Communion or Common Union?

“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16)

Daniel Beard

Listen to audio

At Memorial season we cannot help but consider the importancemarchapril-2015 of these words, communion or common union.  To have a strong unity requires common interest and experience that is based on a sure foundation.

What is the basis of our union, our unity, and our oneness?  The stronger the basis, the stronger will be the unity.  This unity or oneness in Christ is shown in the scriptures through many illustrations.

  1. One Body –  Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12,13; Colossians  3:15
  2. One Spirit –  1 Corinthians 6:17;  12:13;  Ephesians 4:4; Philippians 1:27
  3. One hope –  Ephesians 4:4; Romans 5:2; 8:23-25
  4. One Lord –  1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:5
  5. One faith –  Ephesians 4:5,13;  Jude 1:3
  6. One baptism – Romans 6:3-5; Ephesians 4:5; Galatians 3:27,28; Colossians  2:12
  7. One God and Father of all – Mark 12:32;  1 Corinthians 8:6;  Ephesians 4:6
  8. As the Bride of Christ we are one with Christ– John 3:29;  Revelation 19:7; 21:2,9;  22:17

The word communion in 1 Corinthians 10:16 is Strong’s #2842 and contains the thought of participation.   Only by grace are we saved and our Savior supplies all our needs that we may participate with him now in order that we may share in future glories. One of the strongest ways this union is demonstrated is in the celebration of the Memorial.

Apostle Paul speaks with authority

“For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread” (1Corinthians 11:23).

The Apostle Paul was used as a finger of God to help us with the types of the Law.

Here in verse 23 the Apostle Paul speaks by inspiration and revelation  (that which he “received of the Lord”). Though written in a letter to the church at Corinth, as with all the epistles, these writings are in a more particular sense directed at us upon whom the ends of the ages have come.  Much of the understanding of the Passover, and its anti-typical significance was lost during the dark period in between the Jewish and Gospel Ages harvests.

It is wonderful to consider how the Lord used the Apostle to bring to us understanding of these types and shadows of the Law.  Prior to his awakening on the road to Damascus, Paul was a “Pharisee of the Pharisees” (Philippians 3:5).  He knew the Law as well, if not better, than his peers.  He thought he was doing God’s service and will in persecuting Jewish Christians.  These he deemed in violation of the Law of God.  How like our Father to take such a one who loved His Law and open his eyes to see these deep truths and to allow him special revelations that he may instruct His saints!

Cup of Blessing

The memorial cup in the theme text is described as a cup of blessing.   But what is this cup?

The Lord’s Cup is throughout the scriptures called: a cup of experience (Matthew 26:39); a cup of suffering (Psalm 23:5); a cup of salvation (Psalm 116:13);  cup of the New Testament (covenant) (1Corinthians 11:25); a cup of blessing (1Corinthians 10:16); a cup prepared by Jehovah (1Corinthians 10:21).

Jesus told us that his cup was the one the Father prepared for him.  When in the garden facing his captors, he told his disciples “The cup which the Father has poured shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11).  From Jordan to Calvary he drank the full cup until with his last breath he said “it is finished” (John 19:30).

But if this was a cup of suffering and of sacrifice, how then could it be spoken of as a cup of blessing?  Paul asks rhetorically, “Is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?”  That is to say, is not our privilege a blessing enabling our participation in the sufferings of Christ as we fill up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ? (Colossians 1:24).

When Jesus was approached by the mother of Zebedee’s children, she requested: “Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand and the other on the left, in thy kingdom” (Matthew 20:21-23).  Jesus spoke directly to James and John   “Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.”  Jesus admonished, “Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.”  Not only were these two disciples to drink the Lord’s cup, but all who have part in the body of Christ are privileged to do the same.  That cup which we bless is a common partnership and a shared privilege of sacrifice with each of the fellow members of the body united to our Lord and head.

The night that these symbols were introduced was the last time that Jesus would drink the cup.  When he said that he would drink it anew with them in the Kingdom, he demonstrated that his great love would reach its full blessing in the joys of the Kingdom.  If faithful we will likewise taste the joy when it is pronounced, “Well done thou good and faithful servant… Enter into the joys of thy Lord” (Matthew 25:23).

The bread which we break

The bread pictures Jesus’ body.  But of the unleavened bread which was being offered at this special meal of the Passover Jesus said: This is my body.  As bible students we have come to know and understand that leaven is a picture of sin (Matthew 16:6; Mark 8:15; Luke 12:1).

The phrase “the bread which we break” suggests to us also our participation.  Having accepted the justification to life offered to us through the body of Christ given for us we are to recognize that this justification is given for a purpose at this time ahead of mankind’s blessing, the justification the world will receive when they complete their journey up the highway of holiness.

We being many are one bread1 <1 The King James version of 1 Corinthians 10:17 says “we being many are one bread.” However, as most of the editors have observed, the better renderings phrase this differently, suggesting that we the many are one body because we all partake of Christ, the one loaf. See for example Weymouth, NASB, NIV, Rotherham, Revised English Bible, English Standard Version, and Kingdom Interlinear>, one loaf, and as such we do not receive individual loaves  rather  each is to take their individual portion meted out to us by our Lord when he broke the bread and said to each of his disciples, “Take eat this is my body.”  Paul stated it well when he said “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your [justified] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).  “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

The value of bread in Palestine is told to us in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

“It would seem that the sanctity of bread remains as unchanged in the Orient as the sanctity of shrines and … As in Egypt everything depended for life on the Nile, and as the Nile was considered “sacred,” so in Palestine, as everything depended upon the wheat and barley harvest, “bread” was in a peculiar sense “sacred.” The psychology of the matter seems to be about this: all life was seen to be dependent upon the grain harvest, this in turn depended upon rain in its season, and so bread, the product at bottom of these Divine processes, was regarded as peculiarly “a gift of God,” a daily reminder of his continual and often undeserved care … Travelers generally note as a special characteristic of the Oriental of today that, seeing a scrap of bread on the roadside, he will pick it up and throw it to a street dog, or place it in a crevice of the wall, or on a tree-branch where the birds may get it. One thing is settled with him, it must not be trodden under foot in the common dust, for, in the estimate of all, it has in it an element of mystery and sacredness as coming from the Giver of all good.”

Bread has been viewed as the staff of life for centuries.  Because Jesus speaks of himself as the bread of life,  He deserves our greatest reverence.  His flesh was offered for the life of the world and we should take great care not to trodden under foot or count it as common (Hebrews 10:29)

Continuing the quote:  “In partaking of the hospitality of the primitive peasants of Palestine today, east and west of the Jordan, one sees what a sign and symbol of hospitality and friendship the giving and receiving of bread is. … Once let the Arab break bread with you and you are safe. You may find the bread the poorest barley loaf, still marked by the indentations of the pebbles, with small patches of the gray ash of the hearth, and here and there an inlaid bit of singed grass or charred thorn, the result of their primitive process of baking; but it is bread, the best that the poor man can give you, “a gift of God,” indeed, and it is offered by the wildest Arab, with some sense of its sacredness and with somewhat of the gladness and dignity of the high duty of hospitality. No wonder, therefore, that it is considered the height of discourtesy, yea, and a violation of the sacred law of hospitality, to decline it or to set it aside as unfit for use. ”

McClintock and Strong’s Encyclopedia confirms that barley was used by the poorer classes.

Apt is this picture presented then in Leviticus 23, where we have the account of the wave offerings made of barley loaves.  Jesus became poor for our sakes, and is pictured in the first wave offering.  Fifty days later the two wave loaves, representative of the two spiritual classes, the church and the great company, were offered.  “Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?” (James 2:5; see also 1 Corinthians 1:26-30).  All need the meritorious robe of Christ’s righteousness and thus the whole body is united through Him.  By grace we all stand together in Christ (Isaiah 61:10).

Our community, or common unity, is not based on geography because wherever the Lord’s people are found they are part of the greater body.  Each ecclesia is representative of the whole body and yet each ecclesia is a subset of the greater ecclesia, the called out ones.  May we always remember the greater community, the joint heirs of this great salvation in Christ.

For his body’s sake

Jesus gave us the commandment that we should love one another just as he loved us and gave his life for us (John 13:34).  Colossians 1:24, , said that we are to fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ for his body’s sake.    This thought is expressed elsewhere:   “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he [Jesus] laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).

What a grand privilege is ours to follow in our Master’s steps and to lay down our lives in sacrifice for His brethren!  In this selfless service is how we share in the sufferings of Christ, just as in the cup and loaf we partake of the benefits from Christ.   In the bonds of love for God and Christ, loving his blessed plan of salvation, as well as love for our brethren, let us in blessed communion partake of the memorial emblems.    May we–by activity and not merely in symbol only–daily, hourly, offer ourselves in service to the Lord and to one another upon the altar of sacrifice follow in His footsteps.

“Until all of us are united in the faith and in the full knowledge of God’s Son, and until we attain mature adulthood and the full standard of development in the Messiah [the Anointed]. Then we will no longer be little children, tossed like waves and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, or by clever strategies that would lead us astray. Instead, by speaking the truth in love, we will grow up completely and become one with the head, [one in common union with Christ]…,  in whom the whole body is united and held together by every ligament with which it is supplied. As each individual part [the body members] does its job, the body builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:13-16 International  Standard Version).

May we be faithful and continue to enjoy and rejoice in the privilege of the common union in Christ our Lord and head.