Discerning Christ’s Body

“Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (vv. 29–30).

– 1 Corinthians 11:17–34

Problems related to the Lord’s Supper have appeared throughout church history. We have seen some of the faulty understandings of Christ’s presence in the supper, but it is worth noting that some of these understandings have led to significant errors in practice. To this day, for example, Roman Catholicism encourages the adoration of the host—the bread in the Lord’s Supper—which is an idolatrous practice since a more biblical view asserts that the bread is just that—bread. Also, Roman Catholic theology traditionally describes the Mass as a repetition of the sacrifice of Christ. Yet that violates the New Testament emphasis that Christ was sacrificed once for all (Heb. 10:10).

But errors associated with the Lord’s Supper are not merely the province of the post-Apostolic church. Even during the Apostolic era, believers were failing to understand the supper, and they were committing all manner of sins related to the sacrament. Some members of the church in Corinth, for example, mixed idolatry with their celebration of the supper (1 Cor. 10:1–22). Others failed to grasp the nature of the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament designed to encourage unity and love among believers. They came to the Lord’s Table and gorged themselves on the elements and other foods that were eaten in conjunction with the combined Lord’s Supper–fellowship meal or “love feast” observed in the early church (11:17–34). In fact, one of the key reasons the Apostle Paul wrote 1 Corinthians was to correct the church’s practice and understanding of the Lord’s Supper.

One of the most important principles for celebrating the Lord’s Supper rightly is laid out in 1 Corinthians 11:29–30, which tells us that if we eat and drink without “discerning the body,” we eat and drink judgment on ourselves. Christ does not take the misuse of His supper lightly, and those who do not partake in faith and repentance risk their very lives. That is why the Reformed tradition stresses that ministers should fence the table whenever the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. People should be warned that they dare not take the Lord’s Supper if they are not believers or if they are under discipline from a gospel-preaching church and have been barred from the supper. Yes, the Lord’s Table is for sinners, but only for sinners who have trusted Christ alone for salvation and are following Him as His disciple in a life of repentance. Only repentant sinners are welcome to the supper.

Coram Deo

  • Christ has not instituted His sacraments for perfect people but for men and women who are sinners. But those who come to the table must be repentant sinners who do not take the sacrament lightly. Let us examine ourselves before we go to the table and repent of our sin so that we may not eat and drink judgment on ourselves.

Passages for Further Study

  • Leviticus 10:1–3
  • 2 Samuel 6:5–15
  • Acts 5:1–11
  • Galatians 6:7–8

Devotionals (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals), Copyright 2016, Ligonier Ministries.

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Increasing Your Spiritual Strength 

“All Scripture is . . . profitable for . . . correction” (2 Tim. 3:16).

God’s Word strengthens the repentant sinner.

If you’re a gardening buff, you know that skillful pruning promotes the overall growth and productivity of a plant. Jesus assumed His audience knew as much when He said, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:1-3).

Jesus was comparing believers to branches, which the Father prunes for maximum productivity. The Word is His pruning shear, which He applies with skill and precision to remove our imperfections and promote godliness. He wants to eliminate anything from our lives that may restrict our spiritual growth.

The word translated “correction” in 2 Timothy 3:16 speaks of the strengthening work of God’s Word. Scripture not only exposes your sin, but it also strengthens you and restores you to a proper spiritual posture. It convicts you and then gives you instruction to build you up again.

Job 17:9 says, “The righteous shall hold to his way, and he who has clean hands shall grow stronger and stronger.” Paul added, “I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).

As the Spirit uses Scripture to expose sin in your life, forsake that sin and follow what Scripture says to do instead. You will be strengthened in your spiritual walk as a result. To aid in that process be “constantly nourished on the words of the faith and . . . sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6).

I firmly believe that any weaknesses you have can become areas of great strength as you allow God’s Word to do its sanctifying work within you.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Thank God for the strengthening and restoring power of His Word.
  • If there’s an area of your life that is weak and vulnerable to temptation, confess it to the Lord and begin today to strengthen it according to the Word.

For Further Study

  • Read Ephesians 1:18-23 and 3:14-21.
  • What did Paul pray for?
  • How did God demonstrate His power toward believers?
  • Is God’s power sufficient for all your spiritual needs? Explain.

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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Reproving Sinful Conduct 

“All Scripture is . . . profitable for . . . reproof” (2 Tim. 3:16).

People who aren’t interested in holy living will avoid being exposed to sound doctrine.

Paul instructed Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2). He knew a time was coming when many people would reject sound doctrine, and “wanting to have their ears tickled, [would] accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and . . . turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths” (vv. 3-4).

That’s certainly true of our day. Many who profess to love Christ seem intolerant of His Word. Often they fall into spiritual complacency and surround themselves with teachers who tell them exactly what they want to hear. If they can’t find a comfortable message, they drift from church to church or simply abandon it altogether.

Such people have exchanged conviction for comfort, and need to examine themselves to see if they are genuine believers (2 Cor. 13:5). Their attitude toward the Word is in stark contrast to those who truly love Christ and come to the Word with an earnest desire to learn its truths and live accordingly.

But even true believers can fall into the trap of negligence and compromise. Perhaps you’ve noticed how sinning Christians often try to avoid exposure to God’s Word. Sometimes they’ll temporarily stop attending church or Bible studies. They also try to avoid other believers—especially those who will hold them accountable to what they know to be true.

But like any loving parent, God won’t allow His children to remain in sin for long without disciplining them (Heb. 12:5-11). Sooner or later they must repent and be reconciled to Him.

An important element in reconciling sinning Christians to God is the faithful prayers of other believers. God may choose to use you in that way, so always be ready to pray, and eager to restore others in a spirit of gentleness (Gal. 6:1).

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Do you know a Christian who is being disobedient to God’s Word? If so, ask God to bring him or her to repentance. Assure the person of your prayers and concern, and be available to be further used in the restoration process if the Lord wills.

For Further Study

  • What does Matthew 18:15-20 say about how to confront a sinning Christian?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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The Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper

“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

– Matthew 18:20

Classic, orthodox Christology as defined by the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451 holds that in the one person of Christ are perfectly united a human nature and a divine nature. In this union, the two natures are joined without mixture, confusion, separation, or division, each nature retaining its own attributes. The divine nature does not become semi-human and the human nature does not become semi-divine. Christ is truly God and truly man, not a divine-human hybrid who is neither truly human nor truly God.

Since each nature retains its own properties, Christ’s human nature possesses all of the non-sinful limitations that are de nitional of humanity. This is evident in the Gospels, which tell us, for example, that Christ experienced human limitations such as hunger (Mark 11:12). But even in His glorified state, the human nature of Christ is still limited in ways that are not a consequence of the fall. His physical body, one of the aspects of His human nature, is localized in heaven. It can be no more omnipresent than our human bodies can be. We see evidence for the localization of Christ’s body in heaven in passages such as 1 Thessalonians 4:16, which speaks of Christ in His humanity descending from heaven.

However, because Christ has a divine nature as well, He also possesses divine attributes. The person of Christ is omnipresent on account of His divine nature. His human nature remains localized in heaven, but because Christ is also truly God, He is omnipresent and ever with us due to His divine nature. And, because God is spirit (John 4:24), the nature of Christ’s omnipresence is spiritual. Thus, we affirm that Christ is truly and spiritually present in the Lord’s Supper.

Yet when we commune with Christ at His table in the supper, we are not communing with His divine nature alone. We are communing with a person, and to commune with the divine person of the Son of God, because He has a truly human and truly divine nature, means that we are communing with the God-man. His human body and soul remain in heaven, but we have access to the whole Christ because we are communing in the supper with the divine person in whom both omnipresent deity and localized humanity are united. By faith, as Westminster Confession 29.7 states, we feed on Christ spiritually, and both His humanity and His deity nourish us. His presence is spiritual, but via that spiritual presence, we commune with Jesus in all His humanity and deity.

Coram Deo

  • When we come to the Lord’s Table, the human nature of Christ is not in the room with us but is in heaven. However, because Christ is spiritually present, we nevertheless also commune with His humanity. We are lifted up to heaven, as it were, to fellowship with the whole Christ. That is why the Lord’s Supper is such a solemn and joyous occasion.

Passages for Further Study

  • Psalm 139:7–12
  • Ephesians 1:15–23

Devotionals (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals), Copyright 2016, Ligonier Ministries.

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A Communication of Attributes

“Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

– Matthew 28:20b

The Roman Catholic Church teaches a view of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper known as transubstantiation, which holds that Christ is personally and physically present in the bread and wine even though the elements still appear as bread and wine. Roman Catholicism says that in the Mass, the invisible essence of the elements miraculously becomes Christ Himself, body and soul. Lutheranism and the Reformed tradition both disagree with this view.

Lutheranism’s view of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper is often labeled consubstantiation, though most Lutherans dislike that term. In the Lutheran view, Christ is present in, with, and under the elements of the Lord’s Supper. Lutheranism does not explain how this happens, but the result is similar to Roman Catholicism in that the physical body of Christ becomes omnipresent. Both traditions hold to a physical presence of Jesus in the sacrament, which requires His physical body to be present in more than one place at the same time.

Roman Catholics and Lutherans hold their respective views based on their shared understanding of the communicatio idiomatum, the communication of properties or attributes of the two natures of Christ. For both traditions, the divine nature of Christ communicates (or shares) divine attributes such as omnipresence to His human nature; thus, Christ’s physical body can be in several locations at once.

Reformed theology rejects this view of the communication of attributes as violating historic, orthodox Christology. According to the Council of Chalcedon, the two natures of Christ are inseparably united in the one divine person of the Son of God without confusion, mixture, or change. The divine nature remains truly divine and the human nature remains truly human, each retaining its own attributes. This must be so. If Christ’s humanity acquires a divine attribute, Jesus is no longer truly human and cannot represent other human beings before God or atone for their sin.

For Reformed theology, the communicatio idiomatum means the attributes of each of Christ’s natures are communicated to the person of Christ. We can predicate what is true of each nature to Christ’s person. So, the person of Christ is omnipresent, but not according to His human nature. He is omnipresent according to His divine nature because only deity is omnipresent. Likewise, the person of Christ died on the cross, but Jesus experienced death according to His human nature, for the divine nature is not subject to death and decay.

Coram Deo

  • As we will see, understanding the Lord’s Supper rightly demands a correct understanding of Christology. Indeed, we cannot rightly understand any doctrine unless we rightly understand the doctrine of Christ. Let us be careful in our study of theology to know the person and work of Christ. Consider devoting some time in the next few weeks to studying the doctrine of Christ.

Devotionals (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals), Copyright 2016, Ligonier Ministries.

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The Lord’s Supper in the Present

“Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many Tfor the forgiveness of sins’ ” (vv. 26–28).

– Matthew 26:26–29

Temporally speaking, the Lord’s Supper has both a past and a present orientation. Regarding the past, the Lord’s Supper looks back on God’s great act of deliverance, the atonement of Christ that delivers us from sin, the work of redemption foreshadowed in the old covenant Passover (Ex. 12; Mark 14:22–25). In reference to the future, the Lord’s Supper looks forward to the coming of Christ to consummate His kingdom, the time at which we will celebrate the marriage supper of the Lamb (1 Cor. 11:26; Rev. 19:6–10).

Yet the past and future aspects of the Lord’s Supper do not exhaust what happens in the sacrament in relation to time. The majority report in Christian history is that something also happens in the present when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Although some have denied that Christ is present in the supper—this is the memorialist view associated with Huldrych Zwingli that holds that the supper is essentially a mental act of remembrance—most believers have held that Jesus is truly and really present when we celebrate the sacrament.

Most theological traditions have held that Christ is really present in the Lord’s Supper, but there has been no consensus as to exactly how He is present. In fact, this was the central issue that kept the Reformed and Lutheran branches of the Protestant Reformation from uniting. To this day, various understandings of the Lord’s presence in the sacrament persist and divide the church.

The Reformers were united in opposing the official Roman Catholic view of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper: transubstantiation. Aristotelian philosophy forms the backdrop of this view. Aristotle held that every individual thing or substance consists of an essence and accidens. The accidens of a substance are accessible to our five senses and can change without changing the substance. For example, consider a green ball. The “greenness” of the ball falls into the category of accidens and is not essential to “ballness.” You can change the color to red and still have a ball because the essence of the ball remains.

Accordingly, things such as texture, color, taste, and so forth are all accidents of bread and wine. Roman Catholicism holds that in the Lord’s Supper, the accidents of bread and wine remain while the invisible essence of those substances changes into the body and blood of Jesus. To our senses, the elements of bread and wine still look, taste, feel, and smell like bread and wine, but the elements in their essence are Christ—personally and physically.

Coram Deo

  • For many reasons, transubstantiation has been rejected by Protestants as a biblical way of conceiving of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper. However, that does not mean we deny Christ’s presence in the supper. Following John Calvin, we affirm the spiritual presence of Christ in the sacrament, and we commune with Him when we come to the Lord’s Table.

Passages for Further Study

  • Exodus 24:1–11
  • Leviticus 23:4–8
  • 1 Corinthians 11:17–24

Devotionals (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals), Copyright 2016, Ligonier Ministries.

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The Past and the Future

“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (vv. 28–30).

– Luke 22:14–30

Remembrance of the past is a central component of the Lord’s Supper. It is not the only thing that happens when we eat the bread and drink the wine, but it is a key part of the sacrament nonetheless. As we have seen, the Lord’s Supper was instituted at a Passover meal where the remembrance of Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery was essential to the feast. Yet as Jesus changed the Passover liturgy to have the Lord’s Supper reference His death (Luke 22:19–20), we see that for believers, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper not only echoes the first Passover and its deliverance but, more importantly, it commemorates the crucifixion of Christ. For us, of course, His death is a past event, so in the Lord’s Supper we look back on the atonement and resurrection every time we gather at the Lord’s Table.

In addition to having reference to the past, the Scriptures explain that the Lord’s Supper has a future orientation as well. We see elements of that future orientation in today’s passage. In Luke 22:14–16, we read of how Jesus told His disciples that the Last Supper was His final drinking of the Passover cup until He drinks it anew in its fulfillment in the kingdom of God. Verses 28–30 also hint at a future aspect to the Lord’s Supper, for in that portion of Luke 22, Jesus speaks of the disciples’ eating and drinking at the Lord’s Table as they sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. That feast was yet future for the disciples, and it remains yet future for us. After all, passages such as 2 Timothy 2:12 promise believers that they will likewise reign with Christ when the kingdom of God is finally consummated in all its fullness.

Revelation 19:6–10 gives us perhaps the clearest reference to the future feast in the consummation of Christ’s kingdom. As we see in this text, there is a “marriage supper of the Lamb” to come in which we will celebrate the wedding of the bride to the bridegroom. Our Savior is working to cleanse His bride, the church, and present her without spot or wrinkle (Eph. 5:27–33). He is doing that now as He sanctifies us, but that work will one day be completed and we will be perfect in holiness in the world to come. We will be glorified and freed from sin in heaven, and our physical bodies will finally be resurrected and glorified in the same way. Then, at the final day, our souls and bodies will be reunited and we will live in purity forever in the new heaven and earth (Rev. 21).

Coram Deo

  • The Lord’s Supper reminds God’s people of Christ’s atonement, which gives them the right to participate in the great feast that will occur when Christ returns to consummate His kingdom. As we partake of the Lord’s Supper, let us look forward to that feast. On that day, we will be fully satisfied and enjoy the presence of our God forever.

Passages for Further Study

  • Isaiah 25:6–9
  • Zechariah 14
  • Matthew 22:1–14
  • 1 Corinthians 11:26

Devotionals (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals), Copyright 2016, Ligonier Ministries.

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