Category: 1 Corinthians (page 1 of 14)

Expressing the Gospel

If the table is the place to experience the real presence of Christ and the real fellowship and community we have together with God’s people — if the purpose of communion is, well, communion — then the way we do it matters. The form of the Lord’s Meal serves the function. In fact, I’ll suggest the form is the function. In many ways, the medium is the message.

You wouldn’t raise money to fight the sexual exploitation of women by having a car wash at Hooter’s. You can’t hold a Weight Watcher’s meeting at Furr’s Cafeteria. We don’t ask people to pay for Financial Peace University with a credit card. That defeats the purpose. The form matters.

That’s what’s wrong with the Lord’s Supper in Corinth. That’s what the apostle Paul is so concerned about: the form, the way they were eating the meal. The form of their meal was working against the purpose of the meal. In fact, Paul tells these Christians, the way you’re eating it, it’s not the Lord’s Supper at all.

“When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for each one eats his own supper without waiting for anyone else.” ~1 Corinthians 11:20-21

It’s important to remember that the Church’s Lord’s Supper started out as a full meal. For almost the first 300-years, the Lord’s Supper was a potluck. The Greek word “dipenon” is translated as dinner, feast, meal, banquet, main meal. It most commonly refers to the main evening meal. And, according to Paul, if the church eats the meal one way, it’s the Lord’s Supper; if you eat it another way, it’s your own supper.

So, what’s the problem Paul’s trying to correct? What are these Christians doing wrong?

“When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for each one eats his own supper without waiting for anyone else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the Church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!” ~1 Corinthians 11:20-22

The problem at this church was the breakdown of community during the Lord’s Supper. You’re not waiting for others, you’re not sharing your food with others, people are going hungry, people are being humiliated. The rich Christians are getting stuffed and drunk while the poor Christians are starving and being singled out as not belonging. People are going back for seconds before others have been through the line once. They’re saving seats. Members are on one side of the room and visitors are on the other. New members are eating by themselves. Division. Selfishness.

Even if they had no idea what the Lord’s Supper is all about, common courtesy demands they refrain from getting stuffed and drunk while their brothers and sisters are hungry. But their meal was being shaped by culture instead of Christ. The Gospel is all about breaking down barriers and uniting together in holy community. Only thinking about yourself, only worrying about your own needs at the Lord’s Supper denies the Gospel the Lord’s Supper is intended to demonstrate. Paul says it makes a mockery of God’s Church.

So, that’s the problem. What’s the corrective? How does he fix it? By pointing to Jesus. He reminds them of Jesus.

“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 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.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’  ~1 Corinthians 11:23-25

The table is shaped by the salvation work of Jesus. The Church’s Meal reflects and demonstrates the Gospel values of sacrifice and service. The Lord’s Supper expresses the way of Jesus: selflessness, giving to others, considering the needs of others more important than our own.

“For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” ~1 Corinthians 11:26

The Lord’s death broke down all the barriers between us and God and between us and each other. The Lord’s death unites all God’s people together. Around the table on Sundays and anytime we eat and drink together in his name, we’re proclaiming and practicing all the salvation things Jesus died for. The meal proclaims everything that was accomplished at the cross: acceptance, fellowship, unity, forgiveness, peace, love.

And when Paul uses the term “Lord” and when he says “until he comes,” he’s reminding us that Jesus is alive and he’s coming back! And until he comes, we express and experience the realities of our salvation with him and one another in holy community around his table. How we eat the Lord’s Supper matters.



Experiencing the Gospel

Some of us say the communion meal is the most important part of our Sunday assemblies. That’s the whole reason we come together. In fact, some people leave church right after the Lord’s Supper: the crumb, the sip, we’re good, I’m gone! Our actions betray us: We take communion to the hospitals and preside over a lady in a wheelchair breaking a cracker while three men stand by and watch. Our language betrays us: We say we offer the Lord’s Supper on Sunday nights or in our small groups to people “who need it.”

The Lord’s Supper is not a binding duty or a mechanical ritual. It’s not a box to check or a magic pill to swallow. It’s about love and unity and fellowship.

We’ve done everything we can to mess it up. For several centuries now the Church has gone to great lengths to make the meal as private and personal and individual as possible. The joyful communal meal of the early Church has become a crumb of cracker and a sip of juice in quiet, somber, introspective, individual bubbles: “Don’t distract me!” We’ve removed ourselves from the transforming character of the meal.

If the Gospel is that by the death and resurrection of Jesus we can be totally forgiven of our sins and be completely cleansed and pure and can come right into the very presence of God; if the Good News is that we can have a holy and righteous relationship with God and one another; if the Gospel is that we are united with Christ and united with one another in Christ, where do we experience that? How does that become real for us? How do we feel it and know it’s true?

At the table. We experience the Gospel at the table.

Let’s remember our big picture understandings of the communion meal. The Lord’s Supper is eating and drinking a celebration meal with God. Remember, that’s God’s goal. That’s what God is after, it’s what all of salvation history is about: God eating and drinking with us. Because sharing a meal together means there’s relationship. You’ve got things in common. No barriers. There’s acceptance and understanding and trust and friendship around the table. When we’re all dipping our chips into the same bowl of salsa, all the walls are down. There’s community. That’s what God wants with us.

What makes the communion meal a sacrament is that by God’s Holy Spirit, we actually are participating in the reality it represents. We are literally eating with Jesus. Somehow, mysteriously, he meets us at the table and eats with us. All of us.

The table is where we experience what it means to be saved. The oneness, the forgiveness, the community, the relationship, the unity, the acceptance, the fellowship, the common ground. The blood of Christ is what makes us righteous and clean. And the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 10 that when we drink the cup together, we participate in those benefits. Eating the bread together is a communion or a sharing in the unity we have in Christ. We are the body of Christ together. And we experience that around our Lord’s Table.

The people of Israel eat the sacrifices and so receive the benefits of forgiveness and community that’s achieved at the altar. We eat the meal and receive the gifts of forgiveness and community that are achieved at the cross.

By faith, our baptisms make us one people in Christ. No divisions, no differences, no distinctions — we are one body in Christ. And we experience that around the table. The peace, the reconciliation, the community with God and one another.

You want to feel like you really belong? You sit down to a meal with your family.



Unworthy Manner

“Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” ~1 Corinthians 11:27-29

Boy, we have latched onto these three verses, haven’t we?! Our distortion of these three verses, maybe more than any other passage in the Bible, has irreversibly changed the dynamic of the Lord’s Supper from one of joyful and communal participation in salvation and life to one of somber and individual reflection on sin and death. And the key phrase in these key verses is “unworthy manner.”

The Greek word in the original text we translate “unworthy manner” is “anaxios,” and it’s an adverb, not an adjective. In this context, “unworthy” doesn’t describe you. This is not about the state of your soul or the status of your salvation or what you’re thinking about during the meal. “Unworthy” describes the way you eat and drink, the “manner” of your eating and drinking. “Unworthy” is describing the verbs, not the nouns.

Whether or not you are unworthy to eat and drink with the risen Christ and his holy people isn’t the concern. That question has already been answered: No, you are not worthy! None of us is worthy! We are unholy sinners who have no right to be in God’s presence, eating with him at his feast.


We are all worthy! By the death and resurrection of Jesus you and I are worthy! We’ve been made worthy by grace through faith in Christ. You see what we’re saying? The question of our worthiness is not the issue at stake in this passage.

The concern is, now that you’re at the Supper, how are you eating and drinking? Are you only concerned about yourself? Are you isolating yourself and others at the table? Are you paying attention to the people around you? As you eat and drink, are you recognizing the body?

The main point of the Lord’s Supper is to share it with one another, not satisfy your own needs. That’s the core of Paul’s instructions in this section of his letter to the Christians in Corinth:

“So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for each other.” ~1 Corinthians 11:33

Some translations say “welcome each other.” The point is that we eat together.

The joyful communal meal of the early Church has become a crumb of cracker and a sip of juice in quiet, somber, reflective, individual bubbles: “Don’t distract me!” Scripture says the focus during the meal, of our bodies and our brains, should be on one another.



An Apology

In an attempt to present the Lord’s Supper as the time and place where we experience our unity with Christ and express the unity we have with all Christians in Christ, I used a picture during yesterday’s sermon depicting a variety of people joyfully gathered around a communion table. The picture served as the background in a PowerPoint slide for 1 Corinthians 12:13: “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”

A concerned parishioner gently informed me later that the picture showed a cat at the table.

A terrible, terrible mistake on my part. As God is my witness, I never once saw that cat when putting the PowerPoint together last week. We all know that all cats are reserved for the fiery lake of burning sulfur and do not have a place at the Table of our Lord. I regret the mistake. Please forgive me.



Baptism: Identity in Christ

Ephesians 2 tells us who we used to be and, now that we’ve been baptized into Christ, who we are.

This is what you were: dead; this is what you are now: alive with Christ!

This is what you were: following the ways of the world; this is what you are now: raised up with Christ and seated with Christ at the right hand of God!

This is what you were: objects of divine wrath; this is what you are now: saved!

1 Corinthians 9 affirms that we are cleansed and made pure from our many sins, we are set apart and dedicated to the holy God as belonging to him, and we are declared righteous in God’s eyes “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Jesus is Lord.” Romans 10 tells us that’s the Christian confession. “Jesus is Lord.” 1 Corinthians 12 says that’s how we worship. Philippians 2 says on that last day every tongue in heaven and on earth will declare “Jesus is Lord!”

But we first say “Jesus is Lord” at our baptisms. And to say Jesus is Lord is to say Caesar is not. To say Jesus is Lord is to accept a brand new identity as his servant and to affirm that the shape and direction of my life now lays wholly within his power. I belong to him. I no longer live. The Lord Jesus lives in me and through me. Baptism is that moment of transfer. By faith, the waters of baptism move you from sin and separation from God to forgiveness and communion with God. By his love and grace, baptism transfers you from an outsider to the Kingdom of God to an insider with all the privileges and benefits. It’s a brand new way of life.

“He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” ~Colossians 1:13-14

A few verses later, Paul says all of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. In baptism, there is an exclusive devotion to Christ Jesus as Lord. Our loyalties are not to the fading kingdoms of this world but to the eternal Kingdom of our Lord. Our priorities are not in the interests of this world’s structures and institutions but to the missions and goals of our God.

Our very identity is rooted in what God has done for us in Christ. And we’re given that new identity in baptism. But our increasingly fractured and polarized culture is exposing our primary identities. It seems that we identify with our nation and national politics, race and socio-economic groups first and then our Christian beliefs and practices are filtered through those identities instead of the other way around. We struggle to identify first with our Lord and his ways and then filter our national and political and race and group beliefs and practices through that.

Whatever the issue — immigration, race relations, tax reform, gun control, war, abortion, social security, gay rights, Obamacare, the environment, the construction on the bridge at I-40 and Bell — my first instinct is to view it and talk about it through the lens of my political affiliation or my race or gender. How should a Republican feel about that? How would a Democrat talk about that? How might a patriotic American deal with this? How does a white guy, how would a black woman, how does a conservative say this? How does a liberal view this?

Our priorities are out of whack. Our identities are compromised. We think first as Republicans or Democrats, as Texas Tech of OU, and not first as baptized disciples of Jesus. Our positions are solidified and our decisions are made through the lenses or our race or zip code or voter registration card and not first and foremost by our identity as baptized followers of the crucified and risen Christ.

“You have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority… having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead… God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins… And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross… Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules?” ~Colossians 2

Now, I think all Christians in America have dealt with this for 242 years — we’re no different. Our divided and polarized society is just exposing it in more obvious and disappointing ways. I do know our Christian impulses are good and holy. It’s deep inside us, it’s in our DNA to serve others, to sacrifice for the sake of others, to view the needs of others as more important than our own, to do things the Jesus way and not the world’s way. The impulse is there. So is the desire. But the follow-through is becoming more difficult because our culture is telling us to do the opposite.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” ~Colossians 3:1-2

Remember your baptism, the Bible says. Remember where you were. Remember who was there. Remember how you felt when you came up out of the water. Remember the spiritual experience and claim all the spiritual resources you received that day.

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” ~Colossians 3:3-4

Baptism is a touchstone moment for followers of Christ Jesus. It’s an event that embodies the faith and participates in the Gospel. But it’s also a definitive moment in time that we can reflect on for strength. Dying and rising with Christ. Putting off and putting on. Living this life under his exclusive lordship. Putting off and putting on. Every day. Dying and rising. Romans 13 says clothe yourselves with Christ and stop making room for sin.

We have a new identity. We have a different worldview. We see things differently. We see people differently. We know God’s work is not complete in me or the world, but we know it’s begun. If anyone is in Christ: new creation! The old has gone, the new has come! Baptism doesn’t just symbolize new life, it actually gives us a new identity. It doesn’t just symbolize our washing, it actually empowers a new way of living by the Holy Spirit. It not only symbolizes a break with the fallen world of sin and death, it delivers us into a brand new creation and a new world view.

If you’ve been baptized, God wants you to see yourself as one with Christ and united with all his people. God wants you to consider yourself as under the lordship of Jesus with new priorities, new goals, new methods and practices, new Holy Spirit power to live for his Kingdom.

If you’ve never been baptized, let me ask you: Why not?



Baptism: Unity In Christ

You’re not baptized by yourself. Baptism is not a private deal. When you’re baptized into the name of Jesus Christ, you’re baptized into his community. You become part of God’s eternal people. It’s not only unity for you with Christ, it’s also unity in Christ will all baptized followers of our Lord.

“You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” ~Galatians 3:26-28

This is a bold, radical, mind-blowing claim for any Christian living in America in 2018. Because whatever our society is, it cannot be called “one” in anything. It’s almost impossible to find unity anywhere. There are more and more options, which means more and more opinions, and more and more platforms to declare those more and more opinions. We’re inventing new ways to disagree with each other. We’re identifying new ways we’re different from each other. We can’t find unity in a country or in a family or in a neighborhood or in a middle school choir. There’s only one place to experience the realities of unity and togetherness and community: through baptism into Christ.

We are not baptized into a nation or a political party. We’re not baptized into a denomination or a faith tradition. We’re not baptized into an economic brackets or a language or a skin color or a blood type. We are all baptized into Christ.

Baptism is not just about an individual’s conversion. It’s also very much about being initiated into a community. Baptism allows you to participate in the Gospel and it makes you a member of God’s eternal people. Baptism creates an eternal unity with all followers of Jesus. There are no divisions at all among baptized disciples.

When there were divisions in that church in Corinth and people were dividing between rich and poor, men and women, tongue speakers and prophesyers, favorite preachers and teachers — yes, just like today, people divide and pick sides and decide who’s right and who’s wrong and split up accordingly — Paul addresses it head-on. Right out of the gate in 1 Corinthians:

“Hey, this is Paul. How’s it going? What’s the matter with you?!? Is Christ divided?!? Was Paul crucified for you?!? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?!?

When the unity of the church and the integrity of the Gospel is at stake, Paul reminds them of their baptisms. We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, Paul writes, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free. Which, by the way, sounds a lot like Ephesians 4:

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

And that sounds a lot like Galatians 3.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, Texan nor Mexican, American nor Syrian, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

There is neither slave nor free, Republican nor Democrat, Church of Christ nor Presbyterian, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

There is neither male nor female, black nor white, old nor young, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

For some reason, our Lord chose you. And he chose me. And he has united us to him forever and he has inseparably united us to one another in him. In baptism. What a gift. What a challenge.



Older posts