THE BREAKING OF BREAD
Assembly Life, CFP white cover, by Watchman Nee
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? seeing that we, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we are all partake of the one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh: have not they that eat the sacrifices communion with the altar? What say I then? that a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? But [I say], that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have communion with demons. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of demons: ye cannot partake of the table of the Lord, and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?
1 Cor. 10.16-22
For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me. In like manner also the cup, after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lordís death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup. For he that eateth and drinketh, eateth and drinketh judgment unto himself, if he discern not the body. For this cause many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep. But if we discerned ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, wait one for another.
1 Cor. 11:23-33
In this chapter we will consider the matter of the Lordís table or the Lordís supper.
The Supper Instituted by the Lord
Let us first see how the Lord instituted the supper. This is one supper which all the children of God in the church must attend. It was set up by the Lord Jesus on the night before His death. Since He was crucified the next day, this was His last night on earth and also His last supper with His disciples. Although He still ate after His resurrection, this nevertheless was His last supper, for a resurrected man can either eat or not, as he chooses.
How did this last supper come about? The Jews keep a festival called the Passover which commemorates their deliverance by God from slavery in Egypt. God commanded them to prepare a lamb for each house and in the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month they were to kill the lamb and put its blood on the two side-posts and on the lintel. They should eat the flesh on that night with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. After they came out of Egypt, they were ordered to keep the feast each year as a remembrance. So, to the Jews the paschal lamb is something retrospective. Because of Godís great deliverance, they recall that great event every year.
It so happened that the night before the death of the Lord Jesus coincided with the eating of the paschal lamb. There was nothing special in His taking the paschal lamb with the disciples, for it was simply keeping the feast of the Passover. But immediately afterwards, the Lord established His own supper, thus implying that He desires us to partake of His supper even as the Jews eat the paschal lamb.
As we compare these two, we see that the Israelites keep the Passover because they were delivered out of Egypt, and that Godís children today partake of the Lordís table because they too have been delivered. The Israelites had a lamb; we too have the Lamb whom God appointed. We have today been saved from the world, delivered from the power of Satan, and become wholly Godís. We keep this feast as the Jews kept the Passover.
1. SUPPER IS A FAMILY MEAL
What does supper signify? Why do we call it the Lordís supper? It is a worldwide custom that supper is especially considered a family meal. At lunch, the members of the family often cannot assemble together. In the land of Judea at noontime, some of the family would be shepherding, some fishing, and some tilling. Most of them would eat their lunch outside, for it would be impossible to go home. So lunch is not a family meal. Neither is breakfast a family meal for at that time people are thinking of the dayís work instead of the rest afterward. Other than those who are sick, people usually take their breakfast hastily. Supper, however, is the most special of the three daily meals, for at that meal the whole family, young and old, gathers together to eat.
2. SUPPER EXCLUDES THE THOUGHT OF WORK
Having finished a dayís work, people no longer think of the work before them; rather, they are occupied with the thought of rest. Supper is the time when the whole family gathers together and eats at leisure after the dayís work is done. In instituting His own supper, our Lord desired His people throughout the earth to see that this is, indeed, a family meal in Godís house. It does not include any idea of work. It just sets forth the thought of rest. During breakfast and lunch, oneís mind is always occupied with work; but by supper, everything has been done. One is prepared to retire after eating. Godís children should gather and partake of the Lordís supper with a similar inward sentiment.
Dual Meaning of the Lordís Supper
1. REMEMBER THE LORD
The basic thought of the Lordís supper is to remember the Lord. The Lord Himself says, ďThis do in remembrance of meĒ (1 Cor. 11:24b). He knows how very forgetful we are. Do not think that because we have received such an abundance of grace and experienced such a wonderful redemption that we will never be able to forget. Let me warn you that men such as we, are most forgetful. For this reason, the Lord especially desires us both to remember Him and to remember what He has done for us.
The Lord wants us to remember Him not only because we are so forgetful, but also because He needs our memory. In other words, He does not want us to forget Him. The Lord is so great and so transcendent that He could let us forget Him and not be bothered by it. Yet He says, ďThis do in remembrance of me,Ē thus revealing how condescending He is in desiring our remembrance.
That the Lord wants us to remember Him fully is an expression of His love. It is the demand of love, not of greatness. So far as His greatness is concerned, He can afford to be forgotten by us. But His love insists that we remember Him. If we do not remember Him, we will suffer great loss. If we do not remember Him often and keep the redemption of the Lord always before us, we will easily be conformed to the world and become contentious toward the children of God. Thus we not only need to remember Him, but are profited by so doing. It is a means by which we may receive the grace of the Lord.
In connection with the Lordís desire for us to remember Him, there is another point worth noticing: as the Lord formerly humbled Himself in order to be our Savior, so today He humbles Himself in asking for our remembrance. As once He condescended to save us, so today He condescends to ask for our hearts. He wishes us to remember Him as long as we live on earth. He wants us to live before Him and remember Him week after week. Thus we derive much spiritual benefit.
DISASSOCIATES YOU FROM THE WORLD
One cardinal value in remembering the Lord lies in the fact that the world will not be able to exert its influence continuously upon you. If every few days you remember how the Lord died for you and received you, let me tell you, the world will have no place in you. Since my Lord suffered death here in the world, what have I to say? If they had not killed my Lord, there might still be some ground for them to talk with me. But now that they have already killed my Lord and His death is exhibited before me, I have nothing more to say and no way to communicate with the world. I cannot have any fellowship with it. This is one of the prime benefits of the breaking of bread.
Remembering the Lord has another spiritual value: it makes strife and contention and division impossible among Godís children. When you are reminded of how you have been saved by grace and you find another person with you who is likewise reminded, you are both one before the Lord. When you contemplate how the Lord Jesus forgave the myriads of your sins and you see another brother coming to the supper who has also been bought and redeemed by the precious blood, how can you bring in anything to separate you from him? How can you divide Godís children? For the past nearly two thousand years, many controversies among Godís children have been settled at the Lordís supper. Many unforgiven things, even things unforgivable, and many lifelong hatreds have disappeared at the Lordís table, for it is impossible not to forgive when, in remembering the Lord, you are reminded of how you have been saved and forgiven. Can you be forgiven your debt of ten thousand talents ($10,000,000) by the Lord and yet grab another servant by the throat demanding payment for a hundred shillings ($18) (see Matt. 18:4-35)?
ENLARGES YOUR HEART
Another advantage in remembering the Lord is that each one who remembers Him will quite naturally have his heart enlarged to embrace all children of God. It is but natural to see that all who are redeemed by the Lordís blood are the beloved of the Lord; therefore they are also the delight of my heart. If we are all in the Lord, can there be jealousy, reviling and unforgivingness? How can you continue in strife with the brother or sister who sits next to you at the Lordís supper? What right do you have to demand anything of your brother when you recall how many of your sins have been forgiven? If you insist on strife, jealousy, and an unforgiving spirit, you will not be able to remember the Lord.
Every time we gather to remember the Lord, we are bidden to review His love once more. We should re-examine the corruption of the world and the judgment upon it. We should renew the conviction that all the redeemed are beloved of the Lord. Every time we remember the Lord, we review His love, how He loved us and gave Himself for us. In love, He descended to hades for us. The world has already been judged, for it crucified our Lord. But all of Godís children are our delight, because they have all been bought by the Lordís blood. How can we hate them? How can we harbor any thought of hate?
All that we have mentioned above is included in the meaning of remembering the Lord. The first and foremost significance of the Lordís supper is, ďThis do in remembrance of me.Ē Let us further point out that it is absolutely impossible for us to remember one whom we do not know or of whom we have no experience. For us to remember a person or an event presumes that we have a personal knowledge of him or of it. So, when the Lord commands us to remember Him, He is merely reminding those of us who have already met Him at Calvary and have received grace from Him. We come to remember all that He has done for us. Like the Jews remembering the Passover, we consider in retrospect. Because we have come out of Egypt, therefore we come together to remember this fact. To remember is to look back.
2. PROCLAIM THE LORDíS DEATH
The Lordís supper has a second meaning. This is found in 1 Corinthians 11:26: ďFor as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lordís death till he come.Ē We need to proclaim or exhibit the Lordís death that all may see.
What causes people to be idle or unfruitful? It is that they have forgotten the cleansing of their former sins (see 2 Pet. 1:8-9). For this reason the Lord calls us to remember Him, saying, ďSo long as you live on earth, you must love Me and constantly remember Me. Remember that the cup is My shed blood and the bread My broken body.Ē This refers to our experience, and this must come first. Afterward we have the teaching that the cup and the bread exhibit the death of the Lord.
Why do the cup and the bread represent the Lordís death? Because the blood is in the flesh. So when blood and flesh are separated, it means death. Today the blood and the flesh are separated, for the blood is in the cup while the flesh is in the bread. When one looks at the wine in the cup, he sees the blood. Likewise, when he looks at the bread, he sees the flesh. Thus he does not need to be told that His Lord has died for him. As he notices that the blood is no longer in the flesh, he realizes that death has come. Must the Lord tell you that He has died for you? No, He only needs to say, ďDrink the cup and eat the bread,Ē for these proclaim His death. Blood here and flesh thereóthis speaks of death.
What do the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup signify? The Old Testament informs us clearly that the bread was made of grain. The same word was used when the Lord told the Israelites that after they entered into Canaan they would eat the old grain of the land. In looking at the bread, you see that the grain has been crushed. In looking at the cup, you see that the grape has been pressed. In this crushed grain and this pressed grape, you see death. Hence the Lord says, eat the bread and drink the cup.
Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it is but one grain. Likewise, unless a grain of wheat is crushed, it remains a grain and cannot be made into bread. Unless a cluster of grapes is pressed, there will be no wine. The Lord, speaking through Paul, says that as you eat the bread and drink the cup, you are proclaiming His death. If the grain wanted to preserve itself whole, there would not be any bread; if the grape insisted on keeping itself intact, there would not be any wine. It is only as you eat the crushed grain and the pressed grape that you proclaim the Lordís death.
From a human standpoint, God has left nothing on the earth other than the cross. The work of the cross is finished but the sign of the cross remains. Indeed, many today have forgotten the cross, but not the believers. To them, the cross is something forever remembered. Every Lordís day we see in the Lordís supper the cross of the Son of God exhibited in the church. This suggests that though we may forget everything else, we must remember the fact of our Lordís death for us.
Suppose you bring your parents, children, or relatives who do not know the Lord to the gathering for the breaking of bread. Seeing such a meeting for the first time, they invariably will ask, ďWhat is the meaning of the breaking of bread and the drinking of the cup?Ē You answer, ďThe cup represents the blood and the bread the flesh. Since the blood and the flesh are separated, this is death.Ē To those unbelievers who come to the meeting, you point out that in so doing you exhibit the Lordís death.
We not only must go out to preach the gospel, gather people in to hear the glad tidings, and have the word preached by those who are gifted, but we also must let the Lordís table proclaim the good news. It is a great thing if we can convince people that what is placed before them is not a ritual but an exhibition of the Lordís death.
We must proclaim this death until the Lord comes again. I like this thought for it associates the supper with the Lordís return. I wonder if you appreciate the supper. Supper is the last meal of the day. Daily I take my supper; the Lordís supper I take weekly. The night is dark and the day has yet to dawn. For these two thousand years, the church has never eaten breakfast. She has been and still is only taking supper, the last meal. Till He comes, the night remains dark. But soon the day shall dawn, and no one will need to eat supper again. Who eats supper in the early morning? Soon we shall see the Lord face to face. Remembrance will be lost in sight. We will see Him whom we love.
May we see from the beginning that in remembering the Lord we are remembering the Lordís death. This will naturally turn our eyes toward the kingdom, toward the day when we will go to be with the Lord. The cross always leads us to His return; it invariably ends in glory. No one can remember the Lordís death without lifting up his head, without saying, ďLord, I want to see Your face.Ē When the day comes that we do see His face, all things (including this remembrance) shall pass away. So, in remembering the Lord, we exhibit His death till He come. Today we have nothing to do but to wait for His return.
Meaning of the Lordís Table
1 Corinthians 11 speaks of the Lordís supper with its dual meaning of remembering the Lord and exhibiting the Lordís death. Chapter 10 of the same book, however, speaks of it as the Lordís table. Though the subject is the same, yet two different designations are used. Like the Lordís supper, the Lordís table also has a double meaning. ďThe cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? seeing that we, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we all partake of the one breadĒ (vv. 16-17). Here the table carries a double significance: first communion, then oneness.
The first and primary meaning of the Lordís table is communion. ďThe cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ?Ē As 1 Corinthians 11 delves into the relationship of the believer with the Lord, so 1 Corinthians 10 deals with relationships among believers. The former (chapter 11) does not touch upon our mutual relationships; it merely stresses remembering the Lord and proclaiming the Lordís death till He come. The latter (chapter 10), nevertheless emphasizes the communion of the blood of Christ.
Notice that the cup of blessing which we bless is singular in number. We all drink out of the same cup; therefore it demonstrates the sense of communion. Unless people are very intimate, they will not drink from the same cup. That so many of Godís children drink from the same cup, fully attests to the communion aspect of the Lordís table.
In chapter 11 our eyes are focused on the Lord, but in chapter 10 we see our brethren. We see them in the cup. The cup is for drinking, and we all drink of the same cup. In so doing we have communion with all of Godís children. Let us be careful to not lose sight of this aspect.
The second meaning of the Lordís table is oneness. ďSeeing that we, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we all partake of the one breadĒ (v. 17). In this we can see at once that all the children of God are one. The bread of chapter 11 and that of chapter 10 have different emphases. Whereas in chapter 11 the Lord says, ďThis is my body which is for you. . . .Ē (v. 24), thus making reference to the bread as His physical body, in chapter 10 the verse reads, ďWe, who are many, are one bread, one body,Ē this time suggesting that the church is the bread.
Even as we need to learn before the Lord the various meanings of the Lordís table as remembrance, exhibition, and communion, so also we must learn its meaning as oneness. All Godís children are as one as the bread is one. We have only one loaf; each believer breaks off a piece. If it were possible to gather all the broken pieces, we could restore that one loaf of bread. The bread scattered among many would still be one loaf if the pieces were reunited. Physically, after the bread is broken and eaten, it cannot be recovered. But spiritually, we are yet one in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives Christ to us; yet Christ is still in the Holy Spirit. What has been distributed is the bread, but in the Holy Spirit we are still one and have never been divided. So in the breaking of bread, we confess that the children of God are one. This bread signifies the oneness of the church of God.
The basic problem with the Lordís table lies in the bread. As Godís children gather together to break bread, if the bread only represents themselves, it is too small; it should not be broken. The bread must stand for the whole church, including all the children of God on earth as well as those in your particular locality. Hence, it testifies to the oneness of all the children of God.
Some Practical Problems
We have shown brothers and sisters that the meaning of the breaking of bread is twofold: vertically, it is remembering the Lord and proclaiming His death till He come; horizontally, it is communion with all Godís children and oneness with them. Since all Godís children are redeemed by the precious blood and are included in the bread, we ought to have our hearts enlarged each time we break the bread. Many though we are, yet we are one bread. At no time should we harbor the desire to exclude any brother or any certain group of Christians from the bread. Let me tell you, with the bread it is impossible for you to be a small person.
THE PRINCIPLE OF RECEIVING
How, then, do we receive people to the table of the Lord? Remember, we are not the hosts; we are at best but ushers. This is the Lordís supper, the Lordís table, not ours. We have no authority whatsoever over the Lordís table. We are privileged to eat the bread and drink the cup, but we cannot withhold it from others. We cannot forbid any of the blood-redeemed ones from coming to the Lordís table. We have no authority to refuse it to anyone. We cannot refuse those whom the Lord has received, nor can we reject those who belong to the Lord. We can only refuse those whom the Lord refuses or those who do not belong to Him. The Lord only refuses those who do not belong to Him or those who yet remain in sin. Since their communion with the Lord is already interrupted, we, too, do not have fellowship with them. But let us take note that we are the Lordís and have no authority to exercise other than that which the Lord exercises.
Every time we break the bread, we should think of all those who have received grace. We should not think only of those brothers and sisters whom we personally know. If those gathered at the table in one place refuse to have fellowship with Godís children in other places, they are too exclusive.
We hope the hearts of brothers and sisters in every place will be so enlarged that they can embrace all the children of God. To stand on the ground of the church is not to discriminate against any of Godís children, as if some were welcome and others not. Every time we come to the Lordís table, we are enabled to see Him once more; thus our hearts are enlarged once again to include all the children of God. The heart is a great mystery. It does not expand by itself; rather it tends to become narrowed by the least bit of carelessness. Its natural inclination is to contract, not to expand. But at the time of remembering the Lord, our hearts should be expanded.
Things to Watch
Finally, we would like to mention a few more things which we should notice at the breaking of bread.
1. ONLY BLESSING AND THANKSGIVING, NO ASKING
In this meeting a special situation exists. We come as those who have been washed by the blood of the Lordónot as those asking for His cleansing. We come as those who have the Lord as our lifeónot as those asking Him to give us life. Therefore, in such a meeting there is only thanksgiving, no asking. ďThe cup of blessing which we blessĒówe bless what the Lord has already blessed. So the proper note in this meeting is to give thanks, to thank and praise the Lord. It is not the time to ask or plead for anything. Nor is it a time to gather to hear a message. We come for one thingóto remember the Lord; therefore neither prayer nor preaching is proper. It may be allowable to speak briefly on things which have a direct bearing on the Lord Himself, but all other kinds of preaching will only interfere. That which is normal for the meeting is praise and thanks. This is true in chapter 10 of 1 Corinthians as well as in chapter 11.
2. ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK
When the Lord instituted the supper, He exhorted us to do it often. After resurrection, He broke bread with the two disciples in Emmaus on the first day of the week (Lk. 24:1, 30). The early church also broke bread on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). There is sufficient example in the church and in the Word of God to show that the breaking of bread should be done on the first day of the week. The Passover comes only once a year, but the breaking of bread comes once every week. Our Lord is not dead but alive; therefore we remember Him on the resurrection day. The first day of the week is indeed a very special day for the church.
3. IN A WORTHY MANNER
ďWherefore whosoever shall eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup. For he that eateth and drinketh, eateth and drinketh judgment unto himself if he discern not the bodyĒ (1 Cor. 11:27-29). It is extremely important that we eat and drink worthily. This does not refer to the personís own worthiness but to the way in which he partakes. A personís worthiness is already taken care of in his being redeemed by the precious blood. If he is not the Lordís, he cannot have any part in the Lordís table. But some who are the Lordís may eat in an unworthy manner; that is, they may receive the bread casually without discerning the Lordís body.
Therefore we exhort young believers to receive the bread respectfully. You are qualified before God to come, but you are asked by the Lord to examine yourself. You must discern that this is the Lordís body. Hence you cannot take it lightly. You must receive it in a manner worthy of the Lordís body. Since the Lord gives His blood and His flesh to you, you need to receive them respectfully. No one but a fool would despise what God has given to him.