Saturday, 11 October 2014
For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread. 1 Corinthians 10:17
In this verse, Paul builds upon the thought that, “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” He just stated this and now begins with “for we” in order to continue and expand upon those words. There is a grand church, filled with many people from many cultures and places. It is filled with men and women, young and old, and from people of every color. And yet, despite this diversity, we “are one bread and one body.” The word “and” is not in the original and so a semicolon shows the thought better – “We are one bread; one body.”
And the reason for this is that “we all partake of that one bread.” Paul just showed that the bread is to be considered “communion” with “the body of Christ.” Bread is made of many individual kernels of grain and yet it becomes one unified substance. Likewise, we are individually many people and yet we are “one bread” when we are in Christ. This brings up an obvious question – “Does the taking of the communion bread result in our being one body?” The question is important because it is the basis for what Paul is writing about in the first place.
In the coming verses, Paul is going to tell the Corinthians (and thus us) “I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.” He will say this in relation to participating in sacrifices to idols and then he will build on that by saying, “… you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.” If thought through logically then, the actual bread is not what makes us “one bread.” Rather it is the reception of Jesus Christ as Savior that unites us. The bread then is a symbolic representation of this. It is our way of remembering this bond and communing with the Lord in that remembrance.
And so why is this important? The answer is that 1) It makes no sense for a non-believer to participate in the Lord’s Supper. 2) The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic participation only; it is not literally the Body of Christ (Roman Catholicism), nor does it mean that we are “spiritually” united with Christ when we take the elements (Calvin). If these were so, then anyone who was a non-believer would be either literally or spiritually communing with the Lord during the reception of the elements. Paul excludes this.
His words here are intended to instruct us that communion is a public demonstration of an inward reality, just as baptism is to be an outward proclamation of a change that has been rendered in one’s life. Both are after-the-fact pictures and remembrances of the work of the Lord. Therefore, if we were to eat at the sacrifice of an idol (not the meat itself, but at the ritual of the sacrifice) then we are indicating to those around us that we are willing participants in that particular society or religion, including everything that it constitutes. And yet, if we are truly saved Christians, that participation has no true bearing on our position in Christ. Therefore, the consumption of the meat of the sacrifice cannot be the actual participation with that demon to which it is offered.
This may seem to be splitting hairs, but to Paul it is an immensely important theological distinction that he will explain in detail in verse 23-33. We can eat (as Paul clearly states and allows) the meat that was sacrificed to an idol without any worry that it will defile us because it cannot defile us. In the same way, a person who is not saved and yet takes the elements of the Lord’s Supper cannot be made holy through those elements. It is the participation in the ritual that Paul is especially concerned with, not the actual element that is used.
Life application: The careful evaluation of the details which build into a biblical doctrine are important for many reasons. If they are misinterpreted or misunderstood, then further departures from the truth of Christ are inevitable. Eventually, entire systems of improperly administered teachings will prevail. As Paul said earlier in 1 Corinthians “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” He repeats this in Galatians 5 and equates it directly with proper doctrine.
Lord God, help my doctrine to be pure and undefiled. Give me wisdom to understand Your word and not to depart from it, such as adding anything to it which You have not ordained, or such as taking away from it something which You require of us. Seeing how just a small departure can lead to enormous heresy, I would ask that You send me proper teachers who will exalt Your word alone and who would rightly divide it and carefully present it. Thank You for responding to this most important matter. Amen.