Tuesday 22 March 2011

Not the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)

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

Some call it the Eucharist, from the Greek word eucharisteo, meaning to give thanks. Jesus gave thanks for the bread, in verse 24. The Catholic Church celebrates Mass, from the Latin missa meaning dismissed – which the priests would say at the end of the meeting to dismiss the congregation, similar to what your head master would say at the end of morning assembly. At the Chinese Church, all three congregations gather once a month for Holy Communion.

The apostle Paul calls it the Lord’s Supper (verse 20).

Also, different church traditions use slightly different forms: Some have just one loaf of bread and a single cup. For us, it is thin crunchy wafers and many tiny little plastic cups. Some churches use red wine or expensive port. The last time I checked our cupboard stores, for us it’s Robinson’s blackcurrant cordial.

But what does it mean?

What does it mean for churches all over the world for the last two-thousand years to observe this practice of sharing the bread and the cup? What does it symbolise? Does it have any benefit for the Christian who takes part in this tradition?

Today we come to our study of 1 Corinthians 11 which tells us what the Lord’s Supper means; but also, what it does not mean. It tells us what Christians should do. But it also warns us what we should not do with regards to the Lord’s Supper. You see, Paul is writing about a problem with the way this church was celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

Now, this shouldn’t surprise us, if you have been with us the past year studying from 1 Corinthians. This is a church with problem, after problem, after problem. Divisions in Chapter 1; jealousy in Chapter 3, arrogance in Chapter 4, and sexual sin in Chapter 5. The theme of our series has been, “We are messed up but God does not give up”. God is faithful in saving us through Jesus Christ and God is faithful in changing us to be like Jesus Christ.

So, Paul is writing to Christians – Christians who still meet every Sunday. And Christians who still celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Yet, he begins by saying:

In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.
1 Corinthians 11:17

“You guys are doing more harm than good by meeting together as the church!” he seems to be saying. Now, some people feel really guilty when they don’t come to church. They feel really bad for skipping Rock Fellowship because they want to stay home and watch TV instead. I know I feel that way every now and then.

But Paul isn’t talking about Christians who skip church. He is talking to the guys who actually turn up. And he says to them, “You might as well have stayed at home. You are making things worse by coming!”

What the reason he says this? Divisions. There are divisions inside the church.

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

This phrase, “when you come together” is a very important phrase that occurs five times in the text.

Your meetings (your coming together) do more harm than good.
1 Corinthians 11:17

When you come together as a church...
1 Corinthians 11:18

When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat.
1 Corinthians 11:20

When you come together to eat, wait for each other.
1 Corinthians 11:33

So that when you meet (come) together it may not result in judgment.
1 Corinthians 11:34

So when he says that these Christians were “coming together as the church”, in verse 20, Paul is defining the church as a people. That is, the church is not a building. It is not made up of four walls, stained glass, long pews, a pipe organ and a large cross up front. The church is the gathering of Christians – Men and women who come together in response to God’s call, the gospel. We learned that when we studied Chapter 1 (1 Corinthians 1:2).

In fact, the very word “church” or ekklesia in the New Testament simply means a gathering of people. When William Tyndale first translated the bible into English, he didn’t use the word “church”. Instead he used “congregation” – a gathering of Christians. So, Matthew 16:18 records Jesus as saying “On this rock I will build my congregation.” Sounds weird, right? Half a century later, the translators of the King James bible were given strict guidelines to replace all occurrences of “congregation” with the word “church”, and its use has persisted since (You can see this document on display at the University Library). This was to reflect the central authority of the Church of England. But it never meant that. The church is a gathering of Christians.

It is not for nothing that I mention this because the bible repeatedly emphasises that it is Christians who gather together for worship in response to the gospel, who constitute God’s true church. It is not a building. It does not depend on a king or a governing authority. Now, Hebrews 12 does talk of the heavenly church – how we when we gather here on earth, we join with angels in heaven in praise of God (Hebrews 12:22). However, everywhere else in the New Testament, Paul will address the local church – small discrete gatherings of believers. He writes to the church in Corinth; to the church in Colosse; to the church in Galatia. In the same way we are the church in Cambridge – we, who gather in this hall every Sunday, or in the church centre for bible study on Wednesdays. The church is the gathering of the people of God.

This is why a church splits are so serious. Paul says that he hears of divisions in the church at Corinth. Word has reached him, and he says that “to some extent” he believes it. Meaning: everything looks calm on the surface, but things are stirring underneath. People are talking, however. Someone mentions the tense situation to Paul, who is away from Corinth at this time. And Paul, upon hearing the news, says, “You know what? I’m not surprised.”

What is surprising is what Paul says next.

No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.
1 Corinthians 11:19

The church is the gathering of God’s people. But in the midst of this gathering are those who are true and others who are false. Turning up on a Sunday doesn’t make you a Christian. God knows those who are his. In the end, it is God’s approval that matters, because he gather his people as his church.

And Paul is saying that sometimes, God uses difficult situations like these to reveal those who truly belong to him. This is why Paul isn’t surprised by news of church tensions. The word for “divisions” in verse 18 is where we get the English word, “heresies”. It isn’t just a difference in opinion that is dividing the Corinthians Christians. It is a division in their very understanding of the truth.

In other words, this is not argument over drums in worship. This is not a clash between contrasting personality types – “I like this, but you prefer that”. No. Small cracks have appeared on the surface, but underneath, they run deep and threaten to split the church apart.

What is the cause of this division? Pauls tells us in verse 20. It is the Lord’s Supper.

When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk.
1 Corinthians 11:20-21

Think back a month ago, to Chinese New Year. Every year, hundreds of people flock to the Chinese Church for our annual Lunar New Year celebration. We have performances, music, skits in the main hall. And right after, we have food! Laid out in the back hall are rows of and rows of amazing, delicious Chinese food – roast duck, curry chicken, pak cham kai – yumm!!

Now imagine that as the service ended, the hundreds of church members and guests enter the back hall for dinner. But what they see is the English Congregation eating up the food! We’re tucking into the curry chicken. We are devouring the roast duck. And we say to them, “We just couldn’t wait any longer for you guys. You were taking too long and we were so hungry!” And not only did we start eating first, we ate it all up! Not as impossible a scenario as you might think, if you’ve ever visited Rock Fellowship during dinner.

Paul says, “As you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else.” One guy is starving while another is burping the benediction. It is a picture of impatience and inconsideration. Now, I must stress this is merely an illustration. Thank you everyone from the English Congregation for not only waiting patiently for the main Chinese New Year celebration to end, but also arranging the tables and chairs beforehand and serving the food to the guests during dinner itself. Well done, brothers and sisters!

Still, this situation was happening in Corinth. We get more details in the following verses:

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 11:22

Here we get a clearer picture of what went on. Paul clearly identifies two groups within the church – the wealthy (those who have homes) and the poor (those who have nothing).

Acts 3:46 reminds us that the early church met in homes. They didn’t own a church building. Instead they met in the homes of the rich Christians. It is like Bill Gates opening his home to the guy who sells the Big Issue outside Sainsbury’s. There was a big contrast between the rich and the poor in this same church.

Also, we need to clear up our use of the word “supper”. It’s a very English way of simply saying dinner. For Chinese supper is dinner... part two!

Either way, supper or dinner, was a proper meal. If you were a labourer or slave, you would be tired and hungry by the end of the day, and you would have looked forward to dinner. It’s like Sundays after badminton. Everyone heads for Hong Kong Fusion. You’ll order the usual Claypot Rice or Braised Beef Noodles and after that, have dessert – sago in coconut condensed milk. You’re looking forward to that meal.

So here were the rich and poor gathered in the same church, but also coming together for dinner. What basically happened was, the rich Christians said, “Right, I’m not waiting for those labourers any more. It’s my house and I paid for this food, so I’m just going to start first.” So the ate up all the food, without leaving behind much for their brothers and sisters.

Verse 21 says, “each of you goes ahead without waiting for anyone else”. Some translations read, you have your “own supper”. That is, the rich guys had their own special meal. This was the good stuff – salmon sashimi, M&S Taste the Difference puddings. It was just for them.

Now all this unloving behaviour would have been bad enough to deserve condemnation. Except, they weren’t simply having dinner together. These Christians were also remembering the Lord’s Supper. And Paul says, their behaviour was tantamount to “despising the church of God”. The wealthier Christians were “humiliating those who have nothing.”

In order to correct the situation, Paul reminds the Corinthians of true meaning of the Lord’s Supper. He reminds us of Jesus’ words at his last supper.

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.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26

These words should be very familiar. We read them out loud every month before communion is served.

Matthew, Mark and Luke record for us Jesus’ last meal with his disciples – his last supper before going to the cross (John’s gospel inclusive, without the instructions for the bread and the cup). It was the Passover meal, a yearly celebration of God’s rescue of the people of Israel from slavery recorded in the book of Exodus. So again, it was a proper dinner. There was lamb, wine, sauces to dip bread in together with spices. But this meal was extra special. Jesus said to his disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15)

Notice, Paul wants us to remember not simply the meal, but the events surrounding the meal. Details like “on the night (Jesus) was betrayed” – when he was arrested and put to trial; and words like “after supper he took the cup”; all remind us that this was a recorded historical event. Jesus used this meal to explain the reason for the cross.

Jesus took bread; he broke it, gave thanks for it and said, “This is my body”. In the same way, he took the cup, “This is the new covenant in my blood.” He was explaining his death. His body would be broken. He would suffer. It would be a gruesome death.

The cup reminds us of the cup of God’s anger in Isaiah 51. We studied this a few weeks ago. Jesus would be taking God’s anger and punishment for the sins of the world. At the same time, Jesus says, the cup symbolised God’s new covenant in his blood. It was an agreement finalised through his death.

This week at Rock Fellowship, we studied Exodus 19 – the mountain of God. It was a scary mountain! Smoke and thunder and fire covered the mountain. God’s voice thundered as he spoke to Moses and to the people, such that everyone was terrified. There God said, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6)

But Hebrews 12 reminds us as Christians, this is not the mountain we, as Christians, have come to.

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Hebrews 12:22, 23b, 24

Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant. A covenant is God’s agreement with his people. It is his promise to save them. “Covenant” is the exact same word as “testament”. Our bibles are divided into the “Old Testament” and “New Testament”. Here we have the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Jesus has come to fulfil all the requirements of the Old Covenant – the sacrifice, the temple, the offerings, the priestly duties. Through his death, he became the mediator of a new agreement – a new covenant.

So what Jesus is doing is explaining how he takes God’s judgement on the cross, and accomplishes our salvation through his sacrifice. He uses the bread and the cup to point to his body and his blood.

Twice he says, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

He doesn’t say, “Remember me.” But, “Do this in remembrance of me.” That is: Remember what I did on the cross – what happened and what it means.

This is why Paul says it is important for us to also “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” in verse 26. Some churches think, understandably, that we proclaim by having communion. That is, you don’t need to say anything because communion speaks for itself. I seriously disagree. I think communion is meant to spur us, not simply to point out the significance of the bread and the cup and the wine, but also to preach the gospel. In part, this is why Paul retells the events of the last supper. He is saying, These things happened!

But the strongest reason I can give as to why Paul isn’t simply saying that carrying out the Lord’s supper is enough – and this is the most damning reason I can see in the text – is this: That was precisely what the Corinthians did. They celebrated communion. They followed the tradition. But Paul says in verse 20, “It is not the Lord’s Supper you eat.”

The bible is warning us as Christians against empty tradition. It is saying that empty tradition is frankly useless.

But Paul will go on to show us that empty tradition is also downright dangerous. Mindlessly bowing to empty tradition can result in the judgement of God.

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.
1 Corinthians 11:27-28

Notice how we never read these verses out loud at communion.

What does Paul mean when he says we ought to examine ourselves before taking the bread and the cup? Perhaps he means for us to search our hearts for unconfessed sin. Perhaps this is that short moment of reflection we have at the beginning of the Lord’s prayer, when everyone bows their heads in prayer.

For centuries many have struggled with these words. Some Christians ask, “Am I worthy to take communion?” They know their hearts are sinful and they recognise that God is holy. So, they despair.

The great evangelical preacher, Charles Simeon coming up to his first year at King’s College, Cambridge was quite shaken at the prospect of taking communion for the very first time in his life. He wasn’t a Christian but he vaguely knew that communion was a somewhat serious affair. He reflected on his own life and felt so unworthy as he considered the weight of his sins that he wrote, “I frequently looked upon the dogs with envy”.

So, he picked up a book, which was on, of all things, the Jewish sacrifices in the Old Testament (eg. Leviticus). But for the first time in his life, he understood the significance of Jesus’ death on the cross; how Jesus fulfilled all the requirements of the sacrificial system in the Old Covenant. He actually became a Christian – from reading a booklet about Leviticus.

If the Lord’s Supper causes you to reflect on your sins before God’s holiness, and opens our eyes to behold his love in Jesus’ sacrifice, then that kind of fear isn’t a bad thing. Having said that, I don’t think that is what verse 27 is necessarily referring to.

The King James Bible translates verse 27 as “whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily” – that is, it highlights the unworthiness of the person taking communion. Yet, the NIV and most modern translations have it right in rendering the phrase as “in an unworthy manner”. It is not the person who is unworthy to approach God. Because the truth is, all of us are unworthy sinners. None of us can approach a holy God. None of us deserve the sacrifice of the Son of God. Yet God gave his Son up on the cross, in love and in his grace. He did this graciously, freely and generously.

No, what Paul is talking about is an unworthy manner. There was such a way these Corinthian Christians were observing communion that was dishonouring the meaning and purpose of the Lord’s Supper. He tells us how in verse 29:

For anyone who eats and drinks without recognising the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself.
1 Corinthians 11:29

Paul describes a person who takes communion without “recognising the body of the Lord”. What does that mean? It could mean that he does not acknowledge Jesus’ sacrifice. The bread and cup are meaningless signs to him, because Jesus’ death makes no difference to his life. If so, Paul’s instruction for us to examine ourselves is the call to reflect on the events of the cross; to think – Did Jesus take my sins on the cross? What did it mean for him to die my death?

However, there might be another layer of meaning to that phrase – one that fits better with the context of their gatherings. Notice how Paul mentions the “body of the Lord” without mentioning the blood? We were introduced to this phrase a couple of weeks ago in Chapter 10.

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation 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

Here in Chapter 10, Paul begins by speaking about Jesus’ blood and body. But his emphasis then turns from Jesus to us – on our participation in his sacrifice. We, who are many, share in his one sacrifice. Therefore, we, though many, are one body. The church is the one body of the Lord.

Therefore, recognising the body of the Lord means recognising our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is the person sitting next to you. It is the guy you said Hi to (or perhaps ignored) during the break before the sermon.

The call to examine yourself is not inward, but outward. Communion isn’t about you taking the cup and the bread. Communion is about you sharing the cup with your brother, sharing the loaf with your sister. God takes this so seriously, that he judges the Corinthian church for not “recognising the body of the Lord”.

That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.
1 Corinthians 11:30-31

The next verses talk about judgement and discipline. Teaching judgement is hard. But I find teaching discipline, even harder. First, let’s start with judgement. It is God’s judgement over the Corinthian church.

God has judged this Christians – through sickness; even through death. When he says, “a number of you have fallen asleep,” it isn’t a reflection on how boring the sermon was that Sunday. It means they died. It means God killed them.

I am being straight with you because the bible is being straight with you. Verse 31 says, “if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgement.” The most common verse I hear quoted on TV is “Judge not, lest ye be judged”. Jesus says that in Matthew 7, warning against being judgemental. Yet, this verse is often used against Christians. No one should judge anyone, the argument goes.

Well, here is the bible saying (1) God does judge and (2) He judges his church. But also (3) we must judge ourselves. That is, we need to be discerning, especially when it comes to our own sinfulness and behaviour in light of the gospel. Paul puts it plainly. If the Corinthians had judged themselves, God would not have had to judge them.

Yet even harder than judgement is what this passage teaches us about discipline.

When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.
1 Corinthians 11:32

Hebrews 12 reminds Christians that God disciplines those he loves. He disciplines those he calls his sons.

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:7, 11

Understand this: God was judging the Corinthian church, not in order to condemn them, but rather, to discipline them. In fact, Paul goes so far as to say the reason he judges them is so that they will not be condemned with the world. His judgement in this world was keeping them from facing his final judgement and eternal condemnation in Hell.

I can understand if you find the bible’s teaching on judgement and discipline hard. Paul does say, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time.” It is silly to suggest that Christians should love suffering and pain. That is an utterly ridiculous notion.

Yet, what these verses do for us is equip Christians with the purpose of suffering in their lives. God is always in control – in our times of blessing and in times of difficulty. So much so, that he even uses situations of great pain and suffering in the Christian’s life for his good.

In speaking about condemnation, we must always keep in mind Romans 8, verse 1.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:1

What this means is: A Christian may undergo immense suffering. He might be lying in a hospital bed with a serious disease. He may have just been in a bad accident. It means that when I visit him and he asks me, “Calvin, is God punishing me? Have I done something wrong to deserve this?” I can look him in the eye and say, “No”.

Romans 8:1 tells us there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. None whatsoever. If you are in Christ, Jesus took all the punishment for your sins on himself at the cross.

Or supposing a Christian did something terribly wrong and sinful. Peter does warns us not to suffer as a murderer or thief or criminal (1 Peter 4:15) – perhaps this Christian committed a crime, got caught and was thrown into prison. Perhaps he is even awaiting the death penalty. And he asks the same question, “Is God punishing me?”

If this is a true brother in Christ, I can give him the exact same answer – No. God isn’t punishing you. It doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for your sins – either on yourself or on others. This is a world broken by sin and selfishness.

Yet if you are in Christ – and I must stress this, I can only say this for someone who is in Christ – then Jesus took all the punishment for your sins on the cross. Nothing can separate you from God’s love. Not even death.

However, today’s passage teaches us that God uses situations of our own sinfulness to discipline us. It doesn’t mean he hates us. Quite the opposite, Hebrews says God only disciplines those he loves. That is a sign of a good and loving Father – One who does not allow his sons to continue on in sin.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever failed an exam before. I have. Big time! Flunked and had to stay back over the holidays to retake my finals. It was embarrassing and it was painful. I remember thinking, “I don’t want to do this again. I want to learn from this.” When it comes to the painful lessons in life, I would say to you, learn from them. You don’t want retakes in suffering!

What was the lesson God was teaching the Corinthians? It was a lesson in love. They needed to love one another as the body of Christ.

So then, my brothers, 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. And when I come I will give further directions.
1 Corinthians 11:33-34

Pauls says, “Wait for each other.” I’m tempted to say to Paul, “Was that all they needed to do? Just wait? Is that what got them into so much trouble?”

But it is such practical advice isn’t it? There’s the food, there’s the Lord’s Supper – I know you guys are hungry – but you know what? You need to wait. In fact, the whole purpose of coming together as the church is to wait. Verse 34 is equally practical: If you can’t wait and you know you’ll be hungry – then grab a bite before church. Eat at home.

It is practical advice for how to love one another practically. Just wait. And yet, there is more to this advice than simply being patient.

Last Saturday I went with the guys for a walk to Grantchester (not a very macho thing for guys to do, I know – going for walks in the orchard!). It was a sunny day, so the place was packed. We wanted to get some tea and snacks, so D and I sat at the table, while W and J went to get the food.

D and I waited. We waited for the food. We waited for W and J. That was one kind of waiting. We didn’t do it impatiently (I hope). We waited expectantly.

But you see, W and J also waited. There was a long queue and they had to get in line for the tea. So there, they waited. They waited for us.

Two kinds of waiting. We were waiting to eat. They were waiting to serve us.

Paul says “when you come together to eat, wait for each other”. The 2010 NIV has, “you should all eat together”. I like that way of putting it. In Cantonese it’s like saying Yat Chai Sek Fan. Let’s eat together.

Paul is saying, “You have come together to eat. So, eat together!” It’s just common sense. That is the whole purpose of the church. To build one another up. I come not for myself. I have come here for you. You too, have come here for me. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. We have our meals together. We come before God in worship together.

Because: the bible says, when we come together as Christians, we come together as the church. We come together as the body of Christ.

One last thing...

It really is worth revisiting the context of the split in this church. If you remember, Paul was rebuking the rich Christians in particular, for their behaviour which was embarrassing the poor and “despising the church of God”. Notice this: here is Paul condemning the wealthier Christians, but nowhere does he tell them to do anything with their money. He doesn’t say give your money to the poor. Neither does he says, with regards to the food, share that expensive Tesco Finest (hmm, not sure that’s altogether very fancy) meal with everyone.

Paul also does not forbid the rich from enjoying their rich, private meals. What does he say at the end (verse 34)? Eat at home. He is saying: The church is not the setting for you to be flaunting your wealth. I’m sure the reason the rich Christians were doing this in the first place was because, they felt they had a right to it. It was their money. Perhaps they had worked hard for it, or they knew it was a blessing from God and received it with thanks. And yet, their actions were proving insensitive to their poorer brothers and sisters in the congregation.

This is one of the main reasons the Lord’s Supper is distilled to its simple form today. We have just the bread and the cup, and not as part of a meal. This is, of course, in keeping with the symbolism of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. We remember his death. We proclaim the cross.

But it is also an act of wisdom. If we did have the Lord’s Supper as part of a main meal, I shudder to think, would we act in the same way as the Corinthians? Our hunger might cause many of us to act just as unloving towards our brothers and sisters. We might even justify our actions citing cultural differences. Perhaps, like Corinthians, we might even say, “I brought this dish, so I’ll have more!”

The Corinthians problem is very much our problem here at the Chinese Church. Not simply because we love food. But because much of our Chinese culture prides wealth and status, such that these values are reflected in the way we eat our food, and the types of food we love to eat. The application of today’s verses extends far beyond the first week of the month when we meet for communion. It speaks to all our fellowships where we share meals together before Rock, Paul and Joshua Fellowships. It speaks to the way we relate to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

In particular, today’s passage takes into consideration the weaker brothers in the midst of the larger gathering. Do you know the parable Jesus told about the sheep and the goats? Like today’s passage, it is a passage that speaks about judgement, division, food and loving the brother who has nothing.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25:31-40

The sheep are surprised. They ask Jesus “When did we see you hungry and feed you? When did we give you something to drink?” Jesus’ answered, as the Judge and the King, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

You see, when Paul says, we have to consider the other brothers in our midst – that we have to love the body of Christ, the church – some of us might think that we have to know everyone’s names (not a bad thing), be everyone’s best pal (also not a bad thing), and treat everyone to duck rice at J-Restaurant (if you can afford it, why not?). But that’s not what he means.

Paul is reminding us to look out for the weaker brother. That’s what Jesus says, doesn’t he? Whatever you did for one (just one!) of the least of these brothers...

When you come to church, don’t just look out for the pastor and the leaders – the so-called important people; or even those who are just like you – your friends, another Chinese face, someone around your same age.

No, look for the one in need. “Hey, you look like you could use a cup of tea. Wanna talk? Could I pray for you?” Look out for one of the least of the brothers. That’s not hard, is it? It’s the new guy standing in the corner by himself. It’s the sister who hasn’t been around for some time. It’s the old grandma. It’s the young kid looking really bored. Look out for the least.

Because Jesus says, what you do for them, you do for me.

Love Jesus. Love his church.

And so with thankfulness and faith
We rise to respond: and to remember
Our call to follow in the steps of Christ
As His body here on earth.

As we share in His suffering
We proclaim: Christ will come again!
And we'll join in the feast of heaven
Around the table of the King.

1 comment:

Joel said...

I learnt something new! I always thought v.19 was Paul being sarcastic ^^