Tuesday, April 6, 2021

A summary help for examining ourselves

One of our congregants writes: "What is examining yourself before the supper? All my life growing up it was an examination of your heart if you were in sin and a resolving to not sin again, repenting of that sin, and trusting Christ to forgive that sin. But I'm wondering if that's what examination truly is supposed to be."

When we were reforming our practice of taking the Lord's Supper at a former call, our Session had me preach an extensive series of sermons, and I preached at least two that I can remember on 1Corinthians 11:28. If I can find those sermons again, I will try to link them here. That text is as follows:

But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

The verb for examining is borrowed from the court room and means both to present and to acknowledge evidence. But evidence of what? In the context (both the Scripture context of 1Corinthians 11 and the applicational context of taking the Supper) this means several specific things:

Evidence that we are able to eat and drink in (by) remembrance of the Lord Jesus (1Cor 11:24–25). This means that you are one who looks to Him in faith. One who knows Him to be the second Person of the Godhead Who became flesh for your sake. One who knows Him to have died for your sin, risen again, ascended, and is now sitting in the midst of the throne of glory (1Cor 11:26). You look to Him alone for your salvation, and you look to Him for all of your salvation.

Evidence that you are coming to feed upon Him Himself (1Cor 11:24). You are one who is needy of the life-giving, strengthening, energizing virtue that comes to you through Christ's body. That comes to you through the reality that He has taken on human flesh that you might be united to Him (Heb 2:14–18). That comes to you through the reality that you are united to Him in His death—the penalty against you has been cancelled, and who you were outside of Christ is dead and gone (Rom 6:3–7). That comes to you through the reality that you are united to Him in His resurrection—who you are now is a new creature altogether, and one who walks in newness of life by the power of His resurrection life (Rom 6:3–5, 9–11). Jesus is your life, and your life is for Jesus.

Evidence that you are coming to drink the cup of His covenant, the new covenant in His blood (1Cor 11:25). A covenant is a public thing with public acknowledgement and public obligations. You're a member of His church. In Christ, you are set apart from the world. In Christ, you are set apart unto God. In Christ, you are bound to Him and to His people. This binding you have acknowledged with your mouth, declaring your bond to Him and to His mystical body on earth, This bond you recognize by committing yourself publicly to all that He puts you under obligation to do by purchasing you with His blood. This bond you recognize by confidence that He will keep all of His promises to you, as He has testified that He will do by His blood. In Jesus, you are bound to His church, and in Jesus God has bound Himself to you.

Such evidence the Bible often describes in terms of fruit. Fruits in keeping with repentance (Matt 3:8). The fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22–26)—especially of love to the brethren (1John 5:1–2). The peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb 12:11–14, 1John 5:3). Fruit that comes only (and aboundingly) by abiding in Christ (John 15:1–8).

Every Lord's Day Eve, we would do well to turn to our crucified and risen Redeemer and look to Him again in all these ways and for all these things. You might do well to print this off as a help or use that excellent summary from our larger catechism (part of the guide to the Supper that is included in each week's worship booklet at Hopewell):

Q. 171. How are they that receive the sacrament of the Lord's supper to prepare themselves before they come unto it?
A. They that receive the sacrament of the Lord's supper are, before they come, to prepare themselves thereunto, by examining themselves of their being in Christ, of their sins and wants; of the truth and measure of their knowledge, faith, repentance; love to God and the brethren, charity to all men, forgiving those that have done them wrong; of their desires after Christ, and of their new obedience; and by renewing the exercise of these graces, by serious meditation, and fervent prayer.

Two points of counsel that I wish to emphasize about doing this.

First, the examination itself should renew our desire for more of the Spirit's work in our lives. Self-examination should be an exercise of renewing our commitment to repentance. Finding that these fruits are present in your life ought to cause you both to be thankful to Christ, Whose Spirit has given them to us, and to judge as too little whatever we have done for such a wonderful Savior as He is. 

If we wait until the table to renew our commitment, we will be playing catch-up and have the wrong focus at the table. When you come to the dinner table at home, you should not at that point start becoming hungry. You should come already hungry. The dinner table is the place to find the solution to that hunger and to relish and enjoy the supply that God has given in the food that is there. 

One of the reasons that the apostle tells us not to bring this kind of hunger to the Lord's Table (1Cor 11:34), is that we are to be not physically hungry but spiritually hungry when we come. When we obey the command to examine ourselves, the Holy Spirit uses it to foster the spiritual hunger with which we should be coming to relish and enjoy Christ Himself as the supply for our spiritual need.

Second, renewed commitment to repentance must drive us to Christ for renewed supply of that repentance. As we look for things like hunger for Christ, together with love of the brethren & neighbor and forgivingness toward them, and obedience to God's law as Christ's law, there is a great danger of thinking that the question is whether there is "enough" of one or more of these in you to qualify you for the table. "Is there enough?" is the wrong question. That idea is exactly the opposite of the gospel sufficiency of Christ and your utter neediness of Him. You will never have "enough" of any of these things. 

So, look for fruit with the expectation that however small and poor it is, yet it has been given by the love and almighty power of God the Holy Spirit applying Christ to you, and He is giving you this Supper as a means by which He continues and increases this work in you. But when we come with the question "is it there?" we will always see that it is not enough, and we will be reminded that Christ Who put it there is where we can get more.

So by this biblical way of "examining ourselves," we will be seeing our ongoing and great neediness of Christ. Self-examination is one way that Holy Spirit stirs up our hunger for the Lord Jesus, and then we bring this hunger to the Lord Jesus's own table where, by the Holy Spirit's work at the Table, He fills us up upon Himself.

No comments:

Post a Comment