Part 11 of series: The Church as the Body of Christ
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With this post I wrap up my series on the church as the body of Christ. So far I have shown how Christians are united in Christ. Like a body, we are unified even though we are different in many ways. As members of the same body, we are to care for each other and help each other to grow in faith. Though genuine fellowship with other believers can be costly, it repays rich rewards.
Recognizing the benefits of fellowship among Christians for the church and even for the world, we might still wonder how this sort of fellowship impacts our own relationship with God. Does intimate fellowship with God’s people help me to develop deeper fellowship with God?
In this blog series we have seen how fellowship with other Christians supports us in difficult times, keeping us in touch with God when he seems far away. But this is just the bare beginning. Participation in the body of Christ enriches virtually every aspect of your own relationship with God.
For example, I began this series with a description of early church activity in Acts 2. There, as you’ll recall, the new believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord’s Supper and in prayer” (Acts 2:42). A few verses later we read, “They worshiped together in the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity” (Acts 2:46). Both of these verses mention the Lord’s Supper, translating the Greek phrase “the breaking of the bread” in a way suggested by the text and by early Christian tradition. Though we experience the Lord’s Supper in worship services, the first believers remembered Jesus’ death each time they “broke bread,” which is to say, each time they shared a meal together. Breaking bread in memory of Jesus strengthened the early church and helped individual believers to grow in relationship with God.
Even though they were believers in Jesus, some of the Corinthian Christians were eating in pagan temples, consuming meat that had been offered to idols. They apparently claimed to be protected from evil because they had eaten the Lord’s Supper, as if it provided some sort of magic shield against demonic activity. They also ignored the detrimental effect their behavior had on other members of the church, caring only about their freedom and personal privilege.
Paul confronts this behavior in 1 Corinthians 10. He shows, on the one hand, that eating the Lord’s Supper does not give one the freedom to participate in idolatry. In fact just the opposite is true. When we eat spiritually dedicated food, whether in the Lord’s Supper or in a pagan ritual, we actually have fellowship with the spiritual beings who are honored in the meal. “I don’t want any of you to be partners with demons,” Paul advises (1 Cor 10:20). The word “partners” translates the Greek noun koinonos. A koinonos is one who shares intimate fellowship (koinonia) with something. Because we have fellowship with Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, therefore, we should not also have fellowship with pagan idols and the demons they represent. Apparently, Jesus doesn’t gladly share fellowship with competing spiritual beings.
Consequently, we can conclude that our participation in human fellowship provides us with a context for receiving the Lord’s Supper, that which helps us to have deeper fellowship with Jesus. However true and encouraging this may be, Paul adds something even more delectable to this theological meal:
The cup of blessing that we bless [in the Lord’s Supper], is it not intimate fellowship [koinonia] with the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not intimate fellowship [koinonia] with the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we, though we are many, are one body, for we all share in the one bread (1 Cor 10:16-17, my translation).
The word koinonia is often translated as “communion” in this passage, referring to the deep relationship we have with Jesus when we receive his Supper. This verse also has encouraged many Christian to call the Supper “communion.” When we receive communion, we have intimate fellowship with Christ’s blood and body. We remember his death for us and share once again in its benefits by the power of the Holy Spirit.
But that’s not the sum total of our communion in the Lord’s Supper. Our koinonia with the body of Christ is not only remembrance of Jesus’ death, but also fellowship with the present body of Christ, with the church gathered together for the Supper. In sharing the bread together, “we, though we are many, are one.” When we receive the Lord’s Supper, therefore, we have communion both with Jesus and with each other. We share in the fullness of intimate fellowship. (Photo: Communion in my home church, St. Mark Presbyterian in Boerne, Texas)
When I receive take communion in church, therefore, my personal relationship with God is strengthened. Yet that relationship is also nourished and expanded as I share God’s presence with my brothers and sisters. I am delivered from an individualism that limits my relationship with God. I am stretched so that I might know the fullness of intimate fellowship, both with God and with God’s people.