The Lord’s Supper
“Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened. For our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ” (1 Corinthians 5:7 RV).
By Larry McClellan
Has it seemed strange to you that the above scripture, which we use yearly in our Memorial Service, is found in the same context with “fornication as is not so much as named amongst Gentiles” (verse 1)? Paul adds in verse 8, “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice or wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” How can we make sense of this?
The Apostle Paul is referring to the antitypical application of “Christ our Passover.” He is addressing the need to purge out the “old leaven” — the works of the flesh like fornication, malice, envy. Paul wanted these “babes in Christ” to realize that this is the will of God, “even your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). The knowledge and application of the imputed merit of Jesus Christ enables the process of sanctification to take place. But we must purge out the old leaven of sinful practices to properly partake of the Memorial emblems. We do this not just once a year at the time of the Memorial, but all year long.
Let us have this mind in us — the mind of Jesus — to study his example and then “follow him.” This sets us apart from the world and its sinful practices. Scriptural understanding is the energizing fuel for this displacing of sinful, worldly lusts and practices. This takes a conscious, daily effort of scrutinizing every thought, word and action in our lives.
Purge Out the Leaven
Like the Corinthians here, and the brethren throughout the Gospel Age, it is a collective effort of helping one another. This means looking for the best spiritual interests of each member individually and the body as a whole. We each have an individual responsibility to purge out the leaven in our own hearts. But we also have a collective responsibility for the welfare of our own ecclesia. We must act properly in the eyes of the Lord if there are gross infractions of morality in the ecclesia. Left unresolved, they would contaminate the whole ecclesia. “Know ye not that a little leaven leaventh the whole lump” (verse 6)?
“Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord,” and “follow … holiness, without which no man will see the Lord” (Isaiah 52:11, Hebrews 12:14). We should do this to the very best of our abilities — in “sincerity and truth.”
Paul notes that we cannot avoid dealing with immoral people in the world. However, this should not be the case in our own ecclesias, especially if a brother or sister is engaged in immorality. They should be helped through the process of correction our Lord described in Matthew 18. The goal is “saving the sinner from the error of their ways,” bringing them back to Christ, and eventually, to full fellowship of the ecclesia.
The Apostle warns Christians to avoid associations with those who have sinful practices and unsanctified thinking. Such an association could be very unproductive to our end goal — making our calling and election sure (Psalms 1:1).
In 1 Corinthians 11 the Apostle once again brings the Memorial Supper to mind. Here Paul addresses the proper and improper actions in the Church arrangements and the importance of proper decorum in the sight of God. He points the brethren toward acceptable and unacceptable attitudes, practices and sacrifices as Christians. Some apparently did not understand these proprieties. There were divisions in the Church of Corinth (verse 18). Some were coming to the Lord’s supper hungry, thirsty, and imbibing like it was a common supper. Paul rebukes them in 1 Corinthians 11:22. “What? Have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.” Some were not taking this solemn occasion with the gravity of respect demanded.
The Apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians of the reason for, and the proper manner to, memorialize our Lord’s death. If one comes to this supper with the wrong heart attitude, or disrespects what it stands for, then they come to it “unworthily” and improperly. Some of these early Christians were ignorantly coming to the Memorial supper and would be judged accordingly by God (Hebrews 12:5-7). They needed to come to this feast with an understanding of what they were celebrating: a memorial of our Lord’s sacrificial death and the ransom sacrifice he gave for the life of the world.
Paul goes on to state a secondary application (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). By faith we appropriate the imputed merit of Jesus’ sacrifice for our justification and become part of his body from the standpoint of the sin offering doctrine (Leviticus 16:11, 14-15, Hebrews 13:11-13). While the Memorial is primarily about Jesus, he was inviting his Apostles and Gospel Age disciples to joint participation of sacrificing with him, by appropriating the imputed merit of his sacrifice to become fused together with him as a part of his body (Colossians 1:24, Acts 9:4, Hebrews 2:11). 1 Corinthians 10:17 (KJV) states: “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.”1 Thus, Paul gives even more insight to our Master’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25.
(1) RVIC Margin: “Or, seeing that there is one bread, we, who are many, are one body:”
Our Lord’s Supper and Spiritual Sickness
Some of the Corinthians were sickly. Perhaps they had lost an understanding of the emblems, and their lifestyle reflected a spiritual lethargy. Others were in danger of going to sleep entirely (Hebrews 6:4-6) and were becoming dead to spiritual things. How sad. Therefore, examine yourselves — your own hearts, understandings, and motives — and make corrections before you come to the Lord’s supper. Do not be careless about it! “Be ye holy” in the manner and spirit in which you come (1 Peter 1:16).
In 1 Corinthians 10:16,17 (Diaglott), Paul addresses what it means to partake of the Memorial, particularly from the standpoint of the “common-union” of the body members. The Apostle’s inspired point is to take our consecration seriously and study carefully, not only the antitypical lessons from Israel’s experiences, but our own compliance with Jesus’ model. The Israelites fell into idol worship and rationalized fleshly desires. They murmured, fornicated, and “rose up to play” (1 Corinthians 10:7-10).
Idols can be more than just statues. They can be anything that a Christian gives more attention to than our God and our responsibility to our consecrations. Idols are any immoderate affections to such things as: our homes, jobs, sports, hobbies, celebrities (even in the Church! 1 Corinthians 3:21-23), families, playtime on the computer, cell phone, television, etc.
The common participation in the blood of Christ and the bread which we break means that we immerse ourselves, notwithstanding our legitimate and proper family responsibilities, in the adoration of and time for God and submergence into His will. This participation requires pouring our “souls out unto death” by sacrificing our time, talents, influence, and means to the point of persecution, suffering, and death. Let us walk humbly, faithfully, sincerely, and with a focused consecration to our God — fleeing earthly idols and sinful practices. Let us grow in the love of Christ by building each other up in our most holy faith and laying down our lives for the brethren as our Master did for us (1 John 3:14,16, John 10:7-18)!
May we each internalize the spirit of Jesus, the words and example of Jesus, and follow Paul as he followed Jesus and do ALL to the glory of God.