Communion has a very significant place in the lives of believers. It is extremely powerful and life giving. When we partake of the bread and the cup, we are actually communing with Christ's body and His blood (I Corinthians 10:16-17 NKJV). This is not a symbolical act. The Bible never teaches this. We actually commune with Christ Himself when we partake of communion. This teaching will address part of the spiritual significance of communion. It will also discuss some misconceptions that the church has regarding the subject.
Is Communion Symbolic?
The Greek word used for "communion" also means: partnership, communication, and fellowship. The word communion is defined as: "the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level." Communion in its very definition is not something that is just symbolic. It is a real and intimate experience. If communion were meant to be just a symbolic act, the Holy Spirit never would have called partaking of the bread and cup, communion.
Many denominations and leaders state that communion is simply a symbolic act. They state this because they do not understand the spiritual significance of communion. When the natural mind does not understand something that is spiritual, the natural mind must come up with an explanation to satisfy itself. Some things in the Bible can not be explained or understood fully. However the natural mind can not except this and will attempt to formulate a doctrine in order to pacify its natural reasonings. The spiritual person will acknowledge there is something spiritual taking place and accept it, even if it can't be explained. The natural person wars against unexplainable mysteries, and rejects what he can not understand.
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28 NKJV)
Jesus refers to the bread as "My body" and the cup as "My blood of the new covenant." Jesus doesn't say this bread and cup are symbolic of body and blood. I am not saying that the bread and cup become the literal body and blood of Jesus. But I am saying that something spiritual, powerful, and unexplainable in human words; takes place when we partake of the bread and the cup. The Lord calls this communion with Him.
Discerning the Lord's Body
There are a few different ways in which one can partake of the bread and the cup in an unworthy or irreverent manner. If believers do so, they will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord; and will bring judgment upon themselves. This is a very serious issue that so many in the body of Christ do not understand. The church really needs to walk in more fear of the Lord when partaking of communion. The following scripture will be our context, and afterwards a detailed explanation will be given:
Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you. For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come. (I Corinthians 11:17-34 NKJV)
The first element of not properly discerning the Lord's body, is the Lord's actual body and what He did for us. Jesus' blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins. But there were other sufferings that Jesus undertook for our sakes that every believer should recognize. Jesus hung on the cross so that the curse of the law could be broken in the lives of believers (Galatians 3:13). Jesus received stripes on His back so we could be healed of our sicknesses and diseases (Isaiah 53:4-5, 1 Peter 2:24).
Partaking of communion without believing what the Bible says about Jesus' sacrifice, constitutes as not properly discerning his body. If we willfully chose not to believe that we can have physical healing because of the stripes of Jesus; we actually reject some of Jesus' sufferings and sacrifice. Jesus could have just been slain, and by His shed blood we would have had forgiveness of sins. However, Jesus loves us so much that He underwent torture for us. He had the flesh ripped off of His back so that we could have physical healing in our bodies in this life. Christians who reject healing, reject a part of Christ's sacrifice and do not properly discern the Lord's physical body. These Christians will eat and drink judgment to themselves since they do not appreciate what Christ did for them in His body.
The second element is not esteeming communion for what it truly is, and considering it a symbolic act. In the scripture above, believers were taking large portions of bread for themselves and making it an entire meal. They were also drinking too much wine, to the point of intoxication. These believers were partaking of communion in an irreverent manner. They were eating and drinking as if there was no spiritual communion with Jesus. The believers took communion with absolutely no seriousness, and this was dishonoring to the Lord Himself.
These same believers also dishonored the body of Christ (the church) by selfishly consuming the bread and cup. Other believers were left with little or no bread and drink for communing with the Lord. Believers acting in a selfish way toward other believers and partaking of communion, are partaking of the bread and cup in an unworthy manner.
All sin is selfishness. If we as Christians, sin against other Christians in the church; we are being selfish toward them. We may not take all of the bread and drink to ourselves during communion, but the Lord will still view our actions as selfish sin towards the body. If we are engaged in selfish sin toward the body, and partake of communion; we are not discerning the Lord's body correctly. We are actually despising the Lord's body or the body of Christ.
Not discerning the Lord's body correctly and taking communion in an irreverent and unworthy manner will bring judgment on us. The scripture says that when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned with the world. What is the judgment that the Lord allows to happen to believers who partake of the bread and cup in an unworthy manner? "For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep." Sickness, disease, and death. The Lord is not messing around with this issue. Sinning against the body and blood of the Lord is a serious matter and the church should walk in holy fear. Please note that the Greek word used for "sleep" also means: to be deceased or to be dead.
Before we partake of communion we must examine ourselves. It is extremely important that we recognize and respect what Christ did for us in His physical body. We should also be fully aware that intimate fellowship with the Lord occurs in the Spirit when we eat the bread and drink the cup. Finally, we have to examine our hearts to make sure we have not acted selfishly and sinned in any way against the body of Christ (the church). This will make sure that we are receiving blessing from communion and not judgement.
The Blessing of Communion
When we commune with Christ, His spiritual life flows into us. As we eat the bread, we are partaking of the spiritual life that is in His resurrected body. We can receive grace from Christ Himself through communing with His body and blood.
I have heard a number of preachers and teachers say that a person must be a believer to partake of communion. The new testament scripture that we have quoted does not say this. This scripture in the new testament was written to believers, not unbelievers. 1 Corinthians chapter eleven is only speaking to the church. This theology is not in the new testament. I'm not saying it is wrong, but I am saying that we should all study these things to see if they are so. We can not just believe something because someone tells us it is so. We must stand on the scripture alone.
Here is a scripture in the old testament that could be a type and shadow of the new. Uncircumcised people (unbelievers) were not permitted to partake of the Passover Lamb (Christ). I will let the reader meditate on the scripture and come to a determination. And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it. (Exodus 12:48 NKJV)
The Manifest Presence of God
Jesus' main purpose in coming was not to bring us salvation. Salvation is necessary because mankind fell, but salvation is not the goal. It is merely the beginning. Christ died for us so our relationship could be restored to the Father. He died so that we could once again walk with God in the cool of the day as Adam did. He desires for us to walk in His tangible presence, and commune with Him as we were originally created to do.
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, (Hebrews 10:19-20 NKJV)
Because of the blood of Jesus, we can enter into the Holy of Holies. This is the very manifest presence of the Lord. In the old testament, the high priest could only enter this place once a year. But now, the blood of Jesus has made us righteous. His flesh was torn so that we could have a way into the Holy of Holies. Every believer has access to stand before the Lord, and to be with Him in His presence. This is the beautiful gift that Jesus gave us through His body and His blood; access to Heaven during this life.