To Partake or Not To Partake

communion

Every first Sunday of the month I wrestle with the same question – how to “fence” the Table? By that I mean what precautions do I prescribe for folks who want to take Communion? Clearly this is advisable given the Bible’s warning that to eat and drink unworthily is to invite the severest kind of judgment (1 Cor. 11:27-30).

The first is easy. Don’t partake if you’re not a devoted follower of Jesus. This means of grace applies to those who treasure Jesus as the One who gave His body to be broken and His blood to be shed for the forgiveness of their sins. It has nothing to do at all to do with mere ritual; it has everything to do with remembering the supreme sacrifice upon which our hope for justification (being found right with God) rests.

For this Baptist, that means that the second precaution is easy as well. You wouldn’t put Communion, a continuation rite for ongoing spiritual nourishment before  baptism, the initiation rite for entrance into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Baptism happens once as a symbol of what God had done in the heart by faith – being identified with Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-4). Communion occurs often throughout the course of one’s spiritual journey as a means of remembering what Jesus had done and nourishing one’s faith with the real presence of Jesus at the Table (1 Cor. 11:23-26).

The third precaution doesn’t seem as easy but probably should be. You don’t want to partake if you find yourself at odds with a brother or sister and have failed to take the necessary steps in biblical peacemaking to promote reconciliation. To this dilemma Jesus speaks quite plainly in Matt. 5:23-24 –

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Alfred Poirier, in his book, The Peacemaking Pastor, makes the necessary connection here between worship and peacemaking:

peacemaking pastorWhat is interesting in this passage is that Jesus pictures us remembering the conflicts in our lives during worship–true worship. Worship in Spirit and truth should result in remembering those with whom we are not yet reconciled. For we cannot worship the God of peace and hate our brother and sister, nor can we eat from the Lord’s Table when our heart and mouth are full of bitterness. And true worship should encourage us that the God of peace will be with us if we need to go and get reconciled (Poirier, 2006, p. 277).

I wonder how many believers during their last Communion allowed the bread and cup to pass through mouths and enter into hearts poisoned by enmity in some relationship? May it never be. Better to leave your gift at the altar than play the hypocrite that worships while estranged from a family member in the faith.

Determine with God’s help and the grace of Jesus in His gospel of peace that such a thing will not happen again. “If possible, as far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18). As you do, let there be no wondering at all about the answer to the all important question – to partake or not partake? By all means, all other fencing matters being satisfied, partake.

ABLE for the Journey from Bitter to Blessed

On Sunday toward the close of my Mother’s Day message, I inserted an acrostic using the word ABLE to help crystallize four practical application principles for making the journey from a place of resentment in our spiritual lives to one of true blessed contentment. Naomi (means pleasant or sweet) suffered so greatly from a battle with bitterness over all the hard providences of  Ruth chapter one that she requested a name change to Mara (means bitter) in keeping with her frame of mind. A root of bitterness springing up does cause trouble (Heb. 12:15).

I went over it fairly fast due to the time. Also, it wasn’t in the notes as I only came up with the idea early that morning. I thought I would review it here in the blog in case someone might have missed some or all of it.

A – admit your struggle. There is something of Mara/Naomi in all of us. This was a godly woman. She struggled as we all do. I personally find this encouraging. The Lord loved her enough to bring her through it graciously over time. It doesn’t do any good to deny feelings of resentment. Rather than run from the Lord, take those feelings to the Lord for His help.

B – believe the truth. Begin with the truth of the gospel. I love J. D. Greear’s gospel prayer that he unpacks in his book on the gospel. The first point goes like this: In Christ, there is nothing I could do to make You love me more; nothing I have done that makes You love me less. That last phrase is particularly applicable. Satan loves to accuse us when ingratitude and other sins take hold. When he does we must cling to the gospel and remember that our standing with God in Christ is not about our performance; it’s about His provision. We have become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).

Beyond that, believe the truth of exceedingly great and precious promises of God’s word that reveal His continual plotting for His glory and our good in every circumstance, even the difficult ones. Romans 8:31 stands out among them. If God is for us, who can be against us? Psalm 118:6 is a good one to wage the fight for joy against unbelief and resentment as well: The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.

L – look for the sweet providences a midst the hard. I spent a good bit of the message demonstrating how Naomi’s bitterness blinded her to all the good things God was doing even in the midst of her struggles. Calling herself empty when she had such a treasure in the partnership of Ruth was only one but perhaps the most obvious. Ask the Lord to help your eyes to be open to signs of His goodness that you might not be noticing, like perhaps a good friend sticking with you through your trial. I failed to mention this on Sunday but one way to help cultivate that discipline is to write your thoughts down in a journal. That can tend to focus concentration on things in a marvelous way.

E – engage in thanksgiving. There is no room for bitterness in a thankful heart. If you practice the art of giving thanks for the many providence of your life, it tends to keep resentment at bay. And when you can’t find even one, as a believer you can always give thanks for the gospel and the fact that God has made you part of His greater story of redemption and that, in the words of John Piper, your life and mine in Him is not given over to trifles.

His words were on this matter were so good, I will quote them once more here:

The book of Ruth wants to teach us that God’s purpose for the life of his people is to connect us to something far greater than ourselves. God wants us to know that when we follow him, our lives always mean more than we think they do. For the Christian there is always a connection between the ordinary events of life and the stupendous work of God in history. Everything we do in obedience to God, no matter how small, is significant. It is part of a cosmic mosaic which God is painting to display the greatness of his power and wisdom to the world and to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (Ephesians 3:10). The deep satisfaction of the Christian life is that it is not given over to trifles. Serving a widowed mother-in-law, gleaning in a field, falling in love, having a baby—for the Christian these things are all connected to eternity. They are part of something so much bigger than they seem.

Are you able to make the journey from bitter to blessed? Neither am I. But He is.