Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him–a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
The church was designed to function as a body. There are many members that comprise the whole body. The more people toil together, the stronger the bond is. Isolation is not healthy for prolonged periods because it weakens the individual. We become less efficient, less informed, less capable of withstanding blows of life, and on it goes. There is precious power in having allies, especially when we are under attack.
Much of this year has proven that we, as a congregation, work well together. There is strength in numbers. There is value in getting to know one another. But the Bible also says that those relationships must extend beyond ourselves. In fact, 1 Peter 4:9 says, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” The word for hospitality is only used 3 times in the Bible. It doesn’t mean hospitality to friends. It is a combination of two words that literally means “loving strangers.”
As the church, we grow stronger when we grow. We only grow when we learn to love strangers, showing hospitality to people who are not known to us.
Before Mark wrote the story of the widow who gave all she had, he prefaced it with a very important contrasting story–namely one of greedy hypocrites “who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers” (Mark 12:40 ESV). These scribes show boated their faith by walking around in long robes, they liked greetings in the marketplaces, and they had the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at feasts.
Mark introduces a dramatic contrasting scene where Jesus is observing people putting money into the treasury. Mark says that many rich people were putting large sums into the box. “And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny” (vs. 42). Jesus told his disciples that the woman put more money into the box than everyone else. His reasoning–“For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (vs. 44).
As we equip the saints for works of ministry, we should teach one another the value of freely giving to others. Some of the religious leaders who are held up by many as heroes of the faith are robbing people blind and padding their own pockets. The real heroes are the ones who faithfully and selflessly give of their own means to bless other people who are in need.
The Bereans get a brief mention in Acts 17 after Paul was chased out of Thessalonica. He made a short stop in Berea, and arrived there by night to escape persecution. The Bereans were known for their nobility in searching the scriptures for themselves: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11 ESV).
Many of the Bereans believed, including a lot of Greek women of high standing. It didn’t take long for the Jews from Thessalonica to find out that Paul was preaching in Berea, so they quickly came over to Berea and agitated the crowds. Once again, Paul was forced out of yet another city. He was placed on a boat and sent to Athens, where Timothy and Silas would meet up with him as soon as possible.
Nothing more is ever mentioned of the Bereans. So what happened to these eager, Biblically literate Christians? We can speculate a little, based on one more mention. In Acts 20, after Paul was forced out of Ephesus due to the riot, he returns to Macedonia. One of the people accompanying him was Sopater the Berean (Acts 20:4), along with a couple people from Thessalonica. This is important because Thessalonica became an example to all the people in Macedonia and Achaia. The Thessalonian church was incredibly good at evangelism.
We have to wonder if the Bereans didn’t have some major influence on them for instilling a passion for all things Bible! The Berean church may not seem that significant, but their love for the scriptures was important. Like the Bereans, we may not be known for our evangelism, but out love for the scriptures can definitely influence those who are evangelistic.
Paul dishes out some harsh criticism for the church in Corinth because of their lack of caring and compassion for one another when they took the Lord’s Supper. There was radical division and isolationism. Paul is clear that they are sinning and this behavior is contrary to the gospel. In fact, he suggests that people are worse off than if they hadn’t come together to celebrate the Lord’s supper in the first place: “But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse” (1 Cor. 11:17 ESV).
Paul goes on to say that the meal is so divisive that it is not even the Lord’s supper: “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat” (vs. 20). The problem is that the Corinthians’ meal was a selfish meal, and not one centered around Christ and others. Some ate alone. Others ate in groups without waiting for those who were hungry. Others got drunk. It had nothing to do with the cross of Christ and everything to do with gluttony. Paul warned that anyone who “eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord” (vs. 27).
He also instructed them to discern the body (church) when eating and drinking at the table. That means there was a cross examination that happened in addition to self examination. Both were important. If Paul warns of not eating in an unworthy manner, it goes to say that eating in a worthy manner is essential. So what is the worthy manner? A worthy manner unites believers at Christ’s table. Brothers and sisters should wait for one another. They should be reconciled as they partake of Christ’s body and blood.
Christ died to unite believers, not to cause separation. Jesus helps us imagine the table in heaven when he eats this meal anew with us. Jesus certainly didn’t have in mind drunken chaos. Therefore, it’s critical for us to eat in a worthy manner that honors others at the table.
The Christians very soon after Christ’s resurrection began meeting together on the first day of the week. Jesus himself appeared to the apostles and ate in their presence on the first day of the week (Acts 24:36-43). The first day of the week was incredibly significant for the believers because that’s the day that Jesus rose from the dead, it’s the first day of creation and, because of the resurrection, was the first day of a new creation. There is very early evidence that the Christians celebrated the Lord’s Supper every Sunday when they gathered (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2, Didache 14:1, Pliny letter to Emperor Trajan).
Christians “gathered together” on Sunday to break bread. This fellowship at the table is repeated throughout scripture: “On the first day of the week, when they were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them. . . ” (Acts 20:7 ESV). Paul used similar language when he said, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat” (1 Cor. 11:20). Paul was chastising the Corinthian church because their “coming together” for the Lord’s supper was actually causing division. Acts 2:44 says that “all who believed were together and had all things in common.”
It is still significant that we “gather together” to celebrate the Lord’s supper each week. When we celebrate, we participate in fellowship with one another. This togetherness is not just something we do, it is an integral part of reclining at table with Jesus to celebrate the resurrection and proclaim his death until he comes again.
In John Mark Hicks’ book, Enter the Water, Come to the Table, he rightly identifies the importance of Jesus’ life and ministry and how the gospel writers liken both to the Exodus event. When Jesus was born, his family was forced to flee to Egypt. Through the Father’s grace and intervention, he led Jesus up out of Egypt and back into the promised land. Like Moses who spent 40 days and nights on Sinai without food or water, Jesus spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness. The gospel writers, and Luke especially, record Jesus’ “table ministry” and link these meals both to the Exodus event and to the Last Supper.
The feeding of the 5,000, the Last Supper, and the Sunday meal where the risen Jesus presents himself as the Christ are all linked in content and form. Jesus is host of both the feeding of the 5,000 and the Last Supper. As when God miraculously provided food for the Israelites in the wilderness, Jesus miraculously provided food for the 5,000. Luke clearly links all three meals together when he repeats the liturgical message, “Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it” (page 49).
In these meals, Jesus welcomes the crowds, feeds them, and proclaims the kingdom of heaven. Hicks says, “At table, Jesus receives sinners and confronts the righteous. At table, Jesus extends grace to seekers but condemns the self-righteous. Jesus eats with ‘others’ to introduce them to the kingdom. . . The table is missional, communal, and hospitable” (page 48).
Jesus is still present at his table, and he longs to recline with us as we participate and remember: “And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer'” (Luke 22:14-15).
Each week we have the opportunity to commune together, breaking bread and drinking the fruit of the vine that represents Jesus’ blood that was poured out for us. Paul tells us that, when we take communion, we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes again. Jesus himself said to “do this in remembrance of me.”
When Jesus ate the last supper with his disciples, it was the Passover meal that they were celebrating. Jesus gave new meaning to the Passover meal, because he was now the lamb whose blood was poured out to rescue mankind. The Passover first appears in Exodus 12 when the Israelites were in Egypt. The tenth plague was that the firstborn of all people and animals in the land of Egypt would die. The only exception was for the Israelites who sacrificed a year old lamb or goat and painted their doorframes with blood. That night, God would “pass over” the houses with blood on the doorframe and the firstborns would be spared. They were to use unleavened bread and were told to eat this “last supper” in haste.
In this same story, God institutes the Passover–to be observed every year: “You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever” (Exodus 12:24 ESV). The Passover was to be celebrated both as a family (in the home) and as a congregation (all of Israel was to observe). And it was to participate in the Exodus event and instruct children: “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’ And the people bowed their heads and worshiped” (Exodus 12:26-27).
In order to understand the Lord’s Supper (communion), we need to understand Passover and how Jesus gave it new meaning under the new covenant. Each week we get to remember Christ’s broken body and the blood he shed to cover our sins and rescue us. And when our children ask “what is the purpose?” we get to teach them about Christ’s love for us!