Imitators of Christ
Does God require more of Christians than they are able to achieve? Does He set forth the ideal of the character of Christ knowing that is an unachievable goal for Christís disciples? Is He operating under the philosophy that it is better to aim at the moon and hit an eagle than to aim at an eagle and hit a rock? When the apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth, saying, "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ," is he truly an imitator of Christ? And is it possible for the brethren to imitate him also? The mindset of Catholicism, Protestantism, and "Churches of Christ" is that it is impossible to be a true imitator of Christ. Whether it is the doctrine of "original sin," or "total depravity," or "that as a human, you are always going to sin," the subtle underlying idea is that the power of sin is somehow greater than the power of God. Some try to limit the scope of Paulís statement in I Corinthians 11:1 about being imitators of Christ to the narrow issue of eating of meats offered in the market place. The key line, however, is this one: "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31). Christ did; Paul did; all saints can!
- The character of Christ - In so many ways, and in so many contexts, the scripture encourages the brethren of Christ to do their part in assimilating His character. "Lay aside the old self," is the apostleís exhortation to the Ephesians, "and put on the new self which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth" (Ephesians 4:22-24). Peter adds his voice, noting that instead of continuing to participate in human nature, true disciples of Christ are becoming "partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust" (II Peter 1:4). The Fatherís goal is that each child of God "become conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29), to exhibit the character of Christ to the world.
- Series of single statements - Scattered through the gospel accounts and the epistles are statements from Jesus and the inspired writers concerning the conduct of the disciples of Christ. "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" is one of the character qualities enjoined upon followers of Christ (Luke 6:36). "You shall be holy, for I am holy," is another (I Peter 1:16). Christ left an example for us "to follow in His steps, who committed no sin" (I Peter 2:21,22). The apostle John, in his first epistle, has a number of such statements of imitating our King. "The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked" (I John 2:6). "Everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (I John 3:3). "As He is, so also are we in this world" (I John 4:17). As Jesus Himself said, "You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).
It was not easy for Jesus to have and maintain the character of Jesus; it is not easy for saints either. But simply because it is difficult does not make it impossible! While the Christian engages the outer man in renewing the mind and making the countless decisions involved in walking as Christ walked, God strengthens him with power through His Spirit in the inner man (Ephesians 3:16). In this divinely arranged partnership, the child of God is thus transformed from the inside out; he "has laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and has put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him" (Colossians 3:9,10). Ultimately, this is a matter of faith. Saints are to be of the faith of Abraham, who believed that what God had promised, God was able to perform (Romans 4:21)! God, in the case of the new covenant has promised; do we modern brethren believe that promise?
Headship and Head Covering
In the time before time on earth, there was rebellion in heaven. Those whom Jesus called "the devil and his angels" did not keep within their prescribed boundaries, and eventually were thrown out of heaven, awaiting their time to be thrown into the lake of fire which was prepared specifically for them. But while earth spins onward, progressing toward the culmination of Judgment Day, mankind labors in the midst of an all-encompassing spiritual war, wherein the prince of darkness tries with all his might and deception to pull mankind into his side of the conflagration. As the god of confusion and agent of destruction, Satan works to overthrow every aspect of the order of God. Hence it is that the natural order between male and female, between a man and his wife is attacked by the deceiver, and this the apostle Paul has to address in regard to the congregation at Corinth.
- Commendation - Paul had indicated earlier in the letter that he was going to send Timothy to remind them of the doctrines and practices which he enjoined upon every church. Here he has opportunity to commend the brethren: "Now I praise you," he compliments, "because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you" (I Corinthians 11:2).
- Instruction on order - Where Satan has opportunity to work, there is conflict over Godís order of things. Hence the apostle notes, "But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ" (I Corinthians 11:3). Christianity is all about submission ó submission first to the will of God, and then whatever other submission is designated. As Christ is happy to serve under His Head, so the Christian man should be happy to serve under the Headship of Christ, and the Christian woman happy to serve under the headship of her man.
- Praying and prophesying - "Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying," notes the apostle, "disgraces his head" (I Corinthians 11:4). Prophesying simply has to do with "speaking forth" the word of God; because Godís spokesman often made predictions of the future, the word generally carries with it the idea of forecasting the future. But periodically it means the equivalent of preaching, and as the application of this section carries forward from New Testament times to the present, that would be the thrust of this context. Since this "prophesying" would be done to an audience, the setting here is a public one. "But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head," is an additional perspective, "for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved" (I Corinthians 11:5). Since women are not permitted to teach or exercise authority over men (I Timothy 2:12), the prophesying and praying of women in a public setting would be for female and children audiences.
- Disgracing the head - The Head of man is Christ. Thus, when a man prays or prophesies with his head covered, according to divine instruction, he dishonors his Head; he shows disrespect to Christ. Likewise, a woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head ó her husband, or whatever male authority figure is overseeing the public setting.
The rebellious prince of darkness counsels rebellion at every turn. Hence if he can get men to be rebellious by praying or preaching with hats on their heads, he is sardonically smiling. Likewise, if he can get women to have close-cropped, male hair styles, and have them pray or do their preaching with their heads uncovered, he chortles as he continues to foment the rebellion against Godís order. A man, when he is publicly before the Lord, should uncover his head in honor of His Head, Christ Jesus. And a woman, publicly before the Lord, should have her head covered, so that she not disgrace the men who fill the leadership role in a more general setting. "Because of the angels," says Paul!
More Headship and Head Covering
For God to have the gospel move forward, and for Him to prosecute His warfare against the forces of darkness, He must have order and submission to that order. Satan, on the defensive end of the struggle, must do all that he can to disrupt Godís order and Godís agenda. A practical point in that warfare, then, is the headship of man over woman, the headship of Christ over man, and the headship of the Father over Christ. One set of details in this final phase of God vs. Satan ó for those in the Christian era are those "upon whom the ends of the ages have come" ó relates to head covering as a participation in submission to Godís order. A man, while praying or prophesying in a public setting, needs to have his head uncovered; a woman, praying or prophesying in a public setting, needs to have her head covered.
- A womanís shaved head - Among the Gentiles in Corinth, indeed in every society, a woman with a shaved head or close-cropped hair had set herself apart from the normal or natural group of women. Whether or not they were prostitutes or lesbians (our modern word lesbian comes from the name of the Greek island Lesbos, where was born a female Greek poet Sappho, who wrote emotional and erotic poems about her love of other women), that distinction in "hair style" is disgraceful. "Every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head," are Paulís inspired words, "for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head [while praying or prophesying], let her have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head" (I Corinthians 11:5,6).
- A manís uncovered head - This issue of hair and head covering has spiritual implications. "For a man ought not to have his head covered," avouches the apostle, "since he is the image and glory of God" (I Corinthians 11:7). Short hair on a man, and having his head uncovered when praying or prophesying, shows his willingness to submit to the headship of Christ and thus glorify God. By contrast, "the woman is the glory of man." Hence arises the distinction in hairstyles and whether the head is to be covered or uncovered in praying or prophesying.
- Discussion of origins - Some have argued that Paulís inculcations here are purely cultural connected only to the culture of Greece at that time. The argumentation the apostle uses belies that, for he goes back to Adam and Eve as a basis for his presentation. "For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man," is his first annotation, which can only refer to the first pair, "for indeed man was not created for womanís sake, but woman for the manís sake" (I Corinthians 11:8,9). This is established as a universal truth underlying all societies, especially within the church of the living God. The apostle then concludes, "Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels" (I Corinthians 11:10). This is obviously not a small matter, or Paul would not be bringing the topic of the angels into the discussion!
Satan and his fallen angels are continually trying to disrupt Godís order and Godís offensive thrust. A key part of Godís method of operation is through the praying and prophesying that goes on in the church in public settings; and He has therefore communicated through His apostolic servant Paul how He wants that carried out. When the Christian woman is clearly the glory of the Christian man, the Christian man is for the glory of Christ, and Christ is for the glory of God, then one of Godís most important messages is proclaimed, even ó and maybe, especially ó to the angelic realms!
Head Covering Closure
Godís warfare with Satan is total warfare, with battle engagements on every front. The All Wise Father, then, makes certain that every area is covered, with instructions to His spiritual army telling them how to conduct themselves at every encounter with the devil and his schemes. It is also important for the saints to remember that their knowledge of the spirit realm ó the unseen battleground of the demonic forces against the angels of God ó is very limited. Hence, what seems to be a small thing to the saints in the physical realm may actually be of huge significance in that unseen environ. The only guide the disciples of Christ have in order to do their part is the word of God; thus, the instructions need to be taken seriously. A man ought to have his head uncovered while praying or prophesying, and "a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels." This could be a major issue in the warfare in the spirit realm!
- Mutual interdependence - Because the order is God first, then Christ, then man, and then woman, there is a possibility that Christian men might discount the importance of the women, or that women in rebellion may push the idea that they donít really need the men. "However," Paul is quick to point out, "in the Lord, neither is the woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman" (I Corinthians 11:11). In marriage, God designed a male role and a female role; the two are mutually interdependent, necessary, and fulfilling when carried out according to Godís plan. Similarly, in the church setting itself, God also designed the male role and the female role; the two roles are mutually interdependent, necessary, and fulfilling when carried out according to Godís plan. "For as the woman originates from the man," is Paulís reasoned appeal, "so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God" (I Corinthians 11:12). This is astounding! Before the foundation of the world, the All Wise, in planning the prosecution of His warfare against the rebellious angels, formed Adam first and then created Eve out of his side, so that woman could never claim she originated independently of man. Likewise, from that time on, every man has been born of woman, and cannot claim the he is a stand-alone-unit. This mutual interdependence has been orchestrated by the great God (from whom all things originate!), so that brothers and sisters in the Lord can carry out their specified roles in Godís spiritual army. Woman in Christ should be delightfully carrying on in their part in the body, and men in Christ should be exhibiting their solid male character in their work in the church of God. With the proper head gear! "Judge for yourselves," Paul challenges, "is it proper for a woman to pray to God with head uncovered?" (I Corinthians 11:13).
- Appeal to nature - It is interesting to look at the busts and statues of Roman and Greek leaders and military figures; the men have short hair. Pretty much universally in all cultures men have short hair, except in the really rebellious totally pagan warrior tribes of the earth. "Does not even nature itself teach you," is Paulís observation, "that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering" (I Corinthians 11:14,15).
The scripture is pretty clear: men need to look like men, and women need to look like women. Men need to have men-length hair; women need to have women-length hair. Men need to remove their head coverings (hats, turbans, whatever) when praying or prophesying; women need to have female length hair while praying or prophesying, or have some additional covering if their hair is too short. "But if one is inclined to be contentious," intones the apostle, "we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God" (I Corinthians 11:16). No options here!
Paul had praised the Corinthian brethren for following the traditions and examples he had set forth for them. He particularly praised the congregation for carrying out the instructions regarding head covering for Christian men and women as they were praying or prophesying in a public setting. It was almost like he was looking for something to praise the congregation for, because there were not a lot of praiseworthy conditions in the church at Corinth.
The congregation was divided. It is apparent that some were using their expertise in Greek wisdom to elevate themselves to leadership of certain factions, claiming to be "of Paul, of Apollos, of Cephas, or of Christ." Paul is righteously indignant over such claimants, pointing out that, "If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are. Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become foolish, that he may become wise" (I Corinthians 3:17,18). Having praised the church in one area, the apostle now moves on to another area, one that further concerns such division in the congregation.
- Coming together as a church - The churches in the first century "came together" as congregations. They were not totally independent, haphazard dots of individuals scattered out, doing their own thing. They met on a weekly basis, and to this gathering in Corinth Paul addresses his next series of comments. "But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you," is his introduction to his next section of the epistle, "because you come together, not for the better, but for the worse" (I Corinthians 11:17). The assembly of the saints is to be an uplifting, motivating, edifying time, but in Corinth their gathering ended up taking them in the wrong direction. "For, in the first place," is his introduction, "when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part, I believe it" (I Corinthians 11:18). Paul had his own female information network, in this case coming through a lady named Chloe, that kept him informed about the circumstances in Achaia. He knew his information network was pretty reliable, but also knew that it might not have the perfectly correct perspective. So he notes that, "in part," he believes what they had passed on to him. The reports were somewhat devastating, that when the saints actually came together, division was rampant among them.
- How he knows there are factions - Paul knew the core people in Corinth; this was a congregation which he had started, and with which he had kept in touch. "For there must also be factions among you," is his observation, "in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you" (I Corinthians 11:19). His point is not that ó yes ó periodically there have to be divisions among the congregation to bring true leadership to the top, as some interpret this verse. Rather, he is condemning the division, and noting that it is clear to him that, since certain deadwood had risen to the top, there had to have been factions among them, or that would never have happened.
- Not to eat the Lordís Supper - The congregation in Corinth should have come together on the first day of the week to participate in the Lordís Supper; the fellowship with the Lord obviously should be at the center of the assembly of the saints. But in Corinth, because of the divisions fostered by certain unscrupulous power grabbers, the assembly had been twisted aside from its God-ordained purpose to serve individualsí ambitious ends. "Therefore," notes Paul, "when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lordís Supper" (I Corinthians 11:20).
"The goal of our instruction," Paul had reminded Timothy, "is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (I Timothy 1:5). But when people stray from these things and become petty and personal, ambitious and avaricious, fighting and factious, then bad things happen within a congregation. Under those conditions the Lordís Supper is just an outward show, the Lord Himself is really forgotten, and Satan is having a heyday inside the church of the living God.
Abuse of the Love Feast
The early church, following explicit instructions from Jesus to the apostles, met on the first day of the week for "the breaking of the loaf." This expression contradistinguished the Lordís Supper from "breaking bread," terminology used in regard to common meals that members of the congregation might have with one another, or even the whole congregation together at the church meeting place. History notes that the early church often met together and shared a "love feast" in connection with the Lordís Supper. Jude notes that people who would destroy the church or turn it aside from Jesusí purpose would use those times, stating, "These men are those who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves Ö" (Jude 1:12). Thus it was at Corinth.
- Hungry and drunk - Paul was making the point that many of the brethrenís purpose in the weekly assembly of the saints was to foster division and further their own personal agendas. "Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lordís Supper," he iterates, "for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk" (I Corinthians 11:20,21). This is from the love feast side of the gathering; the more ambitious hogs blocked the path to the trough, and some ended up hungry; others got "plastered" at the church meeting! What an example to the community this congregation was! [Side note: poor behavior by those claiming to be Christians should never turn a person aside from following the truth himself.]
- Houses to eat and drink - Since these brethren did not have the maturity to handle the love feast properly, Paul basically abolished it in Corinth. "What!" exclaims he, "Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink?" (I Corinthians 11:22). It is clear here that he is not talking about the Lordís Supper, since the Supper by the Lordís command was to continue as the centerpiece of the assembly. "Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing?" he continues in his exacerbation. "What shall I say to you?" he asks. "Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you!"
- Contrasting solemnity - Having excoriated the brethren for their near riotous behavior at the love feast, the apostle turns their attention to the Lordís Supper. He begins with the authorship of the Supper, noting: "For I received from the Lord," he intones, "that which I also delivered to you Ö" (I Corinthians 11:23). These remarks should garner their attention and jerk them back to the proper focus. The Supper and the purpose of the assembly came from the Lord Himself; it was not man-made in its origin, and the saints were therefore to govern themselves accordingly. Furthermore, to increase the solemnity of the assembly, the apostle posits his point in these words: "Ö that the Lord Jesus, in the night in which He was betrayed Ö" Jesus instituted communion while the hand of the betrayer was with Him as they reclined at table; He exhibited amazing self-control. Paul further comments on the dignity and orderliness of the Lord in His participation in that Supper, noting "that in the night in which He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ĎThis is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.í " (I Corinthians 11:24).
The brethren in Corinth were selfish, self-serving, and self-absorbed. What a contrast between them and the Lord. His words, "This is My body, which is for you," established a basis for trying to bring those in Corinth back on track. The Lord gave His body over to death, emphasized in the breaking of the loaf, for these same Corinthians, but they can not step aside on behalf of a hungry brother who has nothing! The Lord offered a cup of fruit of the vine and passed it, emblematic of His shed blood, in an orderly fashion among the twelve, but these Corinthians have to make the assembly a disorderly party of drunks! Perhaps these words got them back on track.
Instituting the Lord's Supper
The Lordís earnest desire is for His children to have true fellowship with Him. Fellowship is often directly connected with sharing a meal together, wherein meaningful conversation and developing real relationships can take place. When Peter returned to Jerusalem sometime after preaching the gospel to the first Gentiles to be saved, the church was upset at Peterís interaction with Cornelius and those present, expressing their concern in these terms: "You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them" (Acts 11:3). That eating with the Gentiles signaled fellowship, and the church was rightly concerned until the situation was explained to them. Hence Jesus, speaking of the fellowship of the eternal kingdom, used this terminology, "Many shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 8:11). And the saintsí ultimate fellowship with the Lord is also described as "the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:7). It makes good sense, therefore, that the Lord Jesus would institute a fellowship meal ó whose fellowship would be primarily spiritual ó among His disciples to keep them in fellowship with Him, and also with each other.
- The night in which He was betrayed - The apostle made it plain that the teaching he had about communion came from the Lord Himself. This is important, because, while the Lord did not specify when the Lordís Supper was to be taken as recorded in the gospel accounts, He delivered His desire to the apostles, who all taught the same doctrine and implemented the same practices. Their practice, as detailed in Acts 20:7, and I Corinthians 11:20 coupled with I Corinthians 16:1-4, establish that Jesus wanted the Supper observed on the first day of the week. "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you," is Paulís recounting, "that Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ĎThis is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.í " (I Corinthians 11:23,24). While the details are a little challenging to work out, it can be established that Jesus was crucified on Thursday of Passover week, and that He instituted the Lordís Supper Wednesday evening of that week as we reckon time. That was "the night in which He was betrayed."
- "Do this in remembrance of Me" - Not only did Jesus break the unleavened bread, He drank of a cup which He called "the fruit of the vine" in contradistinction to "wine," which itself could either be fermented or unfermented. "In the same way," Paul continues, "He took the cup also, after supper, saying, ĎThis cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.í " (I Corinthians 11:25). The Supper is clearly an institution of the "new covenant," brought into existence not only by the blood shed on Calvary but especially the blood sprinkled in heaven. Saints have come, wrote the insightful author of the epistle to the Hebrew brethren, "to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel" (Hebrews 12:24). This Lordís Supper, then, is a perpetual and integral portion of the new covenant, designed for and implemented on every first day of the week, that the saints should always remember JESUS!
- A proclamation - While the Lordís death is remembered in the Supper, it is more of a celebration of His resurrection. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup," is Paulís annotation, "you proclaim the Lordís death until He comes" (I Corinthians 11:26). The weekly assembly of the saints is the great proclamation to the world that Jesus not only died but rose again on their behalf, to deliver them from the power of darkness and eventually to be able to ushered into the courts of glory.
That the Supper is a proclamation "until He comes" means that He is alive, or He would not be coming again. It is significant, then, that the Supper is participated in by the saints on the first day of the week, the day that Jesus rose from the grave. From the beginning, therefore, the Lordís Supper was instituted as a victory celebration to be shared in by those who have life in fellowship with Christ!
Setting the Table
There are two institutions in which the individual disciple of Christ is directly involved with the blood of Christ; immersion, and the Lordís Supper. In immersion into Christ, the believer has his heart initially sprinkled clean from an evil conscience when his body is washed with the pure water. In the Lordís Supper, the disciple of Christ participates in both the body and the blood of the Lord in his koinonia or fellowship about the Lordís Table. In these institutions ó one for establishing fellowship with Christ in the first place, and the other for maintaining fellowship with Christ from that initial point onward ó there are both physical and spiritual elements. In immersion, there is the physical water as the touchstone for communicating all the great spiritual truths connected with the personís salvation and fellowship through the Holy Spirit. In the Lordís Supper, there is the unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine to provide the physical basis for the saint to comprehend the great spiritual truths connected with his intimate fellowship with the great God of all. The physical elements of the Lordís Supper, then, are emblematic of the saintsí participation in the spiritual body and spiritual blood of the Lord. So important is the Lordís Supper that God had numerous types and foreshadows set in motion in the Old Testament to communicate the saliency of the Supper in the lives of the saints. These types such as "a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day" constituted "a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ" (Colossians 2:16,17).
- The Passover - The Passover was designed by God to set the stage for not only Jesusí crucifixion but also the saintsí participation in the Lordís Supper. As the Passover lamb was sacrificed, so Christ our ultimate Passover Lamb was sacrificed, appropriately enough on the day of Passover, 30 AD. But as Israel was to congregate once a year at the temple in remembrance of Godís deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, so the saints are to congregate weekly as part of the true temple in remembrance of Godís deliverance of spiritual Israel from slavery to sin. As there was to be a recounting of the mighty things God did in the land of Zoan at the time of Passover, so there is to be a recounting of the truly mighty things God did in raising Jesus from the dead and exalting Him to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior.
- The table of showbread - The Old Testament tabernacle was a foreshadow of the spiritual things connected with the church, "the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man" (Hebrews 8:2). The altar in front, for example, was a foreshadow of the cross where Christ was sacrificed; the mercy seat in the holy of holies was a foreshadow of Christís sprinkling His spiritual blood in the true holy place so that His children of faith might receive mercy. On the right hand side of the tabernacle, on the north side (the tabernacle faced east), stood the table of showbread. On the table were twelve loaves of unleavened bread, each made from about seven quarts of flour, and these unleavened loaves ó representing the presence of God ó were to be eaten by the priests every Sabbath as the loaves came off the table to be replaced by fresh loaves (Leviticus 24:5-9). This foreshadowed the Lordís Supper, wherein unleavened bread is eaten by Christians (all of whom are new covenant priests) in the presence of the Lord.
- The kingís table - One of the great honors in the heyday of the united kingdom of Israel was to be able to eat at the kingís table. Mephibosheth, grandson of Davidís dearest friend Jonathan, was honored by David to be able to eat at the kingís table "as one of the kingís sons" (II Samuel 9:11). This foreshadowed the great honor of being able to eat at King Jesusí table as one of the Kingís sons!
These Old Testament foreshadows were specifically designed by God to set the stage for what He really desired, fellowship with the saints about His table. As much as Jesus desired to eat the Passover with the twelve disciples, much more has He desired to drink of the fruit of the vine "new with you in My Fatherís kingdom" (Matthew 26:29).
Lord's Table Etiquette
The writer of Proverbs has an interesting comment about eating with the king. "When you sit down to dine with a ruler," he instructs, "consider carefully what is before you; and put a knife to your throat if you are a man of great appetite" (Proverbs 23:1,2). Rulers apparently notice such things as lack of self-control, and the exordium clearly has to do with guestsí conducting themselves intelligently at the kingís table. So when it comes to dining "the great King" at the Lordís Table, saints would be well advised to ask themselves, "What sort of conduct pleases the King?" While someone may have to guess when dining with an earthly king, the great King over all has told his disciples what pleases Him when the brethren come together weekly to participate in the Lordís Supper.
- In unity - The apostle Paul opened this epistle expressing concern about the schisms which were developing in the congregation at Corinth. "I exhort you, brethren," he had stated, "by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment" (I Corinthians 1:10). It is clear, since Paul brings in the authority of Jesus Christ in making his appeal for their being of the same mind and same judgment, that the will of King Jesus Himself is that the brethren dwell together in unity.
- Eating worthily - The Lordís Supper is not a mere token formality. The Lordís Supper is a spiritual meal of great significance wherein the saints are invited to eat with the King. Because the King is not physically present, some might lose sight of the Supperís importance, forgetting to look at the things which are not seen as contrasted to the things which are seen. But Jesusí clearly expressed that He earnestly desires to eat this meal with His brethren, drinking of the fruit of the vine "anew" in the kingdom of heaven. The saints, conscious then of the presence of Jesus, conduct themselves in a worthy manner, pleasing the King with their unity of purpose and harmony of the Spirit. "Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner," intones the apostle, "shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord" (I Corinthians 11:27). Better to put a knife to your throat in the presence of an earthly ruler than to be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord!!
- Examination at the table - Paul had noted earlier that when the brethren in Corinth came together on the first day of the week, it was not to eat the Lordís Supper. They were being selfish and self-serving, currying favor with some and cutting off others. Some had worked at developing factions and had succeeded in placing themselves at the head of those factions, in direct contravention of the teaching of Christ. "But let a man examine himself," adjures Paul, "and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (I Corinthians 11:28). What the saint was to look at was his motive for assembling with the brethren. If his motive was to create division (and the Lord will be able to "disclose the motives of menís hearts"), then he would be facing terrifying punishment at the hand of the Lord. "For he who eats and drinks," affirms the apostle, "eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly" (I Corinthians 11:29).
Jesus left heaven to come and sacrifice Himself on earth for His body, the church. If a brother starts turning into a wolf and creating divisions in this body, he is making the King very unhappy. "For this reason many among you are weak and sick," Paul informs the brethren, " and a number sleep" (I Corinthians 11:30). Some brethren were already facing the wrath of the King and were weak or sick. But some "slept"; they were already physically dead and removed from this earth. When the saints assemble at the table, then, in the presence of the King, it is necessary to keep the King happy by maintaining the proper attitude and focus!
The heavenly Father does not like it when His kids start squabbling among themselves and losing sight of their purpose. Satan ó the original liar and murderer, the big slanderer himself ó loves to create confusion and disruption, knowing that even Christís house divided against itself cannot stand. God, being super conscious of the nature of the spiritual warfare that is taking place between Himself and the forces of darkness, will act when the members of the local congregation cannot get along. The apostle Paul states that "whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord!" Proper reflection will reveal that there is no other crime that can match the seriousness of that guilt. Hence it is imperative that the brethren lay aside any schismatic drives or tendencies, that they eliminate jealousy and envy from their thoughts, and that they truly exalt Jesus as Lord in their lives and focus on edifying the local congregation.
- Judging rightly - Some members of the Corinthian congregation did not take the time to evaluate where they were truly at spiritually. They continued to create factions, and they continued to inject Greek philosophy into the sphere of the gospel for their own personal gain. Thus it was that the Lord acted, and some were then weakened, some were then sickened, and some were then put to sleep (they made their exit from this earth and from troubling the congregation). "But if we judged ourselves righty," Paul says, "we should not be judged" (I Corinthians 11:31). The individuals in Corinth were therefore really to evaluate their interactions within the local body of Christ, and make the necessary corrections in their attitudes and actions. If they did so, the Lord would not have to act. But if they didnít Ö
- The discipline of the Lord - God is interested in the successful walk of each of His children. His desire is that if any need correction, they will engage in the necessary personal introspection, and then govern themselves accordingly. However, if that does not happen, the Almighty will act. "But when we are judged," Paul affirms, "we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world" (I Corinthians 11:32). The implication is that such discipline will not be pleasant, and that the saint would be well advised to discipline himself rather than Dadís having to come into the picture! It is clear, also, that the Lordís motive for doing so would be to save the individual rather than just let him drift into the destruction and hell that is awaiting the unredeemed world.
- Proper conduct - The repentance necessary in the church at Corinth would reflect in changes in their conduct when they came together on the first day of the week to break the bread of the Lordís Supper. "So then, my brethren," encourages the apostle, "when you come together, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you may not come together for judgment" (I Corinthians 11:33,34). The assembly and associated love feast (if they continued that practice) were to be done decently and orderly. If they were going to be so driven by something such as hunger that they were going to be pushing and shoving and out of control, they were to take care of that before they got the place of the assembly. And if they did not handle this themselves, the Lord would step in.
It is amazing to consider how much selfishness and self-interest can occur within the saints of God. It is clear from letters such as this one to the church at Corinth that Satan can get a toe-hold in the minds of the brethren, and pull them away from the focus and spirituality that would befitting followers of Christ. It also makes it understandable why congregations need spiritual leaders who can reprove and redirect the brethren when necessary. As Paul notes: "And the remaining matters I shall arrange when I come."