Category: 1 Corinthians (Page 1 of 20)

Worship Rules

Jason Robertson got the playoff hatty last night as the Dallas Stars came from behind to beat Edmonton 5-3 in Game Three of the Western Conference Final. It had been ten games since Robo tickled the twine, but he found the back of the net three times at Rogers Center to propel the Stars to a two-games-to-one series lead. Well, he found the back of the net twice; his third goal was pushed/crammed/willed through Skinner’s right pad and skate to complete the hat trick. The Stars fell behind 2-0 in the first period–we’ve seen this before–and then scored three goals in a 3:33 span in the second period to take the lead. Welcome back, Roope Hintz, who assisted on two of Robertson’s goals. Having Hintz back sure clears up a lot of room for Robertson to operate.

The brooms will be out at AAC tonight as the Mavericks are one win away from the NBA Finals for the first time since they won the whole thing in 2011. If Dallas can complete the sweep and knock out the T-Wolves this evening, it’ll be the first time in NBA history that both conference championship rounds were decided in four games. Boston eliminated the Pacers last night, winning the Eastern Conference four-games-to-none. No Dereck Lively tonight–he’s out with the sprained neck he suffered in Sunday’s game–so there’s a whole lot more riding on Gafford’s play in the paint. I don’t think Maxi Klieber returns from his injury tonight. I think the Mavs do the best they can with a combination of Gafford and Dwight Powell, put Minnesota out of its misery, and then take the full eight days between now and the start of the Finals to get both Maxi and Lively fully healthy for the Celtics. Dallas’ extraordinary depth is being tested now. The Timberwolves are going to take everything to the rim tonight and attempt to bully the Mavs. This is going to be an ugly low-scoring game tonight. And Dallas is going to win it.

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I’ve said in this space and from the pulpit here at GCR several times lately that we need to be less concerned about how we do church and more concerned with how God does church. We should relax about our rules and stop worrying about our methods and submit to what God’s Spirit is doing. Instead of fretting about how we do church and debating whether we’re doing it right or wrong, we should just chill.

Well, hold on, preacher! The Bible seems to care about what we can and cannot do during church! The guy who wrote a third of the New Testament laid down a few rules about our Sunday assemblies!

Okay. If you insist. Let’s go there.

I’m assuming you’re thinking about that troubled church in Corinth and the letter Paul wrote to correct their mistakes.

The apostle Paul knows that what we do when we’re together shapes us. Our habits in our worship assemblies are forming us into a particular kind of people. So, Paul’s main concern is that our worship gatherings reflect the Gospel. Our Christian assemblies have to reflect the character of Christ. When he writes to other churches, he expresses his deep desire that Christ be formed in them, that they imitate Christ Jesus who said himself he came not to be served but to serve and to give his life for others. Paul says being united with Christ, having the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, means considering others better than yourselves, looking to the needs of others.

So, yeah, he spills a lot of ink in his letter to the Corinthians to fix what they’re doing wrong.

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul says your meetings are doing more harm than good. How harsh is that? It’s brutal. Your church is so bad, your people would be better off if they just slept in on Sundays. Paul says your church is divided. You’ve got cliques and little groups among you and I see it around the table. When you come together, he writes, it’s not the Lord’s Supper you eat; you are eating your own supper! You’re not waiting for others, you’re not sharing God with others; people are going hungry, people are being humiliated; the rich Christians are getting stuffed and drunk and the poor Christians are starving and being singled out as not really belonging. What am I supposed to say to you? Nothing good! So, then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. Consider the needs of each other. Treat one another as equals.

That’s Paul’s consistent instruction when it comes to what happens in church: consider the others, pay attention to the others, put yourself last.

These Corinthians Christians were showing off their spiritual gifts. They were clamoring for the spotlight in their assemblies and looking down on others based on their spiritual gifts. In chapter 12, Paul says the gifts of the Spirit are given for the common good, they’re supposed to benefit everybody, not just you. In fact, he writes in chapter 14, since you’re so eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in the gifts that build up the church.

What’s the problem with speaking in tongues? Well, sometimes there’s no interpreter and nobody knows what you’re saying and it’s not doing anybody any good but yourself. And sometimes y’all are talking over each other, trying to upstage each other, and it’s a mess. You’re not thinking about others. So, brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. Take turns. Speak one at a time. And if you don’t have an interpreter, don’t speak (sigao) until you get one.

Same thing with prophesy. Take turns. Speak one at a time. Why? What’s the point? So that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. And if you’re speaking and someone else has something to add, the one speaking should stop speaking (sigao) until it’s his or her turn again.

Same thing with women. They were evidently disrupting the gatherings; they, too, were speaking out of turn. Paul uses the same Greek word for stop speaking, sigao. Be quiet until it’s appropriate to speak. Put yourself last. Consider others more important than yourself.

Paul didn’t say stop eating, do away with all the meals. He said, when you come together to eat, be nice to others, treat everyone as equals.

He didn’t say stop speaking in tongues. He said, when you speak in tongues, be considerate of others.

He didn’t say stop prophesying. He said, when you prophesy, take turns. Be polite.

He didn’t tell women to stop praying and prophesying. He said, women, when you pray and prophesy, do it like this. Don’t offend people. Don’t elevate yourself.

So, yes, you’re right. The Bible does give us strict rules about our Sunday worship assemblies. And they’re all centered around treating people the way Jesus treats people. That’s it. Those are the worship rules in the Bible.

We worry about our Sunday mornings. We’re anxious to do everything right. Instead of worrying about whether a worship practice is prescribed or legal, we should be asking if what we do and the way we do it fosters community and equips us for mission. Applying the Gospel to our assemblies is much more important than trying to get it right. Do we value all people? Do we treat everybody the same? Are we striving to make everybody feel welcome and like they belong? Are all people loved in here?

None of the New Testament gives us a set of legally specified and timeless rules for conducting a worship assembly. The New Testament gives us Jesus and the Gospel, embodied by a community, and gathered by the Holy Spirit around word and table, where every person can experience and express the Good News freely and equally, in the name and manner of our Lord Jesus.

Peace,

Allan

Promote the Mood

Colorado is done. It’s most likely going to happen tonight. If not, it’ll be Friday. Certainly over the next two games, the Dallas Stars will vanquish the Avalanche and advance to the Western Conference Finals for a second consecutive season. The Stars are playing their best hockey of the year right now. Since dropping those first two home games to Vegas a million years ago, Dallas is 7-2 and absolutely romping on offense and completely locking things down on defense. Oh, man, they are fun to watch right now.

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Today’s post wraps up most of my thoughts on the Lord’s Supper right now. Thank you for hanging in there with me over the past couple of weeks. I believe the communion meal is the most important thing we Christians can do on a Sunday. It’s the primary reason we come together in the presence of God on his day: to share a fellowship meal at his table with him and with one another.

But this is really difficult for us. We struggle with this. Not just here at GCR and not just in Churches of Christ. All Christians and churches in the West have a hard time with this. We’ve been conditioned by our culture and, honestly, by our churches for centuries to view the Lord’s Supper as an individual act, a very personal moment between God and me.

Yes, there are times for private introspection and reflection. There are times for silent meditation on the death of Jesus at the cross. Yes, there are times for personal moments between the Lord and you. There must be! But the Lord’s Supper is not that time. The Lord’s Supper is intended to be the time when God’s people express and experience real community with God and one another.

That’s difficult because we’re not sitting around a big table together on Sundays in the Worship Center. There are 500 of us in there, sitting in straight rows, staring at the backs of each other’s heads. So, logistically, it’s hard. We can’t eat a full lunch with 500 of us inside that room every Sunday. That’s where your small groups come in, I hope.

During our Sunday worship assemblies, we can’t provide the food, but we can promote the mood.

Even though it’s just one bite and one sip, we can act like we’re sharing the meal the bread and cup represent. We can look each other in the eye, we can pat each other on the back, we can share encouraging words up and down your row. “God loves us. Thank you, Lord Jesus.” Or, “Hey, we’re forgiven and we belong to together at this table with Jesus!” If we’ll embrace the mood of a family meal, if we’ll foster that culture of community, the Lord’s Supper will shape us. It’ll change us. It’ll force us to recognize the body and serve each other instead of ourselves. It’ll be a transforming encounter.

We try this every now and then at GCR. We’ll ask our folks to say something to the people around them as the trays are being passed, to remember Jesus together, to share a Scripture or to talk together about your experiences with Christ. And we want to do more of that. Sharing. Fellowship. Koinonia. We want to put the communion back in communion.

We also want to set up a dozen tables around the room two or three times a year and ask our people to gather around them to promote more of the mealtime mood. There’s the bread and cup, but there’s also other little bites of things to enjoy and experience together and room and space and time to really serve one another, to share the food and drink, and to encourage one another. To talk. To hug. To welcome. To include. To remember Jesus and more fully express and experience the communion we have with God and each other.

And here’s something we started this past Sunday. We are working on a church-wide understanding that nobody eats alone. We’re making a commitment that nobody sits by themselves in our Worship Center and eats and drinks communion by themselves. If anyone is sitting alone on Sunday mornings, our folks have committed to getting up and joining them. Whether you know them or not–especially if you don’t!–we’re going to sit together for the Lord’s Supper. We’re going to make connections. We’re going to be encouraging. We’re going to communicate that belonging together the meal is intended to demonstrate.

I wasn’t sure it was going to happen–we’re asking people to really step out of their comfort zones. But during the song before the communion meal on Sunday, several people left their seats to join those who were sitting alone. The movement was scattered all over the Worship Center, in the front and the back. It happened. And it was beautiful. A clear demonstration of the realities of the Gospel of Christ.

At the Lord’s Supper, we are invited to sit down for a meal with the crucified and risen Savior of the World. We are all invited–all of us–which means we are reconciled not only to God, but also to one another. We are one body. A communion of the redeemed. And we’re all equal. Together. There aren’t any box seats at the table, no reservations for VIPs. We’re experiencing and expressing the Gospel of Jesus Christ at this meal. And we’re practicing for the ultimate potluck, the coming feast, rich food for all peoples, the best of meats, the Bible says, and the finest of wines. And, I can only assume, big bowls of banana pudding.

We’re not just remembering the acts of the past that secured our salvation in Jesus; we’re experiencing and expressing the present realities of our unity and community together in Christ.

Peace,

Allan

Unworthy Manner

Today I want to zero in on a couple of verses that have been key to our misunderstandings of both the form and the function of the Lord’s Supper. The verses come from the end of 1 Corinthians 11, the only passage in the New Testament that tells us how to eat the communion meal.

“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 person 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

The phrase “unworthy manner” is an English translation of the original Greek word “anaxios.” It is an adverb, not an adjective. This word describes the verb in the sentence, not the noun. This is a really boring detail to build this blog post around, but it’s so profound. It’s so significant to the meaning of Scripture’s instructions. “Unworthy” does not describe you. This isn’t about the state of your soul. “Unworthy” is not about your life this week or for the past month, it’s about the way you’re eating right now. Is the manner in which you are eating and drinking this meal with your church family worthy of the Lord?

It’s not, “Are you worthy to eat and drink with the risen Christ and his holy people?” That question has already been answered. No, you are not worthy! None of us is worthy. We are all unholy sinners who have no right to be in God’s presence, eating with him at his feast. Or, yes, we are all worthy! By the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we are all made worthy. All of us are equally worthy by grace through faith in Christ. You see what I’m saying? The question of your worthiness is not the issue here.

It’s more like, “Now that you are made righteous by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, how are you eating and drinking this meal?” Are you only concerned about yourself? Are you paying attention to the people around you? As you eat and drink, are you recognizing the body? Not “body of the Lord.” Some of the Bible translations add “of the Lord” in verse 29, but that’s not in the original text. It’s just “recognize the body,” the group. Every time Paul uses the word “body” in 1 Corinthians, especially in this immediate context, he’s referring to the congregation (10:16-17, 12:12-13). Discern the body, the community. Not the bloody, mangled, dying or dead body of Jesus on the cross. Pay attention to the community, the people. The main point of the Lord’s Supper is to share with one another, not to satisfy your own needs. That’s the core of Paul’s instructions here. This is how he sums it up.

“So, then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.” ~ 1 Corinthians 11:33

If you’re concerned about filling your belly and getting drunk, stay home. This meal is not as much about the food and drink as it is about sharing and serving one another as a community in Christ. Wait for each other, he says. Be considerate. Think about one another. Do this together. Communion.

Peace,

Allan

The Table and the Way of Jesus

We’ve spent all of this week in 1 Corinthians 10-11 because it is the only place in the New Testament that tells us how to eat the Lord’s Supper. We’ve detailed exactly what the church in Corinth was doing wrong; it was the way they were eating the meal. It wasn’t the types of foods or the amount of foods, it was that they weren’t waiting for each before they dug in, they weren’t sharing the food equally, the selfishness and “me/us first” attitudes were causing division.

So how does Paul correct the problem? He points 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 your 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 of 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, everything that was accomplished at the cross: acceptance, fellowship, unity, forgiveness, peace.

How we eat the Lord’s Supper matters.

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The Stars have more depth and the better goalie. The Avalanche have more speed and more purely skilled scorers. This thing’s going seven and it’s going to be a two-and-a-half hour heart attack every night.

Peace,

Allan

The Gospel at the Table

Whitney and I took in Myles Hill’s final Little League game of the season last night and delighted most of all in seeing both Myles and his dad, Brandon wearing Texas Rangers logos. Brandon and Myles are both massive Astros fans and over-the-top Rangers haters. So it’s been a funny bit all season to poke fun at Myles for playing catcher for the Little League Rangers and Brandon coaching at first base. They wear the Rangers’ “City Connect” uniforms, those horrid Friday night home game black and red monstrosities Texas threw at us last year. But, those are Rangers logos nonetheless! Myles did an expert job handling things behind the plate and lined a sharp single to right field in his last at bat in a tough one-run loss. And I’m certain those two Rangers caps are already at the bottom of a dumpster somewhere between Butler Park and Briarwood.

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If the Lord’s Supper 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, the form IS the function. The medium IS the message.

You can’t hold a Weight Watchers meeting at Golden Corral. Why? Those rolls, man! You can’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 so concerns the apostle Paul: the form, the way they were eating the meal. The form of the meal was working against the purpose of the meal. In fact, Paul tells these Christians in Corinth, 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 of you eats his own supper without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk.” ~ 1 Corinthians 11:20-21

The original Greek text makes this much more clear. Paul says you’re not eating the Lord’s Supper (kuriakon diapnon), you’re eating your own supper (idion diapnon).

It’s important to remember that the Church’s Lord’s Supper started out as a full meal. For the first 300 or so years of Church history, the communion meal was a potluck. The Greek word diapnon is translated as supper, dinner, feast, meal–the word most commonly means the main meal, the biggest meal of the day. We call that supper. And Scripture tells us if we eat the meal one way, it’s the Lord’s Supper, and if we eat it a different way, it’s not.

So, what’s the problem? What are these Christians doing wrong?

“When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for each of you eats his own supper without waiting for anybody 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 here is 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 full and drunk while the poor Christians are starving and being singled out as not really belonging to the group. People are going back for seconds before everybody’s been through the line once. Some are saving seats. There is selfishness and division, Paul says. Even if they had no idea what the Lord’s Supper is all about, common courtesy demands they don’t get stuffed and drunk while their brothers and sisters in the same room go hungry.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is breaking down barriers and tearing down walls and uniting us together in his holy community. Only thinking about yourself, only worrying about your own needs and feelings at the meal, denies the very Gospel the Lord’s Supper is intended to demonstrate. Paul says it makes a mockery of the Church.

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

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I found out at lunch today that my friend Steve Schorr, the pastor at First Presbyterian, is a big Colorado Avalanche fan. This afternoon, I am re-evaluating our friendship and this whole “4Midland” thing.

Go Stars.

Allan

The Meal Makes It Real

Our tendency is to think about baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the Sunday assembly primarily as commands we obey. These are the things we do. And we have to do them exactly right. But we also tend to think about these sacraments in individualistic terms. Our default is to view these as personal¬† and individual. This is about God and me. I am baptized by immersion for the forgiveness of my sins. I take the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week in a manner that pleases God. I go to church every time the doors are open. Individualistic obedience to God’s commands.

But all three of these sacraments are actually communal in nature. These are communal moments, first, because they happen when we’re all together. Baptism is not a private thing, it’s a very public declaration of the lordship of Christ and a pledge of allegiance to Jesus as Lord in front of and with the community of faith. The worship assembly is not an individual experience, it involves all of us together. And the communion meal is not about individual introspection, it’s about, well, communion.

If the Gospel is that by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we are totally forgiven of all our sins and are completely cleansed and holy and able to come right into the direct presence of God; that we have a righteous relationship now with God and with one another; 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? Where do we feel it?

At the table. We experience the Gospel around the table. The meal makes it real.

“Is not the cup of thanksgiving (eucharist) for which we give thanks (eucharist) a participation (koinonia) in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation (koinonia) in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” ~1 Corinthians 10:16-17

Let’s remember our big picture understandings of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is eating and drinking a meal with God. That’s what God wants with us, that’s his goal, that’s what our salvation is all about: God and eating and drinking a communal meal with us. Why? Because sharing a meal together is an experience of and an expression of relationship. Sitting down together at a meal means you’ve got things in common. There are no barriers between you, no divisions. There’s acceptance and belonging and trust and friendship around a table. When we’re all dipping our chips into the same bowl of salsa, it means all the walls are down. You’re experiencing community.

The meal makes it real.

The blood of Christ is what makes us righteous and clean. When we drink the cup together, we participate in those benefits. Eating the bread together is a communion or participation in the unity we share in Christ. One loaf means we are one body. The people of Israel eat the sacrifices and so receive the benefits of forgiveness and community that are achieved by the sacrifice at the altar. We eat and drink the Lord’s Meal and we receive the gifts of forgiveness and holy community that are achieved at the cross (1 Corinthians 10:18).

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For 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.” ~1 Corinthians 12:12-13

By faith, our baptisms unite us as one people in Christ. No divisions. No differences, No distinctions. We are one body. 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. The meal makes it real.

Peace,

Allan

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