Paul did not have questions about his gender, but he did speak of his affections in maternal tones a couple times. He told the Thessalonians, “we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). To the Galatians he was even more active:
my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! (Galatians 4:19)
He regularly talked about his labors for the elect, but this is the only place he likened himself to being in labor. (We can only imagine the complaints of gender appropriation he must have received).
The Galatians were being bewitched by those preaching salvation by law keeping, or at least true sanctification by law keeping. Paul’s entire letter to them corrects ideas and practices contrary to the gospel of free grace.
Like a mother with her children, Paul is in “anguish,” a word which could be translated “suffer birth pains.” While I haven’t given birth, I’ve been around. It looks like it hurts. Paul used the illustration to communicate that he cared, that he was closely connected, and that he longed for a healthy baby. He wanted Christ in them, for them to take on Christ’s shape.
That happens by faith. When Paul says that he suffers birth pains so that Christ is formed in them, it includes his desire that they would, like him, “live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). So come to the Lord’s Table of grace and remember His loving sacrifice. May your faith be fed by the bread and wine. And may Christ be formed in you.
God hates divorce. God also hates division in the body. He loves unity. Jesus prayed that His people would be one, that they would be one even as He and the Father are one. That’s tight.
But history, which we believe God rules, is filled with conflict and splits between believers, between churches. While Paul climbed all over the Corinthian contentions to correct their petty party preferences, he also told them later that divisions were necessary and part of God’s purpose.
when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. (1 Corinthians 11:18–19)
In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul admonishes the church for failing to receive one another, for some who selfishly isolated themselves and satisfied themselves rather than loving one another. Is that okay? Not only is it not okay, God planned for it to be so not okay that it accomplishes His purpose of showing who’s not okay.
While we should examine ourselves when we come to the table and confess any resistance to fellowship, that is different than coming to the table and resenting other fellows who are messing up communion. It is possible that someone is doing it wrong, and praise God that it isn’t you, unless it is. Either way, we eat and drink in remembrance of what Jesus has done, and focusing on Him either fixes conflict or it puts the characters into context.
When it comes to the ideal marital state, the point is contentment and satisfaction that matches your condition. Are you single and satisfied? Are you married and enjoying it? Such happiness is gift.
When it comes to the ideal spiritual state, the goal is peace and fellowship with Christ and His people. Not everyone has the same gift that builds up the body. Different persons serve in different ways, but we all enjoy communion. We don’t compare talents to say who is “better,” we come to the same table and share the same elements by faith.
This is where we get our identity. Here is where we learn to get along.
We live in a culture that is panicked that someone else might be getting more recognition. We are concerned about aggressions and micro-aggressions. Someone is upset that she is called “single.” The label implies something is missing. “Unmarried” is even worse. So what should we call her? “Bitter” would be a start.
Again, Christ’s calling is the difference, and, He doesn’t give everyone the Same. God is the one who gives gifts. None of us have anything that hasn’t been given to us. More than figuring out why we should have what someone else has, we should be figuring out all the things we have to give thanks for.
The bread and the cup are provided for us, and they orient us to the one who gave Himself for us.
The natural man is surprisingly dumb when it comes to economics. He makes virtually no end of bad deals.
Consider the following, purely fictional, account. A wife expresses a concern to her husband. She’s having a problem, or anticipates that a problem is coming. She’s pretty committed to the fact that it’s bad. She’s walking through the valley of the shadow of freaking out.
The husband has what the wife needs. It may be extra information, it may be bigger perspective, it may be a practical plan, it may be just kindness and comfort. But often he puts the exact wrong condition on the transaction. He says, not verbally, but through his impatience and defensiveness and anger, “I want to help you with your problem but first you need to stop freaking out.” But her freaking out is the problem, and here she is, asking for help. She is not the dummy.
Consider another scenario. You have a vision to start a new business but not the capital to get going. You visit a bank and ask to borrow some money, and you’re even willing to wear out your good pen in order to sign all the papers promising to pay the bank back plus extra for the privilege of using the loan. Let’s assume that the business plan is reasonable. Would you think it reasonable for the manager to deny the loan because you don’t have enough money? Not having enough money is why you’re there in the first place.
This is not the way Jesus treats us. The gospel is a better transaction. Jesus does not wait for us to get cleaned up before He cleanses us. He washes the dirty. And He doesn’t withhold food from us until we can show that we don’t need it. He feeds us when we’re hungry. He feeds us first. This is good news, and it is for all who believe.
On the first day of the week we worship because Christ rose from the dead; the first day changes all the other days for good. Likewise, His resurrection, though only something that happened once, is just the first of many in a different way. He will not rise from the dead again, but because He did many more will after Him.
Paul told the Corinthians,
in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:20–23, ESV)
On the first day of the week we remember the first fruits. “First fruits” is one Greek word, ἀπαρχή, a word that refers to the beginning that represented more. Just as there is no need for an outline without at least two points, so a first signals us to look for a second, for a succession. Paul called Jesus the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18), the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29).
We are an army of new men, the offspring of His offering. Supernatural life was breathed into us. We have hope not only in this life but in the life to come. We are no people to be pitied, we are a people purchased and raised and promised the glory of an imperishable body. Jesus is the first fruits and we are part of the rest of the resurrection harvest.
We know that we were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). There have been many people that were born into the world who knew guilt but who never knew that a sacrifice was made for their guilt. Christians are not those people. We have had the gospel preached to us, and many of us have believers in our family tree going back generations. Even if you do not have a long personal history, we live in a time and place dominated by the price paid on the cross.
Last Sunday was Palm Sunday. We remember when Jesus entered Jerusalem knowing that it was time to make the payment. He had been storing up payment for thirty years, blood, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot, that was completely without sin.
Paul told the Ephesian elders to work in light of this price.
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)
Paul’s exhortation was to the shepherds, and Richard Baxter wrote an entire book rooted in the soil of this one verse titled The Reformed Pastor. As with Paul, Baxter addressed leaders, and here is one of his most pointed questions: “If sin be evil, why do you live in it? If it be not, why do you dissuade men from it?”
Let us borrow that and apply it to those coming to the Lord’s Table. “If sin be evil, why do you live in it? If it be not, why do you drink the purchase price week after week?” We have opportunity to confess our sin each Sunday earlier in the service, but we still don’t want to forget that we were bought with a price, His own blood, and so we also ought to pay close attention to ourselves and our sanctification.
We are limbs and organs of Christ’s body. Each one is a individual unit of the complex and complete unit. We are in Him, He is in us. We are one with Christ, so what we do with our bodies Christ participates in.
It happens at the communion table. Paul contrasted two types of participation when it comes to eating and drinking.
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). The participation is a sharing, a unity, an all-togetherness.
Paul illustrated with the Israelite sacrifices. When they ate the meat from the altar they were participating in the sacrifice.
The contrast was with another offering. When pagans offered meat to idols, to eat that meat was to participate with demons. But Paul wrote, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (1 Corinthians 10:21). The two are mutually exclusive, one or the other. We shouldn’t eat at more than one table.
Mediate on what this communion meal does to all of your associations. Remember Christ’s blood, shed to cover unrighteousness, and receive the blessing of the cup. Remember Christ’s body, given to reconcile rebels to God and enemies to one another, and partake of the oneness. We eat and drink here who we are, the body of Christ. And when we leave we take the body with us.
When Jesus told His disciples to eat and drink in “remembrance of Me,” He wanted them to think especially of Him in body to death. His flesh and blood were the means by which God’s wrath was absorbed against our sin. The cross was a reckoning, a settling of accounts so that God could be both just and the justifier of those who believe in Christ. That makes the communion table a table of reckoning, a sign of Christ’s atoning substitute for all who would ever believe.
When we eat the bread and drink the cup we reckon that it’s true; Jesus died and rose again. When we come to this table we also reckon that it’s true for us. We died with Christ and have been raised in Him.
We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin….Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again. (Romans 6:6, 8-9)
We believe the truth of the gospel account, and then we believe the truth that we died and rose again in Him.
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11)
The translation “consider” could be “count” (NIV) or “reckon” (KJV). This is a table of reckoning. As you hold the bread and wine, hold to the reality by faith. We partake of the signs of God reckoning with sin on Christ, and as we partake we reckon that our union with Christ matters for everything.
There is only one kind of sinner who isn’t welcome at the Lord’s Table. Sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, effeminacy, homosexuality, thievery, greed, drunkenness, scoffing, and cheating are not prohibitive as long as they are past tense. These are representative sins, they are some of the “biggies,” and so long as “such were some of you,” so good.
The only kind of sinner who isn’t welcome at the Lord’s Table is the unrepentant. Have you repented? Have you called your sin, sin, according to God’s Word? Have you trusted in God’s Son who died on the cross in order to satisfy God’s wrath against unrighteousness? Have you received God’s Spirit, who dwells in every believer as a guarantee of eternal inheritance? Then, according to the good news, you have been cleansed, you have been consecrated, you have been confirmed by the Judge of Righteousness as one accepted by Him.
So we are all a bunch of “has beens.” You has been greedy, I has been angry, we has been ungrateful, but all of that was nailed to the cross. He has been a hater of his brother, she has been a gossip about her sister, but no more, because Jesus is raised from the dead.
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
And week by week as we commune around the Lord’s Table we make no compromises with the unrighteousness around us. We declare to the unrighteous that they can be has beens, too, but only through Christ. “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The glory of the cross makes us the most thankful has beens ever.
A couple weeks ago I referred to the discipline not just of not being allowed to come to the communion table, but to the discipline of coming week by week. There are benefits for disciples, remembering the truths of the gospel about the love of God and the peace-making work of Christ on our behalf.
The discipline of communing is not only for individuals, but also for the entire church. There is discipline for my heart to make sure I’m ready to eat and drink with God, there is also discipline for my heart to make sure I’m ready to eat and drink with the sons and daughters of God. God has high standards, so His eating in His presence requires preparation, but He is perfect, so He’s never irritating or annoying. He lowers Himself to meet me at the communion Table. But if I start looking around the wrong way, I could think, “Whoa. What is wrong with all these people?”
When Paul said, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones…compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against one another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you” (Colossians 3:12-13) this was an antidote to lawsuits, and bickering and bitterness and backbiting and bad-attitudes. “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14).
Don’t take your brother to court, take him to dinner. Or, at least remember that we share the same meal of communion here together because of the work of Christ. We are at peace in Christ. Let it be so in real time.