Strengthened by the Supper (7): The Lord’s Supper Strengthens You to Truly Love  

Let’s say it’s a beautiful day outside and you’re taking a stroll in the park. You study your shadow, and you notice just how much it looks like you. It’s an image of you. It’s connected to you. You start to run, and it follows you. It does what you do. Your shadow is affixed to you. Your shadow cannot be detached from you . . . unless you’re Peter Pan.

Keith Mathison uses this helpful illustration in his little book titled The Lord’s Supper to explain the spiritual presence of Christ in the bread and wine of the Supper. Mathison writes:

The signs are the shadows of the heavenly reality, but the shadows are tied to the reality in the same way that the shadow of an object is inseparably tied to the object that casts the shadow. [1]

Are you following the analogy? The bread and wine of the Supper are signs and seals, distinct from the reality of Christ and the benefits of redemption, but also inseparably connected to Christ and the benefits of his redemption like a shadow is inseparably connected to you on a beautiful day. Mathison continues:

There is, then, a connection between what is found on earth during the observance of the sacrament and what is found in heaven. When a Christian partakes in faith of the bread and wine on earth, he partakes of the body and blood of Christ in the heavenly dimension. [2]

This is certainly a mystery, and this is what Westminster Larger Catechism 163 explains. It says:

What are the parts of a Sacrament? The parts of a Sacrament are two: the one, an outward and sensible sign used according to Christ’s own appointment; the other, an inward and spiritual grace thereby signified. [3]

So, like your shadow in the park, the bread and wine of the Supper are things you see with your eyes that are inseparably connected with an “inward and spiritual grace.” The shadow of the bread and wine are pictures of the grace you receive from Christ by faith. The physical is inseparably connected with the spiritual in the Lord’s Supper. So there is something spiritual that we receive from Christ when we receive the Supper he serves us.

We’ll pick up where we left off in Belgic Confession Article 35, and we’ll finish it today. Article 35 continues:

Moreover, though the sacraments and the thing signified are joined together, not all receive both of them. The wicked person certainly takes the sacrament, to his condemnation, but does not receive the truth of the sacrament, just as Judas and Simon the Sorcerer both indeed received the sacrament, but not Christ, who was signified by it. He is communicated only to believers. [4]

So, though the sign and seal are inseparably connected from the reality, not everyone who eats and drinks receives the reality or the benefits of the gospel. See, a person must eat and drink by true faith (HC 21) to receive the benefits of Christ. No faith, no benefit.

Understand what happens when an unbeliever or hypocrite consumes the Supper. That person consumes bread and wine but not God’s grace. Instead, they consume God’s just condemnation. They receive the sign and seal, but they do not receive Christ. Christ is given for the nourishment and refreshment of believers and not anyone else. This is why your minister and elders should never knowingly serve the Lord’s Supper to unbelievers and people who confess Christ but refuse to repent of their sins.

With God’s righteous judgment in mind, you can understand why Paul wrote what he did to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 11. Ministers and elders have a responsibility before God regarding who they serve, but the individual receiving the Supper from Christ also has a responsibility. All participants with Christ at his table must examine themselves and rightly judge themselves or else they will welcome God’s judgment. The Belgic continues:   

Finally, with humility and reverence we receive the holy sacrament in the gathering of God’s people, as we engage together, with thanksgiving, in a holy remembrance of the death of Christ our Savior, and as we thus confess our faith and Christian religion. Therefore no one should come to this table without examining himself carefully, lest “by eating this bread and drinking this cup he eat and drink to his own judgment.” [5]

Note several things there. These are really good things to think about. First, we must receive the sacrament “with humility and reverence.” That’s the right spirit. Second, we receive the sacrament “in the gathering of God’s people.” It’s not an individual meal. It’s a communal, corporate, and family meal. For a person to eat and drink alone at home or for a bride and groom to eat and drink together at their wedding when everyone else watches contradicts the very nature and significance of the Supper. Third, we engage in the Supper together “with thankfulness” to God. Fourth, we eat and drink to remember the death of Christ our Savior. Fifth, we engage in the Supper to “confess our faith and Christian religion.” This is why ministers and elders need to know a little something about what people believe and confess before they serve them the Supper. This is also one reason church membership is essential. We confess the Christian faith in community with the body of Christ. We need to believe and confess in community with accountability from other believers. It’s a protection. Sixth, we should not come to Christ’s table without examining ourselves carefully as Paul instructs. Each of these six things is worthy of careful reflection.

Article 35 concludes:     

In short, by the use of this holy sacrament we are moved to a fervent love of God and our neighbors. Therefore we reject as desecrations of the sacraments all the muddled ideas and damnable inventions that men have added and mixed in with them. And we say that we should be content with the procedure that Christ and the apostles have taught us and speak of these things as they have spoken of them. [6]

Please don’t miss that one sentence. It’s really important. “In short, by the use of this holy sacrament we are moved to a fervent love of God and our neighbors.” Bam. There it is. This is where the memorial view of the Lord’s Supper falls drastically short. In the memorial view, all that’s happening is our remembering. Christ is doing nothing for us. The Reformed view is much more faithful to Scripture. Christ is doing something for us in the Supper as we participate and commune with him. What’s he doing? Not only is the Holy Spirit giving us Christ and spiritually nourishing and strengthening our souls with his true body and true blood, but the Spirit is also producing love in us for God and one another. He is further uniting us in love.

Along with consuming God’s Word read and preached in our public assemblies, we consume the Lord’s Supper in order to have the strength to love God and one another. Just as bread and wine are eaten for the strength of your physical body, you must eat and drink the body and blood of Christ spiritually by faith in order to have the soul strength to love God and one another.

Shared experiences tend to bond people together. Go on a trip with someone where you spend a lot of time with them and share various experiences, and you feel more bonded to them. Eating and drinking at the Lord’s Table together as a family is a regular shared experience that unites us more and more to Christ and one another. To neglect the sacraments in the visible church is to cut yourself off from Christ, Christ’s people, and the grace and love Christ intends to give his people. To neglect your local church and the sacraments is spiritually dangerous, so don’t neglect them. Run to your local church to receive the marvelous grace Christ has for you. Receive it and then love. Receive God’s grace in the preached Word and sacraments, and by the Spirit, by the strength Christ gives you, love God and your neighbor, which of course is explained in the Ten Commandments. Grace and peace to you.

[1] The Lord’s Supper by Keith Mathison. © Ligonier Ministries [2019]. Used by permission of Ligonier Ministries. All rights reserved. Found on pg. 18.

[2] Ibid.

[3] The Confessions of Our Faith, Fortress Edition, ed. Rev. Brian W. Kinney (Fortress Book Service & Publishers, 2007), 108.


[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

Quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism are taken from Zacharias Ursinus & Jonathan Shirk, The Heidelberg Catechism (Manheim: Small Town Theologian, 2021).

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

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Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

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