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The Meaning of Communion

This entry is part 35 of 54 in the series

"One Thing Have I Desired"

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It is a confirmation that the Holy Ghost is God’s love and delight, because the saints communion with God consists in their partaking of the Holy Ghost. – Jonathan Edwards

In communing with God, God shares himself with us. His desires become known to us, and our own desires are conformed to his. When two persons commune, they give each other of themselves, and intertwine their loves. Jonathan Edwards saw the communion between the Father and the Son proceeding forth in the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is the delight and joy of Father and Son in one another, then, “it is in our partaking of the same Holy Spirit that our communion with God consists.”1

To be indwelt by the Spirit is to be invited to the communion God enjoys with himself. Communion is coming to know God’s loves, desires, works, purposes, and will, through a mutual indwelling. When you know what God loves, what God does, and what he is like in his nature, then you know him, and the beauty and sufficiency of who he is leads you to ultimate need-love on him and ultimate gift-love in him. In communion, we both learn to love God, and express love for God.

Since communion is what exposes us to God, shaping our desire for him, communion is what we aim for. Communion is what we seek to return to, when it is disturbed. Our goal in the Christian life is simple: to extend the times of communion, and shorten the times of disturbance, so that we approach the goal we will reach in glory: continual communion with God.

Abiding Communion

To understand what communion with God is, we return to Christ’s image: abiding. We are in God’s presence positionally, and communion is the act of faith that enters into that practically. Communion is life lived in a state of continual recognition of God’s revealed beauty, with a corresponding response of ultimate love to him. By continual we don’t mean continuous: non-stop, or uninterrupted. We mean the revelation and response is ongoing, natural, and undisturbed by conflict. As in a relationship with a spouse, some activities are done without the need to speak. They are nevertheless shared in each other’s presence, performed together, and enjoyed with the comfort of being with the beloved. Certain Scriptures suggest that continual communion ought to define us, with motives and actions all being referred to God. First Thessalonians 5:16-18, Colossians 3:17, Proverbs 3:6, and Psalm 1:2 are some of these.

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Epaphras: An Example for Prayer

Some have taken these verses to mean that Christians are to live in a kind of uninterrupted, continuous conversation with God at all times, and should they ever cease, they have sinned. This is not what continual communion refers to. Rather, continual communion is knowing and loving God as we dwell, or abide, in his presence.

In his presence, God’s beauty is revealed to us in two ways: his Word, and his works. These two areas lead to two forms of love for God in communion: loving what God loves, and loving his world for his sake.

His Word is primary and authoritative in its revelation of God. It provides the guide for understanding his works. Here God speaks as mind to mind and person to person. In his Word, we are encountering God face-to-face, as it were. This is why Christians should seek to have a daily time of communing with God over his Word and prayer. Christians should seek every opportunity to gather with other Christians to commune with God over his Word and prayer. No one comes to love God who neglects this communion.

The result of communing with God in this way is that we come to know him. We discover who God truly is, because as Henry Scougal put it, “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.”2 What God loves is the deepest and truest revelation of who he is. We are coming to share in the communion of Father and Son. We see reality as God sees it. We value what he values. We love what he loves. We hate what he hates. His priorities become our priorities. His desires become ours. And flowing out of this is deepened admiration for the beauty of God’s Person.

Some aspects of what God loves will lead to more need-love:

The LORD takes pleasure in those who fear Him, In those who hope in His mercy. (Psa 147:11)

For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation. (Psa 149:4)

Other aspects cause gift-love:

While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” (Mat 17:5)

May the glory of the LORD endure forever; May the LORD rejoice in His works. (Psa 104:31)

Many of God’s loves will provoke both – a sense of wondering delight, and an invitation to depend more fully. Romans 12:2 and Ephesians 4:23 call this knowledge “the renewing of our minds”. The more we know God’s mind by communing with him, the more our hearts are shaped after his image.

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Relevance and Notoriety

However, these times of private worship and corporate worship, as sweet and concentrated as they are, do not make up the bulk of our lives. We still have to leave the house or the church building, and go to school, earn a living, pay bills, buy the necessaries, and live life in community with others. Yet the Bible is very clear that this is exactly when living in God’s presence is supposed to continue, not discontinue. Here we commune with God by not only meditating on the Word we have internalised, but by considering his works and his world. As we do so, we learn to love things and people in the world for God’s sake. “He loves thee too little, who loves anything with Thee, which He loves not for thy sake”, said Augustine.

His works are his acts in history and in the present, and his promised acts for the future. Scripture records the mightiest of these acts. In life we continue to read Providence and see his ways and will in his acts. We are prone to read this wrongly, and only being guided by a humble reliance on the Word can save us from error. His works include his handiwork, his poeima. What he has made reflects him. The created order, including the earth, the physical laws, the animals, and humanity made in the image of God, are all part of the works of God that shout the glory of God (Ps 19:1). We can commune with God as we behold God’s works and love them as reflections of God’s beauty, and love them for God’s sake. Loving them for God’s sake means loving them because they reflect God, and because God has commanded us to love them. In obeying God’s command to love neighbour and the goodness of creation, we are loving for God’s sake.

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The Discipline of Loving God's Beloved

We are to adore God in private and public worship, but we are also to turn our gaze from God himself toward what he has made and done. God is continually on display, and as we live in his world, we can remain in an attitude of communion, even though our gaze has gone from God’s Word to his works, or from loving God directly to loving God through the second commandment. We love God directly when we love his loves as seen in his Word. We love him indirectly when we love his works for his sake.

Whether we love these things or people as some of our many needs (need-love), or as some of the things we delight in for their goodness or beauty (gift-love), God is at the end of the chain of need or delight. This is how we love God’s works for his sake.

C.S. Lewis helps us with this:

“In the same way it is possible to “read” as well as to “have” a pleasure. Or not even “as well as.” The distinction ought to become, and sometimes is, impossible; to receive it and to recognise its divine source are a single experience. This heavenly fruit is instantly redolent of the orchard where it grew. This sweet air whispers of the country from whence it blows. It is a message. We know we are being touched by a finger of that right hand at which there are pleasures for evermore. There need be no question of thanks or praise as a separate event, something done afterwards. To experience the tiny theophany is itself to adore.”3

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David de Bruyn

About David de Bruyn

David de Bruyn pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (M.A.T.) and the University of South Africa (D.Th.). Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.

  1. Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith (WJE Online Vol. 21, Ed. Sang Hyun Lee), 130 . []
  2. The Life of God in the Soul of Man (Ross-shire, U.K.: Christian Focus Publications Ltd., 2005), 70. []
  3. Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (New York, NY: Harcourt, 1963, Mariner Books edition 2012, Kindle e-book), 89. []

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