What is communion for?

All over the world, for centuries, Christians take communion, but few Christians really understand the purpose of communion.

Communion is a way for determining whether God thinks that you are saved. That is why Jesus commands us to do it as often as you meet with other believers – He wants us to know at all times whether we are saved or not.

Satan doesn’t want you to know what communion is for, and so he has determined to hide the meaning of communion from Christians, telling them that it is mere tradition.

Satan doesn’t want people to know what communion is for because he wants people to think that they are saved even if they are not.

As a result, for centuries, we have people all over the world taking communion every Sunday but not examining the results of their taking communion to determine whether they are saved, thereby rendering their taking of communion useless.

Now let’s look at the portion of 1 Cor 11 that deals with communion, verse by verse.

In communion, God, in His goodness, has provided us with a test that we can apply to see whether God thinks we are saved.

The test is this: if you can break bread in a church that is spiritually alive without becoming weak or falling sick or dying then you know that God acknowledges that you are keeping your part of the covenant with Him (for a detailed explanation of covenants see the chapter on "How God made our salvation possible" in my book "The Strait Gate and the Narrow Way.") and He will keep His part and forgive your sin. That is, you know that God agrees that you are saved.

1 Cor 11:23-32 (the passage that talks about the Lord’s supper) deals with this test. Let us study these verses carefully. There also are parallel verses in Mt 26:26-28, Mk 14:22-24 and Lk 22:17-20. I include them here for your convenient reference.

Mt 26:26-28 While they were eating, Jesus took {some} bread, and after a blessing, He broke {it} and gave {it} to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave {it} to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins."

Mk 14:22-24 While they were eating, He took {some} bread, and after a blessing He broke {it,} and gave {it} to them, and said, "Take {it;} this is My body." And when He had taken a cup {and} given thanks, He gave {it} to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many."

Lk 22:17-20 And when He had taken a cup {and} given thanks, He said, "Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes." And when He had taken {some} bread {and} given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." And in the same way {He took} the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood."

Let us now go through 1 Cor 11:23-32 verse by verse.

23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;

24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me."

25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."

One thing to note is that the Lord commanded us to do this. You will understand the reason why this is a commandment and not optional when you understand the purpose of the breaking of bread.

He also said that while doing this we are to remember Him. What is it about Him that we are to remember? Specifically, we are to remember that His body was given up for us (that is, He suffered spiritual death for us) and that the new covenant (for the forgiveness of sins (Mt 26:28)) was established in His blood (that is, He suffered physical death for us). Let me explain why I say this.

There are two elements to His death – spiritual death and physical death. The first element was His spiritual death in which His body (or flesh (Jn 6:51)) was given for us. His spiritual death was the price He paid for our sins by suffering the punishment that we were to suffer – which is an eternity in hell. This is what He meant when He said that His body was given for us. His spiritual death made spiritual (or eternal) life possible for us.

The other element was His physical death, which is also described as the shedding of His blood. This shedding of blood was done to initiate a new covenant between God and man. It was a covenant regarding how God would forgive the sins of man.

Notice that He never says that His body was given to establish the covenant. It is His blood that establishes the covenant.

A covenant is an agreement between two parties. Upon establishing a covenant both parties are expected to keep their part.

On God’s part, He agreed to pay the price for the sins of man (through the spiritual death of His Son), and to provide the blood for establishing the covenant (through the physical death of His Son).

On man’s part, in order to enter and stay in the covenant, he had to satisfy the requirements for salvation that God laid down in His word.

Every covenant between God and man for the forgiveness of sins had to be initiated with blood (Heb 9:15-26). That is why Christ had to die physically. Until the covenant was established, even though the price for sins was paid, the gift of salvation could not be given to us.

Consider this example: I have bought a gift for you. I have paid the price for the gift. But the gift is still with me. Even though I have paid the price for it you do not receive the benefit of the gift. It is only when I make an agreement with you, to meet you somewhere and hand you the gift, that you can receive it. For you to receive it, you have to believe that I indeed have a gift for you (which is a picture of faith), and then you have to want to receive the gift and come to the place where we agreed to meet (which is a picture of a person wanting to be saved from sin and showing that by wanting to stop sinning).

In the same way, even though the price for sins was paid when on the cross Christ said ‘It is finished’ the payment could not be applied to anyone until God established the covenant through the blood of Christ. Further, any specific person could not benefit until he began to keep his part of the covenant. This is also why even though Christ died for the sins of the whole world the whole world is not saved.

So we see that the bread and the wine are symbolic of the spiritual and physical death of Christ. Therefore, in the Lord’s supper we are to remember the spiritual and physical death that made possible the new covenant between God and man. We are to remember that there is a covenant between God and us – a covenant by which God forgives our sins.

26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.

Verse 25 explains the meaning of the Lord’s supper. To ‘proclaim the Lord’s death’ means to acknowledge that the Lord died for you – both physically and spiritually, as explained in the verse before. It is to acknowledge that you are in covenant with God – the new covenant established through the spiritual and physical death of Christ. This is what the Lord’s supper means to those who partake of it. It is the way that we say to God that we are in covenant with Him.

27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.

Because there is a covenant involved there are consequences to breaking the covenant.

To partake in the Lord’s supper in an unworthy manner means to say that you are a partaker of the covenant and yet not keep your end of the covenant.

When you don’t keep your end of the covenant you are in effect making useless all the work that God did on His side of the covenant.

For example, suppose you agree to pay a certain sum to a builder to build a custom home for you, and he builds it as agreed. Now suppose you do not pay him as you agreed. You have now made all his work useless. Therefore, you are guilty of compensating him for all the work that he has done.

In the same way, a person who enters into the new covenant and then does not keep his side of the covenant is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. That is, the man owes God all the pain and suffering due to the spiritual and physical death that Christ had to endure for that man’s sins.

28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

Because of the seriousness of the consequences, whenever we partake of the Lord’s supper we must examine ourselves to see if we are keeping our side of the covenant. To do so, we must understand what we have agreed to and ensure that we have done and are doing the things that we have agreed to.

29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.

In the builder example above, if you don’t pay the builder for the custom home as you agreed, the builder can take you to court. As a result, you will be judged in the matter and made to pay what you owe. In the same way, if God examines us and finds that we are not keeping our side of the covenant then He has the right to judge us.

30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.

The judgment that God executes is weakness or sickness of body; and perhaps death, for a person who partakes of the Lord’s supper with no regard whatsoever for keeping his side of the covenant.

Therefore, if we find these symptoms in us after we have partaken of the Lord’s supper we should take it very seriously and realize that we are not in the new covenant with God (that is, we are no longer saved) and take steps to secure our eternal destiny.

31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.

When we partake of the Lord’s supper, He examines whether we are keeping our side of the covenant. If God examines us and finds that we are keeping it then He does not judge us. If we find that we are not judged then we can conclude that we are indeed in covenant with God and have an assurance of our salvation. In this case we have judged correctly (or rightly) when we say that we are keeping our part of the covenant. Therefore, God does not judge us. This is a good way to test whether we are in the faith (2 Cor 13:5) and be assured of our salvation.

32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.

Verse 32 explains the purpose of the Lord’s Supper and God’s judgment and discipline. God’s discipline is not a punishment for our sins. The only punishment for sins is an eternity in hell, and Christ paid that price. To teach otherwise is heresy.

God’s purpose in disciplining us is to make us recognize that in His eyes we are not in covenant with Him and therefore we are not saved. He gives us this warning while we can do something about it and get into covenant with Him, and thereby not be condemned along with the rest of the world.

Note that the discipline does not automatically put a person back into covenant with God. If a person does not heed the warning and continues to not keep his part of the covenant he will be condemned along with the rest of the world – that is, he will not be saved.

These verses only make sense if it is possible to lose one’s salvation. If one could never lose his salvation then it would be enough to break bread only once; there would be no need to do the test regularly. Yet Christ asks us to do this test ‘as often as we drink the cup.’

Those who say that it is not possible to lose your salvation cannot properly explain verse 32. After all, from their point of view, a person who is saved will definitely not be condemned with the world. How then would God’s discipline prevent them from being condemned along with the world?

Based on the above explanation of the passage we can now understand what Jesus meant when he said in Jn 6:53,54 that we should eat His body and drink His blood in order to have eternal life.

In Jn 6:63 Jesus explicitly said that we should take the spirit (or intent) of the words, which meant that we should not take the words literally.

Based on the above explanation of 1 Cor 11:23-32 we can see that to eat His flesh and drink His blood means to be in covenant with God for the forgiveness of sins. We keep our part of the covenant and God keeps His part by forgiving us our sins and giving us eternal life.

33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.

34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.

Clearly, communion was not meant to be to quench hunger and thirst.

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