“Partaking in a Worthy Manner” (Sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:17-34)

Lord's Supper - 1 Cor 11

 

Sunday morning sermon

Lake Drive Baptist Church

Delivered August 31st, 2014

 Text: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34


 17 But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. 20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, 21 for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.

23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which 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 He took the cup also 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 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to 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 judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.

33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come. (NASB)


Introduction:

Without necessarily consciously thinking about it, we are aware of the idea that the clothing we wear needs to fit the occasion, event, or activity to which we wear them. For example, when I was in high school, I worked at a restaurant. And I had to wear a uniform—this ugly purple polo shirt that felt like burlap. Or, when I refereed soccer, I didn’t just wear anything; I wore a referee outfit. Similarly, many of you probably have either a work uniform, school uniform, or a certain dress code. We even have special gowns for those who are graduating (although I’m slightly convinced that whoever invented these wanted to make graduates feel humiliated—“Hey, you’re graduating. So… wear this black garbage bag and silly hat while we make you walk on a stage”). We have unwritten rules: You don’t wear a tuxedo to go swimming at the beach. When you go to a funeral, you’re not going to dress like Richard Simons. And when you go shopping, you don’t wear your pajamas… unless, apparently, you’re shopping at Wal-Mart.

You see, there’s this recognized principle (at least among most of us) that what we wear needs to match the meaning of the thing we’re wearing it to.

But when it came to the Lord’s Supper, the Corinthians found themselves wearing “the wrong clothes.” Now, I don’t mean that they were literally wearing the wrong clothes. But using this idea of clothing as a metaphor—their practice of the Lord’s Supper did not match the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Their practice was inappropriate for its meaning. They had lost sight of the true meaning of the Lord’s Supper; and, consequently, they found themselves “wearing the wrong clothes.”

But we too can easily find ourselves “wearing the wrong clothes.” We lose sight of the true, Biblical meaning of the Lord’s Supper; and, consequently, we practice it inappropriately. To counteract this tendency, Paul’s point in this text is that we are to participate in the Lord’s Supper in a way that matches its meaning. We are to “wear the right clothes.”

 I. We must avoid wrong practice of the Lord’s Supper (vv.17-22):

Verses 17-22: 17 But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. 20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, 21 for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.

In this section, Paul takes issue with the Corinthians’ erring, improper, incorrect practice of the Lord’s Supper. But what was the nature of Corinthians’ error? What were they doing wrong? What is Paul trying to correct?

Some background information is helpful here.

Unlike the common practice today, in which we only eat a rather small amount of bread and wine (or juice), the early church seemed to practice the Lord’s Supper in the context of a larger community meal called a “love feast” or “agape meal.” Furthermore, we know from archeology that homes like those in which this church would be gathering had a dining room that would fit around 10 people while any other dinner guests would have to eat in a larger courtyard. And we know from historical accounts from this time-period that hosts in this culture were notorious for giving more food, the best food, and seats in the actual dinning room to those of higher social class while forcing those of lower class to go without in the courtyard.

The Corinthians, rather than leaving such cultural practices at the door, actually brought these social-class distinctions into the Lord’s Supper itself. This disunity in their practice of the Lord’s Supper was in conflict with the very thing the Supper proclaimed—their unity, their shared salvation, the fact that all believers alike come to the Supper with empty hands as guests of God’s salvation in Christ. Any distinctions we do have are relativized, are seen as nothing, in light of our commonality in Christ. Therefore, to maintain such social-class distinctions in a meal that screams the unity of believers is horrifically flawed.

 Let’s look at verses 17-22…

17 But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse.

In other words, “It’s trying that counts” or “You gave it a good effort” are not Paul’s words here. Note the degree of their error here—their practice is so bad that Paul says it would actually be better if they didn’t meet at all!

18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved [i.e., those who are proven to be genuine believers] may become evident among you. …

That is, as a necessary reality of this time-period before Christ return, there will always be those who claim to be members of the true church (genuine believers) but aren’t. Because of this, when Paul hears of the Corinthians’ divisions, he isn’t entirely surprised. In fact, Paul suggests that these divisions on the visible level make evident divisions that exists on a deeper level between genuine and counterfeit believers. As Paul says, 19 For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved [i.e., proven to be genuine believers] may become evident among you. In other words, divisions serve as a test that proves those who are genuine believers.

 20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.

…Not that their intention is to eat something other than the Lord’s Supper, but that their practice of the Supper is so distorted that according to Paul it doesn’t even constitute as the Lord’s Supper. As Paul says next in v.21, it’s not the Lord’s Supper but their own supper that they are eating.

21 for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.

In short, rather than matching the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, their practice matched the common feasts of their culture—personal meals, gorging, and drunkenness among the high class while a lack thereof among the low class. Paul says to the rich, if you want to have such feasts, do it elsewhere. Such meals are not appropriate when the church gathers in unity to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

 In this section, Paul instructs the Corinthians to avoid wrong practice of the Lord’s Supper.

 There is such a thing as a right way and a wrong way to practice the Lord’s Supper. And as an extension of Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthians, we must be sure to guard ourselves against any improper practice of the Lord’s Supper.

II. We must practice the Lord’s Supper in a way that matches its meaning (vv.23-26):

 In this section, Paul appeals to the early church tradition he himself had received. He appeals to the words of institution, the very words of Jesus as He instituted the Lord’s Supper. He does so—the assumption is—because the Corinthians’ practice does not match it. As Paul said in verse 20, the Corinthians’ practice had erred so drastically that it could no longer be considered the Lord’s Supper. Paul’s point is that if the meal is to be considered the Lord’s Supper it must match its meaning as explained by the Lord Himself.

Verses 23-26: 23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which 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 He took the cup also 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.

Paul sees these words of institution as addressing the Corinthians’ error.

By focusing on themselves, their meals, and their privilege, they were disregarding the very point of the Supper—proclaiming the Lord’s sacrificial death. As Paul adds in v.26, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

Moreover, by harboring divisions, they were actually denying the very thing the Lord’s Supper communicates—our common need for the sacrifice of Christ and our common salvation. Rather than proclaiming Christ’s sacrificial death on behalf of them all alike, their meal was actually proclaiming their social distinctions. In a community centered around the Gospel, which declares that we all are in desperate need of salvation and that we all receive salvation the same way, not by worldly standards but by grace through faith—such distinctions according to world standards are not only irrelevant but inappropriate.

 We must practice the Lord’s Supper in a way that matches its meaning. And so, as we seek to align our practice with the meaning of the Supper, although Paul’s focus is specifically on the unity of believers, we do well to examine the meaning of the Lord’s Supper more broadly.

 Now it happens that the meaning of this text is highly debated. (Ironically, the Lord’s Supper, a rite that is meant to demonstrate our unity, has become the very opposite—a doctrine of division). Much of this debate centers around phrases about Jesus’ body and blood such as verse 24, “This is My body.” And various views emerge: for example, something like a more magical view of the Supper—that the elements are transformed into Jesus’ physical body and blood and that grace is automatically infused to participants. However, it would seem that a more natural understanding of this and similar phrases would be that the bread and wine signify Jesus’ body and blood. This is how language works.

For example, if I pulled up a picture of my wife on my phone and said, “This is Ann,” none of you would say, “Stupid Kirk, that’s not Ann. That’s a bunch of pixels on your iPhone.” No, you understand this is a picture of Ann; and by extension, I can rightly point at it and say, “This is Ann.”

 Nonetheless, most likely in an attempt to react and guard against such incorrect views, it appears that many contemporary Baptistic churches have fallen into a different error. While trying to avoid saying false things about the Supper, it seems we have failed to affirm many true things about it. For example, maybe in a reaction against such false views, we have mistakenly limited the Lord’s Supper to merely time of remembering Jesus’ death. Consequently, we have neglected much of its meaning and significance and in turn have denied ourselves God’s gracious gifts to us in the Supper.

 Therefore, as we seek to practice the Lord’s Supper in a way that matches its meaning, we will do well to examine some of the various dimensions of the Lord’s Supper.

  1. Act of remembrance:

As stated twice in this section, “Do this … in remembrance of Me.” And we’re familiar with this one. … But the point of this remembering is not mere mental recollection like a meditation exercise. It’s a time to refresh ourselves with the glorious truth of Christ’s death on our behalf and to respond in worship, to celebrate His victory, to preach the Gospel to ourselves, to be assured of our salvation accomplished by this Savior we are remembering.

  1. Act of unity:

As mentioned, the Lord’s Supper is an act of unity that declares our common salvation. This is why we also call it “communion,” because we have communion (or fellowship) with one another through our commonality in Christ. This is why the early church and many churches historically have used one loaf and one cup, and why we have one table, all symbolizing our oneness in what the meal proclaims. As Paul says in 10:17, “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.”

  1. The Gospel made visible:

As Paul says in v.26, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Proclamation—something we normally do with our mouths, we do through symbolic action in the Lord’s Supper. As Jesus says, the elements—bread and wine—symbolize His body and blood, more specifically, His sacrificial death on behalf of believers.

But, not only so, we eat and drink these elements. If the Lord’s Supper is merely a memorial, than why do we eat and drink the elements? Would not just looking at these elements be enough of an aid to remember Jesus’ death? But we eat and drink the elements. This symbolizing our participation in what these elements represent—Christ’s saving work. The action of eating the bread and the wine symbolizes that we benefit from what these elements represent—Christ’s death on our behalf.

Just as those during the annual Passover meal (from which the Lord’s Supper comes) would say, “What the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt,” so we proclaim in the Supper, “At the cross, Christ delivered me.” In other words, this is not just a recollection of a past event; but a affirmation of its significance in the “now.” This is how we “remember” Christ’s death. As such, the Lord’s Supper preaches the Gospel to us; it is a vehicle for our faith in the Gospel, it nourishes our faith.

But also, by eating the bread and drinking the wine (or juice), God assures of our salvation in Christ. The Lord’s Supper visually proclaims, “Christ’s saving work applies to us! It applies to you!” (As a side note: This is also why this meal is only for believers; this symbolism does not apply to those who do not believe the Gospel.)

  1. Christ as the host of the meal:

—As Paul calls this rite, “The Lord’s Supper,” e., it’s Christ’s meal, not ours.

First, we see in this section that Christ is the host. And if we were to look at the gospel accounts, we would notice that it is Christ who makes the arrangements for this meal. Christ is the host. We are the guests. He invites us to the table. He serves us the elements (which is representing in our practice of the Lord’s Supper by someone else serving us the elements). We are helpless and in need of a salvation we cannot achieve on our own. But He grants it to us freely. We have not made ourselves the recipients of our salvation depicted in the Supper. It is He who has called us.

More so, we are granted assurance. This meal and what it symbolizes is not something we have invented. If we had invented it, the truths declared in this meal would be left in doubt. But Christ Himself, our Savior, has instituted this meal; and, as such, He puts His stamp of approval on the Gospel truths it declares to us.

  1. Sign of the New Covenant:

As Jesus said in v.25, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood,” e., this cup signifies my blood poured out in death, which inaugurated the New Covenant. As such, the Lord’s Supper serves as a continual seal of God’s New Covenant promises in Christ—among other things, the promise of forgiveness of sins, the transforming presence of the Spirit, God’s law ingrained on our hearts, and the final restoration of all things to come. Which brings us to our last meaning…

  1. Meal of anticipation:

As Paul says in verse 26, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Or as Jesus said in Luke 22, He would not partake of the meal again until the kingdom of God has arrived, and also, “Just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom.” In other words, the Lord’s Supper is meal that anticipates and celebrates Christ’s ultimate victory. It’s a foretaste of that final kingdom banquet. And it’s a declaration that, indeed, Christ is coming again!

As we reflect upon the meaning of the Supper, we do so because, as Paul is arguing, we must practice the Lord’s Supper in a way that matches its meaning.

III. We must ensure proper practice of the Lord’s Supper by examining ourselves (vv.27-34):

 Having addressed the Corinthians’ error in vv.17-22, and having recalled the words of institution in vv.23-26, Paul now applies of the words of institution to their specific error.

Verses 27-34:

27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing [or, “in this way”] he is to 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 judge the body rightly [or, eats and drinks “without discerning the body”]. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we judged [or, “discerned”] ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.

33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.

Now this section can be rather confusing. But I think we can break it down into three parts: 1) Paul’s aim, 2) his solution, and 3) the warning.

  1. The aim—proper participation:

The goal of Paul’s instruction here is to guard against what he calls “unworthy” participation in the Lord’s Supper.

27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.

Paul speaks of partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner” i.e., participation in the Lord’s Supper that does not match the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, that’s out of keeping with its nature, that is not “worthy” of, or we might say, “does not fit,” what is depicted in the Supper.

He also says that partaking in an unworthy way is to “be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.” In context, specifically in the words of institution in vv.23-26, “body” and “blood” are used to refer to the sacrificial death of Jesus. Therefore, Paul is saying to partake of the Lord’s Supper in way that is in conflict with it’s meaning is to be guilty of, abuse, violate, commit an offense against that which the Lord’s Supper celebrates—Christ’s sacrificial death and its implications. Specifically, for the Corinthians, they were violating the corporate implications of Christ’s saving work.

Similarly, in v.29 Paul speaks of eating and drinking without discerning the body. It seems most natural to understand “body” here as short for “the body and the blood of the Lord” as mentioned above in v.27, and, therefore, as referring to the same thing—the sacrificial death of Christ. In other words, Paul speaks of practicing the Lord’s Supper in such a way that does not consider what the Lord’s Supper depicts—Christ’s saving death—as well as the implications of that death. 

  1. The solution—examination:

The solution, the way to avoid such improper participation in the Supper, Paul says, is examination.

28 But a man must examine himself…

 i.e., To examine oneself—one’s conduct, practice, mindset, attitude, etc.—in light of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.

 …and in so doing [or, “in this way”] he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

One is to examine himself before partaking of the Supper so as to ensure that our practice of the Lord’s Supper is in keeping with its meaning. Practically, for the Corinthians, Paul says, the outcome of this examination would look like verse 33 and 34.

33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home…

  1. The warning of judgment:

Finally, Paul gives a warning of judgment, which is to serve as a motivation for practicing examination. Having spoken of being “guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord,” he now speaks of its consequence—judgment.

29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep [i.e., “are dead”; this is something like our phrase, “so and so passed away”]. 31 But if we judged [or, “discerned”] ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.

Due to their malpractice of the Lord’s Supper, many members of the Corinthian church were being judged with sickness and even death.

Now the first thing we should note is that this is not a judgment of damnation but the discipline of believers. As Paul says in v.32, “when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.” In other words, the purpose of this judgment is not condemnation but correction. This is not a judgment of damnation. In fact, its very purpose is that we will not be judged in the same way the world will be—eternal damnation.

 But, further, when Paul says that God disciplines us “so that we will not be condemned along with the world,” he assumes that our salvation requires God’s gracious work of preserving us, sustaining us, keeping us in the faith, in order to ensure our salvation. In other words, as implied here and stated in many other places in scripture, just a faith is a necessary condition for salvation, perseverance in the faith is a necessary condition for salvation. So—“once saved always saved,” but only because of God’s gracious work of keeping us saved.

In terms of the Corinthians, Paul is saying that either God’s discipline would served to correct their sinful behavior, thus preserving them in the faith, or God would actually end their life, which would also have the effect of keeping them from falling away from the faith. In other words, at times God judges believers in a temporal sense (e.g., sickness, death) so that we will not be judged in the ultimate sense (i.e., damnation). “We are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.”

But so as not to lose focus of the broader point of the passage, Paul warns of judgment as a motivation for proper practice of the Lord’s Supper. And to remind ourselves of the point of this section at large—we must strive towards proper practice of the Lord’s Supper, i.e., practice that matches its meaning, by examining ourselves and thereby avoiding judgment.

Application issues:

Finally, I would like to close with some issues of application that are born out of this text. 

  • Unworthy participation, not unworthy participants:

For quite some time there has been a rather prominent way of reading this text with the result that I think we have a hard time not reading certain ideas into the text that I don’t think are actually there.

For example, we tend to read this text as, “If I am unworthy, i.e., if I have sin in my life or if I had a bad week spiritually, then I should not participate.” And so we spend the time of examination either trying to determine if we spiritually fit to take the Supper, lying to ourselves that we are spiritually qualified, or recognizing that we do not qualify but determining to take the Supper anyways. This idea has probably only been promoted by translations like, “Whoever eats this bread and drinks this cup … unworthily,” which (although a good translation) gives the false impression that it’s the unworthiness of the participants that Paul is concerned with.

But notice. Paul actually says, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way,” “in an unworthy manner,”e., as we’ve noted, the way the Lord’s Supper is practiced is out of keeping with its meaning. In short, Paul is attacking unworthy participation of the Supper, not unworthy participants.

In fact, rather than excluding unworthy participants, the Lord’s Supper presupposes our unworthiness. If worthiness was necessary to partake in the Supper, none of us should participate. We are unworthy! We are sinful! But praise be to God, our unworthiness has been nailed to very the cross of Christ that the Lord’s Supper proclaims! We have distorted the table of our acceptance into a table of condemnation and guilt. So unworthy sinner, come to the table and be assured that Christ receives sinners.

  • Is there a time not to partake?

But, if the Supper presupposes that we are sinful and if Paul’s point is not the prohibition of unworthy participants, then this brings up the question, is there ever a time when we should abstain from taking the Supper?

I think we’ve developed this idea of abstaining from the Supper because of Paul’s comments about judgment. We say, “Possible judgment means that if I could be liable to that judgment I should refrain.” But, if you look at the text, Paul actually never speaks of abstaining from the Supper. In fact, what Paul does say is, “28 A man must examine himself, and [in this way] he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” In v.31, Paul doesn’t say, “And if we abstained we would not be judged,” but, “If we [“discerned”] ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.” In other words, Paul’s point is not that we examine ourselves so as to determine if we should or should not participate, but to examine ourselves in order that when we do participate, we are doing so in a manner worthy of the meaning of the Supper.

I’m not necessarily saying that there is never a time to abstain. I’m just don’t think its Paul’s point. In fact, I think Paul would see this as a terrible solution—instead of correcting the behavior, we’ll just abstain instead?! I think Paul would respond, “God forbid!”

  • Strive for a practice of the Lord’s Supper that matches its meaning:

Obviously, the specific issue Paul has in mind for the Corinthians when he speaks of a “worthy manner” is unity. So likewise, for us—Does our practice of the Lord’s Supper reflect our unity? Are there conflicts and divisions among us as we practice the Supper? Or do we need to hear the words of Christ in Mt 5:23-24:

“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”

Further, the corporate nature of this meal rebukes the individualism into which our practice of this meal has strayed. We drink our individualized portions of cracker and grape juice. We stick our heads between our legs and stare at the floor. Our examination focuses purely on our own personal issues. And when that dreadful moment comes when we have to pass the plate… avoid eye contact unless absolutely necessary. This is so contrary to the unity declared in the Supper itself! Here’s a suggestion: next time we practice the Lord’s Supper, look around. Take notice of your brothers and sisters in Christ with whom you are declaring your unity.

But, although Paul’s specific focus is unity, I think this idea of “unworthy participation” has broader application that includes any practice of the Lord’s Supper that is out of keeping with its meaning. For example: As we’ve noted, although this meal embraces unworthy participants who have repented and trusted in the Gospel, bold, high-handed, unrepentant sin is a direct denial of the repentance the Gospel demands.

This also means that in our practice of the Lord’s Supper, we should have an appreciation for the various dimensions of the Lord’s Supper that we talked about. For the sake of time, just one example will do.

We noted that the Lord’s Supper is a celebration of Christ’s salvation accomplished. However, some of our Lord’s Supper practices are more like a funeral than a worship service. They are more like a time to feel bad for Jesus than a time of celebrating His victory. They are more like a time to feel guilty about our sin than a time to be assured of our forgiveness of sins. Yes, we should be reverent. But we do not need to be gloomy. This is a solemn and joyous celebration of Christ’s victory.

  • Implication—pre-service examination:

Finally, as an implication of all this: If we are to examine ourselves in order to partake rather than abstain, we may need to examine ourselves with enough time to correct any unworthy participation. If examining ourselves is less about feeling guilty for our personal sins and may involve things like our relationships with other believers, than in order to correct such unworthy participation, we will likely need to examine ourselves prior to those final 30 seconds when the plates are being passed. I think this is what Paul had in mind anyway when he talked about examining ourselves.

Conclusion:

Rather than practice the Lord’s Supper in a way that denies or contradicts its meaning, we are to practice the Lord’s Supper in a way that reflects its meaning and significance. And, as Paul says, we ensure this by examining ourselves, that is, examining whether our participation in the Supper in fact matches its meaning.

To use our earlier metaphor, are we wearing “the right clothes.” Are we wearing a tuxedo to a day at the beach? Are we wearing pajamas to a formal dinner? Or does our “attire” match the meaning of the Lord’s Supper?

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