The Communion of the Body of Christ
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Will you open your Bibles, please, to the first Corinthian letter, chapter 10. We have been bringing you a series of messages on the Lord's Supper. There are in the Scripture three basic records of the Lord's Supper. One record is found in the Gospels, and there are two accounts which were given by revelation to the Apostle Paul and given by him to the Church.

Having noticed with you already the account in the Gospels and the primary symbolism of the Lord's Supper, we call to your attention this passage in I Corinthians, that we may notice another suggestion about this important ordinance:

I Corinthians 10

16The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
17For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.

These two verses are but a portion of a fuller discussion revolving around the Lord's Supper. Later on we will look at the verses which surround these two.

We want to discuss these two verses in order that we may consider the fuller symbolism of the Lord's Supper. I might speak of a secondary symbolism also. But I speak of a fuller symbolism because we have already looked at the partial symbolism. As we looked at the partial symbolism, we noticed that the bread was to represent the body that was given in our behalf—the body of the Lord Jesus Christ which hung on the Cross where our bodies should hang, the body of the Lord Jesus Christ which was beaten with stripes as our bodies should be beaten with stripes. It was not a body broken for us in the sense that any bones were broken, because you will recall that not one bone of His body was broken; but the body suffered all that you and I would suffer had the Lord Jesus Christ not become the supreme sacrifice for our sins.

We noticed that the cup is the symbol of the blood which is the basis of the New Covenant. We talked about the New Covenant, contrasting the new with the old, reminding you that the old covenant is the Mosaic covenant, and the New Covenant is the covenant which is written in the hearts of men and based upon the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Listen very carefully as I read a translation of these two verses from Wuest's Literal Translation of the Bible. As I read you will see why I feel the need of talking about the fuller symbolism of the Lord's Supper. Wuest says: “The cup of the blessing [which our Lord consecrated by giving thanks] which we consecrate with prayer, is it not a symbol of our joint participation in the blood of the Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a symbol of our joint participation in the body of the Christ? Seeing that there is one loaf of bread, we, the many, are one body, for we all share with one another in eating from the one aforementioned loaf of bread.”

Notice the emphasis which Wuest places upon the joint participation of Believers in the body of Christ. With that emphasis, the fuller symbolism of the Lord's Supper which we want to discuss with you, deals with our joint participation in the body of Christ. This may seem a cold, empty, theological subject that has no real application for you. It may seem what some folk consider a cold, doctrinal emphasis upon truth. But actually, Beloved, if you make doctrine personal, you do not find anything cold and empty about it; rather, you find a basis, a foundation, upon which you will be able to declare the whole counsel of God when you are called upon so to do (Acts 20:27).

Look at verse 16 again, please:

I Corinthians 10

16The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

Notice the word communion , twice used in that verse. It is a translation of the Greek word which is translated partnership quite often, and translated also by the more familiar word fellowship . For application, turn to chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles and notice how it is translated fellowship . Speaking of the early believers, we read:

Acts 2

42And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

The early believers continued in communion. The early believers continued in fellowship, and as part of that fellowship, to keep constantly before them its significance, they continued in the breaking of bread.

But we are emphasizing this fellowship in the body of Christ. I believe it is only when individuals recognize their relationship to the body of Christ that they are able rightly to interpret the Word of God. As a matter of fact, I believe that the only way you can really serve the Lord Jesus Christ effectively is to recognize your relationship to the body of Christ.

When we were talking a bit earlier about the body of Christ, we were talking about the body of His flesh, the body in which He actually walked up and down throughout this earth. But now as we speak of the body of Christ, we are thinking about the mystical body of Christ. I say the mystical body of Christ because in a sense it is unseen. I say the mystical body of Christ because we are speaking of the universal body of Christ that has been scattered around the world throughout all the ages since Pentecost, and that will include all believers who will come upon the earth until the Lord Jesus Christ catches up the Church to be with Himself.

You see why I use the word mystical . It is impossible to see all the body of Christ. We can see individual members of the body of Christ, but the body of Christ will never be gathered together in one place until we all stand around the Throne, the Judgment Seat of Christ. The body of Christ will never be gathered together in one place until the roll of the Church of the First Born, recorded in Heaven, is actually called.

That is why we use the term the mystical body of Christ .

If you will glance with me at the portion of the Word that we are studying, I Corinthians, chapter 10, verses 16 and 17, you will find presented several truths about this body which are amplified in other portions of the Word of God. Notice in verse 16 the phrase “the bread which we break,” and in verse 17 the phrase “one bread.” This phrase “one bread” emphasizes the first characteristic of the body of Christ that I would call to your attention. I refer to it as the unity of the body of Christ, illustrated in the one bread which is used at the communion table.

You may think it strange to talk about the unity of the body of Christ when we come from many different backgrounds and are related to many different ages—as I have suggested, the great period of time beginning with Pentecost and ending with the Rapture of the Church. But this is exactly what God would have us know, because the phrase “one bread” is a translation of the Greek word which if translated very literally means one loaf . The early Church, anxious to emulate in exact symbolism all the truths that were emphasized in this communion observance, had one loaf, and they had one cup as well. They did not use individual cups as we do for sanitary reasons and for convenience; they had one cup and one loaf, that they might always be reminded of the unity of the body of Christ.

Turn with me, if you will, to the book of Ephesians, chapter 4. The Apostle Paul said in verse 1:

Ephesians 4

1I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,
2With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
3Endeavouring to keep [notice] the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Notice “the unity of the Spirit.” You do not organize to maintain unity; you maintain the unity already provided by the Spirit in the bond of peace. The reason:

Ephesians 4

4There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
5One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

Notice the emphasis upon the one body. This declares what we want you to see: the unity of the body of Christ. It does not behoove one particular group of people to gather themselves together in one little corner of the world and say, “We are the Church, and we are separating ourselves from every other group because we believe in maintaining the unity of the body of Christ.” Individuals who insist that the unity of the body of Christ must be based upon the formal observance of the same procedures are creating dissension. They are not maintaining the unity of the body of Christ.

The unity of the body of Christ is maintained not by individuals but by the Holy Spirit of God. As a matter of fact, instead of diversity being one of the things to avoid, diversity is one of the characteristics of this unity in the body of Christ. Will you go back, please, to I Corinthians, chapter 10, and notice the emphasis which is placed upon that very fact in verse 17:

I Corinthians 10

17For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.

Notice the phrase “we being many.” The word being is in italics, which indicates that it was not in the original text. More emphatic is it to say, “For we, many, are one body.” So the Communion supper brings to our attention the very diversity of the body of Christ. We are one, yet everyone within the body is different. If that were not true, we would be nothing more than robots who are not able to do anything except mechanically. We are one bread, yes—but we are many while we are in that one bread. We are one body, yes—but that body has many members.

For further emphasis turn, please, to Romans, chapter 12, and notice in verses 4 and 5, further amplification of this truth:

Romans 12

4For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:
5So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.

My physical body has many members: fingers, toes, ears, eyes, etc. Each member of my body has a certain function to perform, and yet it is one body. For example, if I were to hurt my finger, I might say, “I hurt my finger;” but if someone saw me grimacing with pain, I might just as easily say, “I hurt myself.” If a person were particularly interested, he might be quick to say, “Where did you hurt yourself?” I would say, “I hurt my finger.” He would not say to me, “You said you hurt yourself. Why didn't you say you hurt your finger?”, as though my finger were not a part of myself. You see? Our colloquialisms oftentimes verify the Scriptures.

For additional amplification, will you turn please, to I Corinthians, chapter 12, and notice two verses:

I Corinthians 12

12For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

It would be more accurate to say, “so also is Christ's body.” As your body and mine have many members, so does the body of Christ. The diversity is emphasized in verse 27, also along with something else that is worthy of our attention:

I Corinthians 12

27Now ye are the body of Christ, and [but] members in particular.

I call your attention to this verse to emphasize what I have been saying: There is a unity in the body of Christ, but there is a diversity as well. We are members of the body of Christ, but we are members in particular.

Someone has said, “Each with his own place, and each with his own function.” Only as we recognize that we are members in particular, each with his own place, and each with his own function, will we be able to recognize another truth which to me is most precious. I refer to it as the dependency of the body of Christ. We have talked about the unity of the body and the diversity of the body; now a word about its dependency.

Going back to I Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 17, we find the statement that we are all partakers one of another because we have all become partakers of the bread. As we partake of the Communion bread each Lord's Day, we are symbolizing to one another and to the world that we are partakers one of another, and, if you please, that we are dependent one upon another.

Turn with me, please, to Ephesians, chapter 4, and notice a paragraph which is rather long in its reading, but which is important for emphasis:

Ephesians 4

11And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, [notice now] for the edifying of the body of Christ: [for the building up of the body]
13Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
14That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
15But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

Notice particularly verse 16:

Much could be said about this portion of the Word. Notice the phrase, “that which every joint supplieth.” Beloved, if that says anything at all, it says that you are important to the body of Christ—that you have something to supply. This should encourage the hearts of some of you who feel somewhat worthless, somewhat unimportant. It should also convict some of us because we are careless about our responsibility in not supplying that which our particular joint of the body ought to supply.

Will you turn, please, to I Corinthians, chapter 12, and notice another emphasis of our interdependency upon one another in the body of Christ:

I Corinthians 12

25That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
26And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
27Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.

I realize that I am reading to you about the ideal body of Christ, not the real body of Christ in every instance. I am making the distinction because I am not at all sure that when one member of the body of Christ suffers, all the other members suffer with him. I am not al all sure that when one member of the body of Christ is honored, all the members of the body of Christ rejoice, as if they had received that honor. But I long for the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of men to such an extent that this will be a reality.

I do know that some folk have such a grasp of truth that they realize that they are part of the body of Christ, and when one member of the body suffers, they suffer. Perhaps a good illustration of how you can check yourself on this would be to consider the matter of suffering. When you hear that someone is suffering physically, what is your reaction? Oh, you may say, “I am sorry. I like that person. I wish that weren't true,” and you may do what you can do to help, you may do what you can to encourage. But if you were backed to the wall and someone were to say, “I want you to be real honest; I don't want you to hold back anything. Are you not rather glad that that person is suffering instead of you?” You say, “Don't push me. I don't want any kind of misfortune to happen to anybody.” I know you don't, but really, how do you feel? Deep down inside, are you not rather glad it has not come your way? Or do you suffer to such an extent that it really would not make any difference if it had come your way; it really would not make any difference whether you had the same problem or not. You are suffering just as much as if you had.

Beloved, I have had experience in associating with believers who understand the truth concerning the body of Christ so that I feel that some know the meaning of this. How encouraging it is to know that when you are being tried, you are not being tried alone; there is someone standing with you. How encouraging it is to know that when you are going through the valley, there are folk who are going through the valley with you, because they have learned to suffer with the various members of the body of Christ.

This may seem very strange to you and very unfamiliar, so let me suggest that you look at the other side of the plate for a moment. Notice that in this portion of the Word of God it is suggested that if one member is honored, then every other member of the body of Christ rejoices as if he himself had received the honor. Perhaps this will be easier for you to test yourselves with. I think preachers have more problems with this phase of sharing in the body of Christ than perhaps any other group of people. I think some preachers find it very difficult to rejoice in the honor and the acclaim that is given to other preachers. I think some preachers find it very difficult, when somebody talks about the tremendous blessing a certain preacher has been, to say, “Oh, I am so glad you got a blessing from him. You know, I would just as soon you would say that about him as to say it about me.” It is usually, “I wish you would say about me what you said about him.” You see, it is difficult to share in the body of Christ, being members one of another, in areas of honor and suffering.

But every time you come to the Lord's Table and partake of the bread, you are saying before God and before the world, “I recognize my relationship to the body of Christ, and I recognize also my responsibility to the body of Christ.” If you cannot conscientiously say that, you are not properly discerning the body and the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is one last thing I want to say, somewhat in the way of an observation. Will you notice I Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 16:

I Corinthians 10

16The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

Then turn to chapter 11 of I Corinthians, and notice what Paul had to say concerning the revelation of the order of the Lord's Table as it was given to him by the Lord Jesus Christ:

I Corinthians 11

23For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
24And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
25After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
26For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.

The observation that I would like to make is related to the order of the Lord's Table. The observant reader will recognize that the bread was blessed and then the cup was blessed. That is the procedure we follow here each Lord's Day. But in I Corinthians, chapter 10, the cup was blessed first and then the bread was blessed. Many people try to make something of this, suggesting that there is some kind of error, or that there is no certain form or ritual to follow in the observance of the Lord's Table. But I believe, in the light of the context of I Corinthians 10, that the Spirit of God changed the order and spoke about the cup before He spoke about the bread in order that it might be emphasized to our hearts and our minds that the way into the body is through the blood of Christ. He talked about the body, but before He talked about the body, He talked about the way into the body, which is by the blood of Christ.

This is an important observation for us to consider, because you know and I know that a great deal of emphasis is placed upon church membership. I do not know how many times I have dealt with individuals who were on the proverbial death bed, and when I would make an effort to lead them to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, they would say to me, “But I won't have time to join a church.” Sometimes when you ask individuals if they are Christians, they will say, “I am a member of such and such a church.” How do you get into any earthly church that you know about? There are many different ways; there are many different rituals; there are many different rules. Whether they are denominational churches or nondenominational churches, they all have their little program for getting into the church. Sometimes you come down the aisle and take the vows of the church; you are immersed in water. Sometimes you are voted in by acclamation. Sometimes you have to meet with the elders of the church and they give you the third degree and exact a lot of promises from you, and then you are accepted. The strange thing about all of these procedures is they are not Scriptural; they are methods. There is only one way into the only Church that the Bible know anything about, and that is through the blood of Christ.

One day I received the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour, and when I did, my sins were washed away in His blood. When they were, I was immediately placed into this Church that I am talking about—the body of Christ. I have been a member of this Church, the body of Christ, for a long, long time. It so happens that God has given me the privilege of shepherding the flock of believers who worship at 733 Butternut Street, but my membership is not located in Abilene, Texas. My membership, according to the book of Hebrews, is located in Heaven (Hebrews 12:23). You will not find my name on any earthly church roll, but you will find it recorded in Heaven.

I would suggest that far more important than membership in any earthly organization, is your membership in the body of Christ. I would ask you: Is that where you have your membership? To provoke your thinking, I would also ask you: Have you recognized your relationship to the body of Christ, your responsibility to the body of Christ? May I suggest, if you have not, that you ask God to deal with you in such fashion that as the Scripture says, when one member suffers, you will be able to suffer, too; when one member of the body is honored, you will rejoice in the honor that is extended to him.


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