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Table Manners


You probably grew up with a parent who taught you how to use good table manners. We had several in our house that were strictly observed, such as wash your hands before dinner, wait for everyone to be seated before eating, don’t sing at the table or talk with your mouth full, “clean your plate,” and push your chair in when you leave the table.

A couple of weeks ago I shared a communion sermon from 1 Corinthians 11 titled, “Table Manners.” I wanted to focus on Paul’s challenge to the Corinthian church to make adequate spiritual preparation for their observance of communion. I developed three questions that I thought you might find helpful as you prepare your heart next time you participate in a communion service.

Question 1: Am I fostering unity in my church? (1 Corinthians 11:17-19)
Those who Paul addressed evidently had some issues with interpersonal relationships. He had already mentioned some conflict earlier in the book (cf. 1:10ff, 3:3ff), so this admonition would not have surprised the original audience. Sometimes its easy to become so focused on having personal faith in Christ that we forget that though our faith is personal, its never private. Who we are in Christ are always believers in the context of human relationships. Perhaps our strongest, unspoken witness to the world is how we treat one another. If the people of God can’t “play nice” together, the impact of our faith in word and deed is negated.

Years ago I heard John Maxwell describe our responsibility in church relationships like this. He said that each of us carries two buckets. In one hand we have a bucket of water, and in the other we have a bucket of gasoline. When we witness conflict or hear criticism or negativity, we can either throw the bucket of water on it or we can throw the bucket of gasoline on it. In other words, we are either fire fighters or a fire lighters.

Question 2: Is my life free from judging others? (1 Corinthians 11:20-22)
Scholars tell us that communion among those second generation believers was part of a larger meal, often called a love feast. As a Baptist, my mind automatically defaults to “church potluck!” The Corinthian congregation, like many of our modern congregations, was a diverse socio-economic group. The wealthy would bring the best food and drink while the poor would bring lesser dishes, if anything. The rich felt entitled to begin eating as soon as they arrived and would consume the best food and drink, leaving the scraps for those who were poor who arrived late.

While we may not be so bold in our contemporary expressions of judgment, we still have to work hard to battle judgments, prejudices, and a sense of entitlement. There’s an old saying that claims the ground is level at the foot of the cross. From God’s perspective this is a true statement. We have a responsibility to make sure that we live that truth our intentionally and practically.

Question 3: Am I honoring Christ’s sacrifice? (1 Corinthians 11:27-33)
How would one dishonor Christ’s sacrifice? By making light of the sin that exists in our lives. At minimal, preparation for communion should include a thorough self examination of the sins in our lives, followed by our humble confession of those sins. When we justify and excuse the sins in our lives we diminish the significance of Christ’s death. One of the best ways we can honor the sacrifice that Jesus made is to live our lives as free from sin as possible. And when we do sin, we claim the promise of 1 John 1:9 and seek his forgiveness and cleansing.

I recognize that different churches have different practices for preparing congregants to observe this meaningful ordinance. But on those occasions when opportunity for preparation is minimal or non existent, remember these questions and make your own spiritual preparation.

Categories : 1 Corinthians

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