death of Christ, we were shown that the Apostle was not only referring to the methods of how Communion should be conducted. Rather, it seems he was referring to the importance of God’s people eating and drinking of the spirit of Christ on a daily basis.  The emblems we use to commemorate communion are not as important as what they signify: our partaking of that one bread, which is Christ.

The Most Unpopular Message

In the gospel of John 6:28-66, the Apostle highlighted a sermon preached by Jesus that almost decimated His entire flock.   Jesus’ ministry had just begun, and already the numerical results were excellent.  However, this positive mood ended abruptly that day when the Lord revealed to them His demands for discipleship.

With a seemingly sincere tone, the crowd had asked Him, “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” Jesus told them that He was the bread that came down from heaven to give light to the whole world, but because of the blindness of their hearts they continued pleading with Him saying, “Lord, evermore give us this bread.”  In knowing their true desire of only wanting the physical loaves, the Lord made a call for discipleship and highlighted the required sacrifices.  Lip service was not sufficient.  Rather, it was necessary to imbibe and be partakers of the same lifestyle He lived and taught. He said, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.”  (Jn. 6:53).

Sadly, John documented that after the congregation heard this message, “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.”  It was easy to follow for fish and bread and enjoy the benefits of a miracle ministry, but to conform to a change of life — absolutely not!  It is apparent that the major challenge was to accept Jesus’ leadership and example, which they were not prepared to do.

This episode clearly outlines a phenomenon that has existed from the beginning of time until now.  While apostate religion has always been popular, discipleship (Christ-like character development) and faith, based on the foundation of God’s word, have always been ignored.  In general, religion gives people a reason for living and helps them cope with the stress of the world, but only discipleship changes the spirit and results in the development of a Christ-like nature.  It is the strait gate. (Matt. 7:13).

Unless you and I begin to actually incorporate the lifestyle and commandments of Christ, we have no life in us.

The Apostle Paul, in explaining his reason for sacrificing all of his prior accomplishments, said something that only a few of us can honestly say. “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord…  That I may know him, the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.”  (Phil. 3:8,10).  Paul was not talking about penances or self-affliction which only justifies men’s religious motivations, but rather, a willingness to give up his own ways, thought-pattern and ambitions in hope that he may develop a more intimate relationship with Christ.

Christians today find it easy to declare their desire to follow Christ, as long as they do not have to sacrifice any of their personal accomplishments, habits or dreams.  Spiritually speaking, prosperity, comfort and complacency, have slain more people than poverty ever will.  It is evident that in order to successfully build a large church in our day one must avoid everything that even closely resembles true discipleship.

Corinth’s Challenge

In Paul’s first corrective letter to the church in Corinth he addressed a number of negative issues, but his main focus was on unity and the demands for true discipleship.  No section of this epistle should be isolated, but rather, kept intact with the rest of the letter in order to understand its overall context. By doing this, it becomes easier to see the ultimate purpose of each illustration used, whether it was saints suing each other at the law, the object lesson of the Lord’s supper, or the illustration of the many-membered body of Christ.

How are the concepts of unity and discipleship linked?  This is quite obvious in the Lord’s prayer for unity in John 17, along with the message delivered by all of the Early Church Apostles who laboured to communicate its necessity to the various churches under their ministry.

Biblical unity is the result of believers partaking of one Spirit and one bread — Jesus Christ.  True discipleship cannot be pursued without endeavouring for unity.  The elements of humility, kindness, honouring one another, and putting God and the Church in proper perspective are all manifestations of true discipleship.  Unity and discipleship are inextricably intertwined.

Corinth was divided because the spirit of the world had crept into this church.  Having been sent to Tarsus for years, the Apostle Paul had learned from experience that a novice should not occupy the ministry.  Nevertheless, Corinth was opening its doors to any talented orator with some new concept or order. (1 Cor. 4:15-16).  They were becoming more religious and less Christ-like, relying on the “excellency of speech” and “enticing words of man’s wisdom”, rather than the “demonstration of the Spirit.” It was necessary that their faith “should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”  (1 Cor. 2:1, 4-5).  Instead of becoming disciples, they were turning into fans.  In highlighting this attitude of division, Paul wrote, “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.” (1 Cor. 1:12).

Scripture makes it apparent that the Apostle Paul was not as flashy, compromising or charismatic as some of his contemporaries.  But he was not a hireling, and his sincere desire was that the church in Corinth unite in Christ.  The entire first epistle to the Corinthians was addressing the problem of disunity.

The Bigger Picture

In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul recounted what took place on the night the Lord was betrayed.  His intention was not  to sanctimoniously stir up the readers of the epistle or to set a ceremonial precedent for communion services.  Rather, he was telling them that the bread and wine are just emblems.  To partake unworthily of the mere bread and wine was in no way as evil as partaking unworthily of Christ on a daily basis.  The Lord Jesus, of which we must partake, is the ‘bread of life’ that came down from heaven .  This was the major focus of this lesson. Selfish interests, the root of most sins, were crippling the church in Corinth just as it cripples our churches today.

Spiritual progress cannot be made when we partake of the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils at the same time.  As it is, none of us are free from drinking of the cup of devils, but God is merciful and continues His work of sanctification in our lives.  We must recognize that our battle is spiritual and, though we may fall time and time again, we must not give up but pull ourselves together and continue fighting.  It would be profitable to spend more time examining ourselves rather than others.  Pride, lust, selfishness, perverted ambition and ill-will toward others must all be eliminated as we mature.

No one is going to simply waltz into the Kingdom, let alone the Bride of Christ.  It takes much effort and prayer.  As the Apostle Peter said, “And if the righteous [barely make it into the kingdom], where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?” (1 Pet. 4:18).  Thanks be to God that His mercy far outweighs His judgment and wrath.

And so, during a communion service the bread and wine are simply emblems. Our participation is a public declaration of our desire to become one body, united in the Lord with our brothers and sisters.  We cannot take the Lord’s death for granted or make a mockery of the Church by living as ‘spiritual schizophrenics’, but we must recognize and respect the Lord’s body. A contamination within our spirits will pollute the rest of the Body. (1 Cor. 11:29).  This is the reason why we should not only be holy for the communion service, only to live in blatant sin and rebellion afterwards.  A right attitude to God and our fellow man must be maintained beyond the communion service.

The Headless Church?

Is Christ really our Head?    Does He direct our lives?  Reality shows that, in most cases, we’re quite content to be independent, making decisions without praying or waiting for an answer from God.  We spend most of our time selfishly pursuing our own ends, becoming indistinguishable from the ungodly surroundings in which we live.

Here’s a good question: if your physical body operated like the church body how effective would you be?  What would happen if all our body parts had brains of their own? In our information age, the quest for knowledge has replaced wisdom, discipleship and illumination as the objective of the word of God – both for congregation and ministers alike.  The Apostle Paul referred to this as a state of ever learning and never coming to a knowledge of the faith. (2 Tim. 3:7).  Religious? Yes! Disciples?  No!

If we think church services are only about religious ceremonies followed by loose living at home, we are deceived.  We  are to be responsible individuals in the community and a blessing to those around us.  It is our duty to develop a right attitude in regards to things such as time, money, and the grace of God. (1 Pet. 4:10).

Let us endeavour to accommodate, and even go out of our way for one another.  If the opportunity arises to do something nice for someone, do it wholeheartedly.  In doing this, we are not only developing discipleship, but also a spirit of unity, even if our good deeds are not reciprocated.  As in our physical body, even more so in the Body of Christ, every member has a function, even though some may be more predominant than others.

Division often results when ‘lesser’ members aspire to fill higher offices or those in elevated offices disrespect those in lower positions.  This is what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “Let nothing be done through strife or [for personal glory]; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”  (Phil. 2:3).  It would do us well to recall the long forgotten example of Christ washing His own disciples’ feet.

Moving Ahead

To move ahead in God we need to drop off the weights and besetting sins.  (Heb. 12:2).  The fact is that most of us, while longing for a closer walk with God, war against the concept of true discipleship,  and that is natural. Discipleship requires a putting aside of our own desires, ambitions and dreams.  Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24).

The bottom line is that unity and discipleship go hand-in-hand.  We cannot have unity without determining in our hearts to be disciples.  We may never experience unity in totality since we are all at different stages of Christian growth.  But the natural result of discipleship which includes the putting aside of pride, arrogance and selfishness, will result in unity.  As such, we must not seek for position or look down on others.  Let us bear in mind that the race is not for the swift, but the persistent, and God sees things from a different perspective than we do.  Similar to the slow and gradual process of maturity, unity is not accomplished overnight.  As Christ is gradually incorporated in our lives, the evidences of unity will be manifested.

Let us endeavour to eliminate every element from among us that will bring division.  We must start by putting away personal preferences and submit to the demands of discipleship.

As we partake of Christ on a daily basis, we will gradually relinquish all the contaminating influences of the world, whether it be fashions, entertainment, or lifestyle.

May God help us to eat of this bread and drink of the cup of the Lord worthily.