Sharing His Experiences
Communion in Jesus’ Sacrifice
Is not the cup of blessing that we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread that we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all share the one bread.—1 Corinthians 10:16,17, Net Bible
An initial reading of these words about the cup and bread might raise some ..questions. How can we, as imperfect fleshly beings, even conceive of being able to share in the perfect work and experiences of our Lord? The implication of participating in Jesus’ sacrifice can seem almost to denigrate the merit of that sacrifice. To understand what it means to participate, we must analyze the words at the core of this text, specifically “sharing” and the closely aligned concept of communion.
It is easy to think of sharing or communion as common union, the mingling of both parts of a union. In human experience this also means contamination of the good with the bad, the pure with the impure. This is why a natural reaction to the word “sharing” in these verses might well generate discomfort. Mixing any imperfect human contribution with the perfect sacrifice of Jesus could only devalue that perfect sacrifice, making it less than perfect. However, Paul was not implying anything like that. The perfect sacrifice which Jesus completed was unique; it is not something he has in common with his followers. However, the fact that Jesus’ sacrifice was perfect does not exclude his followers from seeking to emulate his motivation and devotion while entering into similar experiences. Does God count the imperfect, sacrificial attempts of the body of Christ in any legal sense as required for the redemption of mankind? Of course not. Justice required only one perfect human sacrifice and nothing less. Jesus’ work by itself is complete and sufficient in all aspects as far as God’s justice is concerned.
While the primary purpose of our Lord’s earthly experiences was to the benefit of the world in providing a ransom, a secondary purpose was to open a new and living way for his body members. Not only was Jesus first, he set an example of perfect devotion to the Father, which his body members must strive to emulate. So the life and death of Christ benefit both the world and Christ’s body.
Now we can see what Paul meant when he referred to sharing in Christ’s blood and the breaking of his body. It is a participation in the same type of experience that Jesus had with the expectation of doing as he did, feeling as he felt, learning as he learned, and triumphing as he triumphed. He was the “loaf” broken on behalf of the world.
This principle was simply stated by Jesus: “Ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also” (John 15:19,20).
A servant is not greater than his master, nor are footstep followers greater than their leader. The experiences that developed Jesus as a new creature will similarly develop us, if we but submit to them and learn the lessons they are meant to teach us. Every year at the memorial of his death we recognize what he did in providing the redemption for the world of mankind and giving us a basis for our hope. The common participation is realized in our desire to “be dead with him,” that we may also “live with him” and to “suffer” with him, that we may also “reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:11,12).
“We are not putting the symbols instead of the reality; nothing surely could be further from our Lord’s intention, nor further from propriety on our part. The heart-communion with him, the heart-feeding upon him, the heart-communion with the fellow-members of the body, and the heart-realization of the meaning of our covenant of sacrifice, is the real communion, which, if we are faithful, we will carry out day by day throughout the year—being daily broken with our Lord, and continually feeding upon his merit, growing strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.”—Studies in the Scriptures, vol. 6, p. 466.
Defining what the common participation in the loaf and cup means is easy; the practical implementation of it is hard. During the nearly two thousand years that have passed since Jesus’ first advent, many things have changed: governments, standard of living, the number of religions, the view about the value of religion, and life expectancy to name a few. The historically-recent increase in knowledge has, for the most part, negatively impacted man’s desire to look to religion for moral guidance. How practical is it for us to look in detail at Jesus’ experiences for common participation today?
It is practical, and there are two ways to do it. We might look at individual experiences of both Jesus and the early church, as well as the recorded events in the Scriptures, to identify the underlying principle in each, then seek to incorporate those principles in our own lives.
A second way is to work backward from our own experiences, evaluating what we are doing in each experience, and then find Scriptural examples describing similar circumstances. For instance, we may be treated badly at our job or by the world in everyday situations. The usual human reaction is to assert one’s self and show that what was done is wrong. The “old man” may even plot ways to “get even.” Yet no one was treated worse or more unjustly than our Lord on the day of his crucifixion. He demonstrated his noble character by using mostly silence, or a few well-chosen words.
Whether we first look at the experiences recorded in the Bible, or look at our own experiences and try to find similar ones in Scripture, the new creature benefits. The former method helps prepare us for future experiences we may have. Assimilating broad Scripturally-based principles in our minds makes future decisions more automatic and in tune with what the Lord would have us do. It also encourages our mind to analyze Scripture to a greater depth, seeking to go below mere surface meaning.
Looking at Scripture when we have new experiences provides us with both positive and negative feedback concerning our progress in participating in Jesus’ experiences. However, any experience provides little value if it is not conscientiously analyzed and the lessons from it applied to future decisions. Analyzing personal motivation in a past decision will usually have more effect on our character development and it will help us redirect that motivation to be more helpful in future situations.
Righting a Wrong Course
Why do we sometimes choose the wrong course? Certainly we do not want to displease the Lord. However, the old man, the flesh, occasionally may have victories over the new creature. The notion of common participation can teach us to learn from our failures and what to do to reinforce the desires of the new creature in its battle with the old. We know that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). This assurance should be enough to give victory to the new mind. When we analyze a failure, we may find we chose the path of least resistance (the least suffering) when a different path would have been more beneficial to the new creature.
Our participation in the sufferings of Christ is a great responsibility. The body members all through this age have been Christ’s representatives. Imperfect though we may be, as we participate in the same type of experiences he had, our reactions to them become a witness to the world. Although we often come short of the standard he set for us, we should not be discouraged by occasional failure at having others appreciate Christ through us. The world will not value the triumphs of the new mind of Christ’s body members now, but they will in the kingdom appreciate what has been done for them as they reflect upon the examples of his body members’ common participation.
The most faithful of Christ’s body do closely mirror the character of Christ and demonstrate “what Jesus would have done” in similar circumstances. What a goal and privilege it is for each prospective member to do the same! So many of us are rightly concerned with properly representing our employer when we meet with others. We should have even more of the same concern, the same attention to detail, to properly represent our master in our day-to-day lives. Each day can be looked at as another opportunity to represent our Lord to those in the world in ways they may have never considered.
The Christian way may, at times, seem long and hard. The flesh may complain about the difficulty and forcefully argue that it cannot be done. Yet we know the experience is being overruled to not hurt or discourage us. The narrow way is required for those who would aspire to be like Christ, to be a part of his body. What is more natural than for him to want what is best for us, to want what will make us pleasing and honored by the heavenly Father? The more we see the loaf and cup as what unites us with our Lord, the more attractive it will be for us to participate in it, not because it is required, but because he did it. We want more than anything to be like him, not just in nature but in character.
We have the experiences we do because servants are not above their master. But the master-servant relationship may not be the best to illustrate the concept of common participation. Friends are more likely to have common experiences than masters and servants. Jesus is our elder brother and king, yet we may gain more determination to be like him if we consider our relationship with him as that of a friend. Usually we can admit to a true friend what we can’t confess to anyone else. We can work together with a friend. How encouraging it should be to each of us that Jesus does not say, “I did this, but you must do something different to reach the same goal.” No, he says we are brothers and friends and do the same things, commonly participate in similar experiences, knowing that eventually we will be glorified together as one head and body. As he said to those closest to him, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:14).
May we each look to this common participation as a joy and privilege. May we make our characters a true reflection of his.