Proclaiming the Lord’s Death Until He Comes

Robertson McQuilkin remembered watching Muriel Webendorfer run her  “lovely, artistic fingers” through her “lovely, brown hair.” And as he began to spend more time with her, Robertson discovered Muriel. She was “delightful, smart, and gifted, and just a great lover of people and more fun than you can imagine.” And so on February 14, 1948, Robertson asked Muriel to be his wife. She said yes. Forty-two years and one month later, Robertson would resign as the much loved and respected president of Columbia Bible College with these words:

My dear wife, Muriel, has been in failing mental health for about eight years. So far I have been able to carry both her ever-growing needs and my leadership responsibilities at CBC. But recently it has become apparent that Muriel is contented most of the time she is with me and almost none of the time I am away from her. It is not just ‘discontent.’ She is filled with fear – even terror – that she has lost me and always goes in search of me when I leave home. Then she may be full of anger when she cannot get to me. So it is clear to me that she needs me now, full-time…The decision was made, in a way, 42 years ago when I promised to care for Muriel “in sickness and in health…till death do us part.” So, as I told the students and faculty, as a man of my word, integrity has something to do with it. But so does fairness. She has cared for me fully and sacrificially all these years; if I cared for her for the next 40 years I would not be out of debt. Duty, however, can be grim and stoic. But there is more; I love Muriel. She is a delight to me – her childlike dependence and confidence in me, her warm love, occasional flashes of that wit I used to relish so, her happy spirit and tough resilience in the face of her continual distressing frustration. I do not have to care for her, I get to! It is a high honor to care for so wonderful a person.[1]

When You Come Together as a Church

This is the second Sunday of the month and on this Sunday we will spend time in a passage that seems to be about the first Sunday of the month. The first Sunday of the month is that Sunday we set apart as the Sunday to observe the Lord’s Supper together. And so it was last Sunday that we were served broken bread and individual cups filled with grape juice and together we remembered and gave thanks and ate and drank.

The Lord’s Supper is given to us in four passages: Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20 and 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. And notice something rather important; the Gospel of John does not mention the Lord’s Supper. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 is the only passage that calls the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Supper. And listen carefully; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 is not about the Lord’s Supper.

Listen to 1 Corinthians 11:17. “But in the following instructions I do not commend you.” Pause there and mark two things. First, the following verses are instructions. And we just want to simply ask, instructions for what? Second, notice the word commend. It is a very important word, some translations instead have the word praise. The picture is that of standing up and applauding. 1 Corinthians 11 can be divided in two parts. In the first part, Paul writes to this local church about that which he can applaud them (1 Corinthians 11:1-16). The second part is about that which he cannot applaud them. And we just want to simply ask, what is it?

Keep listening to verse seventeen. “But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.” And there it is; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 is about when the local church gathers together. Paul will mention this phrase, when you come together, five times (v. 17; 18; 20; 33; 34). He keeps coming back to it, meaning whatever it is he has to say affects every time the church comes together whether it is Sunday morning at 9:30 for prayer or rehearsing the order of worship or Sunday morning at 10 to greet one another or Sunday morning at 10:10 to read God’s Word and sing God’s Word and preach God’s Word or Sunday evenings at 5 or Wednesday evenings at 7 or…This passage is about any time the local church comes together.

So, why does Paul bring up the Lord’s Supper? He first mentions it in verse twenty and it sure seems to be the concern in the rest of the passage. It is because the observance of the Lord’s Supper is to affect everything else we do. The first Sunday affects the second and third and fourth and sometimes fifth Sunday. The Lord’s Supper affects every time we come together. And the reason that Paul cannot applaud the gathering of this church, whenever it gathered, is because they were getting the Lord’s Supper wrong. The Lord’s Supper is one of two ordinances that Jesus gave us, two particular commands that we as a church must be doing. The other ordinance is believer’s baptism. And what I am about to say next applies to both ordinances, but in particular to the Lord’s Supper. Yes, it is a command. We must do this; but there is a delight in doing this that is like Robertson McQuilkin – we get to do this!

The Divisions Among You

And as we walk through these verses we are to see the significance of the Lord’s Supper; the significance of regularly eating the Lord’s Supper; the significance of the Lord’s Supper in the life of a local church, specifically Calvary Community Church.

So, in verse seventeen Paul pointed out that when this particular local church gathered together it was not for the better but for the worse. Meaning, our gathering together is to be for the better. But how does Paul know that their gathering together is for the worse? Listen to verse eighteen. “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part.” Notice the word divisions. Paul uses this word three times in 1 Corinthians. The third time is in 1 Corinthians 12:25, the first indication that 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Corinthians 12 are to be read and studied and preached together. But the first time Paul uses this word is in 1 Corinthians 1:10. “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” And how does Paul know that their gathering together is for the worse, not the better? Listen to 1 Corinthians 1:11. “For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.” Chloe told Paul about these divisions. And Chloe told Paul what was happening on the first Sunday of the month. And notice what she called the divisions: quarreling among one another.

At the Lord’s Supper, some in this church were making this meal their main meal. Somebody was rushing ahead to this table and just devouring the bread leaving others breadless. And then there was somebody taking the cup and guzzling all the juice, enough juice to get drunk (v. 20-22)! Notice Paul’s response: WHAT?! And what he says next has opened my eyes to the significance of the Lord’s Supper.

Do You Despise the Church of God?

It is in verse twenty-two. “Do you despise the church of God?” The church of God is people. The church of God is saved people. The church of God is redeemed by the blood of the Lamb people; these are blood bought people. The church of God is sins forgiven, debt canceled at the cross people. The word despise means to devalue. So, it is like Paul is asking, do you not value the church of God? Do you not value your church? Do you not value the church members? And we want to ask, what does that have to do with the Lord’s Supper? How we treasure the Lord’s Supper has something to do with how we treasure one another. This is the division; the tear in the garment.

And so, here again, Paul asks us, “What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not commend you.” Then in verse twenty-three Paul gives the reason for why he cannot commend them or their gathering. Look at the very first word: for [or because]. So his question, do you value your church, is rooted in the night that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper.

Remember, the Gospel of John is the only Gospel that does not mention the Lord’s Supper. Instead, the Gospel of John provides all that happened in that room before the Lord’s Supper and after the Lord’s Supper. This is so remarkable. Before the Lord’s Supper, Jesus got down on his hands and feet and washed the disciples’ feet, including Judas. And after this feet washing, Jesus then said these words: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

And then after the meal, right before they left together for the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed these words: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21). Surrounding this meal, the institution of it, is that those who eat this meal together love one another. And that among those who eat this meal, there be a united togetherness. What does that look like?

Why Many of You Are Weak

And so when it comes to this meal which seems to affect everything else we do, we must examine ourselves to make sure we are not partaking in this meal in an “unworthy manner” (11:27-28). How could I, how could we eat this meal in an unworthy manner? The word unworthy means lacking a corresponding value. How I treasure this meal has much to do with how I treasure those whom Jesus has bought with his blood. Francis Chan shared what characterized the earliest Christians when they gathered together: devoted. They were devoted to Bible teaching. They were devoted to fellowship. They were devoted to prayer. They were devoted to the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42). And soon thereafter those same Christians would endure together intense persecution. “Imagine sitting around a table and sharing a meal with the few people who shared their mission and beliefs. Imagine sitting around a table and sharing a meal with people who loved you unconditionally and whose lives had changed in the same way as yours. As you gather, you can’t help but remember those who used to sit at the table with you but were killed for proclaiming his death. Some who gather with you have injuries and scars from the persecution. You break the bread and eat it, remembering that Jesus had broken His body so you could find life in Him. Imagine drinking the cup with these fellow believers as you recall how His blood was shed. He did this for you so you could be cleansed and forgiven of all your sins. Can you see how powerful this experience would have been for the church every time they gathered?”[2]

This church was doing this in an unworthy manner. How? They were not connecting the value of Jesus’ death with their valuing of one another. Notice what Paul shares about this, how serious it is, in verses twenty-nine and thirty. “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” And is this why, in part, there are ineffective churches, dying churches, lacking power churches? Does it have something to do with the significance of the Lord’s Supper in the life of a local church?

Proclaiming the Lord’s Death Until He Comes

What happens when we treasure the Lord’s Supper treasuring one another? “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” We preach to one another! And we prepare for the meal together by first preaching the significance of this meal to ourselves! And what are we preaching to one another at this meal? “As you travel, dear brother, dear sister, as you travel along the dusty path of Christian obedience, as you walk up your pilgrimage in service to your Redeemer and you feel yourself weary, remember, Jesus is enough. Jesus is enough. He’s coming soon! Trust Him and press on! One day He will come and a better banqueting table will be spread before us! And there we will be with Him at last, face to face with our Savior, eating and drinking to the joy of our hearts and our everlasting delight! Christ is enough, so press on, dear brother, dear sister. Press on. Keep going. He will sustain you. Look to Him.”[3]

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Man, pages 33-34.

[2] Francis Chan, Letters to the Church, pages 60-61.

[3] J. Ligon Duncan, sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

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