The Table of the Lord

1 Corinthians #20: An exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday evening, May 15, 2011.

I’ve been in services when unusual things happened.  I remember preaching in Ponca City and a man sitting a few rows from the front said, in the middle of my sermon, “I don’t think Jesus said that!”  I was startled but not recovered quickly.  I said, “Why don’t you let me finish and you and I can discuss that after the service?”  We’ve had a couple of times here when EMSA participated in the service, unplanned.  Once during a sermon in my first church a man yawned so loud we all stopped and laughed for a minute.  But I’ve not experienced anything like my seminary classmate who had members throwing hymnals at each other during a rather heated business meeting.  I have been embarrassed by somethings that have gone on in services I’ve attended.  There have been musical selections I thought were inappropriate; skits that had no business in worship; and attitudes that denied the very gospel being proclaimed.  I’m not even going to address “fire engine” baptistries and canons firing confetti or liturgical dancing.  Somethings are just too obvious and do not need to be addressed but I would like to speak to what is becoming all too common – a lack of reverence and a shallow, inadequate understanding of the ordinances of the church.

I was made aware, a few years ago, about a church in our area that each Sunday observes the Lord’s Table.  That is not a problem, in fact that can be a very good thing.  The problem is the elements were set on a table over to one side and attendees were encourage to make their way over to the table and partake of the elements whenever they wanted during the service.  I joking refer to it as “the Lord’s buffet.”  A self-serve, casual and private observance of the Supper.  The problem of course is that the Supper is a church ordinance meant to be take as a body together as a means of proclaim the death of our Savior and confessing His certain return.  It is a communal act not an individual act.  Just as offensive is any observance of the Supper which fails to understand the significance of the Table and the importance of community.  It’s not a matter of location.  The proper observance can take place in a cathedral, a store front, a home or anywhere the people of God gather.  It is not a matter of style.  It doesn’t matter if elements are passed to the congregation or whether individuals or families come to be served.  It doesn’t matter if individual cups or used or a common cup.  What matters is the manner in which the Table is observed.  Our text this evening is found in 1 Corinthians chapter 11.

Text: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Some preliminary comments:
The Lord’s Table, Lord’s Supper or Communion is one of 2 ordinances given to the church by our Lord.  Baptism being the other.  The Baptist Faith & Message states in Article VII:

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.
Matthew 3:13-17; 26:26-30; 28:19-20; Mark 1:9-11; 14:22-26; Luke 3:21-22; 22:19-20; John 3:23; Acts 2:41-42; 8:35-39; 16:30-33; 20:7; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 10:16,21; 11:23-29; Colossians 2:12.

While baptism is a symbol it is not a “mere” symbol.  We do not believe that the bread and fruit of the vine actually become the body and blood of the Lord or that grace is dispensed through the elements, but there is something unique in the observance.  There is a presence.  While Catholics and some others may be guilty of making too much of the elements we Baptists often are guilty of making too little of them.

The apostle is writing the church in Corinth in response to reports he has received.  He writes as a concerned pastor but also as their spiritual father.  He had spent a year and a half ministering in Corinth.  They were a dear people to him.  In chapters 11-14 he deals with questions of public worship.  In the first 16 verses of chapter 11 he deals with the wearing of veils in worship.  From that we understand the necessity of recognizing the divine economy if we are to engage in proper worship.  Now he turns his attention to the observance of the Supper.

Here we discover that…

Thesis: The Table of the Lord is a holy, sacred act of worship and as such should be observed with reverence, joy and a sense of awe and wonder.

This is why I prefer to build the entire service around the Supper rather than just have it as an element in the service.  I do not think it is wrong to handle it in another way provided that you give it proper focus when you come to that element of the service.

It is clear that there were real problems in Corinth.  When someone says, “I wish we were more like the early church,” I like to take them to 1 Corinthians and say, “You mean like this?”  It seems the folks in Corinth followed the practice of many in the early church and celebrated the Supper as part of the “Love Feast.”

The Love Feast was a common meal referenced in Jude 12: These are blemishes on your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, looking after themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted;

The love feast was a meal in which rich and poor shared equally at the table.  Each brought what they could and shared all things in common.  It was to be a symbol of unity, fellowship, love and equality.  In Corinth it became an opportunity for indulgence.  The wealthy ate and drank to excess while the poor went without.  This brought serious consequences as we will see.

There are two things I want to point out from our text.

  1. Proper observance of the Supper demands we be aware of and on guard against the abuses of the Lord’s Table.  (11:17-22)
  2. Proper observance of the Supper demands we understand the meaning of the Table and the proper manner of approaching the Supper.  (11:23-34)
    a. The meaning of the Table – 11:23-26
    b. The manner of approaching the Supper – 11:27-34
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