Since we have several newcomers attending PWBC – and since we all can get stale in our understanding of what the Lord’s Supper means and what it means to examine ourselves prior to participating, I thought this essay might be helpful.
First, we practice what’s come to be known as open communion. You don’t have to be a member of PWBC to participate. However, you do need to be a confessing believer in Jesus Christ. I’ll say more about that below.
Second, we observe the Lord’s Supper approximately every six weeks. Ample notices in the bulletin and church calendar are given for you in advance.
Third, our participation in the Lord’s Supper is commanded for our good — it has deep and rich significance. I’ll briefly identify five of its blessings.
+ It is a symbolic way we remind ourselves there was a real man – with a real body, real flesh and blood – who in love, died in agony in our place. “We proclaim the Lord’s death.” In love for sinners, God did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all – Rom. 8:32. At the Lord’s Supper we remember it took the actual physical death of Christ to atone for our sins.
+ It is a symbolic act by stating we are wholly dependent on Him. We ‘eat his flesh, we drink His blood’ (John 6:28-58; I Cor. 11:24-26). Like always needing food to stay alive, we always need what Christ accomplished in our place. We will never grow out of depending on the cross. It was a once-for-all sacrifice that forever satisfied God but it is the only sacrifice that actually satisfied Him (I Cor. 15:1-20; Heb. 10:10-14; I Peter 3:18; Gal. 6:14).
+ It is a symbolic act reminding us Christ is always enough — our sins are paid for in full by Christ. We proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (I Cor. 11:26). His being raised from the dead is the way we know Christ’s death satisfied God perfectly, forever. No other atoning sacrifice offered to God ever got up off the altar because it never perfectly satisfied God. Christ did. He died, He was buried, and on the third day He was raised forever to live. This is the proof that those for whom He died are truly, forever atoned for – Rom. 4:25.
+ It’s a symbolic act to reflect on our spiritual union with Christ. When the priest of the Old Testament placed his hand on the head of the ram about to be sacrificed it was an act of transfer and identity, so to the Lord’s Supper serves us as a reminder of transfer and identity. Paul states those who’ve been baptized into Christ Jesus have been immersed into His death (Rom. 6:1-7). For those for whom Christ died, our sins were transferred to Him; He is our sin-bearer. But He is our only sin-bearer, our only hope, our life! It’s either Him or us – He takes our punishment or we do. We are now forever identified with Him (Col. 3:1-4; Galatians 2:20). When He died, we died. When He was raised and made alive never to die again, so we too are raised to spiritual life – newness of life. And one day like him bodily, a physical glorified state.
+ It is a symbolic act reminding us of His return. He left but Christ promised to return. As often as we observe the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim His death until He comes. Participating in the Lord’s Supper gives us hope about the future; God the Father is moving all things according to His purpose and it His purpose and plan Christ will return and rule in righteousness (I Cor. 15; Phil 2:1-13; I Thess. 4:13-18; II Thess. 1:3-12; I John 3:1-3).
Where Do We Get the idea of ‘Examining Ourselves?’
We get it from I Corinthians 11:28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. In his instructions to the Corinthians about the Lord’s Supper, the Apostle Paul commands his readers to examine themselves prior to participating in the Meal. Here’s an illustration from my childhood that has helped me understand this.
My parents desired the entire family to eat together for meal times. And my mom loved to feed us! But my parents also wanted us to look presentable when we came to the table. And since they were feeding us and caring for us, and we belonged to them, it was reasonable they would have expectations of us. Before we ate, we were expected to wash our hands and faces, and if necessary change our grubby shirts or jeans. Sometimes we’d get sent back to the bathroom because we missed a spot (my brothers, not me). But don’t miss it: Hungrily eating the meal together was the main thing. No one around our table was perfectly clean; no one had perfect table manners, but we came hungry, and we came to be together. Eating the meal prepared for us, together as a family, was the point! That’s why, in obedience to our parents and love for the family, we came to the table prepared.
I think that’s what Paul is after when he says, let a man examine himself and then eat. Christ’s people confirm themselves to be so by coming hungry to the meal He has prepared for them. No one comes sinless to the Table – that standard would disqualify us all. Rather, because of who Christ is we can have a consciousness of sin and we will desire to clean up what we can. We confirm our love for Christ by examining ourselves, coming prepared before we eat together.
What Should We Examine?
Here are six areas to audit. There may be more but I don’t think there are less. Note, Paul writes, let a man examine himself, and the context is specific; we are to examine ourselves in light of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. I’m not to examine others, nor am I to examine myself in comparison to others, but to take an audit of oneself in light of the purpose of the Meal.
- Do I believe in the historic event of the cross? By taking part, I’m saying that I do. But if I don’t believe the historic facts, I should not partake.
- Do I believe Christ died as a substitutionary sacrifice? By eating the bread and drinking the cup I’m acknowledging the doctrine of Christ’s death – He died as a sacrifice in the place of others. If I don’t believe that, I should not partake. (See I Cor. 15:3; I Peter 3:18; Romans 3:25; Hebrews 10:10).
- Do I acknowledge myself as a sinner, whose only hope is identifying my whole self with the whole of Christ? By taking part, I’m confessing my personal faith in who Christ is and what He accomplished in my place on the cross. I’m acknowledging that left to myself, I deserve only God’s righteous wrath. In partaking, I’m boasting in the Lord! I’m saying there is nothing about me that doesn’t require Christ (I Cor. 1:18-31; Eph. 2:1-10; Rom. 3:10-18).
- Is there sin I’m privately practicing, or, though not presently participating in, have not acknowledged in repentance and confession? If I’m not willing to forsake my sin, and acknowledge before God, I should not participate; to do so would be disdaining the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ (I Cor. 11:27; II Cor. 11:21; I John 3:3-10; Heb. 10:26-31).
- Am I pursuing reconciliation with others? The Lord’s Supper doesn’t only address our relationship to God, but also with one another. If you’ve sinned against someone and are not willing to repent of that sin, then don’t partake of the Lord’s Supper until you repent and reconcile (as far as it depends on you). Disunity does horrific damage to the local church body and its testimony to the world. (Matt 5:23,24; Rom. 12:18; 14:19; Eph. 4:32; I Cor. 6:1-8).
- Am I engaged in actual fellowship with members of my local church? The Apostle Paul rebuked some of the Corinthians for their indifference toward each other (I Cor. 11:18-22). Is there evidence you are interested in the members of your church? Is there contact with others – expressions of concern, practical helps, hospitality, prayer? If you merely show up for a meeting when it’s convenient for you, but remain indifferent to the members of your church body, unwilling to make any attempts of fellowship with others, repent and take steps to do so. The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic meal Christ’s people eat together because they are one body. “The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you…” – I Cor. 14:21.
I thank the Lord for the perseverance in the faith and the love for one another that PWBC has become known for. May we continue to examine ourselves, confess our sins, seek reconciliation as needed, express interest in one another and faithfully desire to proclaim the meaning of the Lord’s Supper together – until Christ returns.