The Breaking of Bread

Ken H. Matier, Newton Stewart

When God would deliver His people from the bondage of Egypt, He gave instructions, "this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations", Exod. 12. 14.

The lamb of Exodus 12 is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, John 1. 29. It is easy, therefore, to understand that God should expect us to keep the feast throughout our generations-the feast that reminds us weekly that "Christ our passover is sacrificed for us", 1 Cor. 5. 7.

There was a danger that the Passover feast would lose its significance, and become formal and ritualistic, so God urged the people to keep the meaning fresh in their minds and have a sufficient and satisfactory answer when their children would, as children do, ask the question, "What mean ye by this service?", Exod. 12. 26.

In John 13, the Lord Jesus washed the disciples' feet, and then asked them, "Know ye what I have done to you?", John 13. 12, implying that we should have our minds exercised about these things.

Is there a danger of the Breaking of Bread losing its significance and becoming formal and ritualistic to us? If our children (or anyone's children) were to ask us, "What mean ye by this service?", how would we answer? If Christ were to ask, "Know ye what ye have done?", how would we answer? We make the following seven suggestions:

An Act of Obedience.

An Act of Thanksgiving.

An Act of Remembrance.

An Act of Communion.

An Act of Proclamation.

An Act of Expectation.

An Act of Examination.

1. An Act of Obedience. "This do in remembrance of me", Luke 22. 19; "This do ye ... in remembrance of me", 1 Cor. 11. 25.

At its simplest, we do this because Christ requested us so to do, and the importance of obedience cannot be overstressed. "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams", 1 Sam. 15. 22, while the Lord Jesus said, "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them", John 13. 17. It is blessed to know; it is more blessed to do. We sometimes sing, "Trust and obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey".

It must bring joy to the Lord to see groups of believers all over the world gathered each Lord's Day, breaking bread, in obedience to the Saviour's request. Obedience certainly brings joy to the believer's heart, as we all can testify. In an earlier paragraph, the word "weekly" has been used. In Acts 20. 6, the apostle Paul must have arrived in Troas on a Monday. The believers did not call a special meeting so that Paul could remember the Lord with them in the Breaking of Bread. Although Paul was anxious to pursue his journey, v. 16, he had to wait six days until the first day of the week came round to do so. There is no authority in the Scriptures for a monthly, six-monthly or annual Breaking of Bread. The Scriptures state "as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup", 1 Cor. 11. 26, and the above verse, Acts 20. 7, would indicate a weekly remembrance on the first day of the week, and experience has proved that weekly remembrance is not too often, and that it is as fragrant and meaningful today as ever it was. Indeed, we can testify that, with other things related to our Lord, "it is sweeter as the days go by".

This article may be read by believers who do not remember the Lord in this way, or who do not do so on a weekly basis. One day we shall all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. He will say to you, "I requested you to do this in remembrance of me. Why did you not do it?". How will you answer?

2. An Act of Thanksgiving. "The cup of blessing which we bless", 1 Cor. 10. 16.

Two words are used to describe Christ's action in the upper room as He instituted this Supper. One word is "bless", the Greek verb being euloged, which means "to speak well of, from which we get the word "eulogy". The second is "gave thanks", the Greek word being eucharisted, from which we get the word "eucharist". This word has been given by many a special, mystical significance which it does not possess, meaning simply to "give thanks", as the giving of thanks before partaking of a meal. The words appear to be interchangeable. Matthew and Mark state that Christ "blessed" the bread {euloged), and gave thanks for the cup (eucharisted). In the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Matthew, Mark and Luke all state that Christ blessed them {euloged), while John states that He gave thanks for them {eucharisted).

This proves that the blessing or giving of thanks for the bread and the cup is not a "consecration" as some claim, to be performed only by a priest or ordained minister. The bread and wine do not become something different. The words "blessed" and "gave thanks" mean just what they say, "speak highly of and "giving of thanks". The brother who gives thanks on a Lord's Day for the emblems is giving thanks and speaking highly of them, because of what they represent, the body and blood of the Lord, and each believer should follow carefully his giving of thanks and respond with an audible "Amen", 1 Cor. 14. 16, for he is giving thanks on behalf of the company.

1 Corinthians 10. 16 refers to "The bread which toe break", and it is this individual breaking and partaking that is the "breaking of bread". The brother who breaks the bread at the table does so for convenience and is not in any way taking the place of the Lord Jesus.

(If in the phrase that Christ used, "this is my body", the word "body" is to be taken literally, as some assert, then the word "this" must also be taken literally, and can refer only to the bread that Christ held in His hands, and not to the bread that we use.)

3. An Act of Remembrance. "This do ... in remembrance of me", Luke 22.19; "this do ye ... in remembrance of me", 1 Cor. 11. 25.

Remembrance has the thought of the affectionate calling of a person to mind. How beautifully that describes our exercise on a Lord's Day morning. Our blessings in Christ could well occupy all the time available, but we seek to reach beyond even them and be occupied with Christ alone. While it is His death that is portrayed in the emblems, every worthy thought about Him is relevant, for they add to the wonder of His love, the value of His sacrifice and the glory of His finished work. And so we range in thought from the pre-incarnate glory to the coming manifestation as King of kings and Lord of lords. We think of Him as the Eternal Son, the uncreated Creator of all things; the delight of His Father and the sharer of eternal counsels; the object of the worship and adoration of the angels and all created intelligences. We think of Him as perfect Man, and are entranced by the grace and beauty that shone around His steps below. We contemplate the wonderful things that He did and the wonderful things that He said.

We muse upon Him perfect in thought, word and deed, yet irresistibly attractive to sinners, poor and needy; we contemplate His death, burial and resurrection according to the Scriptures, all the shame that men heaped upon Him, the attacks by Satan and the hosts of darkness, the righteous judgment of God that He bore when God "laid on him the iniquity of us all", Isa, 53. 6, and His triumphant resurrection and His ascension to glory, as well as His presence for us at God's right hand, and His coming again and future glory. Ministry before the breaking of the bread must call Him to remembrance, and as we remember, He becomes more and more real to us, until we realize that He is, according to His promise, in our very midst. "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them", Matt. 18. 20, an affectionate calling to remembrance indeed. In Genesis 40, 23, the butler forgot Joseph; in Ecclesiastes 9. 15, no man remembered the poor wise man who had delivered the city. How tragic if we should ever forget the Lord who bought us with His blood.

4. An Act of Communion. "The 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?", 1 Cor. 10. 16.

Communion is fellowship, sharing, participation in the common experiences and interests of believers. Here the cup is mentioned before the bread. The passage is dealing with doctrine, and the blood is primary. It is the blood that makes atonement for the soul, and without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. In every other passage, practice is in view, and the bread is mentioned before the cup.

As we partake of the emblems, we are sharing in the death of Christ: "Gazing there I seem so near Thee, dear to me each throb of pain". We are participating in all the blessings that flow from that death. How real salvation, forgiveness, justification, sonship and many other kindred blessings become to us, and how closely we are drawn to the Giver and to one another.

5. An Act of Proclamation. "Ye do show the Lord's death", 1 Cor. 11. 26.

The verb "show" is translated "preach" (10 times), "show" (3 times), "declare" (twice) and "speak of" (once). It has the thought of speech and not of display, so we preach as a herald, we tell thoroughly, the Lord's death. In the bread we see the corn of wheat that fell into the ground and died; we remember that bread corn is bruised and that it is baked in the oven. In the cup we think of fruit crushed in the winepress. Grain and grapes are two things that had life in themselves, but yielded it up for the blessing of others, all of which speaks eloquently of the sufferings and death of Christ, so that the emblems and our partaking "preach Christ". To whom do we show His death? The commission of the Lord is, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature", Mark 16. 15. But you may say, "The world is not at the Breaking of Bread meeting", and sadly, you are right in most cases.

The early church did not have the proliferation of meetings that we have. They appear to have had one meeting, in the evening after the day's work was done (many of them were slaves), at which unsaved were present, 1 Cor. 14. 23-26. The breaking of bread would be part of this meeting.

What a wonderful explanation of the gospel is the breaking of bread: this is a veritable object lesson illustrating 1 Corinthians 15. 3-4. The death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus is proclaimed, and every one who partakes of the emblems is declaring his or her dependence for time and eternity upon the death of Christ, so vividly portrayed in the emblems: the body of Christ given for us and the blood of Christ shed for us. God has joined the sufferings of Christ with the glory that should follow, so the table proclaims the fact that Christ is risen, exalted to God's right hand, a Prince and a Saviour, coming soon to receive from the world His own, and later to be manifested universally in His glory. The writer has always believed that we proclaim to God, to all created intelligences, Eph. 3. 10, and to each other, our complete and sole dependence upon the sacrifice and death of the Lord Jesus depicted in the emblems. It is recognized that many commentators do not agree that this can be included in the words, "ye do show the Lord's death". An old hymn says, "No Gospel like this feast, spread for Thy saints by Thee; nor prophet nor evangelist, preach the glad news more free".

6. An Act of Expectation. "Till he come", 1 Cor. 11. 26.

Every time we partake of the bread and the cup, we declare our confidence in the words of the Saviour, "I will come again, and receive you unto myself, John 13. 3. At least 17 of the 26 books of the New Testament mention the coming again of the Lord Jesus. It is a fundamental of the faith, and every time we are at the Breaking of Bread our presence there cries in His ears, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus", Rev. 22. 20.

These acts are enhanced beyond measure if there is first of all:

7. An Act of Examination. "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat", 1 Cor. 11. 28.

Notice that it does not say, "let a man examine himself, and so let him stay away". Just as discipline in the New Testament has restoration in view, so examination has participation in view. Notice, too, that it does not say, "Let a man examine his fellow-believer". We are more ready to do that than to examine ourselves. This is an individual believer, you and me, in the presence of God, before we go to the Breaking of Bread, examining our lives, purging from them anything that ought not to be there, and bringing into them all that should be there, so that we are in a spiritual condition that will enable us to eat and to drink worthily. We are individually responsible and accountable to God to ensure that we do so. There are certain sins that disqualify a believer from fellowship at the Lord's Supper; these are clearly stated in the New Testament. The passage under consideration in 1 Corinthians 11 shows that God is well able to assert and preserve the purity of the gathering, vv. 29-30; would that we were as concerned about our own personal worthiness. The psalmist said, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me", Psa. 66. 18. The Lord Himself said, "if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift", Matt. 5. 23-24.

How the act of remembrance would be enhanced if we each examined ourselves in the presence of God, and ate and drank worthily, having pure hands and a clean heart, living soberly, righteously and godly, and loving one another with a pure heart fervently. Ministry after the breaking of bread should help towards this.