WHAT IS THE COMMUNION
The Bible uses several different terms to describe the communion service. Each of these terms emphasizes a different aspect of the communion. To begin our study of this part of the worship, let us look at each term, the Bible uses to describe this part of the worship service.
( 1 Corinthians 10:16)
First, we want to notice that the term communion is used in the Bible to refer to the item of worship specifically dedicated to the remembrance of Jesus. The word communion literally means a common sharing, a partnership, a fellowship. This term is used to emphasize the fact that this item of worship was instituted by Jesus Christ on the night in which he was betrayed. It was designed by God to always be done jointly with our brothers and sisters in Christ in a local congregation. We jointly share each of the three emblems which are part of this item of worship with all of our assembled brothers and sisters as well as with Jesus Christ. The Bread which we all jointly partake of, is it not the communion (common sharing) of the body of Christ. The Cup which contains the fruit of the vine (grape juice), is designed by God for all of the assembled Christians to jointly drink from the one cup.
In partaking from one cup, we are showing that we are all bound together by the one covenant which we have with God. Because the one Cup which represents the one covenant (contract) that we jointly have with God, contains the fruit of the vine which is to us as Christians the common sharing of the blood of Jesus Christ, we are all acknowledging that it was the blood of Jesus Christ, which ratified the New Testament and cleans us from all unrighteousness.
(1 Corinthians 10:21)
Here the term used to refer to the Communion is “the Lord’s Table”. The term “the Lord's Table” emphasizes the fact that this is something that we do that is ordained by the Lord. This term is emphasizing that the Lord is the one who determines what is to be set on this table and how. The Lord Jesus Christ is in charge. He instituted the Communion Service and he determines what is to be used on His table. If I say, “This is my wife's table”, this phrase shows that my wife is the one who determines what will be served, that she is the one in charge.
(1 Corinthians 11:20)
The term “The Lord's Supper” emphasizes the fact that we are partaking of a spiritual meal. But this term gives emphasis to what is to be eaten rather than who determines what items are in the Communion service. The term, the Lord’s Supper seems to place the emphasis on the emblems themselves being consumed rather than the table itself. The thoughts are centered around the emblems, the eating of these items, and the benefits that are available if we partake properly.
We have looked at three scriptural terms for the same part of the worship service, the Communion, the Lord’s Table, and the Lord’s Supper. Each of these terms brings out different aspects of this item of worship.
II. WHY WE PARTAKE OF THE COMMUNION
“Then Jesus said unto them, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me.’ ” (John 6:53-57)
These verses in John are in dispute among various preachers and scholars as to their meaning. Some believe that Jesus is talking about simply following him, while others among whom is the author, believe that Jesus is prophetically talking about partaking of the communion. I believe that he is talking about partaking of the communion for several reasons;
- 1. Because the wording fits perfectly with what Jesus says later when He institutes the Lord’s Supper.
2. Because if you read the entire chapter of John 6, the listeners thought that Jesus was talking literally about eating His flesh and drinking His blood.
3. Nowhere else in writings before Jesus time, during Jesus ministry or since Jesus ministry have I found someone else talking about eating their flesh and drinking of their blood and meaning they wanted someone to follow them.
4. If Jesus is using common terminology then why did most of Jesus’ followers and disciples become confused and quit following Him? In verses 66 and 67, we see that even the twelve apostles did not understand, but they stay because they know that Jesus is the Messiah, and He was the only one who had the words of life. But also I do not think it matters, since even if He was not talking about the communion, He was talking about eating His flesh and drinking His blood which everyone admits that we do when we partake of the Lord’s Supper. So either way, I believe that the things written in John 6 apply.
“But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” (1 Corinthians 11:28-30)
We partake thoughtfully and carefully because of the responsibility that the Bible places on each of us to examine themselves and then to partake of the body and blood of the Lord. We partake thoughtfully because we can partake in an unworthy manner with disastrous consequences. We also want to show the greatest reverence and respect to our Lord. We can see that the attitude that we have when we partake is just as important as partaking on a consistent basis.
“Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, 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 may be made manifest among you. When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.”
(1 Corinthians 11:17-22)
Paul in writing to the Corinthian brethren is correcting a number of things they were doing wrong. Apparently they had changed the entire worship service to God, because Paul in the remaining chapters of I Corinthians, covers the rules and guidelines for every part of the worship service. Here, he tells them because they had changed the communion service, they were no longer partaking of the Lord’s Supper. They had turned the communion into a common meal and they were eating that common physical meal during the worship service of the Church and calling it the Lord’s Supper. He goes on to tell the Corinthian brothers that no matter what they thought, no matter what excuses they made, what they were doing was wrong. They were bringing shame upon the Church and their brothers and sisters in Christ.
We are to stop and study carefully and make sure that what we are doing is what the Lord has commanded. If we want to partake of the Lord’s Supper, we need to make sure that we are partaking thoughtfully. Since it is possible to observe the communion improperly, we need to study in order to insure that we are partaking in a worthy manner. We also need to make sure that what we are doing is within the bounds of both the letter of the commands of God as well as its spirit.
We need to partake thoughtfully because heresies and false teachings are involved every time the communion is changed. We are to partake carefully at studying because there is no praise or no good involved in changing the communion. We partake thoughtfully so that we partake of the communion properly. We need to partake thoughtfully because the attitude that we have when we partake is what makes the difference between being saved or being lost.
III. HOW WE ARE TO PARTAKE OF THE LORD'S SUPPER
The first element of the Communion is the bread. The Greek word translated bread in the New Testament is transliterated “ARTOS” which literally means “a loaf of bread”. This word is singular in nature and is defined by Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words in the following manner: artos NT:740, "bread", signifies (a) "a small loaf or cake," composed of flour and water, and baked, in shape either oblong or round, and about as thick as the thumb; Every translator or commentator that I have read uses a singular “a” or “the” when either translating or commenting on this word.
“And He took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of Me.’ ”
To a Christian, the bread is the body of Jesus. While we know and understand that the bread physically always remains bread, to a Christian, it does not matter, we are to have the same respect and reverence as we would have if it literally became the body of Christ. This means that we need to be thinking about what Christ did for us. How he gave up his home in glory, came down to this low-land of sin and sorrow. He took the sins of the world on himself and paid the price for them by dying on the cross at Calvary, all for you and for me. We need to keep in mind the seriousness, the somberness and at the same time the tremendous joy of the occasion. We are to realize that we are to partake in remembrance of Jesus. We are to remember that Christ died on the cross in our place.
“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread: And when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, ‘Take, eat: this is My body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of Me.’ ”
(1 Corinthians 11:23-24)
The church at Corinth had changed the communion and in doing so, it meant that when they came together, they were no longer partaking of the Lord’s Supper. In correcting their sin Paul takes them back to the night in which Jesus was crucified and relates how the communion was instituted and how it should be done. Further more he reminds them that this knowledge had not been passed on through human beings to the Apostle Paul. Rather Paul makes it clear that he had received this information directly from God. He goes on to say that the bread represents the body of Christ, but only after it was blessed (prayed over). Prayer is an essential part of sanctification. The word sanctify means to set apart for a particular purpose, it is prayer that sets the bread aside for the purpose of representing the Body of Christ. We are reminded that we are to partake in remembrance of Jesus, our minds need to be centered on Christ during the communion.
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
The Bible using the phrase, “The bread which we break,” referring to the fact that each Christian breaks off a piece of the bread and eats it. The Bible goes on to tell us that the partaking of the bread is the communion, the common sharing, of the body of Christ. It is because we jointly participate, or because the assembled Christians partake of one loaf that we are a congregation, a local body of believers with each of the members being part of one another.
THE CUP (Poterion; A Drinking Vessel, With or Without A Handle, With or Without A Stem)
The second element or item on the Lord’s table is the cup. The word Cup is translated from the Greek word poterion which according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament words means whenever this word is used the cup being spoken of is a literal cup.
“After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in My blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.”(1 Corinthians 11:25)
Paul is explaining what Jesus had revealed unto him says that the cup (singular) is the New Testament that Jesus brought into effect by his death. Every time we partake of the one cup, we need to remember that we are in a covenant relationship with God. We have a contract with God that was ratified with the blood of Christ. We should be thinking about the agreement that we made with God when we were baptized, we need to examine ourselves comparing the life that we have lead in the past week to the Bible and if we have sinned, we need to make it right then and there with God, rededicate our lives to his service and go forth sinless in the sight of God. Just as there is one contract between God and man, there is one cup on the Lord’s table. If we each have separate cups, it would indicate that we each have a separate contract with God, it would mean that there was more than one faith. Because there is one New Testament, Jesus took one cup and we are to partake just as Jesus did, from one cup.
“Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” (Luke 22:20)
We have a plain declaration that the one cup represents the New Testament which was ratified by the blood of Christ. Just as you cannot pass around a liquid, such as the fruit of the vine without a container, you can not separate the blood of Jesus from the New Testament. The New Testament was brought into effect by the shedding of Christ's blood and we need to be thinking about that as we drink from the one cup.
FRUIT OF THE VINE (GRAPE JUICE)
The third element or item in the communion service, the Lord’s Supper, is the contents of the cup, the fruit of the vine. When used in this sense according to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, it is being used as a figure of speech called a metonymy, in which the container is being referenced to imply the contents. This is shown clearly in the following verse where cup and fruit of the vine are used interchangeably.
“And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.” (Luke 22:17-18)
The cup Jesus took contained the fruit of the vine. The assembled Disciples were told to divide it among themselves and we see this was to be done by drinking of the contents. Prayer is what dedicates the fruit of the vine as the blood of Christ and the cup as the New Testament. Until the prayer is said in the worship service to set aside the cup and its contents for their sanctified purpose, they are just a cup and fruit of the vine, but when the prayer (blessing) is said, to a Christian they become the New Testament and the blood of Christ.
“And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom.’ ” (Matthew 26:27-29)
Jesus took one cup containing the Fruit of the Vine. The contents of the cup after it was prayed for represents the blood of Jesus Christ The disciples were told to divide the contents of the cup by drinking it. There are only two ways this could happen, All drink from the cup, or drink all of the contents of the cup, by the last one drinking the last drop of grape juice from the cup. We are to remember that Jesus shed his blood for our sins. Jesus drank from the cup and communes with us in the Kingdom, the church
We see that Jesus took one cup. Remember in the previous verses we looked at in Matthew, Jesus commanded them to divide the contents of the cup by drinking all of it. How did the disciples fulfill this command? They clearly understood what they were being asked to do because each one of the assembled disciples drank from of the one cup.
The cup here is said to contain a blessing. The phrase, “Which we bless” simply means that we dedicate it with prayer. This is the communion or the common sharing of the blood of Christ because we share the one cup by all drinking from it.
The unfermented juice, the new wine, that comes from the cluster of grapes has a blessing in it. We know that the contents of the cup is unfermented grape juice and not just any juice from a vine. The fruit of the vine that grows in clusters is grapes and new wine is always unfermented when it is squeezed from the grapes. The term “Cup of Blessing” refers to the fact that God said through Isaiah that the liquid, the new wine, the grape juice, when it was squeezed from the grapes, contained a blessing. The communion cup contains a blessing because that blessing is in the new wine squeezed from a cluster of grapes.
IV. THE PURPOSE OF THE COMMUNION
The communion, the Lord’s Table, or the Lord’s Supper were instituted by God for various purposes. Let us investigate and see what the Bible says that some of those purposes are.
We are to partake in remembrance of Jesus Christ. We should be thinking about what Jesus did for us, how He died for our sins. We should be respectful while the communion is going on. This is not a time to be balancing the checkbook, worrying about what we are cooking, or planning what we will be doing the rest of the day. We need to concentrate on what we are doing. We need also to remember the manner in which we partake can bring damnation on us.
An Outward Showing of Christ's Death
When we partake of the communion we are showing to others what Christ's death means to us. What does the manner that you partake of the communion show to the world, to your fellow Christians, and to Jesus who is in our midst, say about how you feel about Jesus and his death. The world has chosen to remember Christ's death at Easter, God intends for us to remember it weekly.
An Inward Examination
(1 Corinthians 11:28-29)
Each of us is to honestly examine ourselves before we partake. We are to compare our lives to the New Testament, see how we have done, repent and rededicate ourselves, then to partake of the communion. If partaken of properly, the congregation after the communion is made up of sinless, rededicated Christians. The communion is intended for Christians and Christians only, not for children or outsiders. But God leaves it up to each person to examine themselves and determine if they should partake.
Looking Forward to Christ's Return
(1 Corinthians 11:29)
We are to examine ourselves and partake remembering the judgment at Christ's return. If Christ returned at the end of the service, what would your destination be. Most of us have children or loved ones who have gone to be with Jesus, if Christ returned today, would you spend eternity with them or separated from them.
When We are to Partake of the Communion
The disciples assemble on the first day of the week and partake of the communion Every first day of the week, we should plan ahead to worship God.
The Blessings That Come To Us From Properly Partaking Of The Communion
“For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” (1 Corinthians 11:26-31)
One of the blessings that we receive is that we remember weekly the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord. Another blessing that we receive is that weekly we reexamine and rededicate ourselves to God. If taken of properly another blessing we receive is that we grow in strength and to not fall away. Another blessing that we receive is that when we honestly judge ourselves, others do not have to judge us. The church sometimes must take action because individuals do not judge themselves. The laws of the land sometimes must judge Christians because they did not
“Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)
Another blessing that we receive is that as Israel ate a spiritual meal, so do we in the communion and are strengthened. Another blessing that we receive is that we feed our spiritual body, if we partake properly. The communion is one of only two places I find in the Bible where it says, If you do this properly, you will go to heaven and if you don't you are lost. The other is in II Peter, where we are told to add to our faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity and if we do this we shall never fall.
“Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me.” (John 6:53-57)
One of the blessings that we receive when we partake of the communion properly is eternal spiritual life. Another blessing that we receive when we partake properly is that we partake of a spiritual meal.
Another blessing that we receive is that on a weekly basis we are reminded of what Christ did for us. Thus we are less likely to take him for granted. Human beings tend to easily forget the things that are done for them. I consider the fact that if I partake of the communion properly, that I will be less likely to take Jesus for granted and forget about what he did for me a tremendously important blessing.
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.”
(1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
Another blessing that we receive if we partake in the proper manner is that on a weekly basis we come in contact with the blood of Christ. It is contact with the blood of Christ that takes away sin. If we partake properly, every week we are brought in contact with the blood of Christ and are rededicated to God. Another blessing that we receive if we partake properly is that we become members one of another. Another blessing that we receive if we partake properly is that we acknowledge that we are members of the body of Christ and as such we acknowledge the responsibility that we have for our brothers and sisters in Christ.
How The World Has Changed The Communion/big>
The world has taken the simplicity and beauty of the communion and in the name of convenience has changed it into something that no longer paints the beautiful picture that is the Lord’s Supper. It has been changed within many of the congregations of the Lord’s Church into a bastardized version. The beauty of the one loaf of unleavened bread which is the one sinless body with Christ as its head has been changed into multiple loaves, which if it symbolizes anything it would be the denominational world which claims to follow Jesus as its head, but in reality has clearly taken the stand that the commands of Jesus mean much less than the thoughts of man. The beauty of the unleavened bread representing a sinless body has been changed into crackers that can no longer be said to represent the one sinless body, since each person having their own cracker has destroyed the image that God has portrayed of a body with many members and changed it into an image that could only be representing the fact that each person today feels that the body, the church is no longer important. The only picture that could be even attempted to be drawn is a grotesque image of a head being attached to each organ of its many bodies which have no connection let alone an interdependence on each other.
The beauty of the one cup which is the New Testament which shows that we share a common salvation, a common agreement with God has been changed to multiple cups which could only symbolize a concept that each Christian has worked out their own salvation with God since each one is separate from the other. The extent that many of our brothers and sisters in Christ will go to in order to justify their convenience and fear of germs is astounding to me. It just proves that what Paul wrote Timothy about profane and vain babbling being ungodly and increasing unto more ungodliness is as true as it ever was.
The beauty of the fruit of the vine, grape juice, being the blood of Christ is such a beautiful picture because it shows the image of how the blood of Christ is inseparable from the New Testament in the same way that the fruit of the vine or any liquid is inseparable from the container as it is passed from one member to another. It is contact with the blood of Christ that takes away sins and as the cup passes from one hand to the next, if each person is partaking in the way that they should, the image is presented each week of sinless members of the body of Christ being united by one covenant and being one body. This image is distorted and outright destroyed by many congregations and churches because of the use of fermentation in wine. The unleavened or unfermented wine, the fruit of the vine symbolizes purity as opposed to leavening which is used in the Bible to represent sin. The use of fermented wine to supposedly symbolize the pure sinless blood of Christ is an abomination which destroys the very concept the fruit of the vine shows. Truly the religious world has no concept of the simple beauty that Jesus showed in his instituting of the Lord’s Supper.
2. We partake of the Communion thoughtfully because to do so brings spiritual life.
3. We partake of the Lord's Supper in the way that the Lord delivered it, because that is the command of God. We partake of the Lord's Table in the way that He delivered it, because we can partake of it in an improper manner and we know that the way the Lord did it is right.
4. We partake upon every first day of the week, because that is the example laid down for us.
5. The Unleavened Bread is to Christians the common sharing of the body of Christ.
6. The Cup is to Christians the New Testament, that Contract that we have with God.
7. The Fruit of the Vine (Grape Juice) is to us as Christians the blood of Christ.
8. When we partake properly, our sins are taken away and we are rededicated to God.
9. When we partake properly, we are reminded of what Jesus did for us.
10. When we partake properly, we are made members one of another and we are made one congregation.
11. When we partake properly, we are promised by God that we will grow stronger and not fall away.
A friendly welcome awaits you. We do not wish to embarrass you in any way. You will not be asked for contributions. We assemble for Bible study and worship each Sunday morning and we welcome you to meet with us. We would be happy to talk to you about your questions and we want to be of encouragement.
Please e-mail me, Dennis Crawford, at BibleTruths@hotmail.com for comments or further Bible information, or for the location of a congregation belonging to Jesus Christ near you.