The Lord’s church met one Lord’s day in a grand city in Greece. They sang together, prayed together, opened the word together, and did not commune together.
Paul told them, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat” (1 Corinthians 11:20 ESV). The first-century church came together every week in order to eat the Lord’s supper (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2). How is it that Paul could say that they did not eat the Lord’s supper when they gathered?
One of my favorite quotes comes from the movie, Remember the Titans. During a particularly difficult practice, coach Doc Hines criticizes the players, “Y’all didn’t come out here to practice, ’cause champions pay the price. Looking like a bunch of bums out here.” These high school football players had pads and helmets on. They were running plays and tackling. Yet the coach says that they didn’t come out to practice. Their intentions prior to practice, and their attitudes during it, negated whatever actions that might have appeared to be practice related.
The Corinthian church suffered similarly. Their intentions prior to gathering, and their attitudes while gathered, polluted the supper and precluded them from observing it properly.
This was not a new phenomenon. Way back in Isaiah’s day, God spoke harshly to his people. He told them that their worship was not acceptable. God called their offerings “vain” and their feasts “a burden” (Isaiah 1:13, 14). God’s disgust with their worship centered not upon faulty actions during worship, but faulty attitudes outside of and during worship. Their hands were “full of blood” (v. 15), and their actions full of evil (v. 16). If they desired for their worship to be acceptable, the people needed to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (v. 17).
Worship is not a panacea. Our attitudes outside of worship, and our intentions toward worship, matter at least as much as the actual worship we offer.
If we live without grace in our hearts during the week, we should not expect to find our God gracious when we approach him in worship (see Matthew 6:15). If we are not intentional in our worship, we should not expect to find our God receptive to our haphazard efforts.
Let us learn the lessons set before us. When we come together, let it be for the good. When we come together, let us be intentional. When we come together, let us worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24).