Love Feasts as the Center of the Church Life
[This message was transcribed and edited from a conference given by Chuck Debelak in Detroit, Michigan, in October 2000. Mr. Debelak has not reviewed this document in its edited form.]
Continued from "Setting Ourselves to Minister to the Saints"
II. The meal of the saints, the "love feast" became the center of the church life in the home where hearts could be comforted, and spiritual and practical needs could be met through the functioning of the members of the Body of Christ. - 1 Corinthians 11:21-34; Jude 12a; Romans 12:4-8; cf. Romans 12:9-21.
Paul talks about the Lord's supper in 1 Corinthians 11:21-34, but it is not easy to tell whether he is talking about the Lord's supper or just plain supper. He says, "For in your eating, each one takes his own supper first." So, the Chinese ate Chinese food, the Polish ate their sausage, the Italians had pasta. "And one is hungry and the other is drunk." So they are not paying any attention to the saints. They were eating any way they wanted. 22 "Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and put those to shame who have not? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you?" In this I do not praise you." In other words, they were eating indiscriminately; not thinking about others.
"For I received from the Lord that which also I delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread." Now, Paul is beginning to talk about the Lord's supper. He didn't say, "When we ate with the Lord or when the early disciples ate with the Lord, the Italians ate some of the Chinese food, and so did the Irish. So you guys are wrong. He changes their whole manner of eating together and begins to talk about the Lord's supper. 24 "And having given thanks, He broke it and said, This is My body, which is given for you; this do unto the remembrance of Me. 25 Similarly also the cup after they had dined, saying, This cup is the new covenant established in My blood; this do, as often as you drink it, unto the remembrance of Me. 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you declare the Lord's death until He comes. 27 So then whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord." When did they eat and drink of the body and blood of the Lord unworthily according to this context? They ate unworthily when they ate their own food without regard to others. Is Paul rebuking them about the Lord's supper or they own eating? Actually, to Paul, their eating and the Lord's supper were joined together. When they partook of the Lord's Table to remember the Lord, this was equal to how they treated one another in their regular eating. He rebuked them for their improper eating and this became a rebuke for their improper participation in the Lord's Table.
"28 But let a man prove himself, and in this way let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not discern the body." When did they not discern the body? When they ate their own supper, during the love feast. 30 "Because of this many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we discerned ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But being judged by the Lord, we are disciplined that we may not be condemned with the world. 33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, that you may not come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come." (1 Corinthians 11:21-34) Paul ends with eating again. To Paul, the love feast, their eating together, and the Lord's supper were all joined together. That means that what happens at the Lord's Table: the remembering of the Lord, the remembering of the Body of Christ, and the love for one another, was the same thing as what would happen around the dinner table.
Jude 12a says, "These are the hidden reefs in your love feasts." This word for "love feasts" is just one word in Greek: agape, which means "love." This word "love" became known as a "love feast" because their meal was their time to exercise love for one another. To us, a love feast means a "pot luck dinner" where we get to pick and chose from many entries what we want to eat for our own satisfaction. But to the early church, the love feast meant they were going to "love" one another. They "loved one another" by coming together to eat. It was not a time to merely come together to sample the food and talk to certain ones, but rather a time for them to exercise their care for one another, their interest in one another, and their shepherding of one another, in order to know the real situation among one another. The meal became the center of the church life: we have people over for dinner or the church meets in a few homes. What is the main thing we do? We eat together. But not only to sample one another's cuisine, but we get together to exercise love for one another in human virtues: to listen, to share, to find out the practical needs that we can help one another with. For instance, "My son is having a hard time. Could we pray sometime this week in the morning for him?" Or "I've been having a desire to study the book of Revelation together. Can we study Revelation together?" As you talk to another saint, you discover a marriage problem. "Could you pray with me, I'm having trouble. Could you come visit me?"
As you can see by the Scriptures, the coming together, the eating together, was not just a practice of eating together. That was the time everyone is at rest, everyone is at ease. It is a time when we experience with the saints what we already experience with our own family. One of the best times to shepherd the children is around the dinner table. One of the best times to care for your spouse is to "get rid" of the kids and eat alone with him or her. The same experience around our own dinner table with our own family is expanded to include the church of God! Many things can be generated out of such times. "I was thinking about the matter of preaching the gospel." "Really? Me, too. Let's go out together this week to preach for an hour." The church life becomes like a blossoming garden, which is rooted primarily in love. They came together as in the church in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13) to take an interest in one another and to allow the Lord to teach them how to minister virtues to others.
The Practical Ministering of the Gifts in the Body
Now Romans 12:4-8 becomes so real and practical. For just as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 And having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; 7 Or service, let us be faithful in that service; or he who teaches, in that teaching; 8 Or he who exhorts, in that exhortation; he who gives, in simplicity; he who leads, in diligence; he who shows mercy, in cheerfulness. (Romans 12:4-8)
In this kind of church life, all the functions in the Body of Christ can come out. We eat, and we are exercised to seek, find and display the Lord's leading among only a few, maybe five or ten, around the dinner table. Some of the gifts are teaching, some of the gifts are helping. Some of the gifts are exhortation. Some are showing mercy. It is a gift to show mercy. Often, around the dinner table some come who desperately need mercy. They may have sinned really badly or possibly have been backslidden for a period of time. They finally came to a love feast and while they are there, we make them feel like there is not a thing wrong in the world. This is to minister mercy to them. In large meetings, it is hard to minister many gifts other than teaching or prophesying, speaking the Word of God. But little gifts like hospitality is mentioned in Romans 12. Service is also mentioned in relation to doing good works. All the opportunities for the different kinds of grace to be ministered, and all the different kinds of gifts God would give the members took place originally with all the members in their love feast in their homes.
This fellowship is to show that the family is the unit of God's salvation. As I am learning to know Christ in my marriage and as I am learning to know Christ with my children, God's presence floods our home. To open up our home is not a matter of being a teacher or a scholar. We don't need to be so-called constituted with the truth. We only need to be a Christ-seeker who is "set" to minister to the saints. God will add to the church. If we were God wouldn't we bring people into such an atmosphere? If we had wounded sons and daughters, spiritually speaking, wouldn't you want to bring them to a place where there would be a ministry of the grace of God through human virtues? I believe God is just waiting for places like this.
Valuing Yourself and Others According to Christ
Our experience with our spouses and our children is our training ground. Then we open our home so our home can be used of the Lord to minister to the saints. We may not know our own particular spiritual gift, but this kind of church life will manifest it spontaneously. Unfortunately, we often are overly particular in looking for "good material" to work with. "Oh, that brother isn't too promising." So we don't invest our time, our resources, to love that one. We consciously or subconsciously pursue certain ones and thus by default exclude others whom the Lord may have placed in our lives to receive our care. This usually angers the Lord because in 1 Corinthians 1, He speaks of the so-called lowborn shaming the so-called well-born (vv. 26-28). Saints, we have to see our value in and according to Christ and His word. Our self-evaluation according to our background and upbringing is improper before the Lord. "I had bad parents" or "I had a poor upbringing. My mom did this to me. My dad did that to me." But God would say, "No. I did that! I let it all happen because I wanted you to be just the way you are. And I'm going to use you just the way you are to reach men and women in just the way they are."
Without such a view we shame God by implying that He messed up. God will say, "I didn't mess up! I knew all these things before time. I knew how you were going to turn out; I knew all the things you were going to go through; I allowed all those things. Why? so that I would express my glory through YOU. Any other way would only make everyone a spiritual giant or a spiritually great person." But this is not God's plan. He wants to be expressed through the multifarious members of the Body of Christ (Eph. 3:9-12). How? Each one of us must learn to know Him personally. Trainings help but primarily we need to learn to know Him in our normal human life. That is why the family is so important: we experience Him in our married life and with our children. Then we will find that God knows how to use us to reach others, He knows how to make us someone who can minister to other members of the Body of Christ or to those outside of Christ.
Our value before God is determined in Christ and according to Christ. We should not set our own standards in our church life. Brothers and sisters, let's be those who experience Christ and then, open our homes to minister to the saints and to others. The Lord will lead us and supply us bountifully (Phil. 1:19b). There is no greater joy in the whole universe than to "set" our home as a vehicle to minister to others, to make our home a haven for others to see Christ and know Christ in a living way