What do you love about Church? The coffee, the music, the sermon, the morning tea/supper or the social aspect? What should we love about Church? Look around, each other, these are the church, these are the people God calls us together for, to love.
The church is God’s gift to his children. It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God's Word and sacraments. Not all Christians receive this blessing.
This term we’ve been thinking about dealing with conflict in relationships in Church, as the bible puts it, pursuing peace.
Just as God considered a relationship with us worth pursuing, worth fighting for, worth suffering for, worth dying for! He also considers our relationships worth pursuing, worth fighting for.
And it’s really been setting a culture. We’ve had story after story of people seeking reconciliation with others, saying sorry, engaging others about the ways they’ve hurt them, calling sin for what it is.
One lady was able to bring up something someone said to her about a year ago that hurt her and it was tough! But she engaged in the conversation and they were able to share their story, apologise, and they’ve reconciled.
Another girl from our Parramatta campus, was encouraged to think about the pain that might be affecting her boss’s anger and was able to love him with patience instead of harbouring bitterness.
Even in my own house, I’ve been able to recognise an idol I was holding onto that stopped me apologising to my wife the other night.
Today, we’re going to be thinking about how the Lord’s supper affects how we think about conflict and relationships in the church.
And to do that we’re going to take a look at one of the worst churches we have read about in History, the Corinthians. Paul writes:
In the following directives, I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. ~1 Corinthians 11:17 (NIV)
Whoa! What is happening in their gatherings? I can just imagine how we’d feel as a staff team if on Monday morning we got an email from someone saying ‘your gathering yesterday did more harm than good!’
We’d be horrified!
Well over the next few chapters Paul explains how to be a church that does more good than harm in a number of areas, but we’re going to stay in this chapter and think particularly about how to do good instead of harm when it comes to the Lord’s supper, we are getting to learn from their mistakes!
See what happened in Corinth was, they were doing the supper, they were getting together, they had food and drink and they thought they were doing ok, but Paul says ‘you’re not even close!’
So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat… ~1 Corinthians 11:20 (NIV)
Whatever the Lord’s supper was supposed to be Paul says, that’s not it! What’s going on during their meal that’s making their gathering a disaster?
In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. ~1 Corinthians 11:18 (NIV)
What’s the big issue there? Division!
But what’s the big deal about divisions?
I mean Paul says in verse 19 that divisions are normal, to be expected.
No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. ~1 Corinthians 11:19 (NIV)
What he means is - divisions reveal differences, differences are generally what cause conflict and divisions, we know that, differences/preferences. But it’s a little more pointed here, Paul’s saying, divisions, reveal hearts; divisions expose where our hearts are really at before God. The big problem Paul says is that there are people among you who are neglecting and despising others and that’s telling us something about where they’re at with God!
So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter! ~1 Corinthians 11:20-22 (NIV)
What’s happening is that some people in the church who seem to be doing better off financially, or just generally in life, are not caring about, or being concerned for others who are struggling, or are just different from them. They’re not waiting for them to eat, they’re not caring if they have any food. They’re putting themselves and their concerns above the needs of others. They’ve found their little groups of close friends who probably all agree with each other on most things and they’ve closed their door to others, not caring to include them, not caring to serve them, not caring to love them! They’re despising and neglecting those who don’t seem “Good enough” for them. You might have experienced that here in some way, or maybe you’ve been part of that problem.
Around 5-6 years ago I was working at a Church in the Hawkesbury area, and I was amazed at how non-multicultural that area was! Very white! One day I was telling a new guy at the church about this area, and Blacktown and about how so many nationalities are coming into our country, and if you didn’t know what country you were in it would be hard to guess because of how many different backgrounds there are and I said “there doesn’t seem to be many moving out this way” and he said “yeah it’s great hey?” and I said, “No, I was going to say it’s not good, it’d be good if we had more!” And he quickly tried to defend himself.
You know, it’s sad, but the reality is, our natural way is to compare ourselves to, and neglect people who are different from us, not only in race but style, age, financially and educationally. And you know what that causes… Divisions!
And In Paul’s eyes, in God’s eyes divisions are the biggest enemy of the Christian community. They’re out of place in the Church!
What’s so bad about this issue? What’s so wrong with having a few lingering disagreements around the place? Well, it’s because of what the Lord’s supper is actually about! The reason divisions are so out of place in the Church, is because the Lord’s Supper is a celebration of our Unity in Jesus! The Supper is a reminder of our unity in Jesus.
Let’s have a look at what Paul says and break it down
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.” ~1 Corinthians 11:23-24 (NIV)
So Jesus would have had one piece of bread, he broke it, and he handed it to them all. We can’t see it in English, but the “you” there is a plural. This is my body, which is for you all!
Westy - “yous”
United Stated - “y’all”
My Mum (English) - “you lot”
Now some churches in history have gotten caught up with the word “is” here.. thinking Jesus was saying he’s handing them his actual body, teaching them that he was literally in the bread.
And even now when some churches do the Lord’s supper, they pray that the bread and drink would really turn into the very body and blood of Jesus. It’s very problematic and that’s reading far too much into this sentence. Jesus wasn’t being that literal, but symbolic.
Here’s a picture of me “that is me” “this is me” that’s a representation of me. Jesus also said he is the gate, he is the good shepherd, he is the vine. He’s not saying he is literally a gate but likening himself to those things to teach a point about what he’s like for us. He was making the point, that just like bread is a staple food source for life, he himself, is our food source for spiritual life!
Just as we eat bread and it enters our body and fuels us for life, it becomes part of our body! Jesus is saying that he is the very thing his followers are to feed on for true and ultimate life. Not by eating him but by accepting him by faith, entrusting themselves to him, for life and sustenance in their relationship with God.
When we feed on him by faith, when we accept him into our lives and hearts He actually unites himself with us! We become one with him! He gives us his own spirit. His life-giving Spirit!
Jesus lived a perfectly obedient life and then gave over his body as a sacrifice and substitute for us broken, sinful people, that if we trust in him, God would now see us as perfectly righteous in Him!
As we eat this bread, it’s a visual reminder that Jesus’ real body was broken on the cross for us all, that he made a way for us to be made whole, to come back into a restored relationship with God! We remind ourselves that everyone who trusts in Jesus is no longer under the judgement of God for their own sin but is now seen by our father in heaven as if we were like Jesus himself. Viewed as God’s very own beloved son or daughter because of our union with Him. There is no greater thing to be!
No Instagram picture, no Facebook post, no photograph, no selfie, no amount of make up or muscles could make us look anywhere near as lovely as how our God now sees us because of Jesus! Oh doesn’t that just fill your heart?! Back in chapter 10 Paul says:
Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf. ~1 Corinthians 10:17 (NIV)
That’s what the bread symbolises - our collective union with Jesus. What about the drink?
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 11:25 (NIV)
This cup represents the new covenant in my blood… what’s that? What was the old covenant?
...without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness… ~Hebrews 9:22 (NIV)
That is - sin deserves bloodshed/death, so because we sin, we either lose our lives, have our bloodshed or we offer the life of another in our place, in the old covenant that was an animal.
In Hebrews 10 it explains how the Priests under the old covenant, year-after-year would have to keep bringing animal sacrifices for their own sins and the sins of the people, shedding blood and offering animal after animal, again and again. But that’s an endless cycle, right? it never fully deals with our problem of sin, it really just highlights it!
But Jesus is saying, once I’ve shed my blood for you! It is finished! One ultimate sacrifice for sin, by a perfect substitute!
Once and for all!
That’s the new covenant. This sacrifice is given, ahead of time, in your place, perfectly sufficient, provided by the very one we’ve offended. Whatever we’ve done. Whatever we deserved from God for it is dealt with at the cross! All my sin, all my failures have been forgiven at the cross! Everything you’ve ever done and will do. It has been nailed to the cross and forgiven through the blood of our Saviour Jesus. What a sacrifice!!! To bring us back into a relationship with himself.
Jesus said, as you share this drink together, remember what I’ve done for you all.
See, it’s not about each of us individually coming to God with our own offering for our individual sins, but about together, recognising our equal need before God… that we’re all in the same boat! That the ground at the foot of the cross is level, we’re all equally in desperate need for Jesus, no one any closer or further away, no one any better or worse off. We together, recall our hopeless state apart from Jesus… lost, without hope, broken, abandoned by the empty promises of our world. In darkness and in need, out of a relationship with our maker and not just out of relationship but in conflict with him! Deserving His judgement…
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. ~Colossians 1:21b-23a (NIV)
That’s what we remember as we eat and drink together. Jesus brought peace, between us and God. But not only between us and God, but he’s also brought peace between us - each other!
The big word is Reconciliation. Or more profoundly, union with God. We’ve been united to God, because of Jesus, by His own Spirit! And because each of us are united to Christ, we are therefore united with each other! If you trust in Jesus then you are united to every other Christian, by God’s spirit. It’s profound! The many have been made one. And made one, that the world would see God’s love at work within our community, and say - Wow - God must exist!
You know, right after Jesus shared this supper with his disciples before he was arrested, he prayed, he prayed for his disciples and for everyone else who would follow Him in the future… us… and do you know what he prayed for… Unity!
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. ~John 17:20-23 (NIV)
That’s why divisions in the church are a complete contradiction and undermining of the gospel, especially when gathering to share the Lord’s supper. That’s also why we’ve spent a whole term on relationships & conflict!
Well, if the Supper is a celebration of our unity through the Gospel and divisions ruin that celebration, how do we do the supper rightly! How do we move forward, doing more good than harm? Paul gives us the answer,
Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. ~1Corinthians 11:28-29 (NIV)
How do I examine myself in regards to the body of Christ? In 2 big ways…
Don’t be fooled, if I say I’m a Christian yet don’t live as if that’s true, God is not fooled, he knows my heart.
Jesus himself said,
A new command I give you, love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another! ~John 13:34 (NIV)
When Covid hit the advice we were all getting and the most loving thing to do was that if you had any symptoms, stay away from everyone! Right? I think we’ve often got a Covid mindset when it comes to conflict and sin in the church.
When a conflict arises, or I’m struggling with some sin in my life - we “stay away” from everyone! We exclude ourselves from fellowship or we try to exclude the other person from us, we go to a different service, or turn up late and leave early, but that’s not the way of Christ. The way to examine ourselves rightly is to identify the sin or conflict that’s going on within and to call on God to help us fight it or approach it and to do all that we can to make it right, Just like Jesus did for us.
Let me tell you about a scenario I experienced in a previous church. Two girls in the Church had a falling out over something that went on in their friendship group. One girl offended the other by something she did. They’d been serving together on different teams and had a lot of ministry and friendships in common. One of the girls, to avoid dealing with the other one, and avoid forgiving her, moved to another service. Over time, the girl who had initially caused the breakdown sought forgiveness, apologised, tried to explain her side, pursued peace, but the other girl wasn’t willing. She withheld forgiveness, she continued ignoring her at Church things, she gathered a group of people around her who also began justifying her behaviour and affirming her hurts… “you’re right to feel this way”
See, that’s another aspect of what conflict brings… sides…
What happened was the girl who sought forgiveness and didn’t get it started hearing from other friends, “we’re on your side here” And some who saw lots siding with her said “you’ve got lots of support, we’re going to show the other girl love”… people were taking sides of one of the girls… but not taking the side of Jesus! Who says - go and be reconciled…
Conflicts that won’t reconcile don’t only affect the individuals… it has an effect on the whole community… loyalty to people can often mean sacrificing loyalty to Jesus… but loyalty to Jesus means calling others to reconcile. This other girl who wouldn’t forgive would come to church, sing the songs, praise God for his love and forgiveness, even serve and encourage others about God’s love… take the Lord’s supper being reminded of God’s grace! But then wouldn’t be willing to extend that forgiveness to the other girl.. quite hypocritical..
This went on for almost a year and what the other girl started to feel was that maybe she wasn’t even forgiven by God! If this girl wouldn’t forgive her maybe God hadn’t either and maybe this was Gods way of punishing her for what she initially did…
and that just wasn’t true! See our conflicts, which we often try to hide from, can have so many consequences and can cause God’s grace to be undermined in the whole community. It’s like an ingrown toenail - such a tiny injury… but it puts the whole body out of whack…
Praise God those 2 girls eventually did reconcile - the girl who was unwilling to forgive took the initiative and reached out but that whole episode took a toll on a lot of people…
I think evaluating ourselves rightly - is asking the question:
“if everyone in the church was like me… had my struggles, my sins, my laziness, my selfish tendencies, if everyone turned up to church as much as I do and loved others the way I do - how well would this community be doing?” Scary thought, hey?
The point is, how you’re treating the body of believers, is how you’re treating Jesus. You can’t claim to be in right standing with Jesus if you’re in bad standing with others by not pursuing peace
You can’t presume forgiveness from God if you’re withholding forgiveness from others, or actively sinning against someone… or in some other way… Paul says in v 29 to live like that and take the Lord’s supper is to eat and drink judgement on ourselves - to remind ourselves that we’re actually still under God’s judgement! Being in a conflict with God’s family, without pursuing peace, puts you in conflict with Jesus. God tells us:
We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. ~1 John 4:19-21 (NIV)
So, Paul says, before you turn up and think you can just rush in for the meal, check your heart! How are you affecting the body?
Now it’s important to be reminded here that if we’re going to wait until we’re perfect to take the Supper, we’ll never eat it!
The supper itself is a reminder to us of the bloodshed and body broken for our forgiveness and reconciliation with God, and it comes through faith in Jesus’ perfect actions - not our perfect actions! The supper is actually a gift for us in that way.
To drive home into our hearts the reality of God’s love! It’s an active acceptance of Grace! for sinners like us! So sin, in general, isn’t what should stop us from taking the supper, but sin that we won’t repent of — should!
Question: Do you have a conflict you’ve decided to let the other person stay in?
Question: Is there a sinful habit you’ve decided that God should be ok with?
The word to you is to repent, seek forgiveness, seek reconciliation. Taking the supper or not doesn’t make you a Christian or not, but it is a strong reminder for us to take our walk with Jesus seriously.
Today might be a day you don’t celebrate the meal to remind yourself you’ve got some work to do. Or maybe the meal will be that strong reminder for you that if you’ve received God’s forgiveness and grace, to extend it out towards others. Or maybe today will be the first time you celebrate this meal, as you’ve realised today’s the day you want to start a relationship with Jesus, and you want to let this be your active expression of that.
Christian Community is a blessing from God for us to enjoy, and for us to demonstrate to the world how worthy our God is!
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! ~Psalm 133:1 (NIV)