The day is indelibly imprinted in my mind. I was sitting at my desk, a 5th grade student at Midwood Elementary School in Charlotte N.C., when my teacher called David Cannon and I to the front of the class. I had no idea what was about to happen, but I was pretty sure we were in trouble. To my surprise and relief, David and I, instead of receiving the expected reprimand, were each given a safety patrol belt, badge and flag. Since our school was a neighborhood school, most of the students walked to school each morning. Each corner was manned by a Safety Patrol team who assisted them in crossing the streets safely. On that very morning we began a training schedule designed to prepare us to function effectively as members of the Midwood Elementary Safety Patrol force.
I can still hear Capt. Livingstone from the Charlotte Police Department patiently instructing us with the safety procedures and principles that would enable us to do our job effectively. Little did I know that those training sessions would provide for me a useful lifelong teaching tool to equip believers as a Pastor-Teacher. There are many things we can learn from Safety Patrol Training about proper preparation for the Lord’s Supper—for “the better and not for the worse” and in a “manner worthy of the Lord”. The first rule he taught us was one that I had already learned by reading railroad signs at each railway intersections—Safety Rule #1: Stop, Look & Listen.” So, as Paul directs in I Corinthians 11:17-34, how does this assist in preparing believers to assemble as a worshipping church, as well as in coming to the Lord’s Table “in a manner worthy of the Lord” and therefore “for the better and not for the worse”?
The Lord’s Supper—when preceded by the faithful ministry of prayer and the Word and received by those “who come in a manner worthy” to a called assembly of worship—is a Divinely-designed means of growth in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. To “come in a manner worthy” to a means of grace for growth obviously cannot mean that the participant is personally worthy by merit to partake of the table. If someone could be deemed personally worthy of the promised blessings of the communion intimacy with the thrice-Holy Triune God of Glory, then they would not be in need of either grace or spiritual growth. Clearly the exhortation by Paul does not mean that the person is worthy by merit. Rather, what Paul means is that their “manner” of preparation for participation is to be “worthy”. So in coming to the Lord’s Supper as a sinner saved by grace desiring to grow in grace the question is more fundamentally how should I prepare “in a manner worthy? I suggest: Stop, Look, and Listen.
Stop—Before the Lord’s Supper stop. Spend time in God’s Word and prayer. Reading the Psalms or I Cor. 11:17-34 in particular, along with numerous other texts, would be helpful to pray over and through in preparation. But don’t “stop” there. Also stop and reflect on the Love of Christ displayed on the cross and revealed in His Word. Then stop and examine your life, rejoicing in the victories and persistence of God’s saving grace in your life. Stop and examine your heart and life and, as we see our sins, confess them with specificity knowing that “if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness”. Then, by God’s grace, stop and repent of the sins that would assault our joy, attack our intimacy with the Lord and others, as well as mar our effectiveness and Gospel growth in life and ministry. Then stop and “fix our eyes on Jesus”, the One Who “loves us and has loosed us from our sins”. But don’t stop at stop. Now Look.
Look—but look with focus in five distinct directions, focusing upon worship in “spirit and truth.
- “Look backward” to the cross. Gazing upon the cross we are assured of our salvation through the effective and sufficient atonement of Christ which pays for our sins while providing an impeccable righteousness. At the cross the door of hell is shut for the believer—“there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” and with His righteousness the door of heaven has been opened wide to receive us into His presence.
- ”Look inward” and examine yourself. Because we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, we can be honest and identify our sins and then confess them with repentance instead of conceal them. Looking inward then directs us to embrace the Lord’s Supper as an asset in putting off the old man and putting on the new man now.
- This then allows us to “look upward”. We can look upward with boundless confidence in the efficacy and sufficiency of the cross of Christ, with honesty confessing our sins. We are propelled to give praise with our brothers and sisters in worship to the Lord of Glory for His grace.
- Fourthly we can then “look outward.” If we “look outward” we will see our brothers and sisters as we “wait for one another” while “coming together” for the Lord’s Supper. We can leave the table, fully purposed to renew relationships and intentionally reconcile with one another wherever necessary for Christ’s sake.
- Finally “look forward” to the coming of Christ. This supper is needed until our Savior returns. It exists in order to declare the Gospel until that Day—“you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” The Lord’s Table portrays the Gospel assisting us as we come to Christ and seek to live for Christ by faith. Yet one more thing remains…
Listen—Listen to the Lord in your heart as He speaks by His Word to equip, connect, console, encourage and compel you to follow Him. Listen to Him who “first loved you” and continues to love you and has “loosed” you from your sins. By His triumphant grace you have been brought from sin to salvation—from death to life—Listen to Him. Then rise from His Table and proclaim the Gospel to the world in word and deed—Jesus Saves.
When you come together… come in a manner worthy of the Lord… that you come together for the better and not for the worse. (I Cor. 11ff) Stop – Look – Listen