The Commandment of Reconciliation

In every church I attended up until the last two years, we held Communion* quarterly. (*I will use Communion, the Lord’s Supper, and/or the Eucharist interchangeably.)

When it eventually came around, I was always scared, or perhaps, worried. Why? Essentially I was told to reflect on the last three months of my life and confess every sin that came to mind–if any did. I was given 15 seconds to “get right with God.”

By the time the plate with juice and little crackers came by, I’d better be spiritually clean enough or I’d be…punished? (I’m really not sure what the consequences were, but they were portrayed as severe and harsh. Maybe even “lose your salvation” harsh.)

Now, I’m sure I misunderstood someone or something someone said at some point. A lot of my early theological understandings were half-baked–and my ingredients were one part Scripture, two parts whatever I was taught explicitly, and four parts who-knows-what. For example, it took me until 4th grade to finally ask who the Jews were. I seriously had no idea.

But back to my understanding of coming to the Lord’s Table in a “worthy manner” as based in what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11. I used to think it was all about confessing my sins so I could clean myself up for Jesus. I was more concerned with getting things right with me and Jesus so Jesus could say, “Take and eat, you deserve me.”

I have never and will never deserve Jesus.

I’m a sinful, selfish, greedy man. My heart without Jesus is wicked and cruel and dead. My flesh is weak and desires money, comfort, sex, and happiness above Jesus.

But Jesus saved me.

So I don’t come to the Table by any means of my own. I come to the Table because of the love of the Father, the death and life of the Son, and the power of the Spirit.

Now, if you’ve ever eaten a meal with your family, you might notice something peculiar: You’re eating with other people. The same goes for when you eat the bread and drink the wine of the Eucharist. You’re communing with other people. And that it actually way more terrifying a reality than missing one sin and forgetting to confess it before coming to the table. Why? Because the Bible has some serious commands about coming to God without making things right with other people.

Let’s consider what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11 about Communion. (It’s slightly long, so take your time and read it slowly and attentively.)

Now in giving this instruction I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 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. Indeed, it is necessary that there be factions among you, so that those who are approved may be recognized among you. When you come together, then, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For at the meal, each one eats his own supper. So one person is hungry while another gets drunk! Don’t you have homes in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I praise you? I do not praise you in this matter!

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, and when he had given thanks, broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way also he 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.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself; in this way let him eat the bread and drink from the cup. For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. This is why many are sick and ill among you, and many have fallen asleep. If we were properly judging ourselves, we would not be judged, but when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined, so that we may not be condemned with the world.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, welcome one another. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you gather together you will not come under judgment. I will give instructions about the other matters whenever I come.  – 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 (CSB)


There’s a lot in there to unpack. But I want you to notice one big idea. In verses 20-22, we see people are eating and drinking separately from one another. Division runs so deep, Paul calls it out and rebukes them. He even says they act like they, “despise the church of God!” And later, in verses 27-30, we see the divisive way they are eating and drinking “together” is a sin (!) and they are actually eating and drinking judgment (!) on themselves.

So what should they do instead?

Paul tells them in verses 33-34, and Jesus also gives a similar answer in Matthew 5:23-24. Paul simply tells them to “welcome one another.” How exactly?

Jesus says this:

So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. – Matthew 5:23-24

I know the language is a little different. But both are acts of worship–and that’s what I want to focus on. Both Paul and Jesus are condemning something interesting: Failing to love others. Paul says this is a sin that caused the Corinthian church to have people fall sick and even die! Jesus says this is a sin that he would rather you take care of by reconciliation before coming to worship God!

In case you missed it:

Jesus most deserves our worship, but he most desires our reconciliation with others.

God desires mercy, not sacrifice.

If you know someone has something against you, or you have something against someone, pray–and act. Give someone a call. Meet up with them. Make wrongs right.

Roll up your sleeves, our rest in Jesus means we have work to do.

– Matthew Welborn

 

Warped And Sinful Words

When it comes to sin in the minds of modern Christians, sins of aggression (hate, malice, murder) and sex (lust, adultery, sexual assault) are the ones that we tend to see with the biggest amount of physical and earthly consequences, especially in the church.

We all have heard and read the stories of pastors who have fallen into egregious sexual sin and have been removed from their flock as a result. We have heard stories of men in pastoral roles who led with hatred and malice in their hearts, becoming dictators who trampled on their staff and congregations.

I am not inclined to disagree with this sentiment.

That being said, I want to put another sin in the ring.

There are few sins that are as detrimental to the life of a church than the sin of divisiveness.

There are few sins that are as prevalent in the life of our churches than divisiveness.

Gossip, slander, drama. They are too often saturating the life of the local church. Phone calls, texts, private conversations. All full of disagreements that instead of being addressed in a healthy way are spread through the grapevine. All of these conversations destroy the health of a church.

Look with me at a couple verses out of Titus 3.

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned. – Titus 3:10-11

Earlier this week I came across this passage in my devotional time with the Lord and it has stuck with me since. That is heavy stuff, a heavy indictment against this specific sin. These verses come on the heels of a passage in Titus 3 that is all about how as followers of Christ we have been saved by God to do good works and to live lives that are worthy of God.

In verse 8 we read, I want you to stress these things (the gospel message), so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. 

As those who have been bought with the precious blood of Christ, we are saved to do good. What’s the antithesis of that in this passage? Foolish controversies and quarrels (v. 9), and divisiveness.

The book of Titus is such a good book to study as it speaks into the life of a church, and how it is supposed to function. Titus chapter one is mainly about the qualifications of a pastor or elder. Titus chapter two has a lot to say about intergenerational discipleship. Then it concludes with this chapter about good deeds and the dangers of divisiveness. My prayer is that we as followers of Christ would take the format of this book to heart. There is much more to it than this, but here’s a simplistic takeaway:

Titus 1 – If you have appointed or hired pastors or elders in your church. Trust them. Pray for them. Support them. They have not been placed in your church to be used, abused, or be treated like puppets. God has placed them in your midst to shepherd the church.

Titus 2 – Disciple, disciple, disciple. Some churches do this well, others not so much. But the call is clear. The older men are to disciple the younger men in the church, while being willing to learn from the younger men. The older women are to disciple the younger women in the church, while also being willing to learn from the younger women.

Titus 3 – Don’t be divisive. You have been saved for good works. You have been saved to evangelize, disciple, and support the leadership of your local church. This does not mean you have to agree with everything that your pastoral staff does. This does mean that you should talk to them about it rather than engage in gossip or slander.

It pains me to acknowledge that this sin of divisiveness has been present in my life to an extreme degree in my past. Instead of seeking counsel, speaking to my pastoral leaders, or supporting them in their actions, I instead gossiped, slandered, and honestly caused division.

Please do not make the same mistake. Look with me again at how Paul responds to this type of behavior in followers of Christ. We are to warn those who are being divisive. We are to call them out privately for living in a way that is not in line with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Scripture then goes on to use some severe terminology about them. They are warped, sinful, and self-condemned.

That’s harsh but true. It was in my life. I was warped in my beliefs. Church was about me. Pastors were a commodity for me to use, not a shepherd to trust. I was sinful. The fact of the matter is that Christians are called to be unified in the church. Shame on us when we’re not. Lastly, divisive people and gossips are ultimately just condemning themselves each time they talk. Scripture makes clear that every word we speak we will have to give an account for (Matthew 12:36).

I pray that I would avoid the sin of divisiveness.

I pray that you would too.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach