I want to begin our preparation for the Lord’s Table by reading to you two verses from the middle of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, “‘And will be a Father unto you, and you shall be My sons and daughters,’ saith the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” That’s 2 Corinthians chapter 6, verse 18; chapter 7, verse 1.
Now, what Paul is saying is very simple and is a good setting for the thoughts that we are to attend to this morning in preparation for communion. God is a Father to us; we are His sons and daughters. Since God has granted so much to us, it should be apparent that we ought, in response, to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit and seek holiness in reverence toward God.
Now, this sets our mind in the pattern that I want to think about this morning. Coming to the Lord’s Table means dealing with sin. We come to this Table to celebrate the Lord’s death, and in order to do that in a worthy manner, we must confess our sin, repent of it, turn from it, forsake it, or else we mock the very Table to which we come.
If you’ve been with us for any weeks in the recent months, you know that we’ve been studying Matthew chapter 26, and that chapter has taken us through the final week of our Lord’s life. We’ve studied His arrest, His mock trial, the denial of Peter, and we’re now approaching the very death of Christ on the cross. We have been with Him in the upper room. We were there when He gathered together His disciples for the last authorized Passover. We were there when He dismissed Judas to do what was the most horrible crime in human history: the betrayal of the perfect Son of God.
And in that upper room, it was very obvious, as the disciples were arguing about which of them was the greatest and were utterly indifferent to that which awaited the Lord Jesus Christ, that the heart of the Lord was filled with sorrow. We could sense His sadness there – sadness at the ugly, self-preoccupation of the disciples; sadness at the betrayal of the traitor Judas; sadness as He began to anticipate separation from God and the bearing of sin.
And then we follow the Lord out of that upper room and to the Mount of Olives, and we saw there again His sorrow and His sadness. As He went deep into the garden to pray, and wrestling with temptation coming against His perfect holiness from Satan in three great waves, He came out victorious, but not until He had sweat, as it were, great drops of blood.
And we know that He was in an unbelievable and indescribable and unimaginable anguish in that struggle, which was only intensified by the tragic indifference of His own disciples who, instead of watching and praying along with Him, fell asleep. And again we are confronted with, indeed, the fact that Isaiah said He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
All the sorrow of Jesus and all the grief of Jesus was not confined to the cross by any means. And then we followed Him just to the entrance to the garden where came the mob who arrested Him and tied Him up and carried Him away bound while His disciples forsook Him and fled. And again, we can sense His sadness as He watches Peter’s misguided courage whack off the ear of Malchus – which ear He needed Himself to restore – and then sees the supposedly brave disciples flee for their lives, and He is left alone.
We see Him next in the house of Caiaphas as He is undergoing the three phases of the mock Jewish trial. Finally they accuse Him of blasphemy because He has claimed what is indeed true about Himself, that He is the Christ, the Son of God. And after accusing Him of blasphemy, they then take their fists and beat Him in the face, and their hands and slap Him across the face, and then they spit all over Him. And the grief and the pain and the sorrow and sadness accumulates. It reaches almost, I’m sure, its pinnacle when Peter has denied Him three times, and Jesus meets Peter’s eyes with His own eyes.
So, we have been with the Man of sorrows. We have felt His sadness. We have felt His loneliness. We have entered in, at least in some small way, to His pain and His grief. And all of this is only the beginning. All of this is only anticipatory of the unbelievable grief and agony that He will experience in the atrocity of the crucifixion. And I want you to note one thing in your mind – a very simple truth, but one that I would like to embed somewhere in your thinking so that it never goes away – and that is this: that every bit of this was a result of – what? – sin - sin. All the suffering, and all the grief, and all the sorrow, and all the sadness, and all the pain, and all the loneliness, and all the separation that Jesus Christ endured He endured because of sin. It was sin, in one sense, that killed Jesus Christ. And consequently, no person could come to this Table to celebrate the death of Jesus Christ while at the same time entertaining sin in his or her life. I mean, to put it another way, can we take pleasure in the thing that brought immeasurable pain to the Savior? Can we take pleasure in that? Can we live to enjoy that which took His life, that for which He died? Ludicrous.
So, if ever, in all of our spiritual experience, we have an obligation to confront and face and deal with the sin in our lives, it is here at this Table, lest we perpetrate some monstrous hypocrisy wherein we come to the Table and, in a very ritualistic fashion, go through the routine, not really dealing with sin. And therefore we are offering some kind of halfhearted praise, which must be noxious in the nostrils of God, saying we celebrate the death of Christ, we’re so thankful for the one who died bearing our sin, and at the same time, we celebrate our love of sin. No such incongruity could be tolerated in the mind of God.
And so, as we come to the Lord’s Table, we have to deal with sin. In fact, the apostle Paul said, “You better come in a worthy manner because God is so repulsed by the thought of coming in an unworthy manner while celebrating sin, that He may bring upon you sickness or even death.” For among the Corinthians, because they did come with their sin and mock the Table, some of them were weak, some of them were sick, and some of them were dead. So, it is a serious moment in the life of the worship of the church, and we need to face our sin.
Now, having said that, let me say this. Most of us deal with sin in just a couple of categories. We are prone to look at our lives and say, “Well, I don’t see any major sin there.” We look at the deeds of sin, the major things, the evil committed. And if we do a little inventory, even though it might be cursory, and we don’t see some great evil deed that we have done, we tend to exonerate ourselves and feel that we can come rushing to the Table of the Lord with impunity.
And it may be also that sometimes we might even look at the sins of omission and be honest enough to say that there are not only the sins of the things we do, but there are the sins of the things we do not do. “To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, it is sin.”
And so, we may run a little inventory on our lives and say, “Well, yes, maybe I didn’t do that as I ought, and maybe I didn’t do that as I ought,” and if we can get through that little test and feel pretty good about ourselves, we feel exonerated again.
But perhaps to help us to do the kind of inventory that we ought to do - assuming that we have at least looked through the deeds of sin and confessed them, we have looked through, to some extent, the things we fail to do and know we failed to do them and confess them – I want us to look at two areas briefly, as preparation for the Lord’s Table, that I think we often overlook. The first one is sinning in our thoughts, the sins of our thought life. There needs to be an inventory in this area as well.
You see, many of us will not be evil doers on the outside. And many of us are pressed to do the things we ought to do. So, we tend not to commit sins of over commission, and we tend not to commit sins of omission because there’s a certain peer pressure, and a certain expectation, and a certain reputation that we want to maintain. And we might even not only fear the reprisals of the church, we might fear the invasion of friends who know us, who come to try to straighten us out, but we might even fear God’s chastening. And so, we eliminate the overt sins and the ones that are visible to others.
But there are many people who will not do evil deeds, who are boldly evil in their thoughts, and only God knows it. I mean these are the people who look after a woman to lust after her in their hearts – Matthew 5:28 – and commit adultery in their heart.
You remember what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 9 and verses 3 to 5, “Certain of the scribes said within themselves, ‘This man blasphemes.’” They were accusing Jesus of blasphemy because He forgave sin, which only God could do. “And Jesus, knowing their thoughts” – boy, what a statement; you ought to underline that in your Bible – “Jesus, knowing their thoughts” – He knows your thoughts; He knows my thoughts – “said, ‘Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?’”
The heart can imagine. The heart can entertain itself with all kinds of evil. Proverbs 24:9 says, “Any foolish thought is sin.” Any thought that is not God-honoring, Christ-exalting, representative of obedience to the Word of God is sin. And in Deuteronomy 15:9, God lays down a very basic principle, “Beware that there be not a wicked thought in thy heart” – beware that there be not a wicked thought in thy heart. You remember – don’t you? – Proverbs 23:7 that says, “As a man thinketh in his heart” – what? – “so is he.”
So, “Jesus said, ‘Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?’” You see, all evil deeds are a result of – what? – evil thoughts. And that’s why the heart is the first line of defense.
Back in Matthew, do you remember our study of chapter 15? In chapter 15 of Matthew, and verse 19, it says, “Out of the heart proceeds evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” These are the things which defile a man. It’s out of the heart that all the evil comes. It begins there, sin does, and proceeds to defile.
Now, that’s why Job said he made a covenant with himself not to think lustfully, Job 31:1. And that’s why Proverbs 4:23 gives us the bottom line in all practical Christian living, and that is, “Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” And the heart is seen as the seat of thought. So, we, then, must examine our thought life if we are to deal with sin because sin is conceived in thinking, and because you didn’t do it doesn’t mean you didn’t sin. The thought of evil is sin.
Now, let me suggest, just as a footnote, that it is possible to think of evil in a good way.
You say, “How?”
You’re thinking about the evil in your life, and the good part of it is you’re seeking to confess it, repent from it, turn from it, and forsake it. Right? So that when you come to a point of confession, like this morning approaching the Lord’s Table, you do need to think of evil. You need to approach the evil in your life, see it for what it is, call on God to wash your heart. So, it is possible to think of the evil of your heart with good intent. The sin is thinking upon evil with evil intent. And I think there’s an absolutely graphic illustration of it in Job chapter 20, verses 12 and 13, where Job pictures how it is that a man savors evil in his heart. He talks about holding wickedness in the heart, like some delicacy tucked under the tongue and left to sit in the mouth and have from it extracted all of its flavor. And it’s the picture of someone in their thought life who is in the midst of some sinful thoughts, meditating on those sinful thoughts, cultivating those sinful thoughts, letting them settle in the mind, and out of them extracting all of the unsavory flavor that can be received.
People sin grievously before God when they please their thought life with sins. And there are at least three ways to do this – three obvious ways. The first one is the past. There are some people who sin in their thought life by bringing back past sins and luridly re-experiencing those sins in the present.
I’ve had occasion many times to baptize a person who is a former homosexual, transformed by the Lord Jesus Christ, and I have often asked them the same question, “What’s the most difficult thing about the transition?” The answer seems to me to be most often the same: the most difficult part of it is living as a homosexual, you have entertained yourself with so many vile kinds of sexual relationships and activities which have embedded themselves in your brain, that even though you are transformed as a Christian, Satan brings back the memory of those things, with all their lurid ugliness, and tries to cycle them back through your mind and re-indulge your senses in the very vice that you first entertained physically. And there are some people who cultivate that.
I’ve talked to young couples who lived a life of fornication before they came to Christ. They came to Christ; they were married. And now, in their new marriage, they find it very difficult to be singly devoted to each other because they’re having constant thoughts about all of the illicit, unbiblical, ungodly fornication kind of relationships that they had before they knew the Lord. And Satan will take all the garbage out of your past and try to drag it back through your mind so that you re-entertain yourself with it. You see, that’s why I’ve said, through the years, that it is such a tragic thing to expose people to evil visually. That’s why television and movies can be such an absolutely devastating thing because the pictures that are planted on the mind by those images are retained in the mind, and the capability of Satan then is to drag all that garbage back through the mind of someone, and they re-entertain the sins of the past.
There are some people who sin in their minds by acting out again and again the past. And it isn’t necessarily only in a – in the moral area, in the sexual area; there could be a myriad of things. Some people relish the time they got angry and poured out vengeance on someone. The time they gave someone what they thought that someone was due. Some people relish the time they lied and got away with it. It can be all things.
There’s a second way in which the mind can sin, and that is not the past but the future. There are those people who sin in their minds in the fantasy of the things they long to commit, the things they long to do, who fantasize about an illicit relationship, who fantasize about a robbery in which they’ll become wealthy, who fantasize how they’re going to eliminate somebody who’s in their path on the road to success, who fantasize about what they’d like if they had it the way they wanted it. And so, they sin, in a sense, by creating an unreal future and living in a fantasy of sin.
And then there’s the present sense. There are some people who sin in their minds by just in the present planning, contriving, strategizing, plotting the sins they want to do immediately. The sins of the thoughts have to be dealt with before you can come to the Lord’s Table.
You say, “Well, are they really that disastrous?”
Yes, Matthew 15 says they defile the man. They defile you. Proverbs 15:26 says, “The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord.” They not only defile you, but they are an abomination to God. And that’s why Jeremiah said, in chapter 4, “O Jerusalem,” he said – he called out to the people of God; he said, “wash your heart. Wash your heart from wickedness.” And then he said, “How long are you going to fill your minds with empty thoughts?” It has to be washed.
James 1:15 says, “Lust, when it conceives, brings forth” – what? – “sin. Sin, when it conceives, brings forth death” – what? – “death.” And that’s why David cried out to God for God to help him at the very frontline of defense. When David was caught in the terrible sin of immorality and murder, David cried out and said this – not create in me a clean body, not clean up my act, but – “Create in me” – what? – “a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.”
You see, Ralph Venning, in 1669 said – and it’s such a beautiful statement – “The heart is the inn where lodge all the thieves and traveling lusts that are in the world.”
And so, God says, “I hate every empty thought” – Psalm 119:113. David said, “Cleanse Thou me from secret sins.”
Isaiah said, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thought, and let him return to the Lord.”
Now, let me tell you something. The real difference between a sincere, Spirit-controlled, devoted, godly, obedient Christian and a disobedient, fleshly Christian is one thing: thought life. That’s the difference; that’s the bottom line. I mean they may both, on the outside, be doing the same thing; the difference is the thought life. It isn’t necessarily what you do; it is what you think that really indicates what you are, “For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” And by the way, God knows that. That is why it says, in Hebrews chapter 4, verses 12 and 13, that, “The Word of God is a two-edged sword, dividing into the soul and spirit, to the intents of the heart, to the thoughts of the heart.” And it tells us in 1 Corinthians 4:5 that someday God is going to open up, as it were, the heart of man and do some spiritual surgery and reveal the thoughts and intents of the heart.
And Psalm 139 – I think it’s verse 2 – you remember? – the psalm says, “He knows our thoughts afar off.” Even before we can do a deed, He knows our thought. Proverbs 30, the writer says, “If you have thought evil, put your hand on your mouth.” In other words, don’t let it out. Take the posture of shame.
You say, “Well, John, how do I deal with this problem?” Well, let me tell you: confess it. If you have sins in your thought life, confess them. Sins of immorality, sins of anger towards someone, sins of vengeance, sins of a bitterness towards someone else – all inside of you. Sins of unforgiveness, sins of plotting evil against someone, sins of lusting after material things, whatever. Confess them, repent, and ask forgiveness. If we confess, He’s faithful and just to forgive and keep on cleansing.
Secondly, start to feed on the Word. Feed on the Word. “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not” – what? – “sin.” You keep pouring the Word in, and it insulates the heart. It strengthens the heart. It occupies the heart.
Thirdly, avoid the evil attractions. Don’t expose yourself. Second Timothy 2:16, Paul said, “Avoid profane and vain babbling that only increase unto more ungodliness.” So, you confess, repent, seek forgiveness, begin to feed on the Word, and avoid the evil attraction and cultivate the love of God. Cultivate the love of God.
David said, in Psalm 119:97, “O how I love Thy law!” And then four verses later he said, “I have restrained my fee from evil.” I love Your law, so I hate sin. “Set your affections on things above and not on things on the Earth” – Colossians 3 says. And remember what it says in Matthew 6:21? “You better do that, because wherever your treasure is, that’s” – what? – “where your heart’s going to be.” So, put your thoughts on God, your affections on God. Set your love on Him.
We must deal with the thought life, because that’s the mark of your character. It isn’t what you do, it’s how you think. And I may not know it, and the people around you may not know it, but who knows it? God knows it. And if you come to this Table and haven’t dealt with it, He knows that, and you mock His Table. And that’s an unworthy approach that can bring, to the one who comes on those terms, chastening.
There’s a second category, just to mention very briefly, and that’s not sins in thought but sins in word – sins in word. You know, the sinners always say - as its recorded in Psalm 12, the sinner always say, “Our lips are our own. Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?” In other words, “We’ll say whatever we want to say.” And you remember Job? He kind of had that attitude in chapter 13. He said, “Let me alone that I may speak and come what may.” Come what will. That’s the attitude of the sinner: his mouth is his own; he’ll say just exactly whatever he pleases to say. But Proverbs 21:23 says, “Whoever guards his mouth and guards his tongue, keeps his soul from troubles.” And Psalm 34 – do you remember that? It’s a familiar one, because it’s repeated later on in 1 Peter 3:10 in very similar words. But Psalm 34, in verse 13, “Keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips from speaking deceit.” And you remember, of course, Ephesians chapter 4, which is a very familiar passage that deals with the tongue – Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but only that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers.” Anything that comes out of your mouth ought to minister grace; it ought to build people up; it ought to be that which honors God. He says in the next verse, “And grieve not the Holy Spirit so no bitterness, no wrath, no anger, no clamor, no evil speaking should ever come out of your mouth.”
And then in chapter 5, “Neither filthiness, nor foolish talk, nor jesting which isn’t fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” So, we are called to have a mouth that is clean. In fact, in Psalm 39, David was so afraid of his mouth, he said he put a bridle on his mouth to control it.
In James, that very familiar passage that all of us know about, the tongue is so powerful – James 3, it says, “In many things we all stumble. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man.” None of us is perfect, so we’re going to offend with our mouth. And then he goes on talking about, “We put a bit in the horse’s mouths that they may obey us; we turn their body with it. Ships have a rudder, and we guide them by it. And the tongue is similar. With a little bit, you can guide a big horse; with a little rudder, you can guide a big ship; and with a little tongue, you can control a whole body.” In fact, more than that, he says, “The tongue is a fire; it is a world of iniquity. So is the tongue among our members that it defiles the whole body; it sets on fire the course of nature and is set on fire of hell.” Now, that’s pretty strong language. The tongue can do more damage than any other part of the human anatomy. The mouth can be more devastating than any other part of human physical form. So, you have to deal with that.
James also, in chapter 1 – I think it’s verse 26 – “If a man among you seems to be religious, and bridles not his tongue, but deceives his own heart, the man’s religion is nothing.” If you say you’re religious, and you haven’t gotten control of your mouth, you’re religion is nothing. It’s nothing. We have to deal with that.
You know, one of the most beautiful images in all the Bible is the image that you find in the Psalms, and it is this: David said, in Psalm 57, verse 8, “Awake, my glory!” Awake, my glory. Do you know what he was referring to? Do you know what his glory was? His glory was his mouth, his tongue. That was his glory. The tongue and the mouth of a human being is either the glory or the shame of that person. For it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth – what? – speaks.
So, the mouth will either be the shame of a person or the glory of that person. In other words, it’ll be the point of shame or it’ll be the point of honor. We know this from Psalm 69. Because in Psalm 69, it says, “My glory rejoices.” And the Septuagint translates that same verse, “My tongue was glad.” And so in Acts 2:26.
So your mouth should be the part of your honor and the point of God’s honor, and the point of glory for Him. And if it isn’t and hasn’t been, then you need to deal with that.
You say, “How do you deal with the sins of the mouth?”
Confess them specifically. Repent of them. Fill your mouth with the Word. And let me suggest another thing that I’ve lived through the years is be of few words. Now, I’m not talking about the length of sermons, obviously. It’s different when you’re speaking the Word of God. But when you’re speaking for yourself, be of few words. The less you say, the less likely you are to say bad things. In fact, in Proverbs 10:19, it says, “He that restrains his lips is wise.” Learn to keep your mouth shut.
James 1 says, “You need to learn to be swift to hear, and slow to” – what? – “speak.” You see, the heart of the wise teaches his mouth. So, if we’re going to deal with the sins of the mouth, we confess; we repent; we fill ourselves with the Word so that out of our mouth will come the Word; we limit the amount of speaking we do. And when we speak, we teach our mouth from a wise heart.
And another thing that you see illustrated in Scripture is to pray – is to pray that God, by His Spirit, will help you control your mouth. The psalmist in Psalm 19 says, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my” – what? – “heart be acceptable unto Thee.” You need to ask God to help you.
“O Lord,” says David in Psalm 51, “O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will show forth Thy praise.” “Let my mouth be filled with Thy praise and Thy honor all day long,” says Psalm 71:8. “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips. Incline not my heart to evil things.” Notice how the mouth and the heart are always connected? It’s what’s inside that’s going to come out.
Beloved, if you came to the Lord’s Table today, you need to do some spiritual inventory. You need to look over your life and see if there are any acts of sin that you have done; those need to be brought to the Savior for cleansing. Any things you should have done and didn’t do? They need to be brought as well. But then these areas as well, you need to do a little inventory on your thought life. What’s it been like? And what has your mouth been like? Has it spoken that which builds up and edifies, or has it been characterized by bitterness, clamor, evil speaking, gossip, filthiness, empty talk. These are the sins that must come before the Lord if we are to come to His Table in a worthy matter.
Our Father, we come to you as a merciful Lord and ask that you would pardon our sins – sins of omission and commission. Sins of temper. Sins of word, of hardheartedness, of unbelief, presumption, pride. Sins of unfaithfulness to the needs of those around us. Sins of lacking decisiveness in the cause of Christ, of bringing dishonor on Thy holy name. Sins of deception and injustice and untruthfulness and hypocrisy, of impure thoughts and words, of covetousness. Sins of hankering for the things of the world, of selfish hoarding of our resources. The sin of not being fully committed to Thy glory. Sins in our personal lives that no one knows. Sins in the family that only a few know. Sins that many know. Sins in the study of Thy Word without diligence, and in the neglect of it altogether. Sins in lack of prayer and prayer irreverently offered, in wasted time, in opening our heart to the temptations of Satan and ignoring the Word of God and being disobedient in quenching the Spirit. Sins against knowledge, against the restraint of the Spirit, against love.
Father, pardon all our sins, known and unknown, felt and unfelt, confessed and unconfessed, remembered and forgotten, and wash our hearts and our mouths and our bodies with the water of the Word that we might be clean, that we might come to this Table to glory in the cross with clean hands and a pure heart. We cannot do it on our own, Lord, you must do it. We ask for that.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.