God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 10:17 One loaf
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, March 15, 2023
17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
To show the unity of those who commune with one another, Paul draws an elegant example directly from the Supper itself. We are many, and yet we are one body, and we eat the one loaf just as we drink the wine together. Our Lord Jesus Christ wanted to give us his body and blood under the form of things that are themselves illustrations of this. The nature of bread is that it is made up of many grains of wheat made all into one lump of dough that is baked together. One can see the individual kernels or grains before they enter in, but once they have been joined, they become part of the whole, demonstrating that “we, who are many, are one.” In the very same way our Lord gave us wine to drink even though water was also undoubtedly served at the Passover, as was a dish of stewed fruit as a kind of dipping sauce (Mark 14:20). Wine is made from many grapes, and their juice is mixed together into one drink even though none of the original grapes can be discerned in the mixture. This is what the church should be like, and this was Christ’s intention, “that Christendom should be one, without sects, that all may be one, of one heart, mind, and will, just as faith, the gospel, and baptism are one (Ephesians 4:5)” (Luther, The Sacrament—Against the Fanatics LW 36:353).
Sadly, the one loaf today is too often at odds with or in disagreement with itself, so to speak. The many who should be one are not one. But this is taught and defended elsewhere.
In this passage, we do not have a reference to a spiritual partaking of the bread, or representational, but rather a physical partaking, because “we all partake of the one loaf.” This cannot mean that the loaf represents anything, because we would not all participate in that representation. If I read Aesop’s Fables, or Orwell’s Animal Farm, what the author intended as a representation might not be caught by me, the reader, or by someone I’m reading to, and we would not have a shared experience in the same thing.
Those who teach that the bread and wine represent Christ’s body and blood can’t hold their teaching up in the light of this verse, because like a commonly shared church building, or street, or water tower, or highway, it is something we all have a share in and enjoy together. It is a physical sharing that we have in common. Now, some will have this for their benefit and for the forgiveness of their sins. It is our desire and our prayer that this will be the sharing, the communion, that we have when we receive the Lord’s Supper together. But there will be unworthy recipients from time to time. We don’t want them to do this, to take the body of Christ for the wrong reason, but it is indeed the body of Christ that they receive. In fact, one of the ways to root out a heretical church’s doctrine in the Lord’s Supper is to ask: What would an unbeliever receive if he were to come and receive the Lord’s Supper? Many will say, “Nothing but bread and wine, because they have no faith.” But faith is not required to receive the body and blood of Christ. Only the hand and mouth are required to receive the body and blood, and that is the true answer: the unbeliever receives the true body and blood of Christ, but not for their forgiveness or for their good, but for their judgment (1 Corinthians 11:29). Otherwise we do not all partake of the one loaf. This leads us to want to commune only with those who understand what it is we are receiving and partaking of in the Supper. This is fellowship. We have fellowship with God (1 John 1:3), and with all believers (the invisible church, John 17:20-21). Within the visible church, we express our common faith by confessing that faith. Fellowship is not something that should be up for a vote, but something we recognize in one another and something we rejoice in. When people do not agree in doctrine, they should not practice fellowship together.
But someone will ask, “Why can’t we simply overlook our differences of doctrine, and seek to have a common faith in Jesus? Wouldn’t we then be the church that Jesus truly instituted?” This would contradict what the Scriptures say about doctrine. Have we forgotten that every single phrase of the Apostles’ Creed was carefully formulated and crafted to combat a specific heresy and false teaching? The creed is on the one hand a comforting summary of the basic truths of the Scriptures, but on the other hand it is also a reproach, a scolding schoolteacher’s wagging finger, against error! The prophets likewise stood up against the false teachers of their day (Jeremiah 23:21, 29:8-9; Ezekiel 13:2-7, 22:28; Amos 7:14-17; Zechariah 10:2, and many other places). So did the Apostles in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 11:13; Acts 13:5-11). If we do not continue to point out error and false teaching, we will end up with a church as confused and lost as the Samaritans who didn’t know who or what it was they worshiped (John 4:22). A modern mystic might say (and has said), “Were Christ born a thousand times in Bethlehem, and not in you, you would be eternally lost.” But the simple Christian believer would and must respond: “Were Christ born a thousand times in your heart, but not in Bethlehem, you would be eternally lost.” The fact of our redemption depends on the fact of Christ’s incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection. If these things did not truly happen as the Bible recounts them and as well confess them (for example, “he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried”), then we would be false witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:15). And, Paul proclaims, “Your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Therefore we must refute and deny the claims of false doctrine, and we cannot stand shoulder to shoulder with false teachers and their followers. The whole history of the church has shown that when groups of Christians are forced into fellowship for any reason rather than seeking fellowship based on agreement in the Word of God, the resulting church body will break apart and shatter like broken glass into many smaller splinter groups, because they were not “one loaf.” This splintering is what is happening even today with the ELCA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which for more than thirty years was the largest Lutheran Church body in the United States, but which now is splintering into more and more smaller groups, separate from one another, seeking to find their place in God’s kingdom, and feeling deceived by the false merger that they went through when the ELCA was formed in the 1980s with leadership conferences and video presentations but without preaching or teaching, and without any attention paid to doctrine or true fellowship.
What is it that makes us, who are many, into one loaf? It is Christ, and what he did for us. “Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he himself is the Savior” (Ephesians 5:23). “You were buried with Christ in baptism, and in baptism you were also raised with him through the faith worked by the God who raised Christ from the dead” (Colossians 2:12). Praise God for the fellowship you have with him, and with those who stand or kneel with you to receive his body and blood with the bread and the wine. You receive it for your forgiveness, to strengthen your faith, and to kindle love in our hearts for our loving God, who both commands and invites us to love him with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength.
With you Lord I am now united,
I live in you and you in me.
No sorrow fills my soul; delighted,
It finds its peace on Calvary.
Lord, may your body and your blood
Be for my soul the highest good.
(I Come O Savior, To Your Table)
Pastor Timothy Smith