23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.” (I Corinthians 11:23-32)
The first part of today’s text is probably most familiar to you. It is one of several passages which are found in the Scriptures depicting the institution of the Lord’s Supper, also referred to as Holy Communion.
However, the second portion of today’s text may not be as familiar. Contained in vs. 27-32 are warnings of not partaking the bread and the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner. The word unworthy (ἀναξίως; anaxios) means improper or doing something that should not happen. Those who do so, will be deserving of a penalty because of their disrespect of the elements of the Lord’s Supper.
How should the Lord’s Supper be taken then? I Corinthians 11:28 says, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” To examine means to test the genuine of one’s faith and commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. It means to take notice of any area of one’s life and behavior which is not in keeping with holiness or being separate from sin. It means to repent and confess of said sin prior to taking the bread and drinking from the cup.
The importance of examining oneself prior to taking the Lord’s Supper is described in vs. 29-30. “29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”
The word discerning (διακρίνων; diakrinon) means to evaluate and judge carefully. There were those within the church body who were not doing so. The result was that God judged them. Many became weak, sick, ill and some had even died.
Dr. John Walvoord explains that, “The Corinthians’ despicable behavior at the communal meal was not without result, which Paul proceeded to point out. Nowadays when this passage is read before participation in the Lord’s Supper, it is usually intended to produce soul-searching introspection and silent confession to Christ so that no one will sin against the spiritual presence of the Lord by irreverent observance. Paul’s application was probably more concrete. No doubt his experience on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:4–5) contributed to this, for the body of Christ is the church, which consists of individual believers (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12, 27). His body, the church, is also pictured by the bread of Communion (5:7; 10:16–17). Thus to sin against another believer is to sin against Christ (8:12). Those guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord were those who despised a poorer member by utter disregard for his need (11:21–22). These came to the remembrance of Christ’s work of unity and reconciliation (cf. Eph. 2:15–16) with a trail of deeds that had produced disunity and alienation! If these would examine (dokimazetō, “test to approve,” 1 Cor. 11:28) themselves, they would see that they lacked God’s approval (dokimoi, v. 19) in this behavior. They should seek out the wronged brother and ask his forgiveness. Only then could a true spirit of worship flourish (cf. Matt. 5:23–24 and Didache 14. 1–3). Coming to the Lord’s Supper without that sin confessed brought judgment on the guilty participants. Only by recognizing (diakrinōn, “properly judging”) the unity of the body of the Lord—and acting accordingly—could they avoid bringing “judgment” (krima) on themselves. What that judgment entailed was then explained by Paul. In brief, it was sickness and death (cf. 10:1–11). The solution was self-examination (diekrinomen, 11:31; cf. vv. 28–29; 5:1–5; 10:12), self-discipline (9:27), and promoting of unity. The alternative was God’s judging (krinomenoi, 11:32), which was a discipline that they were then experiencing. This was not a loss of salvation, but of life (cf. 5:5).”
In addressing the subject of the Hardness of Holiness, perhaps you can’t relate to the story of Nadab and Abihu offering strange fire to the Lord. Maybe you can’t relate to Uzzah’s death or the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira due to their sinful disobedience against the Lord and His Word.
However, I’m sure you can relate to the idea and concept of taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. Can you recall a time when your focus during the observance of Communion wasn’t about your sin, your lack of holiness and a child of God or even Jesus’ death on the cross. Instead, maintaining a silent and peaceful veneer on the outside, you were continually thinking about the football game that would be in television later in the day. Or, you were thinking about the presentation you were scheduled to make at work Monday morning. If you’re a student, it may have been the exam you were ill prepared to take Monday afternoon at school.
There are many ways in which we may take the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. Thankfully, God is gracious and patient. More so than we are many times with Him.
At the next Communion service in your church’s worship service, prepare to silently read a pertinent passage of Scripture so you won’t be letting your mind wander during the time of meditation. Appropriate passages would include Isaiah 52:13-53:12, John 19; Romans 3:1-26, or Ephesians 2:1-10. Make it not only a time of confession but also consecration unto the Lord.
Soli deo Gloria!