How to Take Communion with Three Simple Words

At Creekstone Church, we celebrate communion (or the Lord’s Supper) on the second Sunday of each month.

We call the sacrament communion because the eating and drinking of physical elements (bread and juice) provides a context in which we are able to personally as well as communally commune with Jesus in such a way that our souls are not only refreshed with grace and strengthened by the indwelling presence of the Spirit.

The English word communion comes from two Latin words, cum, which means with, and unitas, which means unity. Therefore, to “commune” is to experience a deep sense of unity with someone—an inseparable bond, like super glue.

This is what the sacrament of communion is to accomplish—an existential refreshing and strengthening of the soul as we consciously abide in Jesus as our sin-bearer and righteousness provider.

But I have a confession to make. While I have partaken of the communion elements countless times, I very rarely have sensed anything powerful taking place in my soul.

Participating in communion has been confusing. Maybe you have been confused, too.  I often wondered: what am I doing wrong?

As I reflected upon my own experience with communion, especially in view of this message, I have had a eureka moment… and I want to share it with you from 1 Corinthians 10:14-22.

The eureka moment may not be immediately clear as we walk through this passage. But by the end, I assure you that three small but substantive and ultimately life-changing words will emerge to change how you participate in communion this morning.[1]

Let’ start in verse 14.

14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.

If we go back to the first part of chapter 10, we find that Paul had revealed the dangers of idolatry. By an idol, we do not mean a statue of wood or stone. In the simplest terms, an idol is anything to which we look for salvation apart from Jesus.

For example:

  • Money can be an idol for those who useit to make a name for themselves, where success becomes my gospel.
  • A relationship can be an idol forsomeone who is so insecure they’d rather be abused than be alone. In this case,just not being alone is my gospel.
  • Alcohol can be an idol for those of uswho can’t cope with the stress and sadness of living in such a broken world. Mygospel becomes emotional relief through substance dependency.[2]
  • Religion can be an idol for thosetrying to overcome a sense of guilt with a sense of moral superiority, where mygoodness is my gospel.

Paul tells us to flee from these things in their idolatrous forms. Not because they will steal your salvation (which is 100% grace through the finished work of Christ) but because they will steal your joy and dilute yourloyalty to Jesus.

For the professing Christian, an idol functions like ice in a Coke. Eventually, the ice melts and dilutes the soft-drink.  If you’ve ever had abadly diluted Coke you know that it is gross. Water, yes. Coke, yes. Watered down Coke. No thank you.  

This is what was taking place among the believers in Corinth.  They were diluting their commitment to Jesus with idolatry. For them, this idolatry was manifested by their participation in pagan worship ceremonies and is the background for what Paul says in verses 15-18.

15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.

This is an appeal to logic. If idolatry is like ice that ruins coke, shouldn’t we take idolatry seriously for what it may be doing, even if slowly andunnoticeably—like melting ice—to our relationship with God in Christ?

16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that webreak a participation in the body ofChrist?  17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.  18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participatein the altar?

Did you notice a word that was repeated three times in those verses? In the Greek, the word is koinonia, which means relational intimacyand oneness—communion.[3]

When we eat the bread and drink the cup, we are being invited to experience intimacy and union with Jesus as we re-encounterthe practical implications of the cross.

But how do we do that? This is the eureka moment that I will explain in just a bit.

For now, we need to know that in Greco-Roman culture, pagan worship included sacrifices in much the same way that Christian communion looked to the sacrifice of Jesus.

In the same way that Communion is like the Israelite feasts that foreshadowed the sacrifice of Jesus, participants in Roman paganism would eat the meat of the animals sacrificed to their cultural gods.

Pagan worship practices were as cultural as they were truly spiritual. Everybody did it. Even if you didn’t believe it. It was like being patriotic to the Greco-Roman culture.[4]

Here is the danger. The Corinthians’ exposure to cultural pagan worship was not as innocuous as they thought. It was far more subversive, diluting the loyalty of the church to Jesus.

And that really was the issue. Full and complete surrender to the saving grace and sovereign Lordship of Jesus.

Paul makes this point clear and presses the issue in verse 19.

19 Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons.

There is that word again, participants. And yes, the Greek form of the word is a derivative of koinonia—fellowship, oneness, union.

21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.

Paul is showing us that behind any idol or the worship of an imposter god is a demon seeking to dilute our commitmentto Jesus as Lord.

  • So, yes. Religions like Islam and Hinduism are demonic.
  • But so is materialism, racism, and all forms of self-righteous pride, with Christian legalism the most demonic of them all, because it is the most deceptive—making adherents think they are Christians when, in reality, they are just self-righteous moralists who don’t really need Jesus. Some of us need deliverance from that idol more than any other.

Whether it is a rival religion or a rival salvation strategy where we find our identity in some kind of self-righteousness, all rivals to Jesus as an all-sufficient Savior are intended by the demonic to distract us from God’s saving grace and to dilute with cultural compromises our commitment to following Jesus as Lord.

But we are the beloved of God, those for whom Jesus demonstrated the greatest loyalty and commitment. To betray Jesus with a diluted form of Christianity would cause him, like any spouse, to become covenantally jealous for the restoration of the intimacy that he desires with his blood bought people.

Which leads Paul to ask in verse 22

22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy?Are we stronger than he?

With these two questions, Paul cuts to the chase.

Idolatry is the problem. It is the chasm that is keeping me from experiencing the peace, the contentment, the hope, and the fullness of joy that is available for those who are fully surrendered to the saving grace of God.

It was April 8, 1865. After a long night and day of marching, Robert E. Leeand the exhausted Army of Northern Virginia made camp just east of Appomattox Courthouse. The day prior, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant had sent him a letter asking Lee to surrender. Lee refused.

After the next morning’s battle, Lee conceded, “There isnothing left for me to do but go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”  Meeting General Grant, Lee said “We are pressed and are ready to surrender. What are your terms?”

Due to the heinous treatment of slaves for generations, we can imagine quite a severe term of surrender. However, and surprisingly, theterms did not include judgment, arrest, or retribution. The terms were to stop fighting and to start living. Lee’s soldiers, who hadn’t eaten in days,were given meal rations, including horses with which to take back home so that they could plow their fields and plant their crops. [5]

Rather than surrender being the end. It represented a new beginning.

This is what full and unconditional surrender toJesus looks like. It is not the end but a new beginning.

Some of us could use a new beginning today.

The law tells us that we deserved judgment and retribution.

But the gospel proclaims in no uncertain terms that Jesus received judgement for us so that we could be free to live… by grace… because Jesus, the ultimate General, was willing to die the thousand deaths in his one death upon a cross, demonstrating full and unconditional surrender to the will of the Father.

This is why communion becomes the moment of truth.

Will I remained entrenched in hard-heartedness or will I come forward to surrender my life to Jesus—the one who surrendered his for me?

But how do we do it? How do we surrender?

Here is the eureka moment. Surrender takes place with three simple but life-transforming words.  

“Thank you, Jesus.”

In communion, as we take the bread and eat, we simply say, “Thank you, Jesus.”

We take the cup and drink, saying, “Thank you, Jesus.”

After all, what does Paul call the communion cup? The cup of thanksgiving!

Thankfulness is the posture of surrender.

  • Thank you, Jesus, for the cross.
  • Thank you for saving me from my sin and idolatry.
  • Thank you for setting me free from condemnation.
  • Thank you for loving me… for loving me.

“Thank you, Jesus.”

“Thank you, Jesus.”

“Thank you, Jesus.”

[1] How can eating a wafer and drinking a small amount of juice be a means of grace that strengthens the soul? Some Christian traditions have answered that question differently. For example, theRoman Catholic Church teaches that merely ingesting the elements infuses the soul with grace. Others view participation in the supper as just a memorial to Jesus, where we intellectually remember the life, death, resurrection, and promised return of Jesus. I think both of these views miss the point of why God has given us spiritual, existential signs, whereby we have to take something with our hands and then consciously eat and drink. The elements are not magical nor are they merely memorial. They are invitational, welcoming us to engage personally and communally with the very practical implications of the cross.

[2] I am speaking of those prone to abuse alcohol and become dependent. Alcohol itself is a neutral thing that can be enjoyed in moderation or abused in excess.

[3] This is why we named our home fellowship groups K-Groups, after the concept of koinonia.

[4] Just like many Romans were “cultural pagans,” many professing Christians today are “cultural Christians.”  I’m not a Muslim or an atheist. So, I must be a Christian by default, right? Um, no.

[5] Brian Kohout, Rolesville, North Carolina: source: Harold Holzer, Gabor S.Boritt and Mark E. Neely Jr., “Appomattox Courthouse,” HistoryNet

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