One reason that the ordinances seem weird to us is that we have trouble believing that what we do in the body matters. There is plenty of mental and verbal pieces to our spiritual lives. We’re people who love prayer and Bible reading and singing and meditating on the law of the Lord. But while the Word explains the significance of the sacraments, the Word does not replace their blessings.
Baptism is a symbol of an invisible change; we have died, been buried, and were raised to walk in newness of life. The spiritual reality is represented externally. The physical act is visible. Likewise, with communion, the greatest thing we could ever think about—the love of God in the sacrifice of Christ on behalf of His sheep—God wants us to do more than think about. He wants us to eat.
Which is sort of surprising. Men keep messing up their desire for and use of food. In John 6, the crowd followed Him and wanted to make Him King because He had feed ten to fifteen thousand people from a few loaves and fish. He offered them a food that endures to eternal life. Wouldn’t it have been beneficial for Him to talk about it as something other than bread? When it came time to institute the Lord’s supper, why didn’t He choose something else that was clearly special, something sacred? The Corinthians abused it too, and Paul said, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.” But what makes the difference? It wasn’t the type of bread or wine. It was their attitude toward and use of the normal bread and wine before them.
God could have come up with any number of other ways to commemorate the good news of Christ giving His body and shedding His blood for sinners. But He took our common experience and transposed it. By faith we share mystical union with God and with each other through the earthly, material, ordinary bite of bread and swallow from a cup.
As we think about how God wants us to honor Him in His image, the opportunities are surprisingly practical. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul makes a series of arguments based on the fact that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” One result is that we can eat with unbelievers without worrying which gods they sacrifice to and, in our day, that applies even to the twin gods named Green and Gluten-free. We don’t need to ask questions about sustainable farming practices and fair-trade prices when we’re having dinner with our neighbor. Eat, enjoy, and don’t worry for sake of conscience. If you can partake with thankfulness, why should you be denounced because of that for which you give thanks?
The well-known conclusion Paul makes after the above is, “So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). A body that hungers and thirsts, lips that can sip and teeth that can chew and tongues that can taste, food and drink themselves, are not only God’s ideas, they are God’s ideas about how He wants us to glorify Him. He made the things, and He made them means by which to honor His name.
How we do dinner is as important as how we do devotions. We aren’t necessarily glorifying God in doing devotions because it is a “spiritual” act any more than we necessarily can’t glorify Him in dinner because it is an “earthly” act. Which is better? Devotions done in the flesh (to honor you and how much you know and how disciplined you are) or dinner done in gratitude? Duh.
Let us not be more spiritual than God. Let us not decide for ourselves what glorifies Him. We don’t obligate Him by doing more of the activities that we think are Christian especially if we ignore the rest of what He says, including “whether you eat or drink.” And let us not grow weary in doing good. Once we realize that anything lawful could glorify Him, even our daily dinner, we may be tempted to be overwhelmed that there is so much. Do what you can, with the food on your table and the person sitting next to you.
We live in a society that places a lot of weight on appearance. Red carpet events devote extra attention to what the stars wear and, at the other end of the spectrum, even those who don’t wear anything are trying to make a statement by how they look. As usual, it is not whether or not you’re going to present an image, but which image are you presenting?
Christians ought to be the most image conscious of all. Our problem isn’t that we want to make a certain appearance too much, it’s that sometimes we want to make the wrong appearance. But for those who have “learned Christ,” we must “put off the old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
All of this is true: we were made in God’s image, we are created after the likeness of God in salvation, and we must put on the new self that God recreated. We can’t create ourselves or make ourselves new, but we can wear the new clothes He got for us.
The Lord’s Table is part of the put off/put on work. We leave our soiled garments of sin and self-righteousness at the cross and we take up the body of the Lord as our own. We identify with Him in His righteous sacrifice and learn to dress in imitation of Him.