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What does the Bible mean by examining ourselves before Breaking Bread?

Tue March 20th, 2018

Breaking bread is one of two ordinances left by the Lord Jesus and instituted by Him (the other being baptism). Because Jesus clearly meant for us to eat bread and drink wine ‘in remembrance of him’ it is fundamental to our meeting together as a church and essential to our walk with God.

Jesus himself tells us to do this in Matt 26:26, Mark 14:22 and Luke 22:14. Paul expands this teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:17

Now in giving the following instruction I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, to begin with, I hear that when you come together as a church there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 There must, indeed, be factions among you, so that the approved among you may be recognized. 20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not really to eat the Lord's Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others, and one person is hungry while another is drunk! 22 Don't you have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you look down on the church of God and embarrass those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I praise you? I do not praise you for this!

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: on the night when He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, 24 gave thanks, broke it, and said, "This is My body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me."

25 In the same way He also took the cup, after supper, and said, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.

27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 So a man should examine himself; in this way he should eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 This is why many are sick and ill among you, and many have fallen asleep. 31 If we were properly evaluating ourselves, we would not be judged, 32 but when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord, so that we may not be condemned with the world.33 Therefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that you can come together and not cause judgment. And I will give instructions about the other matters whenever I come.

Self-Discipline

Being part of the love feast, communion, eucharist or breaking of bread, is a mark of the community that we belong to – the church.  Interestingly, Paul sees it as being a place of self-discipline, where we judge ourselves (not others!) He goes on to say that some people who take part in the breaking of bread without recognising those around them as the body of the Lord (the church), or in an unworthy way, invite divine judgement in their lives, and some have already died as a result

Without doubt, the position of self-examination at the Lord’s table is clear- we should always take a moment to check ourselves before we eat and drink. Consider your standing with God, whether you have an active relationship with him and whether you have confessed your sin. Take a moment to talk to him before you break bread, so that you can fully comprehend the significance of what you are doing. Remembering the Lord’s death is a very serious matter – not just about eating and drinking, but very significant – about forgiveness and salvation. So, Paul encourages us to discipline ourselves, which should be all we need to focus our minds and hearts on the seriousness of this divine ordinance. Notice Paul’s emphasis on self-discipline that saves us from divine judgement – we should not ‘play at church’!

Discipline

What about matters of church discipline? On one occasion Paul told the Corinthians to exclude a brother from the wider community of the church, from its gatherings and support network – this of course would include breaking bread. This type of discipline is very serious indeed and should only be issued in cases as serious as the one Paul is referring to. I have over the years known Pastors who exclude people from the breaking of bread as a matter of routine discipline. Is this biblical? – I cannot find it in the New Testament. If people should be excluded from the life of the church then they are excluded from breaking bread too, but if not, then I think this is purely arbitrary and probably inappropriate.

When people are in a mess or have repented from their failure, a period of enforced exclusion from the remembrance of their salvation seems the exact opposite of what they might need? The best place to be after a period of failure in your life is to be in fellowship with other Christians and that means having access to the table of the Lord. Perhaps if you are ‘in discussions’ with someone who doesn’t quite get the significance of the Lord’s Table then to ask them to abstain for a single week, whilst they consider the power of the eucharist may be acceptable, but to deal out “6 weeks without communion” seems in the kindest possible way a little akin to saying a dozen ‘Hail Mary’s”.

One of our congregation is having problems with his shifts at the moment and he came to me mid-week to ask to break bread with me. After 6 weeks without breaking bread he said he was desperate!

Love Feasts

Because many of the meetings of the early church were in houses around a table, their act of remembering the Lord’s death, was similar to the way in which Jesus first instituted it – as a feast. Clearly this has changed over the years, mainly because we all tend to eat before coming to gatherings of the church. Paul has to tell the Corinthian church to not focus on feeding their faces but on remembering the Lord. In such a situation, if you are hungry and focus on filling your empty belly, you miss the point that the whole church is with you and that a sharing is taking place. Clearly within the context of what is being said there is an element of gluttony taking over- which in itself is something to encourage the examination of their hearts.

I am not against having such ‘love feasts’ today, but it is much more practical to just have a symbolic amount of food and drink. It would be quite difficult to be a glutton the way we break bread together! In fact, it is how we respond in our heart to what we eat and drink that matters – not how much we consume. Some people might say that we ought to do everything exactly the way the early church did it, but then we would have to install couches on which to recline and learn how to bake Jewish bread! What we should do is to break bread with the same heart as the early church rather than the exact same way.

Breaking bread together is a powerful source of community and a great act of remembrance for the church today, just as it was then, and we should do it as often as we eat and drink, in remembrance of Jesus.